‘Curves 9’ hope to save their Vernon Hills gym
Joanie Sosinski of Long Grove goes through a circuit Aug. 30 at Curves in Vernon Hills. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 7, 2012 6:08AM
VERNON HILLS — There are plenty of gyms and women’s social clubs in and around Vernon Hills.
But if the Curves Fitness Club of Vernon Hills closes, as it might in less than two weeks, a group of longtime customers say that they will lose their fellowship. And they are willing to put their money down to preserve it.
“There’s people who have probably saved their lives by going there and training,” said Elyse Landsman, the spokeswoman for the group of hopeful businesswomen. “We’ve become a family, and don’t want to see our club close.”
The women-only workout center, located at 271 Evergreen Drive, has been in business since 2003. The franchise is owned by Christie Mill, who plans to retire after five years running the local business. Her franchise license with Curves and her lease for the 1,200 square-foot space expire Sept. 15.
Even though she is getting out of the business, Mill said she hopes that the group of loyal customers is able to work out remaining organizational issues in time to make the purchase.
“If I don’t get the paperwork started by then, this Curves will close,” Mill said. “It’s just my time.”
The national Curves chain has built its market by offering women a specific workout program. Members can come in at any time and join both the circuit and the conversation. Clients begin by finding an empty spot among the 13 cardiovascular and weights machines, all set up in a circle, and spend 30 seconds on each.
The camaraderie created during the Curves workout routine, members said, has helped build the group’s connection. Both Landsman and Mill talked about the wide variety of family, political, humor and gossip conversations that flow as exercisers come and go.
“You hear about births in their families, and deaths, and whatever else is going on,” Landsman said.
But Mill announced in June that the conversation would come to a close at the end of the summer.
“We were all just devastated,” Landsman said. “Nobody wanted to see the club go away.”
Mill said she has worked out regularly for about 30 years. When her job as an information technology director was outsourced five years ago, she thought about working toward a personal training degree. But a friend told her that a women-only gym in Vernon Hills was for sale, and the idea of owning a fitness business appealed to her.
“So I checked it out, and fell in love with it,” she said.
The Vernon Hills franchise boasts about 130 members. Landsman is among them.
Landsman previously worked out in her company’s gym, until her sister, Gayle Burchard, gave her a free one-month membership.
“I can’t go home without passing by it,” said Landsman, adding that she was quickly hooked.
That made Mill’s announcement hard to stomach.
“A bunch of us started getting a little panicky,” she said.
The group of nine clients started meeting to look seriously into making Mill’s gym their gym.
“What if we could pool our resources, and buy the Curves ourselves?” Landsman asked.
Neither Mill nor Landsman wished to publicize the price tag, but they said it’s more than nine average families can dig up by pulling the cushions off the couches.
At one meeting, the “Curves 9,” as they dubbed themselves, wrote down how much money they could commit to the purchase and threw the figures anonymously into a hat — then decided to double each commitment, bringing them tantalizingly close to the figure they needed.
“We thought the money was going to be one of the toughest issues,” Landsman said.
Instead, with that worked out, it led to a bevy of tougher issue. Primarily, who would put her name on the paperwork and serve as the owner?
Liability, staffing and profit-sharing concerns were easier to resolve, Landsman said, but the question of whose name will go on the numerous bottom lines remains unsolved.
“Everybody brings something different to the table,” Landsman said. “We’re not all agreeing on everything, but the fact that we all have a mutual goal is going to make it work.”
With the appearance of an end looming, however, the roster of 130 members is shrinking, Landsman reported.
Should the Curves 9 or another potential buyer take over the franchise, Mill said that customer service will be at the top of a long list of needs the new owners will have to manage.
“Once you get them in the door, you have to show them that you care about them,” Mill said.
That customer care includes obtaining the certifications that Curves requires, knowing how to motivate customers when the get into ruts, helping customers manage health conditions and use the equipment properly.
Mill is planning a farewell workout “party” for the middle of September. Landsman added that the Curves 9 is planning to turn it into a “farewell Christie, hello new owners party” instead.
All Curves franchises give out commemorative T-shirts for every 100 workouts customers record. Landsman said she is about 20 visits away from earning her 700-workout shirt, an achievement she will not have time to realize if her club closes as scheduled.
“I’m about to hit 700,” she said. “If we last that long.”