More than 5,000 Richmond fitness hopefuls signed up for gym memberships at the new Planet Fitness that opened Friday inside a former Safeway store location on the corner of MacDonald and San Pablo. The gym is now one of the three major gyms in the Richmond area.
“Richmond appealed to us one because there aren’t a lot of fitness facilities in this area. In the East Bay there’s only a handful of fitness facilities and not a lot that are reasonably priced, so Richmond was very appealing,” said Tom Deschuytner, director of openings for the privately-held fitness center company.
The gym promotes a $10 a month membership, and Deschuytner said he expects the number of members to double after the opening. Deschuytner said that the reason Planet Fitness is able to make a profit despite the low membership fee is because of the high membership volume. He said that competing gyms charge members more simply because they can.
The 30,000 square foot gym is part of the company’s recent expansion throughout California. It is open 24 hours Monday through Friday, with shorter weekend hours. Planet Fitness is mainly a franchising company. The Richmond location, however, is corporately owned. Deschuytner said that’s because the corporate office wants to make sure an area works before allowing franchises, to decrease the risk for the franchisee.
Although the location is corporately run, it hires locally, and corporate managers will train staff for potential high-ranking promotions.
The 4925 Macdonald Avenue address was chosen by Planet Fitness because of its visibility from the nearby highway, centralized location, and nearness to bus stops. It’s also a standalone site, although Planet Fitness gyms are usually located in strip malls. The building had been vacant since Safeway moved to its El Cerrito location two years ago.
According to Lori Reese-Brown of the Richmond City Manager’s Office, plans for Planet Fitness expansion to Richmond started about a year ago. Planet Fitness approached Richmond with the proposal to open a gym in the city, and city officials agreed, stating it worked well with the city’s initiative to become more health-conscious. “It’s a great opportunity for Richmond in making healthier choices in the community,” said Reese-Brown.
Shirley Pena, a Richmond resident, signed up for the pre-membership, and said it’s a step toward making her health a bigger priority. “Frankly, this is closest to my house. I wanted to remove as many obstacles as I can to working out, and so I chose this,” Pena said.
The only other major gyms in Richmond are the YMCA and 24-hour Fitness, but they are both located in the northern most area of the city, in the Hilltop Mall. In contrast to its competitors, however, the gym does not possess a pool, a fact some gym patrons remarked on during its opening.
Deschuytner said what separates Planet Fitness from its competition is that it offers a non-judgmental and non-intimidating atmosphere. That idea is reflected in Planet Fitness’s newest advertising campaign, which shows gym-goers finding relief and sanctuary in a Planet Fitness gym after suffering from the grunts, intimidation, and uncomfortable situations of other gyms.
“The majority of our members are first-time gyms users, so we try to create a comfortable atmosphere. A lot of people haven’t gone to gyms in the past because they tend to be laughed at, stared at because of their size, shape or whatnot. Here we welcome everybody,” Deschuytner said.