Fitting in

FIT 24 has filled a niche for residents and also filled a formerly empty building in downtown Minneota

Photo by Jim Muchlinski Cari Pohlen, right, of Minneota gives FIT 24 members like Don Sanow a 24-hour opportunity to exercise. Pohlen owns and operates the FIT 24 fitness center in Minneota’s downtown business district. She launched the business by combining her four-year exercise science degree with experience in both chiropractic office management and massage therapy.

MINNEOTA — With the success of Minneota’s FIT 24 fitness center, the downtown business property known for many years as Ufkin’s will never be the same.

Cari Pohlen, a 1995 Minneota High School graduate, has nearly a two-year track record of serving members and daily guests as the owner of FIT 24. It opened for business in September of 2017, which coincided with Minneota’s annual Boxelder Bug Days celebration.

Plans for the business began to take shape when Pohlen pursued a four-year degree through online offerings from Concordia College in St. Paul. She chose exercise science for a major because of prior professional experience as a chiropractic office assistant and as a massage therapist.

She combined exercise science with a business minor because of her interest in making business ownership part of her future career goals. A class assignment to write a business plan became the framework of FIT 24. She gained experience in fitness center operations through an internship at Anytime Fitness in Marshall.

She completed her four-year degree requirements within two and a half years, and then proceeded immediately to launch her business.

“Everything fell into place,” Pohlen said. “I’m lucky that all of the pieces came together at the right time. I wanted my own business close to home, and the circumstances were right for both me and the community.”

She said in the past many Minneota area residents drove to nearby towns for a regular fitness routine, often leaving home an hour or more earlier on workdays.

The Minneota School District, as part of an expansion of its K-12 school campus, offered residents an opportunity to have fitness memberships during hours when its new fitness area was not being used by athletes or physical education classes.

“Part of the reason for the school to include the community was that Minneota didn’t have a fitness business,” Pohlen said. “That was one of the things that told me there was a good potential to start one.”

Another factor was the availability of the Ufkin’s property. It came with ample square footage that was formerly used to display furniture, appliances, and home accessories inventory.

It was one of two downtown locations Pohlen considered, along with the former Schott manufacturing plant a block away on North Jefferson Street.

Schott plants located in Minneota, Marshall and Canby manufactured electronic components used for a variety of specialized purposes, including grocery store scanners and pacemakers.

“The Schott building might have worked, but this one had a big advantage because I could put everything on one level,” she said. “It meant more floor plan options and more convenience for the members.”

The building came with interior walls that facilitate a natural traffic flow. The back of the property had space for restrooms, including one that’s fully handicapped accessible.

It also includes a sauna that can accommodate several people. The sauna has a dry air circulation system to prevent unwanted humidity in the building’s interior.

Another part of the FIT 24 start-up involved the purchase of mostly new equipment. FIT 24 has all the components of standard exercise routines, including bikes, treadmills, weight machines, barbells and step exercise.

“Equipment is the main operating expense,” Pohlen said. “I’d like to start offering personalized training. Most likely that would be with contracting rather than staff positions.”

She added that she’s also interested in having promotional events. Two of the possibilities are weight loss contests and community fundraisers.

Members have the option of using the facility 24 hours a day with their own keys. They can bring guests if they wish by using an honor system for paying the guest fee.

Most of the time she spends at the center involves cleaning and other upkeep of the facility. About 20 percent of her time is spent assisting members and guests, or talking with them about exercise options. A large share of the participants track their own exercise progress using personal journals.

“I like the combination of working with people and keeping up the building and equipment,” she said. “Massage was almost all client work and office assisting focused on business details. Now I do some of both.”

Her work schedule is flexible enough for family activities. Nathan farms east of Minneota and north of Ghent. They have three children: Alex who is attending South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D., high school senior Emily, and eighth grader Isaac.

She said she reached her three-year business goals within six months. Her favorite part of the business venture is knowing that it meets an important need for the Minneota area.

Don Sanow, one of the first members at FIT 24 who enjoyed an early afternoon workout on Thursday, said the fitness facility has lived up to what the community hoped for when it first opened.

“It’s one of the best things that’s ever happened in Minneota,” Sanow said. “We definitely needed a fitness center. It’s a wonderful place.”