Last spring, when a tornado ripped the glass roof off the natatorium at The Courthouse Racquet & Fitness Club in Northeast Jackson, Johnny Black seized the opportunity to build a bigger and better one, and added a 5,000-square-foot second-floor fitness room with oversized windows.
“It’s gorgeous now,” said Black, president and part-owner of The Courthouse fitness centers in metro Jackson. “The tornado touched down just long enough to hit our building and strew it over our roof and the apartment complex next door. It ripped open the building like a can.”
Quickly making repairs and adding amenities as a result of the disaster is another reason why members keep returning to The Courthouse.
“We’re very proud of our retention rate, which is a number that health clubs everywhere worry about year after year,” said Black.
While the national trend of members lost annually hovers around 45% to 50%, The Courthouse rate is 15.8%, a record-low level on a year-to-date basis for the club. Even though Black declined to disclose enrollment figures, he said business has increased 10% since the beginning of the year.
“We think it’s because we are spending the money to upgrade our equipment, and we have a great staff that’s been with us a long time,” he said. “Members like seeing the same people say hello at the front desk and having a fitness person who helps them achieve their goal. That’s fun and exciting for us.”
For example, when Black completes enclosing the 50-meter Olympic-size pool at the Lakeland facility, it will remain open year-round. The northeast club is getting another face-lift, with the addition of a women’s-only fitness area featuring a separate entry to the ladies locker room and a brand new nursery. The club is also adding a youth fitness area, enlarging the conference room and renovating the lobby.
Both clubs’ renovation projects total $2.5 million.
The Courthouse has grown significantly since Chuck Minor and nine investors established it in 1978 with the opening of the Lakeland facility. When the swimming pool was added a couple of years later, Black’s dad, John Black Jr., acquired a financial interest in the company. Soon after, Minor and Black bought the remaining shares and owned the company as equal partners. In 1985, the northeast club opened.
In the early 1990s, Black acquired the remaining shares from Minor, who remained on a multi-year management contract and the younger Black joined the company. In 1996, the Blacks opened the Cypress Lake facility. In 2002, the Byram club opened.
“We’re trying to keep all our properties in Mississippi, at least for the next couple of years,” said Johnny Black, who is mulling construction sites with his dad. “Right now, we’re focused on renovating the two clubs, to get them to the level they should be.”
The company, which features aquatics, fitness, group exercise, racquetball and tennis activities, employs 250 year-round and 100 seasonal workers.
Led by Laura Uecker, The Courthouse’s aquatic activities include American Red Cross lifesaving classes, scuba diving lessons and swim lessons from beginners to triathlon training, in addition to pool parties in the Lakeland facility’s heated pool. Of the club’s two summer swim teams that participate in the Jackson Swim Association league of 11 local swim teams, Cypress Lakes Sea Lions won the city meet this year.
The Courthouse also hosts the Mississippi Makos, a year-round, competitive swim team for children ages five to 18, and the Catfish Masters, a U.S. masters swimming club.
“We brought in the Mississippi Makos to replace Sunkist,” said Black, who swam on the Sunkist team as a youth, “and the new team has done real well, placing second in the state behind a huge swim team in Tupelo.”
The four clubs feature 9,000 square feet of special wood flooring, separate air conditioning units, mirrors, benches, hand weights and tubes for group exercise classes ranging from cardio to yoga, and 35 tennis courts, featuring a mix of hard and clay courts, including four climate-controlled indoor courts at the Northeast Jackson facility. Of the club’s dozen racquetball courts, the Lakeland facility features eight and there are four at the northeast Jackson facility, where Ann Barnes, president of Prime Care Nursing in Jackson, practiced before winning first place in her division at the U.S. Racquetball Association National Singles Championships.
The Courthouse offers one-club, multiple-club, seniors-only, corporate, government and student memberships. All new members are entitled to three one-hour sessions with a certified trainer at no additional cost and all members have access to the company’s new Web site, www.mscourthouse.com, which features a fitness forum and monthly magazine. “We think the big health club chains undervalue Mississippi,” said Black. “And we feel it’s our job to provide facilities our residents deserve.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.