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Youfit eases the pressure of pumping iron

NEW PORT RICHEY - In an already crowded health club industry, a gym needs a way to stand out. Youfit Health Club had a relatively easy time getting attention for its debut in West Pasco County for two reasons: First, the gym's recent grand opening in Southgate Shopping Plaza came on the heels of Old Time Pottery's debut just a few doors down, marking a sudden resurgence at the once-prominent strip mall. Second, it's hard to miss the gym's purple and lime green theme that loudly announces this is a health club of a different color. A Youfit health club opened at 21707 Village Lakes Shopping Center Drive in Land O' Lakes in October 2011. Rick Berks, founder and president of Youfit, explained the clashing colors serve several purposes, not the least of which is a distinctive bit of branding.
"When people see that purple and lime green, they think of Youfit," Berks said. And when they think of Youfit, Berks wants them to think of it as "a gym for the rest of us." Berks got into the fitness business in the 1980s when he became a Gold's Gym franchisee. In 1993, he co-founded the Planet Fitness chain. By 2008, as he sized up the economy and considered years of customer feedback, Berks felt the health club industry needed a new model. He opened the first Youfit in St. Petersburg with a marketing strategy aimed at that "rest of us" crowd. Intimidation is one of the main things that keeps people from joining a gym, Berks said. They imagine the "muscles and makeup" health club stereotypes such as gargantuan bodybuilders and flawless aerobics queens. Most health clubs subtly perpetuate those stereotypes with an atmosphere that is either slick and glamorous or bare-metal and "hard-core." "You wouldn't believe how often I speak with people who actually believe they have to get in shape before they'll feel comfortable walking into a club," Berks said. Most people who join a gym don't aspire to be magazine cover models and just want to get more toned, trim and healthy. The colors at Youfit, while energetic and fun, also send a subtle cue that says this isn't a place for hard-core bodybuilders who plan to spend four hours a day pumping iron. "The lime green threatens their masculinity," Berks said. Not that Youfit would ever turn someone away for being "too fit," but he considers it more important that anyone — young or old, male or female, beginner to advanced — can feel comfortable from the first day of working out. By the same token, Youfit insists its members follow a code of conduct: no yelling, excessive grunting or dropping weights. Members are expected to keep a towel with them at all times and to wipe up their sweat. Berks has gone against decades of industry wisdom by keeping Youfit simple. For years, big health club chains have drawn customers with swimming pools, racquet sports and an array of classes. "When I started in this business, aerobics classes were huge," Berks said. But today, cardio equipment is so sophisticated most people prefer to get their hearts pumping at their own pace. Customer surveys during his Planet Fitness days showed that only about 12 percent of members actually wind up using all those amenities. Most people just want to use resistance equipment and cardio, Berks said. By not offering all those options, Youfit is able to eliminate another form of intimidation by offering no-contract memberships at $10 per month for a gym that offers a wide variety of the kind of equipment people actually will use. The "keep it simple" model has worked pretty well so far. While the New Port Richey location introduces Youfit to West Pasco, it is the 15th in the Tampa area and 36th in Florida. The chain recently has started branching out into other states, as well. Youfit Health Club opens at 5 a.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

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Youfit eases the pressure of pumping iron