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Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)


Today's younger generations don't necessarily work out in the same big-box gyms that their parents did. They like to mix it up and try out the trendy boutique fitness centers.

Their workout time is also their social time, and they often like to frequent more than one of these small gyms, which can get expensive.

These findings led April Palmer and Brig Leland to develop Pivot Pass, a membership program that gives access to a variety of small fitness centers without the burden of multiple gym fees.

Pivot Pass began a couple of years ago in Charlottesville, where Palmer had taken a job as an American Express senior manager of account development.

"We tried out a punch-card system and asked people to give us feedback," Palmer said.

From there, the program has grown. Five gyms participate with Pivot Pass in Charlottesville, where companies now offer the pass as a wellness perk.

Pivot Pass recently rolled out the concept in Richmond with more than a dozen participating gyms. The program launched last week.

To get people to try it, Pivot Pass is offering a limited-time Ultimate Flex Pass, which is membership to all gyms in the local network for $99 per month for three months. After the three-month trial, the pass is only available to individuals when their employer signs on as a partner.

"We offer different tiers of partnership to employers," Palmer said. Some companies pay for the pass; others just provide access to it.

"The [individual's] cost is then based on how much or how little their company contributes to their wellness benefit," Palmer said.

In addition to the membership, individuals pay a discounted per-class fee when they sign up for classes at the gyms.

"We take the savings that are usually just for long-term contracts and pass that on to our users," Palmer said.

A portion of that per-class fee is kicked back to the gym, said Kelly Kinzinger, owner of Zinger Fit, a participating gym in western Henrico County. She's hoping local companies will add the program to their wellness offerings.

"I love the concept of corporations focusing on the health and wellness of their employees, and this platform seems to be the best way to provide them with options," she said.

For Zinger Fit, the program has the potential to fill classes that otherwise would have open spaces.

"I appreciate the exposure this will give Zinger Fit and hope that people will be pleased with the variety of classes we have to offer," she said.

The Pivot Pass partners see the setup as a win-win when the membership is part of wellness offerings.

"We decided it was a great way to get business for these small fitness centers," Palmer said. But it also makes sense for the companies that offer Pivot Pass to employees.

"We provide our employer partners with insurance-compliant employee fitness activity data that can reduce health care premium cost growth," Palmer said.

Palmer and Leland are using the Richmond platform and response as research for continued expansion, including a planned venture into Washington in the coming months.

"We think the people here appreciate the big-city amenities," Palmer said.

Pivot LLC, the holding company for Pivot Pass, has offices in a local business incubator at 1717 E. Cary St. Leland, whose background is in operations, management and finance, runs the day-to-day operations. Palmer, whose background is in human resources, still works for American Express, where "the leadership team ... has been so supportive and excited for our success during this journey," she said.

Palmer and Leland are business partners as well as life partners.

Palmer was a trapeze artist earlier in life and has always loved to work out. Likewise, Leland is an avid exerciser. The two met after an obstacle course race, and their first date involved running and surfing.

At one point when they were dating, she was living in Charlottesville and he was living in Boston. Between the two of them, they were paying ridiculous amounts of money for multiple small gyms in both places. That's when they had the idea for Pivot Pass.

Palmer said Pivot Pass makes particular sense for younger employees, who are connected to work through phones and computers almost all the time.

"Life is a little bit different than it has been," she said. "When you make time to work out, it has to be very efficient and effective, it has to double as something else, like community engagement and fun."

Giving people options to choose from in small, community-centered fitness outlets is one way to meet today's demands, she said. She and Leland feel good about what they've created.

"Our passion is clearly fitness and exercise," she said.

Maria Howard is a group exercise instructor for the YMCA of Greater Richmond and the University of Richmond Weinstein Center. Her column runs monthly.

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April 13, 2018


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