For Debbie Denova-Baker, practically every major activity in her life has involved a component of fitness and health.
From her early years of running track at her high school in Houma to becoming a professional trainer in Beverly Hills, Debbie has always been drawn to fitness. Debbie met and married her high school sweetheart, Paul, who was a gymnast before becoming a professional trainer, and eventually pursued her degree in broadcast journalism where she started her own cable access show devoted to health and wellness.
Now, as a local business woman and mother of two young daughters, Debbie has continued following the fitness path. She and Paul opened their fourth Koko FitClub in Mandeville over the summer.
The couple decided to open their first Koko in 2010. They had returned to Houma to be with Debbie’s family while her brother Bobby Cox was in his final stages of Ewing’s sarcoma. After his death, they decided to move back permanently and start their own fitness club. Debbie explained that while researching different business models, they came across the Koko concept.
Based in technology, Koko FitClub integrates strength training, cardio exercise and nutrition planning into a customized plan based on an individual’s body make up and goals. The patented Koko Smartraining system was developed in 2002 in Massachusetts.
“We were intrigued, not just because of its innovation, but because of its ability to include people of all ages and fitness levels. At the time, we were considering our baby boomer parents and wanting to give them a place where they would be comfortable exercising,” Debbie said.
Statistics show that only 16 percent of people go to health clubs. Many in the remaining 84 percent have previously given up memberships because of dissatisfaction or lack of use. Koko developers interviewed 1,000 of these people to discover what their specific concerns for gym membership were. The results confirmed that barriers to gym membership included: confusing equipment, lack of guidance, and intimidating culture. People who are unclear on which size weights they should use, the correct form for the exercise, how to use equipment, or intimidated by the floor-to-ceiling mirrors and loud music, are those likely to stop going to the gym.
“At Koko, we’ve taken the guesswork out of fitness and made personal training more accessible to the general public,” she said.
Debbie explained that Koko Smartraining is about more than changing your physical appearance; it is about changing the way your body responds to food and exercise. The program is designed to build lean muscle, burn fat and drive metabolism in the most time efficient way possible—through circuit training with real weights and interval cardio training with treadmills and elliptical trainers.
Each member receives a Koko key fob with a USB drive that contains personal fitness information and customized exercise plan. There is a main computer near the front desk where members can log in for assessments such as Body Mass Index, for updated nutritional information and for results monitoring. Members also use their drives to enter into weight and cardio machines. Touch screens are strategically located on the machines and provide exercise instructions (including weight size and repetitions) while also monitoring intensity workload and pace.
“The weight training and cardio exercises are both designed to keep the heart rate elevated while also providing a full-body workout,” Debbie said. “Everything is precisely managed to eliminate wasted time.”
Weight training/strength sessions are 30 minutes in length, as opposed to the usual 90-minute cycle in traditional gym settings. And the 15-minute Koko Cardio workout is twice as effective as a typical treadmill or elliptical workout.
For as technologically advanced as Koko is, Debbie and Paul have made sure that personal service is the hallmark of their clubs. The word “Koko” is of Japanese origin meaning individual—as in individual attention, one at a time, or one-by-one. The couple has taken these descriptions to a completely new level.
“We knew we wanted to interject ‘Southern Hospitality’ into the Koko culture. Our FitCoaches have done such a great job connecting with our members that the corporate office is replicating some of our hiring and training procedures nationwide,” she said.
“So many members note the important role our FitCoaches have played in their success. We know our technology works, but it is our people who make the experience fun.”
With three successful Koko FitClubs in Houma, Thibodaux and Baton Rouge under their belt, the choice to expand to the Northshore was more than a business decision; it was a personal one as well.
They wanted the site of their new location to also be the site of their new home. As Debbie explained, their daughters Alaya and McKenzie (“Kenzie”) were about to start school so they wanted to settle in a family-oriented community that offered a quality education and healthy lifestyle.
All signs are showing they’ve made the right decision. The girls are settling into their new schools. The family just learned they are expecting a new baby, Debbie is due in late February, and more people are falling in love with the Koko lifestyle every day.
We call them Koko nuts,” she said. “Ultimately this is our job…to grow Koko nuts. Our goal is for people to think of Koko as the best fitness experience they’ve ever had.
Koko FitClub in Mandeville, Baton Rouge, Houma and Thibodaux. 3441 E. Causeway Approach, 985-746-4161, KokoFitClub.com.