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Archive for ‘December, 2011’

In the Biz: Feral CrossFit Gym Wants to Pump You Up at High Rock Avenue Facility

Originally Published in the Saratogian: December 11, 2011. Click here to read online. 

By SUZANNA LOURIE

SARATOGA SPRINGS — College friends Noah Milstein and Jayson Ball went from workout buddies to business partners in September when they opened Feral CrossFit, a unique strength-training facility.

Although the atypical gym has been flying somewhat under the radar, Milstein and Ball have seen their client base build steadily as more people in the area come to learn and understand what the CrossFit philosophy is all about.

“This is the same training and methodology that the actors did for the movie ‘300,’ ” Milstein said. “The goal is to create people who are maximally fit, so in theory, they should have the capacity to perform any given physical task.”

Founder Greg Glassman opened the first CrossFit gym in 1995. Since then, affiliates have been popping up around the country and the CrossFit regimen has become one of the principal strength and conditioning programs for police agencies, military personnel and professional athletes.

CrossFit gives its franchise gyms flexibility in programming, exercises and class offerings, so it’s rare any two are identical.

Unlike the Albany CrossFit, which owns multiple gyms, including one in Clifton Park, Feral CrossFit in Saratoga Springs is independently owned and operated by Milstein and Ball, certified coaches who pay a fee to use the CrossFit name.

“There’s no guarantee the quality, programming or character will be the same at each gym. There are great CrossFit gyms and there are crappy CrossFit gyms,” Milstein said. “We’re focused here on health, longevity, and we cater to all skill ranges from not being able to do a push-up to trained athletes. You just have to be motivated.”

And you don’t really have a choice but to be motivated when you come to CrossFit.

“You’re not allowed to come in and do your own thing; you’re under our direct coaching

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and supervision,” Milstein explained. “We do everything. We want you to work in a way that’s hard for you. It’s all about relative intensity.”

Specifically, CrossFit offers two programs for two basic types of members: the general athlete — someone looking to gain all-around maximum fitness and have fun — and athletes with sport-specific performance and strength goals.

The local CrossFit currently has a group training to become a competitive power-lifting team.

With 3,000 CrossFit-affiliated gyms now established in the country, the program’s popularity has to do with having the supervision of a coach and access to an ever-changing mixture of fitness tools, including power lifting, aerobics, gymnastics and rowing. Milstein and thousands of others have found the variety more exciting and effective than the everyday gym routine.

“I was doing the regular gym thing without any direct coaching or training, which is normative in most gyms,” he said. “It became a chore. I wanted to do something more interesting and it sort of took off from there.”

Milstein and Ball insist that once gym buffs get over the learning curve and understand all of the various exercises and motions, they too will become CrossFit converts.

“Our clients are totally ecstatic about us,” Milstein said. “We haven’t had a lot of visibility, and the people who do know we exist don’t have a concept of how what we do is really different from other gyms and isn’t just a fad fitness thing.”

To get acquainted with the gym and learn the motions, members begin with the $80 “Elements” package, which includes four one-on-one sessions followed by a week of free classes to find out what works for them.

From there, customers can choose monthly memberships for $175; six-month packages at $155 per month; and 12-month memberships at $135 per month. Prices include individual training, unlimited classes and access to the gym outside of class for stretching or other activities.

“Most people like having a prescription and it’s intentionally designed to offer a measurable, scalable prescription based on what people can handle,” Ball said. “Saratoga Springs is a great place for the gym, and the community we’ve got building here is a lot of fun.”

 

Feral CrossFit is located at 165 High Rock Ave. For more information, rates and schedules, call 774-4880 or visit feralcrossfit.drupalgardens.com.

For more business news, check out reporter Suzanna Lourie’s “In the Biz” blog atinthebizsaratoga.blogspot.com. Lourie can be reached at slourie@saratogian.com.

Buy Local, Save Local: Company’s Card Links Customers, Merchants

Originally Published in the Saratogian: December 11, 2011. Click here to read online. 

By SUZANNA LOURIE

Are you in?

That’s the question posed to small businesses by Local Living In, a Ballston Spa-based marketing company geared toward driving local consumers into local businesses.

“Local Living In is more of a concept than an actual company,” founder Juergen Klingenberg said. “It’s designed to cater to and support small businesses by bridging the gap between the local consumer and the merchant.”

The idea for Local Living In developed from a need Klingenberg noticed while running his other business, a small design company called Hound Dog Graphics, located on the Saratoga Springs-Ballston Spa town line.

“We noticed our smaller business clients were struggling with how to best spend their limited marketing dollar,” he said.

Local Living In offers clients a solution. For a $49 monthly membership fee, businesses earn a multimedia marketing package, which includes a business profile on www.LocalLivingIn.com and access to email, Facebook blasts and other Local Living In marketing campaigns.

“We create relationships with media partners, so we buy bulk advertising in the region either in print, TV, radio and we use that to promote the Local Living In program, which, in turn, promotes the merchant,” Klingenberg said. “For a small business, it’s a little investment with a tremendous amount of marketing value.”

Local Living In also offers a Buy Local program that gives consumers an incentive to spend their money in local shops. When making a purchase, customers present the free Buy Local Rewards card at any participating business to receive a Buy Local offer determined by the retailer that could be a special discount or freebie.

“We do email and Facebook campaigns where we highlight a merchant’s Buy Local offer — everything comes back to the Buy Local card,” Klingenberg said. “It’s also a tracking system so if merchants use the card and see that’s how someone came to them, they can track how their ad dollar is being spent.”

