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Hickam MWR Gives Spouse Owned Business the Boot

A military spouse owned small business fitness boot camp, which employed over 20 fellow spouses, has been shut down by Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH) MWR after officials awarded a contract for the classes to another, non-military affiliated program.

DumBell Fitness, owned and operated by Navy spouse and veteran Christina Landry, held seven regular classes on JBPHH with about 200 members. Between eight and 12 kids were supervised by Dumbell Fitness babysitters during each class while their moms worked out. The 60 minute classes cost $110 per four weeks for three days a week, or $85 for two days a week and include babysitting -- about $9 a class. They operated on unused grass in the housing area with the housing company's blessing.

But MWR officials ruled that her business was in competition with their programs, and demanded that she participate in a contracting process, she said. If she won the contract to operate her boot camp program, MWR would let her use the housing area grass and parking lots in exchange for giving them a portion of her profits. She was told by base officials that the contract process was being done to make sure everything was legal -- not as a way to make MWR money.

"They made me believe this was just a legal thing -- that we had to come under the umbrella of base," she said.

But she didn't win. To keep the cost of her classes low and still pay her employees and make any money in the process, she could only offer MWR a 5 percent cut -- over 30 percent of her profitable gains. According to the Navy bid proposal, MWR requires 15 percent -- more than DumBell's total profits.

The winning bidder, Boot Camp Hawaii, pledged a 25 percent payment of their gross income. Outbidding them would've been impossible, she said -- to do so she would've had to take a loss on her business and pay out of pocket to stay in operation.

"I cant imagine a small business being able to survive on a 25 percent gross bid," she said.

Boot Camp Hawaii charges $99 for twice weekly classes for one month and $149 for three times a week -- about $12 a class. Babysitting services are an additional fee, but may not be offered at the on-base location.

Boot Camp Hawaii officials requested we contact JBPHH MWR as their spokesman. JBPHH officials did not return a call for comment.

Navy officials said in a statement on the JBPHH Facebook page that the request for proposals (RFP) contract process was fair and legal. A protest submitted by Landry was denied.

"The RFP was conducted to provide full and fair competition and allow all interested parties to have an opportunity to bid on the contract, in accordance with the law and applicable instructions," the statement says. "Individual bidders were notified of the winning selection."

Navy officials declined to offer additional comment.

No gyms or other fitness programs on JBPHH currently offer childcare. Hourly care centers are available on base for registered users, but getting a spot can be impossible and gets pricey.

One spouse estimated that paying for JBPHH's group fitness classes and hourly care would cost her $212 a month for her two children. Another said it would cost her over $90 a month just for care for her one child.

The contract decision has caused a firestorm from angry supporters on the JBPHH Facebook page.

"I hope that the Navy Region Northwest will take that protest seriously because 20 military spouses (myself included) were put out of jobs when the existing program, which met all safety, standards and legality, was pushed off base because they could not pledge as much profit," wrote spouse Theresa Ward. "I hope it is realized that this program paid a fair wage to it's employees and charged as little money as possible to the military spouses it served because it was more interested in providing a quality service than making money. I hope this issue can be resolved with civility and the greatest amount of common sense."

"Let me get this straight. The owner of Dumbell Fitness ...  goes thru the proper channels and gets housing/base approval to use the EMPTY grassy areas/parking lots by housing ... MWR gets mad, then requires her to submit a bid on her own program, to which MWR/JBPHH pick another non-military affiliated boot camp to run what Dumbell already was doing," wrote spouse Susan Tyme.  "Please tell me how this makes any sense? Seems like MWR stole her idea and then sold it to the highest bidder. Insane."

Others wondered why home based direct sales businesses, such as Scentsy and Tupperware, are not required to a pay a percentage of their profit to the Navy Exchange system since, technically, they are in competition with them.

"This is akin to disallowing all military spouses to have home based businesses that sell kitchen products, soaps, nutritional supplements, home decor, make up, or other merchandise because the NEX and the BX carry similar items," wrote Navy spouse Amy Hayes. "Military families who supplement their family income with their businesses should be encouraged and supported in their efforts, especially in this case."

Landry said the decision is discouraging and disappointing.

"It makes me feel discouraged because the bottom line is this program already benefits base," she said. "MWR didn't want this program five years ago. Once Dumbell Fitness started to become successful, MWR took our idea and sold it to the highest bidder; not us. Without considering the total value we offer to base: military spouse employment, low class costs, and free babysitting. Dumbell Fitness already benefits base. Asking for 100 percent of our profit margin -- 15 percent gross --  to use an outside space that is not used otherwise is wrong." 

Dumbell Fitness also has classes in a few locations off base, and is trying to find more spots for the members who are now without a class as a result of the change.

Photo courtesy of DumBell Fitness.

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