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VOL. 36 | NO. 51 | Friday, December 21, 2012

Quest to provide competition for Manning’s D-1 training center

By Brad Schmitt

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For years, the Tennessee Titans and Peyton Manning have duked it out on the gridiron.

Looks like that fight is moving off the field and into the business arena: A battle royale is brewing in Cool Springs for fitness buffs looking for high-end training.

Manning and his former UT teammate and fullback Will Bartholomew have long dominated premier workouts with their cavernous D1 complex, located on South Springs Drive, just two blocks from Cool Springs Galleria.

Pro athletes such as QB Tim Tebow and offensive lineman Mike Oher (subject of The Blind Side) have trained there alongside local high school sports teams and, well, anyone willing to play $180 a month for small-group classes led by high-energy trainers.

But now, some former D1 customers – with support from several Tennessee Titans, including tight end Jared Cook – are opening their own training facility as competition for Manning’s exercise empire.

The 31,000-square-foot Quest Sports Center is set to open off Mallory Lane in the spring.

Quest owners are hoping that nutritionists, a combination basketball/volleyball court, well-appointed VIP locker rooms and slightly cheaper prices will allow Quest to win over affluent fitness clients.

Quest is stressing “functional” fitness for the everyday person whose athlete superstar ambitions are behind them.

“Guess what? I don’t need to lift a Buick. I don’t need explosive power,” says co-founder Holly Merrell, a trainer who started Quest with her businessman husband, David.

“I just want to look good and feel healthy,” Holly says. “How can I carry groceries into the house versus how far can I push a linebacker?”

David Merrell considers himself a typical future client.

“I’m a 41-year-old male, three kids, I’m not worried about what my max bench press is anymore,” he says. “But I like to play basketball with my kids.

“I’ve got bad knees, I have lots of low-impact exercises. That’s what intrigues me so much. I can be in shape without worrying about doing bear crawls and running stairs, and not being able to get up out of my chair.”

In fact, Quest is pushing an overall holistic approach in which clients have access to nutritionists, physical therapists and even financial planning: David Merrell’s day job is to run TBH Global Asset Management.

“We noticed similarities between financial fitness and physical fitness,” Holly Merrell says. “So we’re like, let’s build a facility where we combine what Dave knows and I know.”

The everyday non-athlete will be able to take unlimited small-group classes for $129 a month – about $50 a month less than D1.

The goal is that Quest will have the best of the best, down to the well-appointed locker rooms.

“We wanna be like the Ritz of work out facilities, very high-end furnishings, high-end locker rooms so people want to stay,” Holly Merrell says.

Quest will even offer space for high-end events for rent.

And Quest is in talks to become partners with a nearby upscale hotel for out-of-town clients – and that, owners hope, will include off-season pro athletes from other cities.

The reaction at D1? Bring it on.

“We have competition in every market,” says Ron Rickel, D1’s vice president of sales and marketing.

“And we feel like competition makes you stronger at the end of the day. It makes you work harder,” Rickel says.

“Proverbs says, ‘Iron sharpens iron.’”

D1 customer John Carnahan, 35, who runs a food services equipment company, says D1 already offers the personal touch that Quest espouses.

“I know everyone at D1, everyone at D1 knows who I am,” Carnahan says.

“They know my first and last name, they know that my kids play sports, they know lots about me,” he said. “I like the size and feel of D1.”

Carnahan also says he likes seeing pro athletes working out near him.

“That’s the sexy component,” he says. “It’s pretty awesome.”

Both D1 and Quest say clients will be attracted – like in most high-end service businesses – by the personal touch, by who knows who.

That’s how Titans tight end Cook ended up on Team Quest: Cook worked with David Merrell on finances, and so Cook has left D1 for Quest Sports Center.

“They key is on what you need as an athlete,” Cook says of his new off-season work-out home. “They really tweak it and stay on top of it.”

Still, Jared, don’t you feel bad about not giving Peyton Manning all that D1 membership money anymore?

“No,” he says. “Not at all.”

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