Fitness with Punch

Title Boxing Club
Written by Mark Golombek

Fitness fads come and go (does anyone remember Tae Bo?), but it takes a tried and true method to have staying power. Coming to a suburb and or major city centre near you is Title Boxing Club. The “fitness club with a punch” has a solid business plan that has undergone massive expansion within a few short years.
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At Title Boxing Club, personal trainers help members burn 1,000 calories in a single hour with total body boxing and kickboxing fitness workouts that cater to all ages and genders. Business in Focus spoke with one of its founders and current CEO, Tom Lyons, to learn more.

Tom has been around boxing his whole life, and as a kid, he loved sparring. However, he found early on, after getting his “ass kicked” several times that his future would not be in boxing. “If I was going to make any money in boxing, it would only be by selling sponsorships on the bottom of my shoes.” But, as a way of keeping in shape, he still loves boxing and the workout it gives.

He moved to Kansas City in his thirties and, to stay in shape, sparred with some PK (Professional Kickboxing) fighters along with running and doing other workouts. There, Tom met Danny Campbell, who was a fighter with a record of 14-0, trained by Angelo Dundee. Danny’s sparring partner had been Sugar Ray Leonard.

“Danny would have been in the Olympics but for Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns, who were just a little bit better than him, but he was still a phenomenal boxer! He blew his knee out and had to retire. We stayed in touch and have been friends through the years.”

On Thanksgiving of 2007, Danny came to see Tom in Kansas City and said that he wanted to start up a boxing club in Springfield, Missouri. Tom was hesitant at first, and felt that there was no money in boxing. The workout it gives, however, can be marketed, and so they created a boxing fitness club targeted to suburban women.

By January of 2008, only forty-five days after the initial meeting on Thanksgiving, they designed a workout and found a retail space. They partnered with Title Boxing, the leading boxing and kickboxing equipment retailer in the country to supply all the equipment, and the doors were opened just in time for weight loss New Year’s resolutions. Title Boxing Club exploded onto the scene, garnering 288 members in the first month. The overwhelming response meant that they had to move the club and find a bigger space within only 10 months, which they expanded into more square footage to accommodate its growing member base a year later.

After the first club opened in Overland Park, KS, a suburb of Kansas City, a second club was opened six months later in Lee’s Summit, MO and a third six months after that in Stanley, KS. Tom had always seen this as a model for more than one club and saw its potential to grow. “I really saw this as something we could give a cookie cutter approach to expand the business across the country by franchising so we went for it.”

The first franchise opened in Prairie Village, KS in April, 2010, sold to a member who wanted to get in on the action, and it snowballed from there. The growing business joined the International Franchise Association (IFA) to learn about the business and on their own, sold about one hundred franchise businesses over five years. The young company recognized that its knowledge of this was limited. Operating gyms is simple and membership sales are easy to manage; a franchise, on the other hand, deals with legalities, compliance issues and franchisees. It was an entirely new entity that would take years to learn and a lot of money to invest.

“I met John Rotche at the IFA convention. He was the 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year at the conference. He took Krispy Kreme public and other companies, like ours, from scratch into successful franchise models. He is very much a guru and was being courted by Arby’s to be their president. I was able to hire him away. I said, ‘John, you’ve made money, and now you can be known as the roast beef king or you can help change people’s lives for the better. What do you want to do?’ Did he want to have some impact on the world?”

John Rotche believed in Tom and his concept and saw the opportunities. John opened an office in Michigan and brought his team with him to coordinate franchising details, freeing Tom and his team to concentrate on the club development and training. “It’s important to recognize your strengths and weaknesses. For what you don’t do well, hire people that are smarter than you.”

His partnership with John is paying off. Presently, there are 151 clubs open and another 380 franchises sold. In 2010, revenue was $1.5 million. In 2014 that jumped to $46.2 million! Its first international venture opened in Cancun, Mexico January 2014, and Title Boxing Club plans to expand into Canada next. In 2013, Title Boxing Club was the fastest growing fitness franchise in the U.S.

