Health Care

Swan Fitness fills women-only niche in Derby

From navigating the skies, Shanon Swan has moved to navigating the small-business landscape.

Swan, who'd been a navigator on the KC-135 air refueling tanker, left the Air Force in January 2009 and opened Swan Fitness in Derby in July.

It's her first experience as a businesswoman, "but everything I've done has just fallen into place," she said.

About half of her members came from Contours Express Ladies Only Fitness Center in Derby, which closed four days before Swan Fitness opened.

Swan, 34, worked out there, bought some of its equipment and worked with its owner to minimize the time that women would be without a fitness club. She said hers is the only women's-only club in Derby now.

Swan didn't buy Contours Express because "I didn't want a franchise. I wanted my own business."

She acknowledges that the current climate may not have been the best time to start a new business but said she is satisfied with how her club, at 413 Osage Road in Derby, is doing.

Swan started with 60 members and has about 95 now. Had she retained all her members, membership would be at 135. One lesson she has learned: "Retention is the hardest part of owning a gym."

Mohsen Etezazi would agree. He's president of Fitness 2000, which has a women-only location at 2234 S. Oliver as well as a coed one at 1046 S. Oliver.

"We've seen a little bit of fall-off" at the women's club, he said. "It's a cycle I see every two or three years."

He attributes that less to the economy and more to the nature of the business. "Whatever goes down eventually comes back up," he said. "It's a cycle.... (But) the health business is a good business to be in."

Swan Fitness doesn't have all the amenities of a full-service gym but offers 30-minute circuit training, using weighted machines. It also has cardio equipment and weights. Fitness coaches or personal trainers work with customers individually to keep them on a progressive track, Swan said, and several membership options are available.

She said she draws members from Rose Hill, Haysville and Mulvane as well as Derby. They range in age from 16 to 89. Because members are offered individual attention, she doesn't want the membership to get too big — 200 will probably be the upper limit, she said. "I believe in retention rather than recruiting."