The Fit: Right-sizing (up!) and re-opening

The story of The Fit, a small group and personal training studio on Monroe Street in Madison, is actually a re-start-up story. The business has been around for two years, but just recently, owner Jeff Liggon revised his business plan and moved to a larger location just down the street. It wasn't entirely unexpected.

"When I opened my first location, the demographic info I had suggested that this neighborhood would support a [larger] location, but I was hesitant to open one that large, so I opened one half the size," at 1689 Monroe St. Just over a year later, the club was nearly bursting at the seams. "Push came to shove," Liggon said. "I started noticing some clients staying away because I couldn't accommodate them."

Liggon, 38, personally funded his first location, but took out an $85,000 loan for improvements and more equipment at the new 4,500-sq.-ft. space down the block, at 1709 Monroe St., which tripled the space and more than doubled his rent, from $2,200 to about $5,000 a month.

Currently, about 30 people belong to The Fit, but Liggon is aiming for twice that number. The studio has a unique business model in that Liggon has no employees. The eight professional trainers working there are all independent contractors who carry their own insurance, and purchase the studio space from Liggon. "This is not a typical gym model," he explained, "where you sell as many memberships as possible and hope nobody comes. Here, the personal trainer does not own the client, the gym owns the client, charges the client, and pays the trainer a small fee – about 20%. The independent contractors promote themselves, and we promote them."

Personalized training of this sort averages between $115 and $250 per month, depending upon the type of services purchased. Not surprisingly, Liggon's studio is attracting doctors, lawyers, professors, and business owners, exactly his target market. From the very beginning, he wanted to be within close proximity to homes having household incomes of $75,000-plus or more. He considered the Middleton Hills and Atwood/Jenifer St. areas before settling on Monroe Street, which his research indicated had 250 households fitting that criteria. "I only need 60 of them," he said.

Training at The Fit is designed on a personal level, and group sessions rarely have more than six to 10 people. "It's like joining a community," Liggon said. "There's accountability, and if you miss a session, people will notice."

Liggon teaches many of the classes himself. A former running back at Tulane University with degrees in physiology and anatomy, he held strength and conditioning jobs at both Northwestern University (under coach Gary Barnett), and the University of Colorado. But life as a coach, he said, was not conducive to raising a family, so when he and his wife, Rebecca, decided the time was right, they chose Madison. "Boulder was too expensive," Liggon said, having visited Madison several times while employed for five years in pharmaceutical sales. In 2009, he decided to never again work for anyone else, and The Fit was born.

In addition to personal training, The Fit offers yoga, pilates, indoor cycling, a massage therapist and nutritionist, and non-traditional types of training, such as Capoeria, a Brazilian mix of dance and martial arts. The grand re-opening was held on Feb 20.

Sign up for the free IB Update — your weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. Click here.