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Rego Pk. has city’s only Contours but not for long

Contours Express, the ambitious new female-only fitness chain, is pushing hard to expand in the city from its single gym in Rego Park and elbow its way into the competition. In the fall, it launched a targeted television advertising campaign in five areas nationwide, including New York City. Since then Contours officials say they have received about 17 requests from people in the city interested in opening a franchise. Of those, more than half have come from Queens, making the borough a hot spot for a small company looking to get an edge on its much larger rival, Curves, which has dozens of franchises citywide."Our phones are ringing off the hook," said Cindi Becker, franchise support supervisor at Contour's headquarters in Nicholasville, Ky. "We're growing something fierce."Given the positive response from the first marketing stint, Contours decided to kick it off nationally last week. Armed with the backing of marketing guru Bob Pittman, it is now running commercials on such cable networks as Fox News, HGTV and Oxygen."Expanding our ad campaign is another step in the brand-building and demand-generating strategy that you told us was a top priority for you," said Contours President Bill Helton in a recent letter to his some 500 franchises worldwide.For Joan Stack, co-owner of the Rego Park Contours at 65-07 Woodhaven Blvd., the publicity couldn't come soon enough.Although her gym has enlisted a few hundred members since opening January 2004, Stack said "it's not where I want to be.""Nobody knows we're here," she added. "Hopefully, the national advertising will fix that."Stack, a real estate saleswoman in Middle Village turned entrepreneur, was researching women's gyms online last August when she came across Contour. Intrigued, she and her real estate partner, Marilyn Engstler, paid the $31,900 franchise and equipment fee, attended a weeklong session in weight training and marketing in Kentucky and found a small vacant commercial space sandwiched between a 7-11 and a Chinese takeout."Once we started doing this, it took on a life of its own," Stack said inside her gym one evening last week as five women rotated workout stations labeled Lever Lat, Tricep Dip and Ab Crunch.A year later her place has attracted women away from the nearby Curves and the unisex Gym World."It's the best gym around," said one of the women, Maria Blaszkiewicz, who switched to Contours from Gym World two years ago. "Here is smaller, a better atmosphere.""For women that is," interrupted an out-of-breath Bogda Stachowiak, who said she lost 42 pounds in seven months.For Bridget O'Reilly, her decision to pick Contours over Curves was the friendliness coupled with Contour's equipment, which unlike the hydraulics system at Curves, uses actual weights."I had to decide if I wanted to commit for a year and after coming a few times there's no question," she said, between reps on the Leg Curls. "Now I'm trying to get my sister here."And Stack herself remains optimistic, especially with the support of Pittman, who helped found MTV and build AOL into an Internet giant before it merged with Time Warner."Now that he's involved our business will come to the surface," she said.Reach reporter Zach Patberg at news@timesledger.com or at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

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