Inspiring a “Fit for Life” Ethos in the Berkshires

How a battle with cancer propelled Suzanne Merritt to transforming Lenox Fit

by Norman Eng, Public Affairs Specialist
 

Sue MerrittLife has become MORE meaningful to Suzanne Merritt ever since overcoming her battle with an aggressive form of stage-3 genetic breast cancer.  

For over a year, she dealt with several medical procedures and received chemotherapy treatment at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston – all while maintaining her job as a certified personal trainer.  

It was a challenging period for Merritt, but she found that coaching others through her resilience – helped provide an outlet away from her battle with cancer.  During her recovery process working at the fitness center, her longtime boss who had run the club for many years suggested that she look into purchasing the business from the owner.
 

Making it happen with the SBA 504
Merritt always dreamed about becoming her own boss while making an impact on others – she envisioned invigorating the fitness center and transforming it into a modern, more multi-dimensional wellness facility offering licensed physical therapy, massages, nutritional guidance, and new training classes. 

A major renovation was due – the roof was leaking, exercise equipment outdated, locker rooms uninviting, and the overall condition of the building and parking lot needed rehab – but access to capital was needed to make her dreams become reality.

After a lengthy back and forth with the owners and several meetings with Carol Brennan of BDC Capital and Mark McKenna of Lee Bank on structuring financing – Merritt struck a deal to acquire the future Lenox Fit and her passion project was ready to become reality. 

Merritt finalized the closing process for the new Lenox Fit facility in 2016 with support from the SBA’s 504 loan program.  Now, she was able to purchase new state-of-the-art equipment, hire new specialized staff, pave the parking lot over, and improve the energy efficiency of the entire building with heating system upgrades.  The business now was able to build out the facility in order to rent space to a Karate studio, Pilates studio, Physical Therapy practice, and a Psychotherapist practice.  The vision for a multi-dimensional wellness center serving a wider range of clientele was going to help increase membership and establish Lenox Fit as a staple in the Berkshires.

Lenox Fit is now heading into the next phase of its expansion plans, which will bring a Wellness and Recovery Suite to the business – including Cryotherapy, Infrared Sauna and Normatec Recovery Compression Systems.
 

Resilience in action
In her first full year of ownership, Lenox Fit saw a decline in members due to construction and change of ownership as anticipated;  but soon after Merritt implemented her vision – the business had assumed a fresh identity and reflected a 38% increase in sales by year end.

In four years as the new owner, Merritt has increased sales by 28% and today employs 22 staff members – 5 personal trainers, over 20 fitness classes per week, massage services, and nutritional consultations with a registered dietitian.  The center maintains over 700 year-round and seasonal members, who are recovering from an injury or striving for functional fitness.  In 2017, Merritt was voted “Best Personal Trainer” in Berkshire County by the readers of The Berkshire Eagle. 

As part of 2019 National Small Business Week, Suzanne Merritt was honored as the SBA Woman Owned Business of the Year for Massachusetts.

Sue Merritt and Family/Friends

Merritt’s MOST meaningful achievements however, are in her charity work and giving back to her community after winning her battle with cancer.   Each year, she participates in the annual Pan Mass Challenge – raising nearly $100,000 in the last seven years.  Riders from around the world are committed to raising a minimum of close to $5,000 each year and ride anywhere from 50-192 miles over a two-day period the first weekend of August each summer.  Merritt has broken her fundraising record from each year before and in 2018 alone peaked at approximately $28,000 – her new record.    

Merritt is also involved with the Relay for Life campaign, where she has served as a keynote speaker for a major event and mentors other cancer patients by offering guidance from her personal experience with cancer.  She has also been involved with her local food bank helping with holiday food drives; and also hosted blood drives at Lenox Fit offering raffle prizes to those who step up and donate blood.

 

Lenox Fit

(SBA Disclaimer of Endorsement:  Any reference obtained from this server to a specific product, process, or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement by the SBA or the United States Government of the product, process, or service, or its producer or provider. The views and opinions expressed in any referenced document do not necessarily state or reflect those of the SBA or the United States Government.)


SBA 504 Lending Resources

What is the 504 Loan Program?

The SBA 504 Loan program is a powerful economic development loan program that offers small businesses another avenue for business financing, while promoting business growth, and job creation.  As of February 15, 2012, the $50 Billion in 504 loans has created over 2 million jobs.  This program is a proven success and win-win-win for the small business, the community and participating lenders.

The 504 Loan Program provides approved small businesses with long-term, fixed-rate financing used to acquire fixed assets for expansion or modernization.  504 loans are made available through Certified Development Companies (CDCs), SBA's community based partners for providing 504 Loans.
 

About CDCs

A Certified Development Company (CDC) is a nonprofit corporation that promotes economic development within its community through 504 Loans. CDCs are certified and regulated by the SBA, and work with SBA and participating lenders (typically banks) to provide financing to small businesses, which in turn, accomplishes the goal of community economic development.   

There are over 260 CDCs nationwide each having a defined Area of Operations covering a specific geographic area.   The area of operation for most CDCs is the state in which they are incorporated. 
 

For more 504 lending information, visit this link

 

Massachusetts Certified Development Corporations:

Bay Colony Economic Development

CDC New England

Coastal Community Capital

Granite State Economic Development Corporation

South Eastern Economic Development Corporation

Worcester Business Development Corporation

 

SBA 504 Debt Refinancing Program: 

 

Speak with the lender relations team at the SBA Massachusetts District Office: 

Company Name: 
Lenox Fit
Location: 
Lenox, MA