November 26, 2004


Reshaping fitness industry: No-frills Curves becomes No. 1 in exercise centers by letting women be comfortable (CLARKE CANFIELD, 11/25/04, Associated Press)

Targeting women in small-town America is part of the company's business strategy — and it's working. Curves has grown to more than 8,400 franchises in all 50 states and 28 countries, making it by far the world's No. 1 fitness center in terms of number of clubs. One in every four fitness clubs in the United States is a Curves, including 44 in the Houston area.

In some ways, Curves is the anti-club: no treadmills, no saunas, no locker rooms, no mirrors, no aerobics classes, no free weights. Forget the spandex — sweat shirts rule.

Members work out on eight to 12 hydraulic resistance machines, stopping between stations to walk or jog in place. The clubs' standard routine is over in 30 minutes and is designed to burn 500 calories.

While other clubs go after the prized 18-to-34 demographic, Curves' customers are more likely to be aging baby boomers. [...]

The company is the creation of Gary Heavin, 49, who heads Curves International in Waco. Heavin was a millionaire by age 30 after taking over a failing health club in Houston and expanding it into a chain of 17 clubs. But then came a divorce, bankruptcy and business failure. He spent 2 1/2 months in jail when he couldn't make child support payments.

In 1992, Heavin and his second wife, Diane, opened the first Curves club. It was small and simple, a place where women could feel comfortable.

Three years later, Heavin was selling franchises, and by 1998 there were 500. Curves aims to have more than 25,000 — including 8,000 in Asia and 8,000 in Europe — within five years. By comparison, Gold's Gyms and Bally Total Fitness, two of the biggest fitness clubs in the country, have about 1,000 facilities between them. [...]

Curves and Heavin, however, aren't without critics.

Some dismiss Curves as a fad. Heavin, a born-again Christian, has been criticized for his conservative political views and donations to anti-abortion causes. Some members have quit the clubs over his political stands.

At the annual Curves convention in Las Vegas this month, one of the topics was "the fallout from my values," Heavin said.

Heavin is credited with shaking up the fitness industry.

The Curves phenomenon has "forever altered the landscape of the worldwide fitness industry," John McCarthy, executive director of the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, wrote in a recent state-of-the-industry letter to association members.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 26, 2004 9:06 AM

no treadmills, no saunas, no locker rooms, no mirrors, no aerobics classes, no free weights.

No locker rooms? The women work out with their coats and purses?

Posted by: PapayaSF at November 26, 2004 2:56 PM

I approve of segregating the unattractive women into clubs of their own.

Posted by: Brandon at November 26, 2004 4:53 PM


Amen, brother, keep Curves for the middle aged conservative hotties.

Posted by: oj at November 26, 2004 5:19 PM

The thing about the Curves franchises is their start-up and operational costs, along with required space, is far smaller than you're average urban/suburban health clubs. So a Curves franchisee can get along with a small storefront shop in a neighborhood strip mall, which also means depending on the area population, they can become as ubiquious as other low-costs franchises, so long as the local owner doesn't foul things up.

Posted by: John at November 26, 2004 5:56 PM


The women who attend the Curves in my area are no advertisement for 'fitness.' I can imagine them doing aerobics with a piece of chocolate layer cake rather a dumbell. Now in, bite, out, in, bite, out, etc. They look like extras from the shoe store scenes on 'Married With Children.' OTOH, one of the instructors looks hot for a mother in her late 30s, she definitely suffers from a case of 'mommy butt.'

John is right about the efficient use of space.

Posted by: Bart at November 27, 2004 3:37 AM