Ben Marciano has overcome considerable challenges in building one of the most successful gym franchises in the nation.
Ben Marciano was born in Queens, New York, but, after his parents divorced, the 2-year-old and his mother moved in with his grandparents in Dunnellon. He recalls spending most of his childhood running and playing outdoors.
Throughout his youth and into adulthood, Ben continued to love being active and athletic. Along the way, he encountered numerous obstacles, some of his own creation, but has emerged as a devoted family man, successful businessman and role model for others.
What he learned—and is eager to share—is the value of having a strong work ethic, the importance of taking personal responsibility and that giving back is critical in business and in life.
In his freshman year of high school, when he didn’t make the varsity basketball team, the coach told him, “You can go home and stop playing or you can go home, practice, and come back.”
He practiced three to four hours a day and, in his sophomore year, became a starter for the team. He discovered that if you want something badly enough, you must work hard to obtain it.
He also discovered, in his senior year of high school, that taking a drink of alcohol seemed to improve his confidence and fill a void.
Ben aspired to become a police officer, like his grandfather had been in New York City, and had a passion to protect and serve. After he graduated from high school, Ben earned an associate degree in Criminal Justice at Central Florida Community College (now the College of Central Florida, or CF) while also working at World Gym Ocala.
From there, he attended Florida State University, where his drinking progressed into drug use. After leaving a party one night, Ben was arrested for drug possession and charged with a felony, meaning his dream of becoming a police officer would never come to fruition.
Ben went to work for Gold’s Gym in Tallahassee to pay his fines and court fees and says he fell in love with the industry, so he changed his major to Recreation and Leisure.
The gym was struggling financially and the owners brought in a consulting agency, which gave Ben an opportunity to see them implement systems that saved the business. While he quickly moved up at the gym, Ben was still stymied by his addiction. He thought a change of location might help and moved to New York, where he managed a World Gym.
But, he offers, “Unless you work on your addiction, it will travel with you no matter how far away you go.”
He had done such a great job at the gym in New York that the owner moved him to Miami to open a new gym. Success there, however, still wasn’t enough to thwart the addiction. By now, Ben was unable to continue working and was losing everything.
“I remember dropping to my knees and asking God (if He even existed) for help,” he shares.
In February 2005, he checked into The Centers in Ocala where he committed himself to working the 12 Steps and living a life of active sobriety.
Ben left the facility with a few pieces of clothing and a mountain of debt from hospital stays and treatment. He was encouraged to live simply, focus on recovery and stay in the word of God.
“I believe there are blessings in obedience, so I was willing to be obedient,” he says.
Ben completed drug court and had his record expunged, which he says made his grandfather proud.
Ben was hired at The Lord’s Gym and said to the owner that instead of starting as a manager, “I’ll do some training and I’ll clean your gym. I need to focus on rebuilding the foundation of who I am.”
After meeting a young woman who came in for a gym membership, Ben called his father and said he had met the woman he was going to marry. Her name was Danielle.
One day the executive director of the Marion County YMCA came to the gym to recruit Ben. Ben took a pay cut to take that job, but soon doubled the membership and helped the Y become more stable. Over the next six months, he worked tirelessly and, in 2007, became the youngest executive director in the association. He also married Danielle and paid off all the debt he had incurred.
Building A Family Business
After their first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, Ben and Danielle welcomed son Benjamin Jr. in 2009. That same year, Ben was named Board Member of the Year for The Centers.
Two years later, the couple suffered another miscarriage. Then, in 2012, their son Vincent was born.
That also was the year the local YMCA became one of the top Ys in the country. Now it was time for a capital campaign and expansion. Ben was tasked with raising $3 million, overseeing construction and keeping the facility running. He recruited volunteers who helped raise $5 million and the venue was renamed the Frank DeLuca YMCA Family Center in recognition of the local businessman’s signature donation. The YMCA awarded Ben the President’s Award that year. He soon was promoted to vice president, with responsibilities for two locations in central Florida and at the Orlando office. This meant traveling a lot, long hours and missing his wife and sons.
By early 2014, Ben and Danielle were expecting their daughter, Giavanna. Ben felt like he was running on fumes. One night at a restaurant, he ran into a successful businessman, Tom Ingram, who said he would invest in anything Ben did and asked if he would consider opening his own gym. Ben felt the timing wasn’t right, but the man told him, “Well, if anything ever changes, you let me know.”
That night, in a dream, Ben says he felt like God spoke to him about the good he could do if he had his own gym. After he told Danielle, she said she felt at peace about it.
After a few months of prayer and contemplation, Ben called the owner of a local gym who jumped at an offer to sell. Ben secured investors, drew up plans, rearranged personal finances and put operational plans in place. Without ever closing the doors, he renovated and renamed the venue, and trained all new staff.
He and Danielle, often with three children in tow, worked non-stop. They quickly grew Zone Health & Fitness from 900 members to 5,200 by the second year.
In 2015, Zone was named the Ocala, Marion County Business of the Year and had become so busy that it was time to open a second location.
The main location, Zone East, spans more than 30,000 square feet. It offers childcare, group exercise classes, cycling, CrossFit, boxing, high intensity interval training (HIIT), free weights, cable weights and a cardio zone. A café serves smoothies and meal prep. It also has a cold plunge pool, steam room, sauna, hydromassage bed, relaxing locker rooms, a stretching zone and tanning.
Zone West, on the second floor of Heath Brooke Plaza, occupies 10,000 square-feet and has a boutique look and feel. Programs and amenities include childcare, group exercise classes, HIIT classes, cardio, free weights and cable weights.
Meeting people where they are and helping them with their health is the goal at both locations.
“What gets measured gets done,” is a favorite quote at Zone.
“What this means for staff is that they put members on a trajectory to accomplish goals,” Ben explains. “When a new member joins, they give them all the tools they need to be victorious. They are met by a coach who does a body scan to get a baseline, then walked through the ins and outs of how to use the machines and they are given a plan based on their fitness goal and ability. Members stay engaged, and staff, who become like family, get excited when wins are celebrated. I just love it when a member doesn’t need a medication anymore because they are healthier.”
On A Mission
The Zone Mission is to strengthen people and in turn strengthen the community, Ben adds. He and Danielle have been involved with groups such as the Arnette House, Boys & Girls Club of Marion County, Kimberly’s Center for Child Protection, The Pearl Project and other organizations that help children and addicts. In 2019, Ben was chair for the American Heart Association’s local Heart Walk.
As with so many others, the onset of the pandemic in 2020 proved to be a challenge in life and business, yet Ben pressed on.
He fed first responders from the Zone café, provided opportunities for staff to stay on with pay or help them get other jobs, shared business-saving advice with other gyms around the country and even delivered supplies to shut-ins. In 2020, CF presented Ben its Distinguished Alumni Award.
As Ben has long been a big supporter of law enforcement, he helped form the Chief Greg Graham Committee upon the untimely death of Ocala Police Chief Greg Graham. The committee now hosts an annual walkathon at Zone that has raised more than $250,000 for community projects.
“It feels good to give back, so nearly any time we can get involved in an event or something in the community, we do it,” Ben notes.
For actions such as these, he received the Community Service award for 2020-2021 given by the Rotary Club.
One of Ben’s objectives when opening Zone was for the gym to be the best in Ocala. He and his team have been recognized nationally by MXM as one of the top clubs in their system. Zone Health & Fitness also recently was featured as the cover story in Club Industry magazine.
Today there are more than 100 employees who proudly serve over 6,200 members at Zone Health & Fitness.
“If you put others first and serve them, I believe you’ll find your way in whatever you’re doing and success will follow,” Ben offers.