Tony Calhoun and his son Anthony always dreamed of opening up a fitness center.
The two were in the midst of working on a business plan when Anthony was tragically killed in a car accident in April of 2009. Some nine months after the 26-year-old, environmentally conscious and avid outdoorsman passed away, Mr. Calhoun returned to the business plan. As he sat on his desk contemplating his next move and searching for a name for the business, he looked up and saw Anthony’s business cards which read “AC 4 Fitness,” a pitch Anthony would use to gain clients as a personal trainer. What began as a filler for an application has helped Anthony’s legacy live on.
“I just couldn’t get away from it,” Mr. Calhoun said of the name of his fitness facilities, with locations in Santa Barbara and Goleta. “It had just become AC4 Fitness to me.
“This business is a lot more than just a health club industry for us… it’s also kind of carrying on his legacy a little bit. There’s definitely a part of him that’s in these facilities.”
Mr. Calhoun has more than 35 years of health club industry experience. He formerly served as the Principal Owner for Santa Barbara Flex Incorporated. Alongside the late Janice Cosentino and current YMCA Manager Mike Yamasaki, the company owned and operated the local Gold’s Gyms. The company sold the gyms in 2004 and Mr. Calhoun took some time away from the industry, in part due to the pressures of becoming corporate as well as losing the fun and excitement of the job.
It was Anthony who convinced him to get back into the fitness business.
“’Dad, this is your business,’” Mr. Calhoun recalled Anthony telling him. “’This is what you do. Let’s do it again and let’s do it differently, in such a way that the family can be involved.’”
Mr. Calhoun now works alongside five family members, including his sons, Ian and Connor, who serve as managers of each location. His daughter, Olivia, and daughters-in-law Yoceylin and Mari, also work at the fitness centers.
“I wanted to start up a company that would facilitate, or at least give us the opportunity to get family involved… and thereby leverage all of us to give back to the community by providing this type of facility, and doing things differently,” Mr. Calhoun said.
He compares AC4 Fitness to a decades-old advertising campaign for a soda.
“The mental picture I had was that of the ‘uncola’ of the health club industry,” he said, referencing the old advertisements for 7UP.
Much like the soft drink showcased its fresh and clean taste, AC4 Fitness touts its Green Certified status given by the Green Business Network.
Mr. Calhoun said his desire for environmental stewardship came during and after the 1969 oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel. He was just a boy at the time, but to this day he realizes how significantly that event affected him.
“It’s just something I’ve carried with me my whole life. The resulting perspective that taking care of the environment, while taking care of yourself –- it’s just the smart thing to do, the natural thing to do,” he said.
Gym memberships start at $34.95 a month, and with an enrollment fee members can elect for a month-to-month membership. VIP memberships run for $39.95 per month, which includes access to the hydro massage station, tanning booths, and discounts for members to bring guests. Upon sign up, members receive a keycard that opens up both locations 24-hours a day, seven days a week.
“There is no day, no time, that members don’t have access to the club,” Mr. Calhoun said. “I also think that it creates kind of a culture. The members take more responsibility and treat this facility as their own because they know that in our absence, yeah there’s nobody here to monitor them necessarily –- we do have cameras… members take great care of the facilities, do a fantastic job of helping us keep the club clean.”
There are some rules and regulations for AC4 Fitness, including a dress code that requests members dress modestly. Other rules include no talking on cell phones, no slamming weights and no foul language. All the rules are about cutting out the stigma that comes with a fitness center, while trying to create an atmosphere that welcomes those of all fitness levels.
The lockers located in the rear of the facility are made completely out of recycled materials. Both gyms include mechanical weight equipment, barbells and dumbbells, while some of the cardio equipment don’t just allow you to burn calories, but produce energy.
AC4 Fitness features treadmills and other cardio equipment, as well as ECO-POWR ellipticals made by SportsArt, which convert kinetic energy to electricity.
“Essentially, we’re giving our members a chance to join us with our goal of creating sustainable energy and being a part of our whole environmental focus, simply by exercising,” Mr. Calhoun said. “That’s all they’ve got to do is exercise –- and that’s what they’re here for anyway.”
As members work out on the machines, a television mounted on the wall to the right of the equipment tracks how much energy is generated. The TV shows statistics on how many electric fans could be powered, gasoline could be saved or carbon emissions cut just by working up a sweat. It also monitors how many watts per hour are generated. With 20 total machines at both locations, fitness enthusiasts have produced some 100,000 kilowatt hours in the two months that the SportsArt equipment has been installed –- which equates to roughly enough electricity to run a California household for five days, Mr. Calhoun said.
“We’ve almost run a household for a week. Now that’s with one line of elliptical equipment at each location, it took us two months to get there,” he said. “If we converted everything over, cardio wise, we’d probably at least double that. So in two months if we could have created two weeks worth of power (for a house)… I think that’s definitely a commendable effort.”
Mr. Calhoun thinks that this type of equipment will become a growing trend in the fitness industry. While the machines retail at roughly $7,000 –- nearly double the typical elliptical –- the environmental payoffs make it worthwhile.
“It’s part of our value system to demonstrate or showcase technologies that are out there that allow companies to be good stewards to the environment. This fits right in here,” Mr. Calhoun said.
Moving forward, Mr. Calhoun hopes to continue to expand. The Goleta club, 52 N. Fairview Ave., opened in 2012. The Santa Barbara location, 3883 La Cumbre Plaza Lane, opened some 18 months later.
For now, Mr. Calhoun wants to continue honoring his late son, with a keen focus on helping improve the environment in the process.
“AC4 is very uniquely us, and very uniquely him,” Mr. Calhoun said. “It’s reflective of what his values were and what we wanted to do and what we wanted to bring to the community.
“I was part of the big-box clubs for the better part of my career, and I got really tired of that for several reasons. This is a much more rewarding environment to be a part of. There’s still a lot more we can do.”
For more information, visit www.ac4fitness.com or call 805-845-4FIT.