Sisters In Fitness

Three siblings got their health club off the ground

When three sisters from Milwaukee decided to open a fitness center several years ago, more than just a few people snickered at their lofty ambition. To some, the notion of opening a successful health club that catered to African American women seemed far-fetched and laughable.

That was seven years ago. Now, SB Fitness Complex -under the direction of siblings Elnora Harvey Wilson, Joyce Harvey Davis, and Barbara Harvey Carter -made roughly $250,000 in revenues in 2003 and has four full-time employees. The fitness complex offers daily and monthly memberships that cost as little as $5 a day to a maximum of $39 a month. The sisters, who are in their 50s, started their business in 1997 by each contributing $10,000. With that, they leased a small and underdeveloped building with few amenities.

“It was about the size of a small apartment with only a few exercise machines and a tiny workout room,” recalls Harvey Carter, vice president of marketing and finance. “We didn’t even have a place to install showers for our clients.” They ran the business for about three years and eventually secured a larger location that they leased for two years before being forced to find other digs after the building was sold. It took them more than six months to find their current location. Even after securing the new complex, the sisters ran into a roadblock when they tried to obtain additional capital in order to make improvements on the new facility.

However, the sisters were rejected by a number of banks for reasons that included not having a cogent business plan to not having enough experience to successfully run and maintain a business. “When we were denied for a loan from the bank, we didn’t know what we were going to do,” says Harvey Carter. The sisters then got their act together, revising their business model and providing a detailed request for a loan to Legacy Bank (No. 21 on the BE BANKS list with $73.9 million in deposits). The bank finally approved a $300,000 loan that was backed by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“We were definitely blessed and thankful when the loan was approved,” says Harvey Wilson, vice president of administration and human resources. “Securing the loan enabled us to make some giant steps in making improvements to the building.” Renovations completed, the facility reopened in January 2003 and is now housed in a posh, split-level building. The club now boasts a bevy of treadmills, stair climbers, a weight area, a basketball court, two racquet courts, aerobic equipment, and personal trainers.

As for the future, the sisters are optimistic. Recently, these businesswomen and their center were featured on several Milwaukee radio and television stations. The publicity has generated even more interest and excitement about the center. “Good health, diet, and exercise are the key ingredients to living a long, healthy, and productive life,” says Harvey Davis. “As long as we can continue to promote this message to people, SB Fitness will be just fine.”

SB Fitness Complex; 8940 N.

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