PELL CITY -- Mike Willingham joined Snap Fitness in Pell City when the gym opened at Cropwell Commons in 2006.

Twelve years later, the lakeside resident owns the fitness center — and three others — and is pleased to have given it a much-needed facelift.

“Snap Fitness is the world’s biggest fitness chain, and the Pell City gym was number 126,” he said. “It opened very early in the cycle. I signed up when it opened and was a regular member all these years.”

When Willingham learned that the gym was for sale by the Snap Fitness corporate headquarters in Minnesota, he bought it as an investment opportunity. “It was desperately in need of a remodel,” he said. “Now, it’s totally, totally different and reflects the look of brand-new Snap Fitness gyms nationwide.”

Offering members access to a full cardio suite (including ellipticals, stairmills, treadmills and arc trainers), a full strength training suite (including weight machines and free weights), anytime virtual workout classes through the Snap-exclusive Fitness on Demand system, a HEX tanning booth (which can provide a 20-minute tan in less than 10) and a full line of Snap gear.

“Basically, a very tired 10-year-old brand has been transformed into a brand-new cutting-edge fitness facility,” Willingham said, who had opportunity to take ownership of the Snap Fitness gym in Talladega. “Talladega is my hometown, and I wanted to do for it what we were doing in Pell City.”

Subsequently, he acquired Snap Fitness locations in Moody and Columbiana.

“I was a full-time recruiter. I never expected to wake up one day and be ‘Snapman,’ with 12 employees and four gyms in three counties, but that’s what’s happened,” he said.

With the Pell City club and its membership of about 1,000 as his flagship location, Willingham believes it’s his family-owned-and-operated philosophy that drives his gyms’ success. His wife Karen (whom he met while they were both members at Snap Fitness in Pell City) helps him operate the businesses, and his son Ben offers certified personal training services.

“We are a community,” he said. “It sounds cliché, but it’s true here. Our members come from all walks of like. We know them by name, and they all know each other. We are family-owned and operated, and that’s what makes us special.”

Members sign no contract, and their monthly membership provides access to the gyms at any time, day or night. “Our lights never go out, and we have surveillance cameras, so you’re in a safe environment regardless of what time, day or night, you come to the gym,” Willingham said. Local members also have access to any Snap Fitness center worldwide, whether it’s in Dallas, Texas, or Australia.”

This month, the Pell City gym will become the first in the region, according to Willingham, offering Myzone monitoring programs, which track heart rate and calorie burning during workouts. Looking to the future, he is exploring opening a Snap Fitness location in Lincoln. “I would open a gym in Lincoln tomorrow, but I’m looking for the right real estate.”

Complementing Willingham’s family-owned-and-operated philosophy is a results-oriented approach.

“We are not interested in taking your money and letting you jump on a machine,” he said. “We are all about a healthy lifestyle. We want to help you reach the results you want to achieve.”