Jose Avina ’13 (Communication Studies) was excited when he had the opportunity last year to speak with a small business advisor about his plan to open a gym. But he got an early reality check when the meeting, which was supposed to last two hours, was over after just 20 minutes.
“He said that there are too many gyms out there, it’s a saturated industry, and that I needed to find something that would give us a niche, something that would make us different,” says Avina, who left discouraged. Then he remembered something from his time at Sac State: The WELL featured a handful of “eco” cycles – exercise bikes that generate power during use and return that electricity to the grid.
Avina, a lifelong environmentalist, had his niche. In December he opened Sacramento Eco Fitness, which he says was just the second gym in the world to feature exclusively “eco” aerobic equipment. All 16 cycles in the facility’s spin room generate enough electricity to reduce Avina’s monthly bill from $680 to just $38. Soon, he’ll add an “eco-treadmill” to the mix.
The idea seems to have resonated. The gym already boasts a substantial social media following and 38 members, many of whom Avina says canceled less expensive memberships at other gyms to be part of a facility on the cutting edge of the industry.
“They like the fact that we’re giving back to the environment and the community,” he says.
Avina came to Sacramento State initially to play soccer alongside his brother and to study communications and marketing. He went into the Marine Corps following graduation, but when he finished officer training, he had difficulty finding a job after so much time away. He eventually decided to pursue his passion and open his own business.
That’s when his time at Sac State paid off. He put out a call to his former fraternity brothers for help, and eventually seven of them – six of whom are still students – offered their photography, business, media and other skills. He also became connected with the University’s Center for Entrepreneurship, which set him up with a free work space and helped him refine his business plan. His classes came in handy as well. Though he didn’t wind up in marketing, he and his team were able to effectively leverage social media platforms and build a strong following. The content was so effective that many of Avina’s followers thought he already had a gym – and that the one he opened in December was his second location.
“I had a great experience at Sac State,” Avina says. “I loved the campus, I loved the fact that it was in line with my environmentalist side, with the trees and everything, but I think the most important thing I pulled away from there was the network. When I came back and had this crazy idea for a new concept, they believed in it, went along with my idea and helped me out.”
In addition to being eco-friendly, Avina also works to make sure his gym gives back to the community. He hosts free monthly boot-camp training sessions, during which he collects donations for various charities.
He has big ideas on the sustainability end as well. He’ll travel to Italy soon to check out a floor that can harness kinetic energy and see if it can be used in the fitness industry, for example by generating power when someone drops his or her weights. And while he is in rented space right now, he hopes eventually to build a gym from the ground up – harnessing the latest technology in green energy and water collection, of course. He cites Tesla CEO Elon Musk as inspiration, someone with “a crazy idea” who never gave up.
“I’m an avid outdoorsman and I understand that the role we play as human beings on this planet is key to preserving what we have left,” Avina says. “We’re reducing our carbon footprint. Can’t change everyone’s mindset, but at least for our members, we’re doing our part to reduce the carbon footprint, and that could go a long way in the long run.”