Health Care

Genesis Health Clubs celebrates 25 years

The fitness industry is constantly changing, Rodney Steven II says, but health clubs are here to stay.

Count his Genesis Health Clubs among them.

From a single location, the business — now in its 25th year — has grown to seven: four clubs in Wichita and one each in Hutchinson, Salina and Emporia.

Nationally, the number of health clubs has nearly tripled from the mid-1980s, from about 10,000 to 29,750 at the beginning of 2009, the most recent year for which numbers are available from the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.

Industry revenue has grown from $6.5 billion in 1993 to $19.5 billion in 2009, according to the association.

Genesis has about 35,000 members, Steven said, and about 400 full- and part-time employees.

Genesis will keep growing as long as the staff is willing to provide the personalized, passionate service that has made it a success, he said.

That's been his emphasis from the start.

Genesis was "the newest, hottest health club in town," emphasizing high-impact aerobics and racquetball, when his uncle opened it in 1986 on 13th near West Street, Steven said.

Steven got involved a few years later when he started working out at the club as a new college grad.

He saw it as "a business that could be capitalized on" and arranged to buy the building his uncle had been leasing.

Steven took over the club in 1994. The first two years, he "worked that club open to close every day."

As an athlete himself, his goal was to help customers.

"I took it so personal," he said. "If you didn't meet your fitness goals, I failed."

Though he still prizes the personal touch, Steven has had |to focus on other parts of the business as Genesis has expanded.

"There's more infrastructure than I would have imagined," he said.

His other big business lesson: "Big, big buildings cost a lot of money."

Genesis' second location opened in 1996, in space that had been occupied by Exertech, one of many fitness facilities Steven said he has seen close through the years.

Steven planned to build near Central and Maize Road and near 13th and Greenwich but neither project went ahead because he bought existing health clubs nearby:

The Genesis at 854 N. Socora had 50,000 square feet when Steven bought it in 1999; it now occupies 102,000 square feet with the completion of its tennis facility earlier this year. The Rock Road Genesis, which Steven calls "the premier health club in the state," has had major renovations and additions since he bought it in 2001.

Genesis moved out of town when Steven bought a Hutchinson shopping center in 2005; he remodeled part of it for the fifth Genesis. The Salina facility also is in part of a shopping center. He bought an existing health club in Emporia.

The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association said in a statement that Genesis, one of its members, has been successful because of "its ability to meet member needs and continually offer diverse programming that keeps them engaged and interested in exercise" and has stayed ahead of the curve by adding corporate wellness and rehabilitation services.

Mohsen Etezazi, president of the Fitness 2000 clubs, said Steven is "a good businessman" who is able to manage his daily operations even in tough economic times.

Challenges

Steven said Genesis has been fortunate, "knock on wood."

But it has had challenges:

Steven said he goes head-to-head with the Greater Wichita YMCA; each gets about 60 percent of its revenue from memberships, he said. But he sees himself at a disadvantage because the Y doesn't pay property, sales or income tax, nor do its members pay sales tax on their dues.

The original Genesis burned down in late 2003. Deciding whether to rebuild "was a tough decision. Extremely tough," he said.

"At the time, I thought I was going to be building at 29th and Maize."

Steven owns 22 acres there, north of NewMarket Square. He announced in 2004 that he would build a $6 million to $8 million club that he intended to be a west-side version of the Rock Road Genesis.

He asked the city for industrial revenue bonds that would be used in part to build that facility and later sued, saying the city reneged on a deal to issue the bonds. Genesis eventually lost the case.

Steven, a longtime tennis player, wanted to use part of the bond money to build an indoor tennis facility at Riverside Park. He and another group had submitted bids to build one but the city put the project on hold in 2004. Two years later, it decided to put a dome over tennis courts instead.

Steven wouldn't say what he intends for the land at 29th North and Maize Road, beyond "I bought that to build a health club" and that "It'd be tough" to build one there now.

He doesn't plan to stop with seven Genesis clubs, either. He said he is looking at a couple of other locations "really hard right now" and may have deals completed by the end of the year.

"I have a lot of awesome staff members," he said. "So we're willing to do some more clubs."

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