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CHANHASSEN, MN-A new fitness center concept has sprung up within the past few years, with a small footprint and 24-hour accessibility, to rival other upstarts and big-box gymnasiums. The 4-year-old Snap Fitness company, based here, has 1,690 franchised locations either open or under construction, with a goal of 2,000 locations by 2009. The company is seeing dozens of clubs open each month.

The $16 billion fitness center industry has seen many different styles of gym open, from the first membership clubs to the big-box Lifetime Fitness giants, and from the male-intensive Gold’s Gym to the females-only Curves. Snap CEO and founder Peter Taunton tells GlobeSt.com that his niche is size, and ease of use. “We typically run from 2,500 to 3,500 sf, much smaller than the average fitness center,” he says. “With that small footprint, we’re more flexible on the real estate, we can be in your neighborhood strip center, next to the Subway and Blockbuster.”

Weights, treadmills, and exercise machines are offered at Snap. Though the size doesn’t allow a member all the frills that some clubs have, such as pools, running tracks, gymnasiums, climbing walls, racquetball courts or even large locker rooms, the flexibility is what Taunton says allows the company to offer its other weapon: proximity. “Ninety percent of our members (the company claims it’s served 400,000 people) live within two miles of our clubs. It’s right around the corner,” he says. “You come home, you can grab your gear and zip out to our center, get a good workout and be home again quickly,” Taunton says. The clubs are staffed during the day, but members can request a key card to get in during late hours, and cameras and call buttons are available at each center.

Franchisees own most of the Snap centers. “We have 10 company-owned locations,” Taunton says. The properties are spread throughout the US and Canada, as well as India, and “we’re looking into other global markets,” he says.

Center memberships start at around $1 per day, with a one-time $49 enrollment fee, with no contracts. Though the monthly fee isn’t too much lower than a membership at the larger clubs, any little bit that can be saved helps in this economy, Taunton says. “We know that despite these hard times, people know they need to eat sensibly and move their feet. If they can dial their membership back a little, that’s good too.”

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