Richard Decker, founder of AWATfit, is looking to bring his mobile gym to Bergen County for those looking to get a workout in an outdoor space.
While the gym industry has struggled during the pandemic, one entrepreneur is bringing the gym straight to the great outdoors.
Richard Decker didn’t create AWATfit in response to coronavirus pandemic; it was only a bit of luck that saw him putting the finishing touches on his new mobile gym model last year.
The New York-based business, which is now looking to expand to Bergen County, has thrived as people have looked for a safe way to get their daily exercise routine.
Richard Decker, CEO and founder of AWATfit, stands on his truck, the centerpiece of his mobile gym business. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Aaron Kresberg)
“What COVID did was quadruple my business,” said Decker. “We were the only gym that wasn’t closed down. We would work out right next to the code enforcers.”
Decker began looking into creating AWATfit, which stands for “Any Where, Any Time,” in 2018 after walking away from the brick and mortar gym and restaurant industry after 30 years. Creating a fitness model where he wasn’t attached to a physical location and at the mercy of landlords appealed to him, leading him to start doing personal training for customers in outdoor environments such as nature trails.
Studies have shown that being outdoors can help lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, improve immune systems and help reduce anxiety, said Tracy Scheller, medical director of Englewood Health’s Graf Center for Integrative Medicine. One scientific study conducted last year has shown that those who spend at least two hours per week in green spaces were more likely to have good mental and physical health, Scheller said.
“Now you’re getting the benefit of this exercise and a gym while also having the benefit of being in nature,” said Scheller. “A lot of gyms have windows and you can see the trees, but actually being outside has really shown some real benefit.”
After hearing from customers that they may not want to exercise in the woods during the summer months, when ticks are active, Decker looked into getting a truck that would provide him with a means to bring his business wherever a customer wants him.
The truck, which started serving customers in New York in February 2019, can allow 25 customers at a time, who use equipment such as pull-up bars, chin-up bars, heavy bags, suspension training, slam balls and bungee cords that connect directly to the truck.
Before the pandemic, Decker had begun franchising, sending trucks to Westchester County, Long Island and Texas. Now, in addition to Bergen County, he’s looking to expand the business to Florida and California.
“Pre-COVID, I would be like, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to get to these areas,’ but post-COVID, the areas are coming to us,” said Decker.
He said AWATFIT cost about $100,000 to start up, truck included, while his last 4,000-square-foot physical gym cost about $750,000.
Decker is looking to partner with organizations trying to fundraiser during the pandemic by donating a part of the proceeds for the fitness classes.
One of his goals is helping to raise $25,000 for playground equipment in Mashashimuet Park in his hometown of Sag Harbor, New York.
Even though gyms are beginning to reopen, Decker said customers might not be rushing back to their local gyms right away, which will put additional strain on the industry.
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“People don’t want to go indoors,” said Decker. “They are afraid to go indoors. Even though the gyms are opening, there are all these restrictions.”
Indoor gyms will reopen in New Jersey at 25% capacity on Sept. 1 with rules including temperature screenings, masks and social distancing (gym users must stay six feet apart at all times). Members must also wear their workout clothes instead of changing in a locker room.
Decker said he was happy that he left behind the world of brick and mortar gym and restaurants behind and had set up his mobile, outdoor business before the pandemic. He said he worries for his friends that are in the industry.
“Both of those businesses are never going to come back the same and those that are in, unless they have a huge corporate sponsor, they are not going to make it through it,” he said.
Stephanie Noda is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @snoda11
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