Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:09 pm
Eight years after bringing Madison-based Monkey Bar Gym to Milwaukee, owner Jeff Winzenried says he plans to restructure and downsize the business as it struggles to stay afloat in the midst of a “broken” fitness industry.
The gym will relocate next month to a smaller space within “walking distance” of its current location at 173 N. Milwaukee St. in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward, Winzenried said, though he declined to disclose an exact location.
As part of its new model, Monkey Bar will operate as a private gym with limited membership availability, a small staff and greater emphasis on one-on-one training– ultimately moving away from class-based programming– an industry trend brought on by boutique fitness, Winzenried said.
“I don’t want to be thrown into this bucket of boutique gyms,” Winzenried said. “We’re hoping these changes will get us away from the pack.”
Monkey Bar Gym specializes in functional fitness programs centered on natural training (“no machines, no shoes, no mirrors and no egos”), yoga and clean eating. The concept first launched in Madison in 2000 and has since grown to operate 10 locations in Wisconsin, Washington, Colorado, New York, Louisiana, Montana, Connecticut and Canada.
Winzenried opened the company’s affiliate location in 2011, during a time when there was a more limited selection of fitness centers in the Milwaukee area. But that has changed over the past few years as boutique and studio fitness concepts has taken the national and local health club industry by storm, bringing fast-growing national brands like Orangetheory Fitness and Cycle Bar to the area.
Plus, advancements in technology and the rise of social media have simplified the process of starting a business, Winzenried said, prompting many trainers to open even more studios or personal training businesses of their own.
Faced with industry competition, the downtown Milwaukee area’s skyrocketing rent prices and decreasing membership, business for Monkey Bar Gym has steadily declined since hitting its peak in 2016, Winzenried said.
“We haven’t been profitable for four years,” he said.
What’s more, Winzenried said he isn’t able to make a living off of the gym’s current model.
“Our lease is up at end of 2020 and I’m subject to market value,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to bleed with my arm cut off and not be able to make a living.”
Winzenried in March announced his plans for the business to the gym’s 120 members. He said the members are on board with the upcoming changes, but several of his employees were not and unexpectedly quit last week.
The gym now employs only a few trainers and staff, including a yoga instructor and a boxing instructor. Winzenried is currently leading almost all of the gym’s 31 weekly classes and training sessions, which is down from previously 70 classes offered each week (for a $100 to $150 monthly fee).
He also teaches two weekly boot camp classes at Adventure Rock on Milwaukee’s East Side and runs a group fitness program in West Bend. Starting in May, Winzenried will offer early morning, free boot camp classes that will take place outside Fiserv Forum.
“The only way to make honest living in this business is if you do it yourself,” he said.
Monkey Bar Gym currently is not accepting new members or hiring new staff, Winzenried said. When the gym relocates next month, he hopes it will allow him more time to devote to his clients and to “truly help them with their goals.”