How privately owned gyms in Winnipeg succeed in underdog role

Paul Taylor's gym on Corydon Avenue, the Brickhouse Gym, is approaching the two year milestone in May 2010.
Photo Credit: Kalen Qually

The classic underdog story often seems to involve boxing gloves and impossible odds. But in this story, I’m not talking about the wannabe contender, but rather the gym he trains at.

Thanks to the challenges associated with establishing a small business in a very competitive industry, privately owned gyms in Winnipeg are clearly the Rocky Balboa to commercial gyms’ Apollo Creed (also see: Clubber Lang, Ivan Drago, Tommy Gunn, Mason Dixon).

Just to survive, privately owned gyms need to deal independently with startup costs and building clientele with facilities that are far from rivaling commercial gyms like Shapes, YMCA, or Goodlife Fitness. It’s the definition of “against all odds”.

“When running a gym with limited space or facilities, you have to offer something of value that commercial gyms can’t offer,” said Ryan Savage, co-owner of United Boxing located at 201 Scott St. in Winnipeg

“You need something that will justify the fee you’re charging. For us, it’s our level of coaching and the personal service.”

Savage is a retired amateur boxer and has earned his level-three coach’s certificate from Canada’s National Coaching Certification Program. He is one of four level-three coaches at United Boxing and boasts that there is no other boxing gym in Winnipeg with comparable expertise.

Recalling how difficult it was when he and partner JT Smith started their boxing club in August 2006, Savage said they used to work out of community centres to save on rent.

“We had classes cancelled because of bingo night,” he said. “We eventually decided to lease our own space which was very difficult at first because we were paying for rent out of our own pockets.”

It’s a problem that local gym owner Paul Taylor can relate to. Taylor opened his own gym in May 2008 after converting a small space at 607 Corydon Ave. into the Brickhouse Gym. He had little financial backing at the time and knew opening the gym was a huge gamble.

“It was ballsy,” said Taylor. “My bank loans could have been refused, but by that point I had all my savings into this place. It was touch-and-go for the first few months.”

He credits the fact he’s approaching two years in business to his faithful clientele, which according to Taylor was built almost entirely on word of mouth. He also commented that the clientele at the Brickhouse Gym are not average gym members in any way.

“If you’re looking for a public gym, the Brickhouse maybe isn’t your place. Some people are content with spinning their tires but the people that come to our boot camps and are dedicated will be in the best shape of their lives. That’s what I offer.”

The “tire-spinners” are also likely to be drawn to the more affordable rates at public gyms. The YMCA at 3550 Portage Ave. charges $38 per month for adults, $28 for students, and includes a family package for $58 per month. Compare that to United Boxing, who charge $60 per month for adults, or the Brickhouse Gym’s $150 per month.

“We deliver a top notch product,” said Taylor, who prides himself on his gym’s intense and focused atmosphere.

There lies the difference between private gyms like Brickhouse Gym and United Boxing when compared to YMCA.

Chris Beck from the YMCA on Portage explained that they offer great rates and facilities, including a swimming pool where families can enroll kids in swimming lessons.

“We have trainers that go through a YMCA fitness leadership program that will give them ideas on how to train in certain areas like golf or hockey,” said Beck, “but the YMCA probably isn’t the best place to come for specialized training.”

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Kalen Qually of Red River College

  • 33 years old
  • Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
  • User since Oct 27th 2009, 09:39