From Fitness to Vigor: Larry North protégé buys landmark gym
Fort Worth Business Press article by Rick Mauch
Larry North remembers how excited he was when, at age 34, he opened his gym in downtown Fort Worth in 1994.
Now, at almost 58, he’s thrilled to be turning over ownership to another 34-year-old, his longtime trainer Stephen Newhart.
Newhart bought the downtown location of Larry North Fitness on Feb. 1. But the 16,000-square-foot facility, which will now be known as Vigor Active, is hardly new to him. He worked as North’s fitness director from 2008 until the day of his purchase.
At first, North wasn’t thinking of selling the business. In fact, he said he’d just signed a new lease and had made plans for some renovations, which will continue under Newhart.
Then his good friend Newhart stopped by for some advice.
“He said he had some investors and asked me if I could help him find a location so he could start his own place,” North said. “I thought about it, then I called him and told him I had everything teed up for him right here if he wanted it.
“I’ve known this young man forever, and there’s no better person to take over here. He called me back and said, ‘Let’s make it happen.’ I’m really happy with my decision,” said North.
So is Newhart.
“I’ve been training people for 15 years. This is a chance for me to maximize my environment and help more people,” he said.
Newhart is in the doctoral program and is also an adjunct professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. He teaches senior level kinesiology (strength and conditioning). In fact, several of his students have worked as interns and trainers there over the years.
“I actually started in business in college. Then one of my friends told me about kinesiology, and it was much more my life than business,” Newhart said. “Which is funny, because I now own a business.”
Newhart said he chose the name Vigor Active for a simple reason. It describes how people feel when they are being active.
“I want to get away from the word fitness. I think it’s overused,” he said. “But you know how good you feel when you are active. You feel invigorated, and we want people to know that’s how they can feel. When people think they have to bench press a lot, they don’t always get a lot out of that.”
Newhart plans to implement the science of exercise. He’s a big advocate of the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
“That’s who I’ve followed forever. Of course, there are other good ones,” he said. “But that’s something I don’t think a lot of people know even exists.”
Newhart said the program involves assessing a person properly through a series of tests.
“That way you’re not overtraining somebody right off the bat,” he said. “How do we stairstep you to a point? What do you want from this experience? Also, we, as professionals, put in a little of what they need with what they want, and this salad all comes together.”
North is impressed with Newhart’s approach.
“Stephen’s going with a very unique approach with an education science behind the workout. I told him, ‘I’m going to be your first customer,’” North said.
North said Newhart is inheriting about 600 members. Some were lost with XTO’s move from downtown Fort Worth to Houston, but both are optimistic the membership will grow again.
“XTO was a big part of my membership, but they’ll fill those buildings, of course,” North said. “Not only did they come to the facility, they were VIPs with personal training. But we had full disclosure for Stephen.”
Newhart also noted that many former XTO employees chose not to move, either retiring or finding new jobs. He said they are still a strong part of the club, and he and general manager Jason Randall are constantly working to bring in new members with programs such as Lunch-N-Learn, where folks can discover what the facility has to offer while not having to skip lunch. He’s even worked out a deal with a nearby salad restaurant, he said.
“Jason’s phenomenal. He’s been in the industry a very long time. I feel totally comfortable with him,” Newhart said.
This is a dream come true for Newhart, a 2001 graduate of Arlington Lamar High School. He played tight end on the Vikings football team for the late legendary coach Eddy Peach.
“That was such a great experience,” Newhart recalled. “I thoroughly enjoyed it. Athletics led me into this.”
Despite the sale, North said, he’s busier than perhaps he’s ever been.
He still has three gyms in Westlake, Uptown Dallas and Preston Center. He continues to broadcast on the radio, gives speeches, and does charity work such as serving on the board of directors for the American Diabetes Association and Helping Hands for Single Moms. He also does work for a variety of companies such as Satori Capital and BioTE Medical, a hormone optimization company.
And he’s on the board of directors of FitWorth, a pet project of Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price designed to help folks live a healthier life.
“I’m much more diversified than ever in my life,” he said. “I’ll actually be in Fort Worth more than when I had my club.”
Which is something North doesn’t mind at all. Long thought of as a Dallasite, he remembers when he first opened his Fort Worth club and how it took a while for him to be accepted in the community.
“It took about eight years for them to accept me. I remember someone saw me in an elevator after six years and asked, ‘Hey, don’t you have a club around here?’” North said with a laugh.
North said he’s seen a lot of changes to Fort Worth over almost a quarter of a century.
“I’m in Fort Worth at least once a week, and every time my wife and I say we could easily live there,” he said. “The entertainment, food, the Blue Zone Project Betsy Price is behind, all of those are fantastic.
“People in Dallas who haven’t experienced it don’t know what they’re missing. It’s not just a cowtown. Also, the cost of living is better in Fort Worth,” he said.
North said his club benefited from being near Bass Hall.
“Being next to one of the greatest landmarks in North Texas was very impactful. My Satori relationship might never had developed were it not for that,” he said.
The renovations started by North and continuing under Newhart include new showers and lockers, structural work to open up more cardiovascular area along the windows so folks passing by can see. Also, Newhart said, individual TVs are being put on cardio exercisers. The work is expected to be finished in the spring, he said.
Newhart said he has been asked if he plans to expand to other locations in the future.
“My investors are curious about that as well, but the culture and quality of service can’t change if we do,” he said. “We are family members, and I would not want that to change.”
North has some advice for his friend as the two move forward in the new chapters of their lives.
“I had the luxury of spending a day with Jack LaLanne [called the father of the fitness movement by the New York Times] in the early 90s, basically I was his driver for a day,” North said.
“I told him he was my hero and that I wanted to follow in his footsteps. He told me to follow in my own footsteps, create my own special story,” North said. “I gave that same advice to Stephen.
Location Mentioned: Vigor Active