Cancer didn’t prevent Chakoian from reshaping her fitness business

A FITTING MOVE: Denise Chakoian persevered after she was diagnosed with a life-altering illness to become Rhode Island’s first Lagree license holder. / PBN PHOTO/TRACY JENKINS
A FITTING MOVE: Denise Chakoian persevered after she was diagnosed with a life-altering illness to become Rhode Island’s first Lagree license holder. / PBN PHOTO/TRACY JENKINS

2019 PBN Business Excellence Awards

ON A TRIP to southern California five years ago, Denise ­Chakoian, owner and president of CORE Center of Real Energy LLC, accompanied a friend to a workout in Huntington Beach and met the future of fitness. She will never forget her first Lagree session.

“My heart rate was pumping because I think I was working so hard to hold each move,” the 46-year-old former dancer and fitness instructor recalled. “I had to really focus and concentrate.”

A Lagree workout, based on the principles of Pilates with added strength and cardio exercises, has become Hollywood’s hottest workout – favored by Kim Kardashian, Meghan Markle, Sofia Vergara and Chrissy Teigen.

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Now Chakoian’s CORE Cycle.Fitness.Lagree Studio on Providence’s East Side is the only Lagree-licensed fitness studio in the state. It has eight Lagree Megaformer machines along with custom stationary bikes, treadmills and rowing machines. Her studio employs 22, including 14 group fitness instructors, five personal trainers and a nutritionist.

CORE is attracting men for boot camps, cycling and private training, a sign that a woman-owned fitness studio can offer workouts with broad appeal. Male clients were few when Chakoian operated a group fitness and personal training studio on East Avenue in Pawtucket and a Pilates studio on Governor Street in Providence before merging them into her 7,000-square-foot fitness studio in Wayland Square last July. Now men represent 40% of her clients, Chakoian said.

While Chakoian won’t disclose her investment to secure the exclusive Lagree license for the 02906 ZIP code – with its younger, affluent demographic – it’s already paying off. The 100 new clients who signed up during the month of September was double what she originally projected.

Chakoian was way ahead of the curve in bringing Lagree Megaformer machines to Rhode Island. But rebranding her business required a huge leap of faith and Chakoian overcoming a major health crisis.

‘[Chakoian] had this spirit. She’s a winner. She doesn’t quit.’
DAVID CORSETTI, real estate developer

She was thinking about merging into one location but hadn’t yet discussed it with anyone when she was diagnosed with stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in February 2018. She had to start chemotherapy very quickly, while also seeking available space for her venture.

“It was a shock, but I think it just sort of fueled a little bit of the fire,” Chakoian said.

Chakoian disclosed her treatment in her first phone conversation with real estate developer David Corsetti, owner of the building at 229 Waterman St., Chakoian’s sought-after location. The building houses several businesses, apartments and The Mare Rooftop restaurant.

“I basically told her she should worry about getting well,” Corsetti recalled. “I told her that I wouldn’t let someone else take it before I spoke with her.”

They met again over the summer when Chakoian was halfway through her six-month treatment. Along with trying to maintain her weight, she kept up with her early-morning running group, putting in 4½ miles every other Tuesday before heading to her appointment at the Lifespan Cancer Institute at Rhode Island Hospital.

By the end of 2018, Chakoian had put down a deposit on the studio space and was well under way with her plan to rebuild, rebrand and triple the size of her business.

“She had this spirit. She’s a winner. She doesn’t quit,” Corsetti added. “I told her this, ‘I’m investing in you more than you’re investing in my space.’ ”

Chakoian knows trends come and go. She introduced ballet-inspired barre workouts to Providence after starting her own business 14 years ago and saw how quickly other studios followed suit.

For now, she’s positioned for continued growth. Asked if she might be eyeing another Rhode Island area with similar demographics to the East Side for a Lagree license, Chakoian mentions East Greenwich.

“I have thought about it,” Chakoian said. “I am still thinking about it.”

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