A ‘David Versus Goliath’ Challenge in Las Vegas

The lobby at City Athletic Club in Las Vegas, Nev.

In certain cities, in terms of competition, start-up business owners may feel like a small fish in a large pond. Jea Jung, the owner of City Athletic Club, said that’s exactly how he felt when he first opened his club a year ago in Las Vegas, Nev.

“Las Vegas is one of the toughest club markets anywhere,” said Jung. “Not only do you have all of the major chains here, there is also a huge local chain that has several mega clubs for $20 per month. Life Time [Fitness] opened its 200,000-square-foot flagship club here just a few months before we grand opened, and David Barton opened its latest club a few months after. This is the shark tank.”

Due to this fierce competition for members, Jung had to find a way to differentiate himself completely from big box clubs. He did so by taking a “limited-member” approach, targeting trainers, over members, as his main focus. “I’m not going to pick a fight I know I can’t win, so I decided to create a new business model that put trainers first,” explained Jung. “I have over 80 independent trainers that simply rent space to run their training businesses. You could almost consider it a massive training studio, but because I offer all of the same amenities as other clubs, many of the trainers’ clients end up joining the club.”

Jung further differentiated City Athletic Club by offering members and trainers the best of the best when it came to amenities and club style. The 48,000-square-foot facility was the only health club in Las Vegas to be awarded the Condé Nast Five Star distinction. Along with amenities that appeal to both trainers and their clients, City Athletic Club boasts features unique from other clubs in the area, including a full Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) octagon ring, 30 heavy bags for boxing-style classes and the club recently became an official CrossFit affiliate.

According to Jung, the demand for MMA and boxing-style options has been rising. “The definition of ‘multipurpose club’ is changing,” said Jung. “Although there has been tepid adoption by the big chains, I don’t think they’re moving quickly enough to meet the member demand for MMA, boxing and CrossFit-style facilities and workouts. This also circles back to [City Athletic Club] providing the best possible facilities and training environments for my trainers — there is nowhere else they would go to train their clients. If my trainers aren’t successful, neither am I. And my trainers success depends on client results — so, in that respect, my approach is the exact opposite of many discount club operators.”

Jung garnered his knowledge of the industry as a former pro bodybuilder. He began bodybuilding at the age of 15, and won his first competition when he was 19 years old. He would go on to win four Heavyweight Titles during the course of his bodybuilding career. “[I] had a great career, and getting into the gym business was a natural progression for me,” said Jung. “It has also been a way for me to stay connected to the sport, and being in Las Vegas I host many of the athletes and photo shoots during the Mr. Olympia competition. We are the official gym for Mr. Olympia and have scheduled shoots for Oxygen, Muscle&Fitness, Flex Magazine and Muscular Development.”

Due to his experience as a competitive bodybuilder, and his ability to differentiate himself from his current competition, Jung has made City Athletic Club a major contender in the “shark tank” that is the health club industry in Las Vegas. “My job was to build the facility, but the club culture and environment has taken on a life of its own,” said Jung. “When I walk the floor at prime time, almost everyone is with a trainer. As a club owner, I take tremendous pride in that.”

How has your club differentiated itself from the local competition? Make a point this month to focus on differentiating factors in your club and strive to promote them to potential members. Don’t waste your time trying to be like a low-priced competitor. Spend your time showing the member why you’re more valuable.


By Rachel Zabonick

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