Friday, May 8, 2009

Sports Trainer Plans Major Growth Despite Recession

The game goes on. That’s the philosophy Athletes’ Performance Inc., which trains sports stars such as Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, is adopting as it builds a new training facility twice the size of its previous one despite a blistering recession. Athletes’ Performance, which has raised $11.5 million in funding from Waltham-based venture capital firm Polaris Venture Partners, is in the midst of building the new elite training center in Tempe, Ariz. The new facility is roughly 30,000 square feet, which is about twice the size of the current facility located at Arizona State University, said Todd Terranova, a principal at Wayland-based Architecture3S LLC, which designed the new facility. Bill Allard, Athletes’ Performance’s CEO based in Norwell, said the move was needed to accommodate the growth and needs of clients, and because Arizona State was building out its own plans. ‘The location of the facility is a lot more conducive to athletes,’ he said. Athletes’ Performance has three facilities — what it terms ‘institutes — for elite athletes in Arizona, Florida and California. But while those institutions have grown by attracting the likes of professional soccer teams and football stars, its plan to bring the concept to the masses has slowed as the recession continues. The company was started in 1999 by Mark Verstegen and gained notoriety for its high-profile clientele. It received backing from Polaris Venture Partners after Managing General Partner Jon Flint learned about Verstegen via Sports Illustrated, the New York Times and on National Public Radio. The idea was to take Athletes’ Performance’s elite brand and leverage it among consumers. The consumer-facing business is called Core Performance, and the company has already built a Web presence. But the bigger, and potentially more lucrative, concept is to build a series of fitness centers open to a wider array of customers. The cost of membership would be lower than the price of hiring a personal trainer, Allard said. To date, the company opened one such center in Santa Monica, Calif., in September, he said. Another two or three could open in the next six to 12 months. Allard said the recession had caused the company to freeze its expansion plans, although quality controls also factored into the mix. ‘Anything we do we want to do with the highest quality and we want to make sure it’s going to be successful,’ he said. Allard wouldn’t provide revenue figures, but he said the elite training business of Athletes’ Performance is profitable. The Core Performance business is not currently profitable, but he said he expects it will be within one year. The entire company has 125 employees, of which 15 are located in Norwell. For Athletes’ Performance to succeed in a less swanky sector it will need to differentiate itself from a wide field of competitors.

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