Two Irvington guys bring fitness home with mobile gyms

By Ryan Deffenbaugh

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Sam Langer and Jimmy Bonavita, as they tell it, are two childhood best friends who got the chance to go into business together. Now they are recognized as top franchisees in a fast-growing national fitness brand.

“He’s had my back since elementary school,” Langer, 26, said with a laugh at their home office in Tarrytown.

That was Dows Lane Elementary School in Irvington. The friendship carried through Irvington Middle School and Irvington High. Last year, Langer brought on Bonavita, also 26, as a co-owner in the GYMGUYZ operation he started in Westchester in 2014.

GYMGUYZ, a Long Island-based company that launched in 2008 and now operates in 14 states, offers traveling personal trainers who lead personalized workouts in homes, workplaces and parks — anywhere with enough space.

Partners Jimmy Bonavita, left, and Sam Langer with one of their GYMGUYZ vans that bring personal trainers and fitness equipment to clients' homes and workplaces. Partners Jimmy Bonavita, left, and Sam Langer with one of their GYMGUYZ vans that bring personal trainers and fitness equipment to clients’ homes and workplaces.

Langer launched his Westchester operation as the Plainview-based company’s first franchisee. Bonavita joined as a partner the next year.

Following a year in which their work with an Irvington 17-year-old to lose 120 pounds was featured nationally in People Magazine, Langer and Bonavita were recognized this fall as Franchisee of the Year at the inaugural GYMGUYZ national conference.

The duo oversees an operation with five vans and nine part-time and full-time certified trainers, who work with about 150 clients from the southern part of Westchester County and north to Yorktown, with occasional house calls across the state line in Fairfield County.

It started for Langer when his father struck up a conversation with GYMGUYZ CEO Josh York at a buffet line while on vacation in Mexico in 2013. The two discussed business, including York’s still relatively new personal training startup on Long Island.

Recognizing his son’s similar interest in fitness, Langer’s father put the two in touch. York described the business model to Langer and how it could be franchised and Langer was up and running within a year.

“Being 23 years old and never running a business before, it was definitely helpful to get that background of having a franchise model already set up and just adapting to that model,” Langer said.

He launched officially in February 2014 with an initial investment of $75,000. GYMGUYZ Westchester started with a single van and Langer as the sole owner and only trainer.

Before GYMGUYZ, Langer was working in asset management for ESPN and Bonavita was selling wine for Opici Wines. Both became certified personal trainers at the National Academy of Sport Medicine.

While Langer may be passionate about fitness, he said he never considered investing in or owning a gym location. The mobile model was the only one that made sense to him.

“Everything is all about convenience now,” he said. “We’ve seen so many pop-up gym places go in and out of business in months. We didn’t want to have to deal with the overhead of a brick-and-mortar location.”

Plus, the on-the-go model allows GYMGUYZ to reach large swaths of the county. A gym in Yorktown likely has little chance to draw customers from New Rochelle, but GYMGUYZ can send out vans to both locations. Their vans cross the Hudson into South Nyack as well, as the company’s home base in Tarrytown allows an easy shot over the Tappan Zee Bridge.

For between $69 and $88 per hour, GYMGUYZ will show up at your door with all necessary equipment and lead a customized workout. After an initial free assessment of both nutrition and fitness, clients are set up with a specific trainer and put on a workout plan. Each van carries 365 pieces of equipment, Langer said, allowing for a wide range of workouts.

“Our workouts are never the same,” Bonavita added. “We keep the clients guessing. We want it to be fun, we want it to be creative.”

GYMGUYZ has also partnered with corporations and organizations for team building exercises, yoga and Zumba classes. They’ve run classes for Phelps Memorial Hospital Center, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc., Dobbs Ferry Elementary School, Sleepy Hollow Senior Center and at Atria Senior Living centers in Westchester, among others.

“We’re able to reach everyone from 2 years old to 98 years old — that’s our oldest client currently,” Bonavita said. “We do assisted living, schools. It allows that broad spectrum.”

A typical client is between 40 and 50 years old, often a parent without the time to get out to the gym, Langer said.

Langer stressed guerrilla marketing as a way to get the name of the startup company recognized in the county.

“Putting down lawn signs, handing cards at the train stations,” he said. Even the company vans, with their giant GYMGUYZ logo and two cartoon trainers painted on the side, are moving billboards, he added.

GYMGUYZ now has 71 franchises operated by a total of 32 franchise owners. The company expects to expand to more than 100 locations this year, according to York, its founding CEO, with a goal of 500 franchisees in five years.

“We will be the largest fitness brand in the world within the next 15 years, no ifs ands or buts,” York said. “That’s because we do what’s needed to be done, surround ourselves with great people and have fun.”

Langer and Bonavita soon will expand their franchise business as well. While their trainers already travel occasionally to Greenwich for workouts, they plan to launch a Fairfield County operation. They are partnering with Dave Dequeljoe, a Boston-based entrepreneur and formerCEO and co-founder of Roast Beast Franchise System, a year-old sandwich shop chain, to launch in Connecticut.

The two also hope to expand their fleet to 15 vans in Westchester County, servicing a territory from Pelham to Bedford.

“When people think health and fitness, we want them to think of us,” Langer said.

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About the author

Ryan Deffenbaugh covers energy, education, food and beverage and the Sound Shore for the Westchester County Business Journal. He previously worked for Westchester Magazine and The Citizen daily newspaper (Auburn, N.Y.). He started with the Westchester County Business Journal in March 2016.

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