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Strong Gym LLC co-owners Jared Dale, William McNeely and Matt Reynolds started the gym in the two-car garage of McNeely's parents. Now it occupies 3,000 square feet in an industrial building.
Strong Gym LLC co-owners Jared Dale, William McNeely and Matt Reynolds started the gym in the two-car garage of McNeely's parents. Now it occupies 3,000 square feet in an industrial building.

Business Spotlight: The Black-Iron Gym

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The owners of Strong Gym LLC have built their business on being anything but the norm. After all, how many gym businesses get started in a two-car garage?

“The first year-and-a-half or so, we were running the gym out of my mom’s and dad’s garage,” says co-owner William McNeely, a senior at Missouri State University. “I remember there was one time the power went out during an ice storm, so we had to lift by candlelight.”

Imagine that: A group of about 10 men lifting weights by candlelight in a parent’s garage. Unusual, perhaps, but the owners say the gym’s different atmosphere is what has set apart Strong Gym since its incorporation in July 2008. Today, it’s located in a 3,000-square-foot industrial strip building at 733 N. West Bypass.

Catering to what co-owner Matt Reynolds calls “strength athletes,” such as power lifters and body builders, the gym’s members determine its ambience.

“Nobody has an ego,” says Reynolds, who also works as a teacher and football coach at Willard Middle School. “You know, you walk into a public gym in town and the biggest guy walks around with his nose in the air and acts like he’s better than everybody else.

“We just don’t have that at our gym. We have a real family atmosphere and our members feel they have an ownership in it.”

Reynolds, McNeely and Jared Dale, a personal trainer at Strong Gym who also trains people from across the country, are co-owners of the gym.

Visitors to the gym will see a training environment that’s a little different than they might expect – though Reynolds says those differences are what drew Strong Gym’s roughly 50 members.

For instance, there are no workout machines – except for a treadmill. Rather, Strong Gym trains people in fashion similar to The World’s Strongest Man competition, such as pulling cars.

“Those machines cost a tremendous amount of money,” says Reynolds, a professional strong man who earned his pro card in 2006 after being the top-ranked amateur at a pro-am show. “We don’t have those because we find those to be worthless. We are a barbell-based, black-iron gym.”

Charting a different course presented some challenges, though.

“When we’ve gone to get a lease, it is difficult to explain to our lessor what we do,” Reynolds says. The building where the gym is located is owned by Patricia Johnson of Wehr Johnson Properties.

“They think a small, private training studio is coming in that doesn’t do a lot, and you’ve got to explain that we drop 400 pound stones on the ground all the time,” Reynolds says. “Same thing as insurance, trying to help an insurance company understand what we do because we’re so dramatically different from the other public, 24-hour gym type places.”

Another unique angle is that the three owners are the only employees and haven’t taken any membership money for themselves. They say every bit of the money goes back into the gym for equipment improvements such as a Monolift, a squat rack that is attached to a hydraulic jack. The gym also added 50 feet of athletic turf for warm-ups, Reynolds says.

Last year, he says the gym earned about $20,000 in membership revenue. An individual membership costs $32 per month and family memberships cost $45 per month, McNeely says.

“We aren’t officially a not-for-profit business, but we really don’t care if we ever make a dollar,” says Reynolds, who estimates the trio bought $15,000 in lifting equipment to get the business started and have since invested another $10,000 to $15,000.

Despite going unpaid, each owner is an experienced weightlifter, which means there’s a wealth of knowledge to be shared, says gym member Rob Crook.

“The first thing I noticed about the guys there is they’re all world-class lifters,” says Crook, a prepress manager at Nowata Printing who recently benched 350 pounds after starting out at 250 to 265 pounds nine months ago. “I thought I had an idea of how to lift, but those guys show you technique and ways to do things that will actually make you stronger in a safe manner.”

Dale says that knowledge comes from more than just the trio of owners. The gym’s members can chip in at times, too.

“I would say about 50 percent of the guys who are here and have been here for a while could coach anybody who came in off the street,” Dale says. “Even though we compete in different sports, we create an atmosphere where we support each other and help each other get better.”

Strong Gym has moved three times since 2008, and another move could be coming soon, Reynolds says.

“We need to look at moving to a bigger location in the next year,” Reynolds says. “We’d like to … expand our clientele base where we’re trying to break down the walls of being viewed as a place for big, scary meathead guys. That’s not our goal.”
So what is the goal?

“We want people to change their lives,” he says.

Even if that means training by candlelight.[[In-content Ad]]


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