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Saturday, Sep 23, 2023

Heavy Weight

Think women-only health clubs and one name generally comes to mind: Curves. That’s the big chain operated by Curves International of Woodway, Texas, with locations at seemingly every other corner, totaling more than 3,000 in 90 countries. And its success has been predicated on a simple business model: a basic, highly regimented workout routine that can be squeezed into as little as 1,000 square feet. Now, a regional chain based in Westlake Village thinks females worldwide are ready for a lot more. Total Woman Gym & Day Spa, with just 14 outlets in the L.A. area, is readying itself for a big franchise push to stretch its brand across the nation – and world. The lure? Its business model combines the full spectrum of workout equipment found in, say, a 24 Hour Fitness with a full day spa offering services such as massage therapy, cellulite treatments, hair waxing and facials. And the man that wants to bring Total Woman to females across the globe is none other than Chief Executive Gene LaMott, who led bodybuilding Mecca Gold’s Gym from 2001 to 2007, when it grew by nearly 250 franchises. “Women want a one-stop shop where they can exercise and get a massage or facial at the same time,” he said. “There is a big hole in the fitness sector for this.” Total Woman has grown slowly over the years and all of its locations are in California and corporate owned. Half are in the greater Valley area in Woodland Hills, Valencia, Westlake Village, Studio City, Glendale and Northridge. The chain, which declined to disclose revenue, has been owned since 2007 by Westwood private equity firm Riordan, Lewis & Haden Equity Partners. But given the costs of opening a combined gym and spa, the expansion strategy is on franchising, not an uncommon business model in the industry. And the market is big. There are about 51 million health club members in the United States, with almost half women, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, a Boston-based trade group. Lisa Coors, founder of Cincinnati-based Women’s Fitness Association, an advocacy group for women in the industry, said she believes another female-only concept could be successful. She said many women feel intimidated at co-ed gyms and don’t feel comfortable showing off their bodies to men. “Women need a place where they are on safe ground,” she said. Franchise experience Membership costs at Total Woman are in line with the industry at around $50 per month, slightly higher than a Curves membership, which runs about $40. Services at the Total Woman spa range from the $85 Atmosphere Signature Facial to packages that can run up to $600. In addition, members have access to different massage treatments, including a workout-recovery massage and a session geared toward the expectant mother. LaMott joined Total Woman after Gold’s was sold to private equity firm TRT Holdings Inc. of Irving, Texas, which moved the L.A. corporate headquarters to the Lone Star state. Total Woman seemed ripe for expansion at the time of the 2007 acquisition by Riordan, Lewis & Haden, but then the financial crisis hit. Finally, last month, Total Woman filed paperwork for franchising with the Federal Trade Commission, a legal requirement. Total Woman is interested in franchises with heavy daytime traffic, especially near grocery stores and shopping centers, LaMott said. The company will initially focus on Texas and then head east via southern states. The company began marketing to prospective franchisees this month, and expects the first franchise openings in about a year. The company is looking for prospective franchisees with extensive experience in management, customer service and health and fitness. And some serious bucks. Total Women outlets are typically 13,000 square feet, have 85 employees and can cost between $1.2 million and $1.4 million to build. “We know to do this right we need someone with more than $650,000 of personal liquid assets,” LaMott said. Still, the costs of expansion by franchising are much smaller than building corporate-owned outlets. Ben Amante, who has the title of executive manager of franchising and worked with LaMott at Gold’s, said the company is investing up to $500,000 to ramp up franchising. Those costs cover everything from public relations firms to marketing in print and online. Prior to working with LaMott at Gold’s, Amante worked in franchising for Bally Total Fitness Holding Corp. of Chicago. “When you look at what’s available in franchising, the things on the shelf are the same things that have been there for 20 years,” he said. “This is really something different and a chance to work in two industries – gym and spa.” Amante noted the spa business over the last several years has expanded beyond its traditional domain of resorts and boutique outlets. Massage Envy Franchising LLC of Scottsdale, Ariz. was founded in 2002 and now has more than 800 franchise locations in the U.S. Boom and bust Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst of sports at market research firm NPD Group Inc. of Port Washington, N.Y, said the multiple facets of Total Woman gives the company potential for big success. “It’s a challenge and risk for sure because this industry isn’t easy and always in flux,” he said. “But it’s definitely a calculated risk. There is a market for this.” Cohen said the industry is in a constant state of transition, where the newest and hottest concepts and smart marketing is king. “The metamorphosis of the gym is ongoing. We have yet to see the end of it,” he said. LaMott has big dreams for the company. He believes Total Woman will flourish under franchising and will become a billion-dollar business in 10 years. “We know what it’s like to manage franchises and run gyms. In my mind, we should have a minimum of 300 domestic locations and 200 international locations within the next 10 years,” he said. “There is always an interest in well-being.”

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