As your Savvy Spender, I plan to report on new businesses sprouting up in our midst and also those that close.  There’s another category of interest also: when an established business changes hands.

I recently sat down to chat with the new owner of one such business.  Though he’s new neither to Chapel Hill nor to the type of business he now owns.    

Kevin McManus is a Chapel Hill native who recently purchased the women’s health club in Ram’s Plaza.  Previously known as Ladies Fitness & Wellness; he has renamed it Women’s Only Workout.  As Kevin admits, this allowed him to use the acronym WOW.

Kevin grew up in Chapel Hill and returned a few years ago to help his ailing mother.  He had owned a women’s gym in Durham years before but had left that business and moved away, saying he’d “never again” own his own business. 

Well, apparently you can go home again because McManus has not only returned to his hometown, but also returned to being a small business owner.  His personal reasons explain the former so I asked him to explain the rest.    He had been working for a multi-state health club company and found he learned a lot about his (in)tolerance of the politics of a big company and that he can “work better for myself than I do for other people”.

Kevin had been back in town a few years, working in Raleigh when he heard the gym in Ram’s Plaza was for sale.  It seemed like a good fit: his hometown, his industry, a niche (women only) that he’d run before.  And so, here he is, back with more experience, more knowledge but facing the new challenge of our soft economy. 

He says he feels somewhat insulated because of the relative health of Chapel Hill’s economy, the fact that the club has been in the same location for 25 years, his experience in clubs both big and small, his gender-based niche. 

Beyond these strong starting points, Kevin has more plans, some already in place:

  • Increasing marketing of various types (including a booth at Hog Day)
  • Engaging new members by offering them a menu of complimentary “tastes” of all the clubs services
  • Adding a small day spa and carrying an exclusive skin care product line
  • Carving out an area specifically for Pilates equipment
  • Launching a dietician-backed weight loss clinic
  • Offering focused programs including a boot camp and martial arts
  • Increasing personal training options and availability

My time with Kevin showed him to be particularly proud of the hiring he’s done, bringing back some favorites from his Durham days and one new hire in particular: 5th degree black belt and former Hollywood stuntwoman Courtney Faison.  Courtney will build the martial arts program and offer personal training.  I talked with her a bit also and she’s awfully pleasant… but I bet she could make even me do an extra hundred sit-ups!  She has hometown ties also, as the daughter of NC State Legislator Bill Faison.

One big change possibly coming for WOW is the much-discussed redevelopment plan that would include Ram’s Plaza and Eastgate shopping centers.  As that moves forward, morphs or fades, I’ll check back with Kevin and his neighboring business owners in a future column.

I wrote about the Buy Local campaign last week and this profile is part of we savvy spenders knowing from whom we are buying.   Nice to meet you, Kevin, and welcome home!

Business owners please email me at if you have any news to announce.  Customers, if you’ve noticed an opening or closing and haven’t yet seen it here, please send it along.  On that note, does anyone know if the delicious Chocolaterie Stam is gone for good?