CANFIELD - While at Muskingum College she felt that health and physical education was her career calling, but after personally training people through her college years Erin Mellinger found that was the way she wanted to go.
"I shifted my focus from health and phys-ed and obtained certification as a personal trainer," she said. "I was trying to think of creative ways to make money and found my true passion in personal training."
She opened her first Fitness Together center in Canfield in 2008. Last April a second location opened in Poland.
You could have found a better year to start a business than in 2008 when the economy took a plunge. But Mellinger, 29, moved ahead. It was a good move and the Poland Fitness Together has turned out to be more than a good fit. Mellinger was recently recognized with the Franchisee of the Year award from among 240 Fitness Together studio owners at the company's recent national conference in St. Petersburg Beach, Fla.
"The location on the edge of Canfield and Poland ... I was already training people from that area and I had a pretty good reputation," said Mellinger, a 2002 graduate of Crestview High School.
The Canfield Fitness Together is located at 6579 Ironwood Boulevard and the Poland Fitness Together is at 6541 Clingan Road. Both can be reached by calling 330-702-1311.
"Poland is close but far enough away not to take away from Canfield ... and I still had brand recognition," she explained.
There are five employees at each location with a total of six full- and four part-time and Mellinger tries to split her time equally between them.
A little more than 1,000, 45-minute training sessions are held each month (250 a week) serving about 110 clients spread over both locations, she said.
"You've got a trainer with you all the time to take all the guess work out of it."
Most clients are between 35 and 55 years of age and Mellinger said 60 percent are female.
"We do a handful of high school and college athletes," she said and the ages range from 11 to 85 years old. Each client has a custom workout program and nutrition plan," she said, noting that the busiest hours are from 5:30 a.m. until 11 a.m. peak, and then from 3 p.m. until 9 p.m. when it peaks again.
Hours are 5 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 5 a.m. until 3 p.m. on Saturday.
Three-tiered programs include resistance training with dumbbells, bands and medicine balls; cardiovascular workouts with the elliptical machine; and, nutrition.
"We have a dietitian who floats between each facility and gets them started and checks in periodically," Mellinger said, explaining that most clients are interested in weight loss, while some just want to be in shape and others are looking at comebacks from surgery and need professional knowledge about rehabilitation.
And there are also athletes.
"But the vast majority is weight loss," she said. "We've had a couple people who lost over 100 pounds. We have one girl who lost 100 pounds and her goal was to run a 5K and she ran a half-marathon (13 miles)."
She mentioned another middle-aged client, a man who lost 100 pounds and is "now ripped."
Mellinger said the staff is "laser focused" on the clients. Apparently the word has gotten around. "Most people call us," she said and put down any notion that personalized training is a luxury.
"You can't put a value on health," she said noting that while it is disposable income it's not a luxury. "It's for everybody. Everything in life is better when you look and feel your best. That's why we're successful. We see value and saving lives as success. We've changed lives for some. We've really been able to get them where they want to be. I got into business because I know how important it is for people to enjoy life, that's what it's all about. Helping people have a quality of life."