Gym dandy: Mike Thompson’s Silverton Fitness honored as Business of the Year

February 2010 Posted in Business

By Jay ShenaiMike Thompson receives the Business Award for Silverton Fitness.

The sign still hangs at 222 High St. in downtown Silverton, a two-level standalone commercial building with fatigued blue paint. The sign reads: “Nautilus of Silverton: Health and Fitness Club.” Another sign, “For Lease,” hangs on one of the side doors facing the alley. Venetian blinds cover the few windows. Inside, roughly 5,000 square feet once held 12 cardio machines, 17 strength machines and some free weights, said business owner Mike Thompson, just enough for someone to come in, pump up and get out.

It was a spartan existence at the beginning, he recalls. Thompson started the gym in September 1998, maxing out not only his credit line but his time and energy as well. Back then, he easily spent 75 hours a week inside the gym, he said.

“My mom and my family helped me out from time to time, just to give me a break from being there and to run errands, but I didn’t have any employees,” he said.

Twelve years later, three full-time staffers, four part-time, and about 12 fitness instructors now work for Thompson. In May 2008, he relocated his business after purchasing the Total Body Fitness facility on North First Street.

Now called Silverton Fitness, his gym boasts twice the space as the former location, and much more equipment, as well as exercise classes, personal training sessions, racquetball courts, saunas and larger locker rooms. His membership roster has increased four-fold since that tenuous first year.

And now his success has gained recognition. On Feb. 20 at the 39th annual First Citizen Banquet at the Oregon Garden, the Silverton Chamber of Commerce will award Silverton Fitness as Business of the Year.

In his nomination letter, Dr. Michael Gabe, a family practitioner wrote: “[Thompson] has provided a friendly and supportive atmosphere for people to get the exercise that they need to stay fit, and avoid the epidemic of obesity so prevalent in our country… He has made a significant financial investment in the business, and has shown remarkable business savvy in guiding it to a successful enterprise.”

Starting a business is always highly risky and often takes years of sacrifice and effort to succeed. Back then, Thompson said, he had little to lose.

“I was young enough at the time, I wasn’t married, I didn’t have kids, so the only person that I was really taking a risk with was myself,” he said. “Worst thing that could have happened was I could have gone broke, and it was worth the risk to me.”

Thompson is passionate about health, he said. After graduating from the University of Oregon in 1994, he worked in a few of his father’s restaurants and bars, and briefly worked in construction management before hitting on the idea of forming a gym.

Always a fitness enthusiast, Thompson said his inspiration came when he met a health club business consultant during his workouts, who introduced him to the ins and outs of the industry. It was then that he began working toward becoming a certified personal trainer. He ultimately quit his construction job.

“It just hit me that I couldn’t have a job that I didn’t enjoy, and I wanted to look forward to going to work every day,” he said.

Now 37, Thompson’s family has also grown – a wife of nine years, Elizabeth, and two children, Ben and Ella, ages 6 and 5. His wife’s battle with cancer in recent years has given him a deeper appreciation for health, and insight into the true value of exercise.

“When it hits that close to home, it makes you a little more… it helps you understand a little bit better what people [in cancer treatment] have actually gone through,” he said.

“Exercise is not only great preventative medicine, but it can also give people that have dealt with life changes like that a way to get their self-esteem and their energy back.”

Today, Thompson still works as a personal trainer at Silverton Fitness. He spends roughly seven hours a day training and conducting classes, starting at 4:45 a.m. most days to meet the pre-dawn rush of members trying to work up a sweat before they go to their jobs.

For 2010, Silverton Fitness plans to offer a new cohort-style personal training regimen for groups of four, said Thompson. Peer support, he said, is invaluable in getting more people to get fit.

He gives credit for the gym’s success to his staff, and their effort to make Silverton Fitness not only a gym, but a community gathering place. He thinks of the more than 1,000 current members as an extended family of sorts. Ultimately, he said, that’s been the key to his success, and his business model ever since he first opened the door.

“If you’re a new member and I treat you the right way, then you’re going to tell your friends and they’re going to come our way too,” he said.

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