Small Business Spotlight: Excel Body Fitness

Anna Sledge holds a side plank during a group exercise class led by Carolee Poythress.

Nearly a decade ago, Pantea Dougani just wanted a workout program where she felt comfortable and connected.

She bounced from gym to gym, but none felt right. Frustrated, she called fitness trainer Carolee Poythress, whose style and methods Dougani liked but who wasn’t with a gym at the time. “Just train me in your garage,” Dougani recalled saying.

Instead, Poythress, who was getting ready to launch her targeted exercise program at Crosspointe Church in Cary, asked Dougani to be her partner. The two women spread the word, and nearly a hundred people showed up for that first class.

They knew they were on to something.

In 2010 Dougani and Poythress launched Excel Body Fitness. The Cary gym now offers personal training in a group setting, a diverse menu of fitness classes, nutritional and fitness assessments, massage and a variety of other services. The staff’s commitment to customers earned the club an honorable mention for Best Fitness Club in the 2019 Maggy Awards.

“Wellness comes in a lot of shapes and sizes. It’s not just jumping around,” said Dougani, now the managing director in charge of growth and strategic development. She recently talked about the business and the benefits of a lifelong commitment to health.

Owners Pantea Dougani, left, and Carolee Poythress opened Excel Body Fitness in Cary in 2010. Since then, the gym has expanded its services to include corporate wellness programs, massage and nutritional advice.

What makes your business unique?

We are a small, woman-owned business with the wellness of our community in mind.

We specialize in functional training which will result in overall wellness today, but more importantly, it will help members to stay fit in their later years. Aging gracefully, living life, and staying strong and fit is what our business is all about.

Janessa Core leans back during an exercise using the TRX Suspension equipment. The nylon bands help build core strength and balance.

Carolee has 28 years of experience in fitness, teaches more than 24 classes a week, and is truly gifted in what she does. As her business partner, I have taken her classes every day for the past 12 years — even before we started Excel Body Fitness. She has made a huge difference in my life, and she continues to do the same for many of the members we have had over the years.

Our classes are not easy by any stretch of the imagination. We provide personal training in a group setting, emphasizing balance and muscle strength, which makes us different from our competitors. There is nothing wrong with looking good, but usually that is a byproduct of your wellness routine and should not be the goal.

We also believe that diet and massage must be part of a wellness routine. We have a dietitian and an exceptional massage therapist on staff who work with our members.

How has your vision for the business changed since you opened?

About five years ago, we realized that many working people do not have the luxury of taking the time to go to the gym before or after work because of family obligations. We decided to reach out to corporations and bring the training to them.

Alessia Marin lifts weights during a class. Excel specializes in personal training in a group setting, so workout regimens are customized for each client.

Now we are in several corporations, providing functional training, mindfulness, chair or table massage, reflexology, yoga and nutrition advice. Participants experience greater mental clarity and creativity, stress reduction and overall wellness.

We are fortunate that the corporations we work with understand the value of our programs. They also recognize that physical and mental wellness are connected.

What’s been the best, or most surprising, aspect of owning a business?

Carolee Poythress, right, poses with her Wednesday morning boot camp class at Excel Body Fitness.

We have been fortunate to have so many wonderful members, some of them are working for us as childcare providers, instructors and frontdesk staff. Excel Body Fitness is not only our members’ happy place, but it is our happy place, too!

What’s been the biggest challenge as entrepreneurs?

As a small, independently owned local business, we never had the backing or advertising power that franchises have. However, we had the freedom to design our business in a way that we truly believed in.

Our mission has been:

  • To have a family-oriented friendly place that everyone is welcomed to join and able to workout, regardless of the shape they are in.
  • Our place will be our members’ “Happy Place,” and the hour they are here is their “Happy Hour.”
  • The latest addition to our mission is:
  • To bring wellness to the community at their place of work — without judgement.

