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Fitness club's foresight pays off

Club near Medford airport plans to expand

Jeff Baptiste knows his decision two years ago to build a health club off Lear Way, tucked behind Wal-Mart and Costco, raised a few eyebrows.

The bankers he went to for financing, for instance, questioned the choice of location.

Sure, the Crater Lake Plaza was booming and more development seemed likely. But his Southern Oregon Health Club would be on the edge of an open field on one side, the Medford airport on another, and not parti-cularly close to any residen-tial neigh-borhoods.

— — Company name:

— Southern Oregon Health Club. —

Service:

Fitness club.

Location:

3581 Lear Way, — Medford.

Phone number:

779-0585.

Hours:

5 a.m. to 9 p.m. — weekdays; 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

Owners:

Jeff and Teri Baptiste. — —

Two years of steady growth later, the skepticism is fading and Baptiste is ready to expand the club. Work on a 2,500-square-foot addition to the rear of the existing 8,500 square feet is scheduled to begin today.

Baptiste, who owns the business with his wife Teri, won't disclose membership numbers but he will say the growth has exceeded projections and was convincing enough that getting a loan this time was easier.

As for being alone next to an open field, those days are numbered. Construction has begun on a 20-acre business park next door that promises to bring a stream of new members.

With the business park coming in, we are going to get a lot more of the lunchtime crowd and we want to be ready to meet that demand, he said.

The club will expand each of its fitness areas, from the cardiovascular center to the free weight area to the women-only section. It also will add a spot to sell its members protein drinks, fruit smoothies and coffee.

Baptiste hopes the expansion will allow the club to appeal to a wider range of customers while maintaining a comfortable atmosphere for members.

While the location was a potential liability, Baptiste said it has actually been an asset.

We are tucked away but the majority of business has come from our location, he said.

People driving — he estimated 10,000 to 14,000 vehicles pass each day — by have spotted the club. It draws members from the Eagle Point and White City areas as well as the north Medford area. The club has also had success drawing employees of surrounding businesses with corporate deals.

While it may have been safer to locate in a more established area, Baptiste said he wanted to position the club to grow and get in before land prices increased too much.

For our future, this is probably the best place, he said. This was one of the areas we felt has the growth potential. We knew about the future development out here and you want to get in now.

So far, Baptiste has purchased about an acre from Burrill Real Estate, the company now developing the business park. He said the park and the club will complement one another.

Competition in the fitness market is fierce, particularly with the recent arrival of 24-Hour Fitness, a large national chain with lots of resources.

Baptiste said it was inevitable that the big chains would arrive here, given the area's growth. While he expects independent clubs to take a hit because of the big new player, he said he expects the locally-owned clubs like his to weather the storm and continue growing if they provide the service and facilities customers expect.

Though Southern Oregon Health Club has only been around two years, Baptiste and his wife Teri are quite familiar with the fitness business. They owned and ran Lady Fitness in the Bear Creek Plaza for eight years.

But the Baptistes felt that location limited the club's potential and wanted to take the next step in building their business: owning their own building.

For the future and continued growth, we wanted to secure ourselves, he said.

While lease rates continued to climb the longer they stayed at the plaza, they can have more control over long-term costs, allowing for more profits as business grows.

There is also room at the current site for further expansion, including 3,000 square feet on a mezzanine level. Baptiste said the plan is to grow as business grows.

And in, say, five years, people may well look at the choice of location with nods of admiration rather than skepticism.

Fitness club's foresight pays off