As fitness trends from CrossFit to spinning studios have proliferated, smaller upstart gyms have found a niche to play in the same market as big gym chains like Life Time Fitness (LTM), Planet Fitness (PLNT), Gold’s Gym and Equinox. And now George Foreman III is aiming to take on all of them. Foreman, who already has two locations of his EveryBodyFights model, has scored new investment from Boston-based VC and branding firm Breakaway to expand his gym line.
“Monk” Foreman, as he was called in the ring, was the only one of world champion George Foreman’s five sons (all named George Foreman) to follow his father into boxing. He went a perfect 16-0 in the ring, but tells Yahoo Finance, “It was really a father-son hobby that got out of hand. At some point we looked up and said, ‘Wait, two or three more fights and we could talk about being in contention for a title fight.’ But wait… this was not what I wanted to do. I wanted to do something other than hit people. Luckily, I had experience in the business world.”
Armed with a business degree from Rice University, Foreman, now 33, retired from boxing in 2012. From 2003 to 2009, he was his father’s business manager, handling deals with the many different companies that still wanted the famous heavy-hitter to endorse their products. He also helped his father continue to expand the reach of the insanely successful Foreman Grill, and he appeared on the E Network reality series “Filthy Rich.”
In 2014, Foreman opened up a huge, 15,000-square-foot gym in South Boston. The concept: a section for everything the modern gym rat could possibly want. EveryBodyFights (it changed its name last month from The Club By George Foreman III) offers weights, pilates, yoga, cycling, treadmills, ellipticals, and of course, boxing, using a training program Foreman designed and patented: BOXFIIT (Fight Intensity Interval Training).
The flagship gym has four classrooms for circuit, core, boxing, and endurance training. Foreman calls it “trains, body, bags, and roads.” He thinks of it as a “shopping mall for fitness.”
The model proved its appeal: last October, Foreman cut a deal to open a 1,800-square-foot boxing room inside a competitor gym, GymIt, in Watertown, Mass. It opened in February of this year.
Now, with a $1 million Series A investment from Breakaway (which has also invested in alcohol delivery app Drizly and sports app Fancred), Yahoo Finance has learned, Foreman expects to open a Manhattan location and a second Boston location by next year. In the next 2-3 years, he aims to have three or four locations in both New York and Boston, then move down the East Coast. At the same time, he wants to keep franchising smaller studios inside the gyms of other operators and free-standing, 5,000-square-foot gyms to proven fitness franchisers.
“People don’t want to just check in and move around like mice, they want to do something that means something physically,” he says. “Throwing a punch, nothing releases tension better than that.”
Perhaps most impressive and surprising for a gym built on boxing: 70% of the members are women. “Even though we make the workouts as hard as we possibly can, we attract more women, because women take it more seriously,” Foreman says. “And for whatever reason, boxing is big right now.”
That’s good news for an entrepreneur who grew up in boxing. (George Sr. sits on the board of EveryBodyFights.) Foreman III worked at his father’s training camps, counted his rounds, tied his shoes, sat watching him day in and day out. “It was very much in my blood,” he says. “But I never did it myself. Then when I was 25, I was overweight and my brothers had been teasing me because I had never been a varsity athlete. So I got them all on a conference call and I said, ‘If I fight in one amateur boxing match, will you guys stop it.’ So I started training, and I’m kind of obsessive when I start something.”
Now he’s obsessive about taking his one gym and turning it into a national fitness brand. To help do that, he’s embracing technology, because brick-and-mortar locations aren’t enough. Hence, new trainers at his gyms get certified via the BOXFIIT trainer app, which launched in February. (In August, EveryBodyFights will launch the BOXFIIT fighter app, for customers.)
That may sound counterintuitive—how can someone learn to run an in-person fitness class by completing tasks on their phone? Foreman says it’s more rigorous than it sounds: a potential trainer has to submit a video in which they perform, and then teach, every movement or action that will come up in class. Foreman views and grades every one of them.
In fact, he says it’s superior to the two-day, in-person training certification programs that have become popular in recent years. “You can’t learn that stuff in just two days,” he says. “Maybe in two weeks. But you can do it at your own pace. We spit out a better trainer remotely than those programs do in person.”
Could EveryBodyFights be the next Soulcycle, Flywheel, or David Barton Gym? If both George Foremans have anything to say about it, yes—and maybe bigger. To be sure, success isn’t automatic in this space: Planet Fitness had a disappointing IPO last year, and SoulCycle has had to delay its own. But Foreman III says the best advice his father gave him in the business world was to think big. “Don’t do this for 1,000 people,” he says, “prepare for it to be done for a million people.”
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Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology.