Biz Beat

Evolution at a longtime Modesto fitness center

Fitness Evolution has taken over the Modesto Court Room, a longtime fitness facility on McHenry Avenue.
Fitness Evolution has taken over the Modesto Court Room, a longtime fitness facility on McHenry Avenue. pguerra@modbee.com

One of Modesto’s oldest fitness clubs is undergoing an evolution. Right down to the name.

Fitness Evolution announced this week that it had taken over the Modesto Court Room, a McHenry Avenue institution for 36 years.

When I was a kid, the town’s gyms – if you can call them that – were the Court Room, Sportsmen of Stanislaus, the Modesto Swim and Racquet Club and the YMCA. There was one more – Game Point, which is where my dad tried valiantly to turn me into a decent racquetball player. Come to think of it, I also took swim lessons at the Y and we occasionally went to the Swim and Racquet Club, where I scared the bejesus out of my mom by jumping off the high dive.

Obviously, things have changed since way back then. Game Point and the YMCA are no more, and a plethora of other fitness centers have opened up, from traditional gyms to smaller, specialized centers; Pilates and yoga studios; and facilities specializing in functional strength, such as CrossFit.

Relatively new to the mix is Fitness Evolution.

The company started about five years ago, taking over the former George Brown club on Dale Road in Modesto. Since then, the Modesto-based company has expanded into 25 sites from Sacramento to Tulare, from Monterey to south Lake Tahoe, according to Chief Operating Officer Steve Saxton.

Modesto was high on the list for the next site.

“Our home base is here in Modesto, but we have only one Modesto club,” said Saxton, who joined the company earlier this year. “Our founder and CEO (Sanjiv Chopra) wants a better presence here.”

In addition to taking over the Court Room, Fitness Evolution is building a new facility on Oakdale Road at Briggsmore Avenue. And there’s more to come, with plans to double the chain in size in coming years.

The key, Saxton said, is the price point: Fitness Evolution charges members $9.99 per month to join one club, $19.99 for access to all its clubs. There are no long-term contracts. That’s a similar strategy to some other fitness centers, but Saxton said Fitness Evolution offers more perks. They include group exercise classes, guest passes and access to hydro massage. Child care is offered, as well, for an additional fee.

“I think this model is just really, really working well,” Saxton said. “We don’t need salespeople when we’re selling a membership for the price of a Starbucks latte.”

As for the current members of the Modesto Court Room, they get to stay. “We’re actually going to lower their dues,” Saxton said.

Some remodeling work is underway, and more is planned.

“People keep asking what the catch is, and there is no catch,” Saxton said. “It’s a different model of doing business. The real winner is the consumer.”

Elsewhere around the Business Beat

Another McHenry Avenue business is getting a new owner. New Hong Kong restaurant has been sold to Xiaohui Zhao, former chef at the Beijing Hotel in China, who moved to the United States in 2003. He moved to Modesto from the Bay Area recently. He plans to open the restaurant as Asian Garden next month.

Many thanks to reader Michael Pullen, who provided information about Mr. Zhao and his plans. I hope to learn more as the opening date nears.

Have an item for Business Beat? Breaking News Editor Patty Guerra can be reached at pguerra@modbee.com or (209) 578-2343. Follow her on Twitter @PattyGuerra.

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