Catalyst Fitness: A Passion Project
Driven by passion, Amy Bueme is creating a fitness hub for the Buffalo community through Catalyst Fitness, where members and staff can “activate their lives.”
The fitness industry is teeming with extremely passionate professionals committed to improving the health outcomes and lives of the communities they serve.
Amy Bueme, a co-owner of Catalyst Fitness in Buffalo, New York, is among this esteemed group. She’s driven by her passion for personal fitness and crafting gyms that inspire members to “activate their lives.”
Catalyst Fitness’ roots began in 1979 when Joe Bueme, Amy’s husband, founded a small lifting gym that eventually transitioned and grew to three Gold’s Gym franchises. In 2010, the couple recognized the need to evolve yet again in light of increasing competition and a changing marketplace. So, they officially rebranded to Catalyst Fitness in 2012.
According to Amy, the couple felt a local brand would have more power in the marketplace, with the city of Buffalo holding a tradition of favoring locally-owned over national or corporate brands.
“As we were kicking around the idea of rebranding I said to my husband, ‘This is Buffalo,’” recalled Amy. “People love local-owned, and we’ve got to give our market what they want. We became the local spot to be, and we started to grow and grow.”
Soon after rebranding, the Buemes opened a fourth “express” location, and in 2016 acquired two locations from Best Fitness, which they rebranded to fall under the Catalyst Fitness name. They opened their seventh and flagship location in 2019, right before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Along the way, a non-negotiable for the couple was owning their own real estate. This became key to surviving the pandemic, whereas many industry colleagues struggled to pay rent and cut deals with landlords.
“We own all of our own real estate,” said Amy. “Yes, it’s a slower growth doing it that way. But at the end of the day, we can make moves whenever we want, we call the shots and there’s more money in our pocket for growth later on. During the pandemic this was important because we pay rent to ourselves — we’re not going to stalk and evict ourselves.”
Owning their own real estate has also allowed the Buemes to make changes and renovate the clubs without restriction. A key to the business’ success is the owners’ willingness to reinvest in the product, constantly update equipment and incorporate the latest fitness trends.
“Amy doesn’t let things deteriorate — she’s always on top of everything,” said Ellen Coleman, the group fitness director at Catalyst Fitness. “Her vision with these clubs — they’re all different. They’re all state of the art and cutting edge.”
There’s no greater example of this than the newest Catalyst Fitness location in Amherst, New York — which Amy says is the culmination of everything the couple has learned over the last 30-plus years of gym ownership.
Spanning 55,000 square feet, the Amherst location features five studios, recovery zones, a cardio cinema and Amy’s favorite space: a 40-yard indoor turf field designed to mimic a football stadium.
“It creates so much energy,” said Amy. “My vision was the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo loves sports. I said, ‘I’m going to make the inside of the club like a football stadium.’ So the whole middle of the club is this ginormous, 10,000-square-feet of turf. I built a mezzanine, so when you’re on a cardio piece you’re looking down over the field. I put screens up so you can watch TV and look over the space. It creates such a unique vibe.”
The Amherst location also features a plethora of opportunities to build strength in a field house style weight room, with three full racks of dumbbells, eight fitness power racks, a conditioning area for CrossFit training, TRX bands and more.
“I could not have enough dumbbells, straight bars, curl bars or benches,” said Amy. “The demand has been crazy.”
According to Coleman, consumers are moving away from favoring cardio to strength equipment, which she attributes to the trend of women and Gen Z no longer feeling a stigma toward lifting weights. The misconception that lifting weights makes women “bulky” is no longer a part of the cultural zeitgeist.
“Younger girls are getting exposed to strength training through Instagram, Facebook and TikTok — it’s just everywhere,” said Coleman. “There’s been a shift toward functional training and strength with people using dumbbells, kettlebells, battle ropes and medicine balls, versus just going down the line of machines.”
There is one thing the Amherst location does not have that many premium gyms carve out space for: kids club. According to Amy, incorporating kids club was a mistake they kept making over and over again.
“It is a money pit,” said Amy. “Your payroll is high and the members don’t want to pay for it. We will never do kids club ever again.”
In fact, during the course of the pandemic, Amy removed the kids club offering from all locations to make room for recovery zones — with features such as massage beds and stretching areas — which she feels adds more value to the club offering and is more aligned with where the industry is headed.
“The recovery spaces are huge and offer a space where you can just go and relax, sit and have a quiet space for your mental and physical well-being,” said Amy.
In addition to removing the kids clubs, the Buemes were also able to make adjustments to the brand’s four membership tiers — ranging from $14.99 to $39.99 — to address a problem they were having with guest privileges.
“Before the pandemic, our EFT was high because everyone wanted the guest privileges that came with the $21.99 premier membership,” recalled Amy. “Well, I started doing the numbers and was like, ‘OK, people are on to this. They’re doing a two-for-one,’ and it was getting out of control. So we switched up the memberships and packaged guest privileges into two top-tier memberships.”
According to Amy, these changes were easier to make than in previous years as a result of the pandemic — with members being more understanding due to restrictions and the tough circumstances of the past year and a half.
In addition, the goodwill the Buemes had built in the community as local owners and advocates for fitness was only amplified during this time, making changes even easier to accept.
“Gyms aren’t just for physical fitness, which is something I was really vocal about during the shutdowns in New York state,” said Amy. “We held press conferences. I was on the TV and the radio, pleading for mental and physical health. We joined the New York State Fitness Alliance. I couldn’t tell you how many people called in or came in, and thanked us for fighting for our gym and all small businesses.”
According to Heather DiDomenico, the accounting manager and human resources lead for Catalyst Fitness, the Buemes’ passion for the industry and fitness as a whole — and willingness to go to bat for it at a public level — has been a key driver of growth for the brand over the years.
“Joe and Amy have such a passion for the industry, and I think that’s something nothing else compares to in the area,” said DiDomenico. “A big box doesn’t necessarily have that person behind the brand who just lives it every day and is so excited to talk to people about it; and just really get that message out there of how important exercise is to your health and well-being.”
As a result of the owners’ passion, Catalyst Fitness has become a hub for the Buffalo community where people can come together and live the tagline, “United we sweat.”
“When you come into the gyms, it’s welcoming,” said DiDomenico. “The people behind the front counter know your name, they know why you’re there, they engage you. It’s more of a community feel than it is just walking in the door, getting a workout in and then leaving. Even our maintenance staff engage with our members and build rapport with everyone. I think that’s a huge part of the success because when people come, they tend to stay for quite some time.”
Because of Catalyst’ tight-knit community, the prolonged shutdown of gyms in New York state was a trying time — as was the case for most gyms across the U.S. The brand was closed from March 16, 2020 to August 24, 2020, and briefly from November 19, 2020 to December 14, 2020.
Upon reopening, and in light of the lifting of mask mandates in New York state for vaccinated individuals in May 2021, Amy shared the Catalyst community is bursting with excitement to come together again. And what lies ahead indicates a bright future with even more growth in the cards.
“I feel really good about the future,” said Amy. “More and more people are coming off of freezes and we’ve definitely got a whole new group of people joining. A lot of people are buying personal training again. The members and my staff are so happy and smiling that they can see people and talk more freely. Everyone is just happy.”