The bright green sneakers and neon energy emblem on the front of Eric Ruhm’s black polo shirt are the outward symbols of the constant clockwork of forward thinking churning around in his mind.
Ruhm and his wife Sara Jane Schmeltzer are running their own green-focused gym, Energy Fitness 24/7. The 2,500-square-foot facility at 212 E. Main St. has a paperless policy and an emphasis on recycling and other energy-saving procedures, such as using fans to circulate air and disinfecting gym equipment with environmentally friendly cleaning products.
These eco-ideas weren’t possible at the “monster chain” gyms Ruhm worked for on the West coast, and other unique options, such as gym members watching instructional videos on Android Tablets, weren’t embraced by Ruhm’s supervisors when he transitioned to working in a small gym.
“I’ve always been led in a direction and didn’t realize that I could take my own direction,” said Ruhm, who’s been a personal trainer for 13 years. “When I got to a smaller gym, I had to make my own direction because I was the one doing my own marketing and I realized in the smaller gym that everybody kind of communicated better.”
Part of the increased communication in a smaller, more personal atmosphere meant customer turnover would be a lot less and users could spend less time in the gym. Ruhm realized that he could do 30 minute personal training sessions instead of an hour because members wouldn’t have to wait on machines to open or walk across the gym to the next activity.
“Not only are we focused on being convenient, but we’re focused on getting done and moving out,” Ruhm said. “My wife and I can tell you that on any given day, we spend more time outside than in the gym.”
That time-saving revelation motivated Ruhm to open a 24-hour gym, something he never thought he would do. He and Schmeltzer brainstormed the idea for Energy Fitness and looked at opening a facility that wouldn’t require a lot of time from customers or bog them down in yearly contracts.
“We want to be the place where everybody comes because it’s too hot, it’s too cold, or it’s too rainy,” Ruhm said. “We want to be the alternative.”
The 33-year-old San Diego County native was able to continue building his unconventional business by “bringing new energy downtown.”
Ruhm said he was drawn to the area because the cost per square foot to lease in downtown is at least half of other areas in Johnson City.
“With a small business, with not a lot of capital, we needed to find ways to shortcut and my wife and I absolutely loved the idea of being downtown,” Ruhm said.
Another added bonus for the couple was the opportunity to “break up the bar scene a little bit.” They found a nice space just a few doors down from another relatively new business, The Galaxy Lounge. Besides tearing down a kitchenette and replacing a few pieces of the hardwood flooring, Ruhm said Energy Fitness 24/7 came together pretty quickly.
Now the gym is a tidy space with at least 16 pieces of new equipment, like touch-screen elliptical machines, cardio machines with fans and individual entertainment systems, plus a Woodway Treadmill. Thus far, most of the Energy Fitness members are people who live or work in or near downtown.
Since opening in September, the couple has been questioned about their choice of location. Ruhm says he addresses the argument about limited parking by reminding people that there are two lots behind his back door. As for security, the couple uses a keycard system that allows access to the building only by paid members and they’ve also installed an eight-camera security system that Ruhm reviews daily.
As fitness strays away from the bodybuilding style of weight lifting to centering more on overall health, Ruhm wants to provide a place where customers can achieve whatever level of fitness they seek.
“I’m looking for anyone who wants a cheap option and doesn’t want to wait at the doors of the gym at 5:30 a.m. or can’t get there before 10 p.m.,” he said. “We want to take care of all the people who aren’t being taken care of.”
Ruhm and Schmeltzer charge users a monthly fee of $35 at Energy Fitness 24/7. As they continue to build their membership base, the couple looks for ways to expand and improve their small business, including the possibility of opening another gym in the area, hosting more health siminars and being involved in the community.
Ruhm comes from a family of inventors and tweakers, which he says is the cause of his “forward-thinking” mentality to incorporate more technology and efficiency into his business. Loading how-to videos about form and technique onto Android Tablets for customers to learn about the gym equipment is one of the next big steps Ruhm will take to perpetuate his energetic concept. He already uses Google Voice to make sure phone calls are directed to him at any time.
“My expectations of what we can do are always more,” Ruhm said. “There are so many things that I want to do to make this better.”
An ever bigger, overall goal for the owners of Energy Fitness 24/7, is to continue to provide an alternative atmosphere for people looking for something outside of the big chain gyms.
“They depend on having people not show up, we expect people to show up,” Ruhm said. “And that’s what’s going to make us succeed down the road is that people know that we care about their results.”
For more information about Energy Fitness 24/7, call 218-9348.