FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Lady of America's recent acquisition of Ladies Workout Express makes perfect sense. Yes, both chains serve women only. They are both franchises. But the similarities don't end there. The companies are almost like siblings — sisters, so to speak.

Bill Landman, senior vice president of Lady of America, explained it like this. Bill Smith, the man behind Ladies Workout Express, was the protégé of Roger Wittenberns, president of Lady of America. While Lady of America was building its company to approximately 140 fitness centers in 23 states and four countries, Atlanta-based Ladies Workout Express grew to 88 clubs in the mid-Atlantic region. It was only a matter of time before the two companies joined forces.

“We've always had the intention of marrying the two companies together,” Landman says.

Now, thanks to the acquisition, Ladies Workout Express operators can enjoy the same support as Lady of America operators — without losing their name. Smith has remained a vice president with the combined company, and he will continue to expand the Ladies Workout Express brand in areas where the name is strong, such as Georgia.

Together, Ladies Workout Express and Lady of America have big goals: to open a club a week through the middle of the year, then two clubs a week after that. “We have a distinct goal of having 1,000 locations by 2005,” Landman said.