Ross Warren lifts weights at Excel, which offers a tiered membership program. The basic level includes access to the weight and cardio room, the middle level adds some classes and the top level includes access to Poythress’ signature exercise training classes.

Another challenge that we have had is to secure a large enough space to conduct classes, have an open gym, enough space for personal training, massage and nutrition all in a correctly zoned building.

We had a lot of help from the community to get started and get to where we are.

If you had to pick one thing, what would be most important for lifelong fitness?

The most important thing is to realize that fitness is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. It is just like brushing your teeth every day.

Excel Body Fitness
280 Towerview Court, Cary, NC 27513


Pantea Dougani

Graduated from University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona with a degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering continued her Master of Science in the same field. She brings 15+ years of experience and skills in listening, organization, monitoring, solving problems, building relationships and oral and written communication to XBF. She is a Fitness enthusiast and her objective has always been to integrate fitness in her business

Praised by clients as, “loyal, reliable, organized and gracious program manager who was tenacious when needed and had a dynamic heart and personality that reached out to her clients and customers and built relationships that made a real difference in our businesses.”

She is a big believer that volunteering builds communities. She was the Vice President of Laura Holland Uzzell Foundation which is a governing Board for Sterling Montessori Academy and Charter school in Morrisville, NC since November of 2003. Her term terminated recently in November of 2009 and she is still very active in Building and Development committees. She recruited Board members for Charter School and created organizations first handbook that followed By-laws, defined job expectations and set feedback procedures and training requirements that provided uniformity and reduced operational problems. Co-chaired Strategic Planning committee and recommended benchmarking that gave a clear-cut direction on fundraising procedures and physical facilities plus vision and mission of school.

Worked closely with the school founder and Board in refinancing an expansion of Sterling Montessori.

Her favorite activities are cycling, hiking/camping, reading, and volunteering.

Fitness Instructor Carolee Poythress

Carolee Poythress

Sharing my passion for living a healthy lifestyle, helping others achieve their goals, and motivating others to change their bodies and their lives is where I find happiness. Here at Excel Body Fitness, we believe that if you excel in fitness, you excel in life.

Excel Body Fitness was born out of this passion, to create a welcoming, family atmosphere along with the dedicated, hands-on instruction and attention of a personal trainer in a group fitness setting.

Fitness is my passion.  My goal?  To design a world-class fitness program that delivers real results, but to build it around people by investing in community and relationships.

I am a fitness professional with over 28 years of experience in the fitness industry. I’ve worked with the New Jersey Devils NHL team orthopedist, Dr. Barry Fisher, as a trainer and Physical Therapist Aide.  I was the Group Fitness Director of Impact Athletics, Group Fitness Director of Jack LaLane and worked as Lead Kickboxing Instructor under Sensi John Giotis and Vesna Giotis at the American Jiu Jitsu Center.  My experience in physical fitness includes Group Instruction, Personal Training, Boot Camp, Cardio-kickboxing, Body Building and Aqua Fitness and specializing in agility and power moves.  I’ve worked with a wide range of clients, including teens, seniors, and athletes, as well as pre- and post-natal moms.

I take great pride in what I do: I enjoy bringing my wealth of experience and a personal, caring approach to each client. I’m a dedicated trainer and the best compliment I can get is seeing people commit themselves to living a healthy and  happy life. I love to see before and after pictures, as well as cholesterol, blood tests, sugar level tests, life changes, and more. It lets me know I have done my job as a trainer.

Passion for a healthy lifestyle has always been an important part of my life–my grandmother would always encourage me to be strong and healthy saying,  “if you are healthy, you will be a happy person,” and, “if you eat well and eat clean: stay away from restaurants and fried, greasy, sugary foods, your body will take care of you and run like a machine.”

My inspiration is my family: I’m a mom to two beautiful girls, as well as being a daughter, sister, wife, and friend. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy spending time with my girls, riding bikes, swimming, playing Wii, shopping and watching movies or our favorite shows, like the Biggest Loser and American Idol.