Even as the fitness craze continued to pick up steam in the Golden State at the dawn of the 1990s, California Family Fitness co-founders Larry Gury and Russ Kuhn really weren’t thinking all that big when they first met.
“There was one fitness center (in Elk Grove), and I knew all the members,” Gury recalled last week. “I really had no idea it would get so big. It’s really wonderful knowing that the concept we grew is being carried on. That’s a great feeling.”
California Family Fitness, or CFF for short, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Over a quarter of a century, Orangevale-based CFF has evolved into a juggernaut in the region’s fitness industry.
They invested in growing (fitness centers) in a market with strong demand. They never overextended themselves … And the demographics were perfect. The number of (centers) grew along with the number of baby boomers looking to stay fit.
Ron Price, a Bay Area startup and business consultant
Today, CFF operates 19 fitness centers in the Sacramento area. Last year alone, it opened a new 30,000-square-foot facility in the Pocket neighborhood of Sacramento and a five-level, 32,000-square-foot club at 1012 K St., in downtown Sacramento.
CFF has more than 100,000 individual members, and its facilities host nearly 5,000 fitness classes of all stripes each month. The privately held company employs about 1,300 but does not disclose annual revenue.
Co-founders Gury and Kuhn have since moved on to other challenges – they’re co-founders and partners of the Roseville real estate investment firm, Fit Development – but Randy Karr, named CFF president back in May 2009, continues in that role. His association with the co-founders and CFF dates back to 1997.
Fitness club memberships nationally swelled to more than 54 million members in 2015 from 19 million in 1995, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association.
“Part of what we’re doing this year is to celebrate what (Gury and Kuhn) started and how it has grown since then,” said Karr, speaking last week amid a flurry of activity at the sprawling CFF club on Oak Avenue Parkway in Folsom.
The Folsom facility represents the CFF approach to fitness clubs: something for everybody, from toddlers to seniors.
An expansive child care area offers space, adult supervision and activity-laden entertainment for youngsters ages 3 months to 3 years; children ages 4 to 11 can be part of the facility’s Kidz Klub program. Activities available there include arts and crafts, indoor play areas and various exercises. Ages 12 and up can sample adult activities. Adults can also indulge with tanning, hydromassage, a Jacuzzi, sauna, steam room or juice bar.
Certified fitness trainers are available for everything from light cardio workouts to triathlons. Classes offer instruction in yoga, Pilates, dance, Zumba and swimming.
“We take a lot of pride in being able to offer something for the whole family, something for everyone …We want the experience to be enjoyable for the kids and the parents. That’s what we work toward,” Karr said.
Over the years, CFF also has developed relationships with local schools, helping to foster fitness and exercise programs, an outreach effort that is ongoing. The company sponsors more than 50 community events annually.
CFF’s family fitness blueprint still has DNA from the then-modest goals that co-founders Gury and Kuhn envisioned 25 years ago.
Back then, Gury was a manager with Sacramento’s Southgate Recreation & Park District, and Kuhn was managing a fitness club in Elk Grove.
“I had a passion to open my own fitness center, and very similar to my experience (with Southgate), I wanted to help people. I didn’t know the fitness center business, so I went over and introduced myself to Russ, just to get the feel of the business, to get an understanding of the business.”
Gury kept his Southgate duties but hired on as a trainer at the Elk Grove facility, which would become CFF No. 1.
Gury and Kuhn quickly learned that their shared experiences dovetailed nicely. Gury said they wondered if “we can take this a step further and combine the whole children’s component to it.” Gury certainly understood that. When he used to take his daughter along on workouts, “she hated to go with me.”
“With children,” Gury added, “it really is a form of entertainment, so that’s how we started to think about it.”
The timing was good. Fitness club memberships nationally swelled to more than 19 million, or about 40 percent, between 1987 and 1995, according to the Boston-based International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. IHRSA said memberships swelled to about 50 million by 2010. Last year, the association said there were more than 54 million members at more than 34,000 clubs nationwide.
Gury recalled that “competition in the fitness industry was very fierce back then.” And he said the industry briefly got a bad name when some fitness center operators opened and offered cash-only memberships, then suddenly folded operations.
“We had to overcome that and the competition, but I think the whole family element of what we offered changed everything,” Gury said.
Ron Price, a Bay Area startup and business consultant, agrees.
“They invested in growing (fitness centers) in a market with strong demand,” Price said. “They never overextended themselves … And the demographics were perfect. The number of (centers) grew along with the number of baby boomers looking to stay fit.
“Adding the family element was smart … Baby boomers were pressed for time as it was, so instead of making arrangements to leave the kids at home to go work out, they could take the kids along. That way, everybody was involved, and it was a healthy lifestyle for the whole family.”
Gury would leave his job as general manager of Southgate in December 1998, devoting his full attention to growing CFF, which continued to open facilities throughout the Sacramento area.
A decade ago, Gury and Kuhn started a process that would ultimately move them away from CFF. They sold CFF to Boston-based Bunker Hill Capital in 2006. Near the close of 2015, CFF was acquired for an undisclosed amount by Arlington, Va.-based Perpetual Capital Partners.
Given PCP’s history of acquiring established companies and investing in future growth, Karr believes more expansion in the Sacramento region is likely. He declined to speculate on future growth outside the region.
Karr believes the Sacramento area is a perfect setting for CFF. He noted that Sacramento ranked as the fifth “fittest city in the United States,” according to the 2015 American College of Sports Medicine American Fitness Index. Indianapolis-based ACSM weighed factors that included frequency of exercise, consumption of healthy foods, obesity and percentage of individuals with health problems that included asthma, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
For now, CFF has planned various 25th anniversary events at its facilities throughout 2016.
That includes the “Body Fit Games,” a fitness competition where members will participate in high-intensity interval workouts; the games kick off at 8 a.m. April 30 at the CFF Folsom club.
Also planned are “Retro Takeover” events, with 1990s-themed fitness classes, decor and workout attire at various CFF sites. “Expect lots of leg warmers and headbands,” Karr says.
California Family Fitness
Origins: Co-founded by Larry Gury and Russ Kuhn, with the first CFF center opened in Elk Grove in 1991
Onwership: Arlington, Va.-based Perpetual Capital Partners acquired California Family Fitness in December 2015
Facilities: 19 fitness centers in the Sacramento area
Employees: More than 1,300
Members: More than 100,000
Fitness classes: At all facilities combined, nearly 5,000 a month
More information: californiafamilyfitness.com
Source: California Family Fitness