A Connecticut-based company that has become one of the largest franchisees in the Planet Fitness chain opened a sprawling new gym this week in a former Walmart at the Thruway Mall, marking the second time this year that the firm has resurrected a vacant building in the Buffalo suburbs.
ECP-PF Holdings Group opened its first new club in the region in January on Sheridan Drive in the Town of Tonawanda, after redeveloping an old Sears Hardware store that sat empty for about two years.
The $3.6 million investment in the two clubs is just a start.
"We're working on several leases right now" in Western New York, said John Hrinda, the holding company's division president for New York State.
ECP-PF Holdings now runs 71 locations with the addition of the new, 27,000-square-foot club at 2195 Harlem Road in Cheektowaga. The company also holds the franchises in the Amherst and West Seneca locations; other franchise holders operate clubs in Niagara Falls and Lockport.
Hrinda, 57, of Albany, worked 26 years with Payless Shoes before taking on his fitness leadership role four years ago. He oversees 31 clubs in the Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and the state capital markets. ECP-PF also operates clubs in Connecticut, Arizona, New Mexico and the three westernmost Canadian provinces.
While officially opening the Thruway Mall club on Wednesday, Hrinda also announced a $1,000 donation to the Depew-Lancaster Boys & Girls Club.
Q: As you continue to expand, are you looking in mostly the city and surrounding suburbs or are some of these places likely to be a bit farther afield in some rural communities?
We're looking at both right now. We're looking all over at buildings near where our members would be living and vacant buildings that we can repurpose.
Q: How many employees will each location have and what types of jobs will be filled?
In our newer locations, we usually hire approximately 20 individuals: a manager and assistant, a trainer, janitor and many front-desk associates. We have shifts available morning, noon and overnight because we're open 24 hours a day during the week. We open at 12:01 a.m. on Monday and don't close again till 9 p.m. on Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, it's 7 to 7.
Q: Can you talk about the Planet Fitness philosophy?
One of our big slogans is "The world judges, we don't." We're made for that first-time gym user who wants to come in, does not want to feel intimidated, wants to go into a place to try to better their life, whether it be to lose weight, just get healthier, or is working out for the first time in 50 years. Our members are a community, a family. We call people by name when they come in.
Q: Why all this expansion in a region with seven YMCAs, six LA Fitness sites, six Catalyst Fitness centers, six Crunch locations and dozens of smaller chain and locally owned fitness centers? What will make Planet Fitness stand out?
We're totally different. We're really a place for people to come and feel no judgment. We offer a low-cost model – $10 a month, which gives our access to our club. It's a place where you can go, really learn how to work out, and hit whatever your goal is. I believe there's plenty of room for all these clubs. We're here to offer another option to the people of Buffalo.
Q: What types of fitness products/classes will be offered?
We have two rate structures, one for $10 a month which gives you the gym and the use of our instructor. Then we have our $21.99 Black Card membership, which gives you all our equipment and also our trainer, and it also gives you our Black Card spa, which includes hydro massage beds, massage chairs, salon-quality tanning and total body enhancement, which is red light therapy with a floor that vibrates. Our classes are for first-time members to set up their workouts. We have a 30-minute circuit which allows you to get a full-body workout in a half-hour. It's strength and cardio, in a separate room. … We also have a Planet Fitness app where you can put in your workout and work out on your own. If you have a question, you're able to talk to the trainer anytime they're in the club.
For the Black Card membership, you can bring a friend every single time you come and you can go to any Planet Fitness in the United States with your friend. That's one of the benefits of the Black Card. With the $10 membership, you'll pick your club and are able to go just to that club.
Q: What are the hydro beds?
A hot water massage. You recline in a chair, hot water massages your back and up and down your entire body. It's a place to relax either before or after you work out. It's one of our best benefits.
Q: What type of equipment do you have at the clubs in the Buffalo market?
We have a full range of cardio equipment: arc trainers, treadmills, ellipticals, bikes. At our two newest clubs, we also have rowing machines and stair steppers. The whole philosophy at Planet Fitness is that we have so much equipment that there's never a wait. There are no time limits. ... We also have all kinds of strength equipment which is very user-friendly. There are diagrams on every machine that teach you what muscles are going to be worked out. More importantly, our trainers are going to be there to help you on any machine. We also have a 360 machine in both our two new clubs in Cheektowaga and Tonawanda. The best way to describe it is an adult jungle gym. We have classes in there every day with our trainer. There's equipment from the novice trainer all the way up to the experienced person.
Q: When does the trainer normally work?
Monday through Friday. We have several days they're there at 6 a.m. and other days they're there in early evenings. It varies.
Planet Fitness through Wednesday will offer a 1-cent join rate and $10-a-month rate for a year membership at the new Cheektowaga club. For more info, visit planetfitness.com.