Bringing fitness to the mall

For Steve Kettelberger, the Optimal Sport Health Club at the Burlington Center Mall is convenient as well as friendly.

“It’s a friendly atmosphere. The trainers are good here” Kettelberger, 45, said during a break in his workout at the gym on the second floor of the mall on Route 541 in Burlington Township.

Kettelberger, a Bucks County, Pa. resident who owns the Blue Rock Construction co. in Burlington Township, said he works out about three times a week at a gym that seems to be a rarity in the region’s mall marketplace.

The owners of Optimal Sport believe there is plenty of demand for a place to work out. in fact, Optimal Sport -with gyms at the Burlington Center in Newtown, Bucks County, and in Philadelphia – has seen the clubs grow.

According to one of the business partners, Domenic Gallelli, the Philadelphia-based company started at the Burlington mall in July 2007.

Gallelli, company president Jeffrey D. Shablin, 45, and their other partner, Yul Giraldo, 35, were personal fitness trainers who met in Philadelphia, where they all live, Gallelli said.

Given their backgrounds and interests, it made sense to join forces, said the 36-year-old Gallelli. “We could be more productive if we could combine resources,” he said.

They opened their gym at the Burlington Center in July 2007.

Gallelli said an official from Jager Management, the Jenkintown, Pa., company that owns the mall, had visited the partners’ gym in Philadelphia and was impressed. “They asked us if we would look at the Burlington Center,” he said.

The trio, who had their first facility in Center City Philadelphia, was impressed with the mall and the surrounding area and signed a 10-year lease with the mall owners.

Optimal Sport replaced the gym leased by longtime fitness guru Joe Tete, a former state bodybuilding champion who had briefly occupied that spot at the mall. Optimal has all the usual weightlifting equipment plus group classes, day care and personal training.

Health clubs often are found in strip shopping centers and standalone locations, but they’re uncommon in the region’s malls. at the shopping venues owned by Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust – in Moorestown, Cherry Hill and Voorhees – there are no gyms, though there are ample sporting goods stores. in Pennsylvania, neither Neshaminy Mall in Bensalem nor Oxford Valley Mall in Middletown has a health club.

According to one industry analyst, the fitness sector – despite the difficulties imposed by the recession – has enjoyed healthy revenue growth as people look to fitness for fun and health. Figures from the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association show there are 30,000 health clubs nationwide, with 45 million members as of January 2009.

That number doesn’t surprise Gallelli, who has a master’s of business administration from the University of Pennsylvania. He said Optimal Sport’s membership has grown from about 150 three years ago to more than 3,000 at the three gyms.

The company’s newest spot is Optimal Sport on South Eagle Road in Newtown, which opened in January 2009. The Newtown health club is the largest of the three, at 14,500 square feet, Gallelli said.

Bringing in new customers is the key to success, Gallelli said.

“We want people to feel good about themselves,” he said. “There’s got to be some measure of loyalty.”