UNITY — Fitness Lair is celebrating 10 years as a business in 2023, and recently held a special anniversary event to mark the occasion.
A dream that evolved from a vision to reality included four different locations to accommodate continued growth, the constant addition of staff and ever-growing options available from the business.
“I’m not even sure what the initial dream was,” admits owner Lindsey Barber.
“I didn't really have big future plans. I just wanted to help inspire people to find fitness they truly loved, something that added value to their life beyond looking a certain way (letting that be the side effect rather than the focus). I especially wanted to inspire girls and women to ditch the narrative that we need to diet and do cardio but rather that we can eat the food and lift weights to feel strong, fit and healthy. It all happened very organically.”
Barber said she struggled to find an exercise routine to stick to when she stumbled upon CrossFit online. Even though she had no idea what CrossFit was, it sounded perfect for her, and she reached out immediately. She says she embraced the style of training, the methodology and the worldwide community of CrossFit as it made her feel empowered, strong, fit and part of a community and movement.
While she was initially unsure if she could inspire others to embrace CrossFit, she knew if she loved it this much, she was confident others would too. After a couple of months and a few classes above the bar, Barber said she made the commitment to change careers and open her first location.
Steady growth results in multiple moves over 10 years
Barber says the business just kept outgrowing their space, resulting in several moves over 10 years.
“We started with a two-week trial class above Bluez in January of 2013, where I think we had about 10 to 12 people try it, and we still have eight of those members training with us today. By May that year, we moved into our first real location on Main Street. After one and a half years we expanded to a 3,000 square-foot shop and by 2018, I built our forever home at our current location. In 2020, we opened a second location in Meadow Lake, run by our previous coach, Jenna Poitras (Villeneuve).”
Barber said the Bluez location was a trial to see if there was a demand for the business and it turns out, there was. The downtown location was too small and not structurally conducive for what was needed — tall ceilings and outdoor space.
The move from the last location to the current permanent location Barber said was financially wise as the building and structure were almost the same. She had the building constructed knowing what was needed for what the business was offering.
“The business and service have changed even more than the locations over the years. We started with just CrossFit classes and not a very refined process, but over the years we have learned a lot and constantly work to improve the member experience as well as provide a better service that yields real, lasting results.”
While Barber says CrossFit is still their core, the business also offers ladies’ and men's strength classes, private/semi-private training, custom remote training/coaching, 24-hour gym access, yoga and pilates, as well as they have been coaching nutrition clients from all over Western Canada for the past six years and are home for the Special Olympics Powerlifting crew.
“The Lair has gone from a pursuit of passion for me to a place that provides meaningful jobs for our community.”
The new location also included the rebranding from CrossFit Lair to Fitness Lair, highlighting the ever-evolving nature of the business.
Barber said the initial feedback when starting CrossFit, a brand-new fitness concept, was mixed. Some people were excited about it, and some thought it was another fad that wouldn’t last, and perhaps, some even thought it was crazy.
“It is something you really can't understand unless you come and experience the Lair yourself. I couldn't tell you how many people waited years to try, only to say, ‘this is way different than I thought it was, I'm not sure what I waited so long to start.”
Fitness Lair offers growing program options
Over the years a number of programs have grown out of the initial idea of fitness in Unity.
“Over time the Lair has grown both in size and number of staff and we have been able to offer more and more programs,” says Jenna Poleris, client success manager.
“We definitely have something for everybody these days. Our goals have always been to provide a place for anyone and everyone to come to enhance their health, no matter your age, ability.”
Fitness Lair currently has a team of 11. Lindsey Barber is the CEO, Coach, and Head Nutrition Coach. Darryn Scott serves as full-time head coach. Sara Brown is the administrative assistant while also training to be a fitness coach. Shauna Hammer and Val Thomas serve as hybrid fitness and nutrition coaches. Heather Kelly, Darlene Sopyc and Elizabeth Sirous are fitness coaches. Alyssa Veikle and Lindsie Scott serve as nutrition coaches.
“I live my life a quarter mile at a time,” says Barber of her journey from CrossFit newbie to celebrating a decade in business.
“In all seriousness, our question has always been, ‘how can we help people?’ We will continue o make decisions based on helping those in our community live healthier, happier lives while simultaneously being able to provide meaningful careers in our little town. Letting it happen naturally with some strong core values has worked pretty well for us so far.”
Encompasses camaraderie and community
Members of classes and programs offered and all-access gym options are from all generations and abilities, but many have offered their feedback on the sense of camaraderie that is felt being part of the Fitness Lair community.
The Lair has held fundraisers for different events such as Lift for Lymphoma and breast cancer awareness. The Jingle Bell Jog held in December benefits the food bank.
Members have said they have formed groups to take part in fun events or competitions outside of the community such as an upcoming Mud Fun Run in Calgary for breast cancer research, evidencing the sense of community that is created amongst members. Fitness Lair has also been the starting point for a number of competitors who have achieved provincial and national medals and success.
Sandra Wagner, a 10-year CrossFit member says that while she was undergoing cancer treatment, Barber put her membership on hold knowing that paying for a gym membership was not an additional expense Wagner needed at the time.
“It was reassuring to know I could still go, even when I wasn’t sure I could,” Wagner says.
“I liked continuing with the Lair during my treatment for the fact that there were no questions asked whether I was just there moving or participating full on. It was important for me when going through treatment that everyone treated me like normal; no barrage of questions or saying I shouldn’t be doing this. They just let me be.”
Fitness Lair even put on a CrossFit Total fun event for members with donations given to Wagner and another member who was undergoing cancer treatment at the time to help cover expenses.
Wagner is confident that continuing with her wellness program at the Lair was beneficial in her recovery and affirms that the sense of community created amongst members is what keeps her there and what aided in her positive mindset during treatment and recovery.
Unity Chamber of Commerce said of Fitness Lair’s 10th anniversary, “Anytime any local business grows out of its space and makes investments along the way to its own significant building, it is a win for the Unity business community. Thank you, and congratulations, Lindsey.”
Mayor Sharon Del Frari added, “We have had many milestone businesses to celebrate this year and yes, we are very thankful for each and every one.”