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Bye, Bye, Tony?

With his club chain sold to L.A. Fitness, what will become of our industry's favorite Aussie?

ATLANTA - Tony DeLeede, owner-sorry...former owner-of Australian Body Works, had a great run. From the first club that opened in 1982, the Australian native built a 22-club chain that was well respected, and well liked, in the Atlanta market.

Now, it's over. Australian Body Works, the club chain with the kangaroo logo, no longer exists. L.A. Fitness Sports Clubs purchased the 22 clubs in June and immediately switched the facilities over to the L.A. brand. (Australian Body Works' sole franchisee immediately changed the name of its club to Dunwoody Body Works, after the town in which it's located.)

Since L.A. Fitness's goal is to become a national, well known chain (and the company is succeeding-with more than 70 facilities in California, Arizona, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Georgia), DeLeede understands why the Newport Beach, Calif.-based buyer changed the name of the 22 clubs. Still, reminders of Australian Body Works remain in the facilities.

"It will be a while before they erase the last kangaroo off the walls," DeLeede said.

Actually, if DeLeede had had his way, the Australian Body Works' kangaroo logo would have occupied more walls than it did at the point of acquisition. His plan was to grow Australian Body Works to 50 clubs-to open clubs approximately every six weeks until that number was reached. In fact, when L.A. Fitness Sports Clubs first approached DeLeede, he was more interested in expanding than selling.

L.A. Fitness was persistent, according to DeLeede. The offer kept getting more and more attractive. On top of that, DeLeede knew that if he didn't sell, L.A. Fitness would find another way to enter his market-as a competitor. A tough competitor.

"They were determined to come into Atlanta anyway," DeLeede said. "And they would have been very competitive. They have a good track record, good product and a good price."

During his discussions with L.A. Fitness, DeLeede was having parallel conversations with E-Zone, a provider of entertainment systems for health clubs. DeLeede is the CEO of Cardio Theater, another provider of entertainment systems that is partnered with E-Zone. E-Zone executives heard he might be leaving the club business, and they wanted him to become more involved with their company.

Since selling Australian Body Works, DeLeede has become the executive vice president of global market development with E-Zone. He remains CEO of Cardio Theater. And he may open a small personal training and cycling studio in West Palm Beach, Fla. (his new home). So it's not like he has exited the health and fitness industry altogether. How-ever, selling Australian Body Works did sadden him, he admitted.

"We had built such a powerful part of the community," DeLeede said. "Our presence was as strong as any presence could be for any group of clubs. We had been part of the lifestyle there."

DeLeede added that Australian Body Works had a great team of employees working at its clubs. "Leaving that all behind is not an easy decision to make," he said.

On the other hand, the stress of opening so many clubs was taking a toll on DeLeede's health. His weight and blood pressure had been going up, and he had less time for exercise. That worried the 47-year-old DeLeede, who said that his father died of a heart attack at the age of 49.

Now that he sold Australian Body Works, DeLeede has been able to dedicate more time to his health and fitness. And there's one other perk: The acquisition was an all-cash deal. DeLeede gave this interview while driving to his new condo in Palm Beach, Fla., right on the ocean. Having spent much of his youth on Australian beaches, he knew that he would wake the next day and smell the familiar scent of the sea.

"That ain't too bad either, Jerry," DeLeede said.

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