For a dozen years, Marc Ezralow drove 40 miles daily to reach his health club before work. The owner of an L.A. real estate company, the 45-year-old father of two is serious about keeping fit. But the long commute seriously undermined his family time. So last year, as Ezralow worked with architects to design a new home in the Pacific Palisades, he came up with the perfect solution; a gym in the den.
The company that designed and installed it was Advantage Fitness Products, which creates fitness centers for the stars or, more specifically for anyone willing to pay for them to be built wherever they want.
"We've put some gyms in odd places," said Bryan Green, the Culver City-based company's 36-year-old chief executive.
He started Advantage Fitness 13 years ago in his garage when he was running Southern California operations for Busybody, a Dallas-based specialty fitness retail chain where he learned the trade.
"In the stores we would constantly be getting hotel operators, property managers and homeowners saying they needed stuff for their hotels, apartment complexes and homes," Green recalls. "Busybody wasn't really focused on a viable commercial solution; people wanted to be able to exercise at work, on the road or in their beautiful apartment communities."
So he wanted to see if he could set up a shop to cater to that market.
Green, a fitness buff himself, began measuring and outfitting private workout spaces in his spare time. A few years later, he started Advantage Fitness in 1996 with two sales people and two delivery guys out of his Woodland Hills home. Today, the company has 120 employees in six states with annual revenue of about $33 million.
The company grew by 22 percent in both 2006 and 2007, plus an additional 16 percent in 2008. Although the recession has finally caught up with Advantage, causing this year's first quarter to be flat, Green believes that the future is bright.
"Fitness is not a fad but a lifestyle," he said. "We're seeing people holding back on capital expenditures, but a fitness center is a living, breathing environment that has to be maintained."
Building a gym
The company's service usually begins with a visit to the space for which a gym is desired generally a hotel, apartment complex, private home or school and an Advantage worker interviews the customer to ascertain his or her needs. The company then designs the gym space to accommodate whatever equipment the customer wants, including free weights, strength-training benches, elliptical trainers and treadmills. The gym gear comes from manufacturers that have made deals with Advantage.
The company develops a computer mockup of the gym for customer approval, then builds it. The customer's cost: anywhere from $5,000 for a modest home gym to as much as $1 million for a student recreational facility at a university.
Advantage also makes sure that the aesthetics are pleasing.
"These days," Green said, "you have to pay attention, not only to safety and functionality, but to the color of the walls and upholstery. A Four Seasons Hotel, for instance, doesn't want its gym to look like a gym."
Green said the company has 15,000 past and present clients, including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger; actors Brad Pitt, Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio; and singers Alicia Keys and John Mayer.
The company has also constructed gyms at the Regent Beverly Wilshire, Four Seasons Beverly Hills, Ritz-Carlton and several Hilton hotels, plus the Sherwood Country Club. In addition, Advantage has built gyms in the South Pacific, Romania and on cruise ships and at universities around the world.
"Some of the facilities on these campuses are three times the size of an average health club," Green said.
Design and installation of the average gym, he said, takes six to eight weeks, a schedule with which most customers seem content.
"The process was professional and expedient," said Gary Vitti, head trainer for the Los Angeles Lakers. Advance equipped the pro basketball team's weight rooms and cardio areas at the Toyota Sports Center and Staples Center.
The company, he said, "streamlined the process," allowing the team "to have the absolute best equipment at the best price in the fastest time possible."
At least one independent expert agrees with Green's analysis of where the business is headed.
Although fitness, in general, is flat right now, acknowledged Marty McCallen, associate publisher of Club Industry's Fitness Business Pro, a New York-based trade magazine for the fitness industry, it's likely to bounce back as soon as unemployment figures go down.
"Fitness is not looked at as discretionary," said McCallen, adding that the nation's health clubs, while not selling as many new memberships as in the past, are seeing membership levels hold steady. "Once someone's been bitten by the health bug, they'll cut anything before that; they won't give it up unless they're completely destitute."
So if Advance is counting on a healthy business future, McCallen said, it's "in an industry that's not going away."
Certainly not at the Ezralow household, where working out is now a family affair.
"I use the gym six days a week, probably two hours a day, and so does my wife," the fitness enthusiast says. "And now the kids are starting to use it as well."
To encourage them, Ezralow tries to make it fun.
"We all talk during our workouts," he said. The gym in the den "has made it so our family can work out together in the morning and I can see my kids before school."
Advantage Fitness Products
Headquarters: Culver City
Chief Executive: Bryan Green
Core Business: Designing, installing and maintaining fitness centers at hotels,
universities, apartment complexes and in private homes
Employees in 2009: 120
Goals: To build business in high schools and nonluxury hotels; to extend sales reach into Florida's west coast and New Jersey
Driving Force: Demand for gym equipment outside of health clubs
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