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426 Fitness: From Run-Down Club to Success

Back in 2010, in the midst of the recession, Mark Lombardi, a Rhode Island landlord, was faced with a choice.

He could easily close down the small bankrupt gym in his building and find another tenant to fill the space. ... or he could save it.

Lombardi was intrigued. He’d never been one to turn his back on a challenge, or, for that matter, on his community.

So, when the renters in the Park Mill building, a historic mill factory in the coastal town of Warren, were no longer able to make their monthly payment, and handed over the keys to the gym, along with literally everything in it, Lombardi took a long, hard look at the space.

He began to see its potential - even though he had had no experience, whatsoever, in the fitness industry.

It was that vision and his intense curiosity that sparked the remarkable transformation of 426 Fitness from a cramped, unattractive, and failing facility with a dwindling membership base into a sprawling, multipurpose, and successful health club.

Lombardi simply decided to do whatever it took to obtain the knowledge he’d need to make the club work. “I like a good fight, and this became a personal challenge for me,” he muses.

Assessing the ‘challenge’

He began by talking to members and staff, listening to their concerns, and reassuring them that he was committed not only to keeping the gym open, but also to improving everything about it.

Another of the first pivotal steps he took was to align himself with IHRSA. He attended the association’s 30th Annual International Convention and Trade Show in San Diego in 2010, and has done so every year since. The theme for that year’s event was “The Future Is You!,” which, though coincidental, was oddly appropriate, given that he’d just embarked on a major turnaround project.

Mark Lombardi“Because I was new to the fitness business, what I needed, more than anything else, was to be reassured that I was doing it right,” he admits. He credits IHRSA with providing him not only with valuable information about the industry, but also with the motivation and the confidence he needed to pursue his dream.

“Every year, when I go to the convention, I pick up some best practices to bring back,” he says.

He also relishes the opportunity to walk the trade show floor and get a sneak preview of the latest fitness equipment and programming. “If something new is going on in the industry, I want to know about it,” he says adamantly.

Building-out the dream

Tapping into IHRSA’s expertise, Lombardi utilized his own marketing experience, design/build background, and good sense and gut instincts to reinvent, refurbish, and, ultimately, resurrect the club.

He invested in new equipment and drew up plans for a massive build-out in the vacant space next to the club. Within six months, he’d knocked down the final brick, tripling the space from 10,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet.

Today, the airy and upbeat atmosphere of 426 Fitness is warm and welcoming, enhanced by the soaring ceilings and wood-and-brick interior of the old mill structure. The entrance opens on to the main fitness floor, where members have their choice of a wide range of cardio and strength training equipment. Just steps away, an enclosed kids’ corner offers children’s programs, affording parents the time and space they need to work out.

Class studios and specialized fitness areas surround the main, open-plan gym area.

Among the club’s distinct amenities are a “Ladies Only” workout room, featuring a Life Fitness express circuit designed specifically for women; rehab and nutrition centers; a Weight Watchers program; and three studios, for Indo-Row, Just Dance, and private personal training.

There’s also enough space for indoor batting cages, a golf driving range, an obstacle course, and Zumba and boot camp classes that can accommodate up to 100 participants.

“Some of the things that set us apart are the diversity of our members in terms of age, nationality, and fitness level, and the variety of classes we offer,” observes Steve Skitek, the head trainer at 426 Fitness. “Our goal is to get as many members involved in our classes as we can.”

According to Lombardi, over 30% of them take advantage of the 200 to 300 classes offered each month. Among the newest offerings are Shockwave, Cardio Jam, and Circuit Breaker.

The $42 monthly dues provide members with access to everything, including the classes.

Lombardi’s success in uniting his achievements and aspirations, his property management experience and club owner prospects, is attested to by the fact that, within two years, he’d doubled his client base from 500 to more than 1,000 actively engaged members. That’s particularly impressive given the fact that Warren, a picturesque town on Rhode Island’s East Bay, has a population of approximately 11,000.

But Lombardi’s not done yet. His curiosity is intact, and his ambition remains undiminished.

Blueprint for the future

Lombardi and Skitek also are proud of 426 Fitness’ commitment to Warren. The club has sponsored numerous fundraisers in the community, helping to raise thousands of dollars for ALS and breast cancer charities, and for the Warren Animal Shelter.

“It’s all about giving back,” observes Lombardi. “We’ve always operated on the premise that you get out of things what you put into them.”

Business is good, but there are challenges, of course. The biggest one now is continuing to grow the club’s membership. “We do well drawing from the nearby population,” he explains. “But when you’re surrounded by water on three sides, as we are, it’s an ongoing challenge to find new members who are willing to drive more than five miles to get to your front door. That’s something we’re going to have to figure out.”

But Lombardi isn’t likely to walk away from this challenge either ... or likely to forget that IHRSA stands ready to help once more.

Joe Halpern can be reached at



Reader Comments (1)

I love to hear of these successes, it's inspirational. I would be interested in knowing more in depth as to what steps he took to create 426 Fitness, and what actions he plans on taking to gain more members. I work for a software company, PerfectMIND, where we have a marketing automation service offering for our membership based businesses that seeks to nurture and gain new members. So, it appeals to me to see what others are doing in the industry, and to see what is working for them.
November 4, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNoah Mithrush

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