Days before owner/founder Hailee Bland-Walsh first debuted City Gym in 2011, she had a complete breakdown. The kind of breakdown where she found herself laying on her kitchen floor with tear-soaked cheeks, wondering why people would ever buy what she was prepared to sell.
“What I’ve learned as a small business owner and entrepreneur is that if it excites you and scares the hell out of you, it’s probably the direction you should go,” she says.
That was five years ago. In the short time since then, City Gym has realized an identity all its own. The sleek and modern boutique ditched the contracts and promised to win their clients' business every month. To Hailee, it was a place for vulnerability, authenticity, and connection -- and this premise caught on.
Soon, Google would select City Gym for a national TV campaign that would showcase its values of connection and inclusivity, capturing the attention of not just Kansas City, but the world. Today, City Gym’s more than 50 trainers and instructors serve a growing base of 1,400 members and counting.
“We have three core values: community, inspiration, and exceptional service,” she explained. “The intention was to create a place where people could walk in the door and be a part of something, be a part of a movement, connect to themselves. Gyms tend to be places where people feel intimidated, so I wanted to create an environment where people felt like they were being met where they are, not pushed to be something else. Something that was also packaged in something slick, contemporary, and innovative, but also took into account that people want to feel safe, seen, and connected to themselves and others.”
Five years later, that familiar anxious feeling in her gut is back, and that’s because she’s doing it all over again. By April, Hailee and her team will open City Gym’s second location, an 8,700-square-foot space in the heart of the historic Pickwick Plaza. Boasting an open gym, spin studio, and group exercise studio, the facility’s amenities will include cardio, strength, and functional training equipment, personal training, private shower suites, lifestyle design programs, and more than 40 weekly group exercise classes.
As an anchor tenant in the mixed-use project, the facility will benefit from a built-in customer base of apartment renters living in the 260 units above, who will have free access to the open gym.
For Hailee, the creation phase is running much more smoothly this time around. She credits that to the solid foundation she’s built in Waldo, the team that surrounds her, and her strong sense of intuition with which she leads. Now that City Gym has found its identity, the decisions come easier, she says.
Despite countless conversations with local developers and a number of tours of properties from downtown to the Crossroads Arts District, nothing felt right -- until the Pickwick.
“I’ve learned to trust my intuition, and when I walked in the door, I said, ‘This is it.' "
Gyms and fitness facilities have become some of the most successful real estate tenants in the post-recession retail realm. While consumers increasingly gravitate toward their screens to make everyday purchases, that same screen falls short in replicating experiences that require a physical location -- services like personal training or a transformative yoga class.
The data backs it up; According to the International Health, Racquet & Sports Association, it’s a $24.4 billion industry whose revenue climbed 9 percent from 2013 to 2015. Nearly 55 million Americans have fitness memberships, and that number is getting stronger by the day.
Cushman & Wakefield’s Gib Kerr represented City Gym in its downtown real estate search over the past two years.
“The Pickwick Plaza project hit on all cylinders,” Kerr said. “It’s a beautiful development in a dynamic neighborhood with growing residential and office populations nearby.”