Dec. 25, 2005 When Joff Paradise met his wife, Tina, about 12 years ago in a Texas gym, he realized he had found his love, but little did he know that their love for an active lifestyle would become a family business.
Born in Germany to a military family, Joff had been used to traveling the world, so it was an easy transition for him when he and his wife decided to move to the Virgin Islands in 1994 and make it home.
"We bought two one-way tickets, sold everything we had, and moved to the V.I.," Joff said.
It was this move that led to their business, America's Paradise Gym.
In 1997 Joff and Tina opened their first gym in Orange Grove, St. Croix. At that time the couple lived in Little Princess and would jog near Orange Grove in the mornings. Joff said every time they jogged past one particular furniture store, he would tell his wife it was a great location for a gym. The two then set out to make it a reality.
Joff, who holds a master's degree in exercise physiology, had been consulting with a health club on the island for a year. He said he then saw a need to open up a club for locals.
"We saw the need for the local people to have an affordable gym, so we called it America's Paradise Gym," Joff said, adding that the gym's name made reference to the Virgin Islands, which is called America's Paradise. "Coincidentally, my last name is Paradise," he said.
Eight years after the first gym's opening in Orange Grove, the Paradises have expanded to include four more health clubs throughout the territory: Nisky Center, St. Thomas; Frederiksted, St. Croix; Four Winds; and the recently acquired Gold's Gym on the Waterfront, St. Thomas.
"Our goal is to try and make available affordable fitness for all Virgin Islanders," Joff said. "It's very important that people increase their levels of activity. It's not necessarily about joining a gym, but getting fit."
While their business was expanding, Joff and Tina have also been busy growing their family. The couple has five children: Camarie, 10; Stefana, 8; Armane, 6; Trina, 2; and Neo, 6 months. One for each gym, Joff noted.
"It wasn't planned, but it worked out that way," Tina said. "The kids have already claimed their businesses."
Tina, who does the accounting for the business, said raising their five children and managing their five health clubs has been quite a task. However, she says it has been made easier due to a unique feature of their business: All of their health clubs feature a Kids Activity Center where parents, especially single mothers, can leave their children to be attended while they work out.
"It's a perfect way to watch our kids, especially the youngest two, while we work," Tina said.
Joff agreed. He said he realized that the majority of people using fitness centers were women, and figured this was a way to keep his retention rate up.
"Our motto is 'Make time, not excuses,'" Joff said, adding it was a good way to ensure that mothers got the exercise they needed.
The Kids Activity Centers provide fun activities for children, including painting and educational games, Joff said.
"We want to make sure that the children are active and not just babysat," Joff said.
Joff said another unique element of American Paradise is its three-step program evaluation and nutritional counseling, weight training, and re-evaluation. He said this is part of every membership plan offered at all of the gyms.
"Every health club should have members evaluated," Joff said. "An evaluation gives us a starting point."
Joff said his gyms feature a complete line of cardiovascular equipment and free weights. The gyms also offer various aerobic classes, including spinning and step aerobics at no extra charge. Karate for both adults and children, and self-defense for women are also offered. The Nisky Center gym also has a sauna and spa services.
Membership rates vary according to each gym, Joff said, but a regular membership runs between $1.28 to $1.98 a day. Non-members can also purchase day passes for $10 to $12. Individuals can also choose from weekly, monthly and yearly rates.
"We customize a membership to whatever your budget can allow," Joff said. "We give you the most for the least more equipment, more professionals and more space."
Members can also visit the business's Web site to get monthly class schedules and order athletic clothing from the gym's pro shop.
Joff said he is thinking about expanding to other business ventures in the future, but for now he will focus on improving his services to his customers and gaining more members.
As he sat in his office in the Nisky Center gym, Joff said, "If you would have told me 15 years ago that I would have five children and five health clubs, I would have said you were crazy."
But he said he loves every moment of it, especially being able to work together with Tina.
"She's the brains of the outfit," Jim said. "She keeps the place going."
Tina, who studied music in college, said she loves her job and their business.
"It was his dream, his love; being fit himself and helping others to be fit," Tina said of her husband. Now she's sharing in his dream.
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