The fitness industry, notoriously fickle and ever-changing, requires amphibian-like levels of versatility and adaptability in order to thrive. Christophe Bellito opened a gym in downtown Santa Cruz in 1997 under the name Frog Fitness. Two decades and one name change later, he and his wife Cecile now own a total of five Toadal Fitness locations around Santa Cruz County.
The first gym Bellito opened was actually a women’s club in Richmond, California. “It was a wonderful experience,” he says. “I worked a lot, six days and 80-90 hours per week, and slept on the floor. I made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot.” But when his first child was born, he realized the value of his time and that he was tired of commuting, so he looked to open a gym locally. That is when his mentor and business partner Bill Rose pushed him to take over the space in Santa Cruz that would become the first Toadal Fitness.
“I opened more clubs because I didn’t want people to wait for equipment. It didn’t feel right,” says Bellito, whose most recent club opened in Scotts Valley in July of 2015. For him, it’s all about the user experience and the individual person. In fact, he says that one regret that he and his wife have about opening multiple clubs is that they can’t meet everybody personally. “We don’t see people as dollar signs, we see them as people with names and faces,” he says. “We like to learn about each person’s story, and learn from them.”
Bellito believes in the importance of a variety of user-friendly equipment and classes that cater to all levels. He is excited to be offering a new class called Toadal Loser (a play on NBC’s The Biggest Loser) that utilizes a group setting combined with nutrition training to turn intentions into actions. He believes that diet is very important—when people eat well, they feel good and exercise more. And the more they exercise, the better they eat and feel, and that this positive spiral is crucial to achieving optimal health and fitness.
When it comes to staying on the cutting edge of the fitness industry, Bellito again stresses an open mind and ear to member feedback. “That’s an advantage of being a small, local club. We can make changes and adapt to what each club’s members want.” Bellito says this flexibility in the constantly changing fitness landscape is one thing that sets them apart from larger corporate gyms, and that another is their individualized approach. Three free personal training sessions are offered to each new member so that he or she can meet people, learn how to use the equipment properly, and help get totally acclimated and comfortable.
Staying Ahead of the Curve
One trend Toadal Fitness is following is clients’ desire for shorter, more efficient workouts, and classes like Yoga, Zumba and Spin. A major trend that Bellito has seen recently is people using apps on their phones to guide their workouts and bring structure and plan to their exercise regimens. In terms of equipment and machines, he also sees the trend toward shorter, more intense workouts. He says one new machine that accomplishes this is called the TG6, an easy-to-use recumbent bike that also works the upper body. Treadmills, he says, are also making a comeback, and classes are as popular as ever, with his clubs collectively offering about 350 a week.
Another budding trend he’s seen is that people are starting to realize the value of variety. “People are more open to new things and how it’s good to keep the body guessing,” he says. “More people are utilizing cross-training and varying their workouts. You shouldn’t be doing the same thing for 20 years; not only do the muscles get bored, but you yourself get bored, as well.” And whereas in the past, 20-40 year olds made up most of the membership, Bellito says he has recently seen a surge in the number of older adults that are coming to the clubs.
Bellito emphasizes the importance of a warm and welcoming environment, and a feeling of communal familiarity that provides the backbone for the clubs’ ethos. “My favorite part is doing what I want, whenever I want, and having more time for my family and kids,” he says about owning Toadal Fitness. “Even when I go into the clubs, I’m still around family because of the members and staff, so I’m always around family. Ever since I opened the club, it feels like I haven’t worked a single day, because I’m doing something I love.”