"YOU have to spend money to make money.” That is the motto and business ethic of a Port Elizabeth health fanatic who owns one of the province’s biggest privately owned health clubs.
Helen Mentzel, who owns Profiles Fitness Club in Walmer Downs, attributes her success to her willingness to take risks and investing everything she could into growing her business. So hungry was she for success that she and her business partner husband, Colin, repeatedly postponed their wedding date from 1997 to when they won a ceremony at The Herald’s La Femme’s first Bridal Fair in 2000.
"This has always been my dream and I vowed to do everything I could to realise it,” Mentzel said.
After matriculating from Westering High School, Helen went to the UK and spent six years working and gaining experience at a number of gyms. She returned to South Africa with £15000 as starting capital and some gym equipment. With her then boyfriend, Colin – who also worked at a fitness centre – by her side they opened the gym in a 600m² letting space in Miramar.
Profiles has since grown from a membership of only one – gent by the name of Andrew Brown – to more than 5000 in its 17 years of existence. When the gym opened, Mentzel taught gym classes herself from morning to night as the couple were the only employees at the time.
It was only after their membership base grew that a third staffer came on board.
"If you really love what you do and are driven by your passion for it, you will be a success,” she said.
The now successful health club – which has adopted the European style of creating an all-day one-stop shop with facilities for the whole family – now boasts 4000m² of exercise facilities, a coffee shop, health spa and children’s corner. But their road to success has not been without challenges. With all their money ploughed into the new business, the couple sometimes went without food.
They shared a flat with another couple and Mentzel waited on tables when she was not conducting classes and was often allowed to take some food home for them to eat. Their initial morning exercise routine included pushing their car until they could start it, before beginning actual classes at the gym.
To add to their challenges, soon after Profile’s doors first opened in 1995, a national gym franchise branch opened in the city and brought major competition for the teething business.
"But I always believed that what I offered was unique. I just stuck to my own ideas and not necessarily driven by turnover. My aim was always to create a family exercising environment so that children could get used to fitness routines from a young age,” Mentzel said.
Competition struck again when, after they moved to their current premises in 1999, the franchise opened another branch nearby.
Mentzel’s innovative ideas, however, managed to see Profiles flourishing and the business has grown by more than 500% in the past three years. The fitness centre was the first to introduce spinning classes and may be the only gym in the Eastern Cape to have isolateral equipment that "gives maximum exercise”.
Profile now employs between 15 and 25 people and is fast expanding. A hair salon is to be opened at the club later this year and spinning equipment for children will be brought in. They boast three of only four imported squash courts in the country that can also be used for basketball.
"I’m trying to steer away from the basic in and out culture of gym and create a place where the family can make a day of it,” she said.