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For Gym, Franchising Is Low-Resistance Exercise

#3: Hardcore Fitness Santa Clarita CEO: Larry Nolan Growth Rate: 465% When Larry Nolan founded Hardcore Fitness Inc. in 2007, it didn’t seem poised to become one of the Valley area’s most popular independent gyms. Nolan started the business with his wife Nadia after years working at large corporate fitness centers as a personal trainer. With little money to lease their own gym space, the couple decided to hold group workout sessions at a public park in Santa Clarita. But at the Hardcore Fitness grand opening, the only person to show up was Nolan’s mother, Vicky. Undeterred, the Nolans stuck with the group “boot camp” training model and have since grown the company into a thriving franchised business with 26 gym locations across Southern California, Texas and Florida. Ranked No. 3 on the Business Journal’s Fastest Growing Private Companies list, the company has grown revenues 465 percent to $5.3 million in 2018. The key to the company’s success, Nolan says, is that dating back to the early days in the park, he has invested in improving the workout experience for his customers. When the business was just getting off the ground, Nolan noticed that most other boot camps asked people to bring their own weights to training sessions. Instead of having people haul their own gear, he decided to buy a U-Haul truck and load it with weights and other gym equipment that the other programs didn’t provide. “A lot of people look at other businesses to mimic what they’re doing,” said Nolan. “But in my mind, I was thinking, ‘Where are they falling short and how I can offer more for my clients?’” Over the next few years, the boot camp grew mainly through word of mouth, and in 2008, the Nolans began leasing Hardcore Fitness’s flagship gym at 20715 Centre Pointe Parkway in Santa Clarita. Without a bank loan or outside financial backing, the two went from boot camp to bootstrapping as they were left to build the workout area themselves. “My mom came in and we painted the entire space,” he said. “We didn’t have money for rubber flooring, so we laid all of the indoor and outdoor carpeting ourselves.” The hard work paid off as Hardcore Fitness’ group training sessions became a hit in Santa Clarita. A key to the success, Nolan said, is the supportive community the gym has cultivated. The goal is to make sure everyone—no matter their fitness level – feels comfortable and prepared to use the gym’s equipment, which includes battle ropes, punching bags, weights and various lower and upper body exercise machines. Franchising model Around 2010, the Nolans began expanding to new locations including Valley-area gyms in Northridge and Lancaster as well as in San Diego. A few years later, they announced plans to franchise the Hardcore Fitness model on their personal social media accounts and received more than 250 responses. Careful not to overextend the business, they limited expansion to just 10 new operators during that first year. “We wanted to make sure that the infrastructure was right,” Nolan said. “We wanted to make sure that franchisees make money, we make money and that the clients are happy — that way, we’ll keep growing.” The company currently has 17 franchised locations and about 200 employees across all its gyms. Going forward, Nolan plans to more aggressively pursue franchise opportunities and envisions one day having as many as 1,000 locations in the United States. Judging by the recent growth of the gym and fitness industry, now may be an ideal time to expand. Over the past five years, the industry has increased by 2.8 percent to $34 billion in total revenue in 2018, according to market research firm Ibis World. During that same timeframe, the number of gyms has grown by 4 percent. Even as it expands, Hardcore Fitness is looking for ways to update its training programs. It’s currently working with manufacturers to create patented equipment to personalize workouts. One example is a visual display system, that in addition to a live trainer, guides people through the session and helps direct their movements. “We’ve taken equipment that you could only train people with in a very large facility with a personal trainer spending $90 an hour,” Nolan said. “With us, people can spend around $130 a month and come every day.” This drive to provide more for its members is what Nolan says keeps them coming back to the gym. Hardcore Fitness’ companywide member attrition rate is around 2.5 percent, well below that of larger gyms where membership fees are a fraction of Hardcore’s price, Nolan said. “We don’t have more industry experience, but I think that we’ve been more dedicated to providing a better experience and a better program,” he said. “And we’ve been willing to sacrifice everything, so we put everything on the line time and time again to do it right.”

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