SAINT JOHN – Jason Crouse’s passion for exercise started when he was 12-years-old growing up in Sussex.
“I remember working out with my big brother and my dad in the basement of our house. That’s how I got into it in the first place,” he says. “We would box in our back yard and then our school started offering boxing, so I started getting into that. They offered an after-school weight training program so I got into weight training … I’ve always been active like that.”
That passion has led to founding and operating a growing fitness company in Saint John: Jason’s Functional Training Studio (JFTS), now with two locations on the west and east side of the city.
Crouse caught the entrepreneurial bug In March of 2000. At that time, he got his training certification and was working successfully in other gyms, including a small health club in Sussex and Nubodys, known today as Goodlife Fitness, in Saint John.
“It just got to the point where I was giving my whole self to other companies,” says Crouse. “I was thinking why am I doing that when I could be giving to myself and to my members? Because a lot of companies, they’re all about the bottom dollar.”
For awhile, Crouse ran the business out of the bottom floor of a house he rented on Rockland Road, hosting classes morning until night, often seven days a week. He did this for two years until he realized that it was time to take the next step. In November 2014 he opened the first Jason’s Functional Fitness at 356 Rothesay Avenue in East Saint John. In June 2019, he opened his second location on Manawagnoish Road on the city’s west side.
Though both gyms share the same name, they’re both different in what they offer. The Rothesay Avenue location solely offers classes, 160 a month, thanks to the help of 10 fitness instructors the gym contracts. All classes are designed by Crouse.
Meanwhile, the West Side gym offers more of a “freestyle” approach. Members at that gym get their own personalized workout plan, where they can come to the 24-hour facility when it best fits their schedule.
“I feel like west siders never had a fair shake in a gym. I’ve come over here a few times and I know people who were like, ‘man, I wish we had a gym that was clean, that had maintenance taken care of, that had nice equipment, the rates were good and was open all the time,’ ” says Crouse. “That’s when I decided that maybe it’s time.”
JFTS members come from all walks of life, but Crouse says the majority of them in the 40 to 50-year-old demographic. The west side gym offers various levels of memberships, ranging from basic gym access with a physical assessment, to plans that include personalized nutrition and hours of one-on-one personal training. The Rothesay Avenue gym is based on a three, six, and one-year membership access to classes.
Crouse says he designed his gyms to be everything he would want if he were a member. Complimentary towels and bottles of water, things many big-box gyms often charge extra for, are always on hand. He also tries to foster a community among members, sending them Christmas and birthday cards, even going so far as calling them if they haven’t gone in a while.
“At the end of the day, my clients and members come first. Before I make any executive decision about the company, I think about them first. How is it going to affect those guys? I always believe in offering more than what you pay for,” he says.
“I’m kind of old school like that. I’ll continue to run my business that way as well. I always look at those people before I think about myself. I always say if I take care of my members and clients, they’ll take care of me. I’ll make money.”
Crouse’s specialized, personable approach may be new for some in New Brunswick, but it’s not elsewhere. Boutique gyms and private fitness studios have been popular in major Canadian cities for a while now. But in recent years, more have been popping up in New Brunswick, whether it’s Fredericton’s Sweat Club and Moncton’s Spinco, or private trainers opening up their own private studios.
“People like their privacy, they really do. When you come into a studio, the doors are closed, people aren’t coming and going,” says Crouse. “I always say people like to get in shape behind closed doors, then when they’re ready to show it, boom, they can go outside and show it to everybody. I think people really like the personal touch with it.”
Opening a small, private, specialized studio can also be a cost-effective way for private trainers to start a business, especially if their business model is focused on classes, which could mean less overhead costs.
“They’re doing it because it’s cheaper too … it’s an easier business to run where you don’t have to be staffed all day long,” says Crouse.
Crouse has come a long way from those days. As 2020 gets started, his goal is to continue to grow his membership and help more people reach their fitness goals.
“I don’t believe in a three- or five-year plan … because my plan is coming into work every day, give my 100 percent to the members and to my staff and see where it leads me too,” he says.