When Local Living In first launched in 2010, it included the “pocket communities” of Saratoga Springs and Glens Falls. After amassing more than 5,000 email subscribers in those cities, Klingenberg expanded Local Living In to Ballston Spa, Malta, Glens Falls, Clifton Park and most recently Albany.

 

“We’re now just getting ready to launch Schenectady and Amsterdam. And hopefully by the end of January we’ll launch Plattsburgh, Syracuse and Burlington, Vt.,” he said.

The more regional businesses that join Local Living In, the more encouraged customers are to use their Buy Local card.

“Rather than having a coupon program only for Saratoga, we say more sales, less hassle,” Klingenberg said. “We want to give consumers the option to use one product — the Buy Local card — instead of having to print out coupons. They can keep the card in their wallet and if they’re traveling, they can still use the card at any participating Buy Local business.”

With the card, customers can capitalize on the business’s Buy Local deals from Broadway to Burlington. Retailers can also update offers whenever they change, like when the stock of items runs out.

“There really isn’t a single other program that operates like this,” Klingenberg said. “There are other directory sites, coupon systems and print media, but what we do is tie them all together.”

Businesses can sign up for two Local Living In membership packages. Businesses that can’t offer giveaways but want to be in the Local Living In directory can choose the $25 monthly option, which includes a basic presence and business listing on the website. The $49 package includes multimedia marketing, social media callouts and email blasts, Klingenberg said.

“It really drives people into your store who otherwise might pass by every day without having a reason to stop in,” Klingenberg said. “We create that reason.”

Customers can sign up for a free Buy Local card at participating businesses or at www.locallivingin.com.

Saratoga Springs City School District: Number of Students Who Qualify for Free or Reduced-Cost Lunches has Spiked in Recent Years

Originally Published in the Saratogian: December 10, 2011. Click here to read online.

By SUZANNA LOURIE

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The number of students in the Saratoga Springs City School District who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch programs has spiked in recent years, mirroring a national trend caused by the troubled economy. High unemployment rates and greater financial uncertainty have resulted in lower annual household incomes.

“There has definitely been an increase in how many students are eligible this year,” said Margaret Sullivan, the director of the district’s school lunch program.

Since the 1940s, the federally assisted National School Lunch Program — regulated and administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture — has been helping to ensure that children from low-income households have a balanced and healthy meal during the school day.

Students in families of four that have a household income of up to $29,055 are eligible for free meals. Children in four-member households earning up to $41,348 annually qualify for reduced-price lunches.

Sullivan, who has worked in the school district for 14 years, said the number of students who qualify for subsidized lunches has risen dramatically in the past few years.

The rising number of students eligible for the discounted lunch program does not affect local school budgets because the federal program reimburses the cost of each meal. In New York, the state goes a step further by covering the difference to offer reduced-price lunches at 25 cents as opposed to the 40-cent rate found in most states. In Saratoga Springs, the regular cost of an elementary school lunch is $2.50.

“There’s no downside to us having more students in the program,” Sullivan explained. “Hopefully, now more students will be eating the meals we’re providing and doing better in the classroom. It benefits all parties.”

Saratoga County remains well-off compared to many other parts of the country. U.S. Census data shows the 2009 median household income in the county was $66,634, compared to the national median household income of $50,221. Census data also shows that 6.3 percent of people in Saratoga County live in poverty, versus 14.3 percent in the United States and 14.2 percent in New York state.

Despite this, the local school district’s free and reduced-cost school lunch program numbers mirror the national trend.

In an analysis of data from the Department of Agriculture, the New York Times recently reported that the number of students receiving free or reduced-cost lunches rose to 21 million during the last academic year, a 17 percent increase from 18 million in the 2006-2007 school year.

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At the end of the Saratoga Springs City School District’s 2006-2007 academic year, there were 1,155 students enrolled in the program. By May 2011, 1,347 students qualified — a 16 percent increase over a five-year period.

“I’ve noticed it. We have a lot more kids this year than before,” Greenfield Elementary School Cook Manager Judi Martone said. “The economy is really, really bad, and it shows.”

However, the troubled economy might not be the only reason the number of families participating in the free and reduced-cost lunch program has increased.

“I think part of it may have to do with the fact that the state now allows us to receive information on people whom they call ‘directly certified,’ ” Sullivan said.

Direct certification refers to a process conducted by state and local education agencies to allow children to receive free school meals without a household application, a requirement of the 2004 Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act, which has been phased in across the country. This is the first year the Saratoga Springs City School District has received the information this way.

“New York state now sends us an electronic file of people who receive particular state benefits such as food stamps, who automatically qualify for the free and reduced-cost lunch program, rather than each family having to send a letter to me,” Sullivan said.

Because the system is still in its trial year, families can still opt to mail in a form, but in the future, direct certification will automatically register children for the school lunch program. Updated information will be sent to the district three times per year.

“It makes it easier on the family. There can be confusion sometimes if they have to send the letter in,” Sullivan said. “It benefits the family and helps us provide benefits to people who should be getting those benefits, but maybe haven’t been in the past.”

Although the fact that more students are now enrolled in the subsidized meal program might represent a growing financial need in the community, it could also have a positive side by providing more children good nutrition they might not have access to otherwise.

“If kids pack a lunch from home, they’re usually getting non-nutritious food because non-nutritious food is cheap. They get Twinkies and other junk,” Martone said while taking homemade corn bread out of the oven at Greenfield Elementary School. “This is the best lunch they can get, and good nutrition is what’s going to help them settle down and learn in the classroom.”