This month Steven Gardiner celebrated his 25th anniversary as owner of pioneering Rotorua gym Gold's Health & Fitness.

Mr Gardiner said he had dreamed of owning his own gym since high school days when he used to pump iron in break time. Rotorua's first commercial gym came to town when he was 28 and he joined to help build his strength for his job as a forestry worker and hunter.

"My desire to push weights became quite an addiction."

Years of training and study of the human anatomy paid off when he bought Gold's Gym in 1991. But he was unprepared for the demands of running a business and it took him some time to learn management and financial skills.


"After having been a forestry worker for most of my young adult life, I had failed to develop the communication skills required to be successful in the service industry," he said. "I've learned a lot over the past 25 years. My people skills have certainly improved."

In the early days, the fitness industry was "basic" with the majority of men into body-building and strength, and the women into Step Reebok and Tai Bo, he said. Nowawdays, there was much more crossover and at least half the women were lifting weights. He brought the first treadmill to Rotorua and remembers gym users queuing up to try out the new technology.

Mr Gardiner continued to study and, realising New Zealand was heading for an obesity epidemic, in 1995 rebranded as Gold's Health & Fitness.

"My business strategies were no longer prioritising body sculpting and body beautiful, but became focused more on the health benefits of exercise and making healthy lifestyle choices," he said.

New activities included developing heart rehab programmes with the NZ Heart Foundation.

Richard Beddie, chief executive of the Exercise Association of NZ, said the exercise industry had expanded phenomenally over the past two years.

"The growth has been in specialty areas - yoga, personal training, spin studios - there is growth in new directions. It mirrors international trends. Awareness of the need for exercise is at a tipping point."