Mark Akin, the co-owner of Envision Memphis in Memphis, Tennessee, is a big fan of community. Almost 11 years ago he struggled with drug addiction and explained that without a supportive community, his recovery would have been much more difficult (he has since achieved sobriety).
As a result, when he had the opportunity to co-purchase Envision Memphis with Joanna Harris in 2009, he jumped at the chance. His hope was to be able to create a community for people who needed support with their health and wellness.
“I never really wanted to own a gym,” recalled Akin. “In Memphis, the big-box gyms kind of rule the day, and I never really had an interest in owning a gym like that.”
However, with only 150 members, Envision Memphis was different. “I actually come from a hospitality background, and we’re small enough we can still maintain that kind of personal, hospitality feel. We create an experience that [members] can look forward to as much as they would a nice meal at their favorite restaurant.”
The club strives to go above and beyond to ensure its 150 members feel anything but isolated. “We have outdoor recesses, outdoor boot camps, socials, guest speakers — just anything to give people something to do besides going to a bar or going home and watching TV,” he said. “If you want to be a gym and offer people a second chance at a healthier life, you’ve got to do more than just turn the treadmills on and point them to where the dumbbells are. You want to give them a chance to change their life.”
A unique aspect to Envision Memphis is it doesn’t boast contracts or joining fees. At $40 per month, members gain full access to the gym’s amenities (minus Group X). For just $10 more, Group X is included.
Regardless of what members pay, they all have full access to Akin. “Everybody has my phone number,” he said. “Anyone can call me with any problem, and I’m there all the time.”
Akin believes his accessibility has helped him form partnerships with local businesses through the gym’s corporate wellness program. The program provides corporate recesses, lunch and learns, personal training, group activities and more to companies looking to better employee wellness.
“We basically put the bug in their ear that we are their resource for fitness and wellness and based on our performance, we earn their loyalty,” explained Akin. “A lot of people in Memphis are becoming more open to the idea of keeping their employees motivated and retained through wellness, so we’ve kind of become that resource for them.”
In the end, Akin has succeeded in creating a community of people who support one another in their fitness goals, as he first envisioned. In fact, the club has a membership attendance record between 65 and 75 percent. “The community of people we have is amazing,” he said. “They hold each other accountable. They meet at the gym. They become friends, they hang out. They make business relationships at the gym. It’s just really an amazing group of people.”
By Rachel Zabonick