There is a certain vibe to Title Boxing Club when you walk through its doors. From the people behind the desk to the music (it has its own radio station) and the trainers, the look and feel all make it apparent that this is something different. It is a club and not a gym or fitness center. “You belong to a unique club, where you come in, do a lot of hard work and are committed for an hour, which is run by the trainer and not you. It’s not about socializing or stopping and starting a workout or taking time at the drinking fountain. It is serious. Classes start on time and end on time.”

He says that in the evening hours, it is probably an equal number of men and women. The morning classes, however, are 95% women, and he laughs as he says that no man would wake up to do a 6:00 a.m. class.

“Women are busier than men as they juggle so many things, and they are multitaskers. So, we can never have a class start late, and cleanliness is key. That is what we strive for. They show up five minutes ahead of time, wrap their hands, workout, get out, shower, pick up the kids, etc. They are on it and get everything they needed in that hour. Eight hundred to one thousand calories burned, and it is checked off their list, and they are gone.”

Tom has seen as many as 1,427 calories burned in a single fitness class via a measuring device placed on a member’s wrist. Everybody’s needs are different and depending on one’s size, strength and stamina, the results can fluctuate. Some will punch the bag hard and some not so hard. Some may hit it one hundred times more than another with different combinations. Members work at their own pace in the class, and each person can tailor their own workout to fit within the class being taught.

The trainers are there for two reasons: to motivate and inspire the members to do more than they would be doing on their own. “We have fun in those classes; they are encouraging. It’s funny because I invented this club with my partner, but, during a class, when a trainer comes around, I hit the bag harder and work harder. You want to work hard for your trainer, and they bring that out in you.”

People may be intimidated when they first enter a class, but that changes quickly. Along with the trainer, members will also help by sharing helpful workout hints. It has a family atmosphere that has everyone applauding at the end of the hour.

The type of members may surprise you as they do not all fall into Hollywood’s tough guy boxer stereotype. There is, for example, a seventy-year-old woman who hits the bag hard, a woman in a wheelchair and a man with cerebral palsy who comes in with his crutches and gets on his knees for a workout.

“Everybody comes for different reasons, some for stress relief, or to tone up, lose weight, or because they are mad at their boss. We don’t care what your demons are; just beat them out on this bag, leave them on the floor, and we will mop it up, but don’t take them home with you.”

When the company started in 2008, the U.S. was going through its worst economy in a long time. The real estate market was so bad that shopping centers would be calling Tom to offer space for rent with six months free with a ten dollar per square foot build-out included, so the clubs got bigger over the years.

A few years later, the economy jumped back, space is not as easy to find and prices have doubled. Title Boxing Club needed to re-invent its model by going lean and mean. The clubs were redesigned to hold just as many members and do what they have always done but within a smaller space of 3,000 square feet. By doing this, a lot of the build-out costs have been eliminated and less equipment is needed. The club was also redesigned to provide a different feel and look without adding cost to the build-out.

“When you are trying to brand yourself, the essence of branding is sacrifice. You can’t be all things to all people; you have to choose what you want to be, and we are boxing and fitness. The fitness class is our power hour, and so we really focused back in on that, making simple changes, but the new clubs have a really nice look to them. It’s been well received and is doing so well. The first remodeled club opened in south Tampa at 2,800 square feet. It’s proving to be a working entity and is allowing our franchisees to get open faster with less money and less investment.”

Boxing fitness clubs resonated around the country, with other brands opening similar concepts. There is always going to be competition, but Tom sees this as necessary to success, saying that if there is no competition, the concept is bad. “Pizza Hut is not the only pizza place; they are just the best at it.” There has to be competition as it spurs you on.

Social media is the most effective way that Title Boxing Club promotes its brand. A social media campaign began ninety days before any clubs were opened and these clubs garnered 500 to 1,000 “likes” on Facebook and the first class was offered for free. The company also does cross promotions with other businesses in the community.

“We have something for everybody, and whatever your goals are, we are here to help. Where else are you going to get someone to work with you for an hour, in a small classroom setting, as many times as you want, for pennies? Membership is so inexpensive at $60 to $110 per month. We are here to work for you and service you, and that has made us who we are.”

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