George Foreman III, son of boxing legend George Foreman, believes he has “the next hot boutique fitness brand” on his hands.
In 2014, Foreman opened up a 15,000-square-foot gym in South Boston called EverybodyFights. Last year, he cut a deal to open a smaller, 1,800-square-foot boxing studio “box” inside a GymIt in Watertown, Mass.
Now, in a few short months, the 34-year-old will go from owning one gym and one box-inside-another-gym to owning three gyms and three boxes.
EverybodyFights will expand to Manhattan this summer, Yahoo Finance has learned, with a 7,000-square-foot location at 41st Street and Madison Avenue. It will also open its second company-owned Boston location, in the financial district, in March. And the company will begin franchising its full-sized gyms and its smaller boxes, with the first two locations already planned for Atlanta (in May) and Chicago (in June) inside of Midtown Athletic Club gyms.
Expanding beyond Boston
That’s a lot of growth in a short time, but Foreman has taken a methodical approach, optimizing each new location for efficient use of space. To launch franchising, he’s brought on Hannibal Myers, a longtime franchising executive with past stints at Taco Bell, Wendy’s, and UFC Gym, which has more than 100 locations around the country.
He’s also raised additional money from Boston VC firm Breakaway Ventures (which has also invested in CoachUp and Drizly), bringing his total funding above $3 million. And to make it in New York, a brutal real estate market, Foreman is moving to Manhattan.
Foreman is tapping into the rise of boxing as a workout, which has become trendy among millennials, and especially millennial women. (He believes it’s because people these days, “want to get in shape by something that is hard.”) But his gyms don’t only offer boxing. The South Boston location has it all: treadmills, rowing machines, spinning bikes, standard weights, heavy bags, and ropes and pulleys—all of it located around, yes, two boxing rings. The gym offers all manner of group classes (in addition to the 1,500 members, an average 800 non-members per month show up to purchase classes), and not all of them involve boxing. Foreman thinks of his gym as a “shopping mall for fitness.”
The full-size EverybodyFights gyms aim to offer a premium, boutique experience at a lower cost ($130 a month without classes, $155 all-inclusive) than Equinox. But it’s the franchised “boxes” that Foreman believes can grow the fastest. “What’s going on right now is the big-box gyms, Planet Fitness, 24-Hour Fitness, they’re all struggling to create a boutique experience inside their gyms,” he says. “They’re all hungry for it, but they don’t want to spend too much money, so we can help them just get up and go with that. We’re betting in this economy that big-box gyms are actually going to win, because people want it all in one place.” Thus, in places where Foreman can’t have a full gym of his own, he wants to have a small corner of an existing gym.
Dad’s business influence
Foreman III (“Monk” in his boxing days) is the only one of George Foreman’s five sons to have a boxing career. He went 16-0 in the ring, trained by his father, but never wanted to be a pro boxer. “That was just a passion that got out of hand,” he says. After retiring from the sport in 2012, he moved from his home state of Texas to Boston, where he had gone to boarding school, and linked up with a high school friend, now his business partner.
At the gym, his father’s influence is baked in. “Anything you learn at my gyms, all my classes, come from my father… this is all the George Foreman workout, if you will.” And while his father (a legend of self-branding) isn’t closely involved in the business, Foreman III has taken a key piece of advice from him on managing and approaching relationships: “He taught me that people can be better at facilities, they can be better at making money, better at marketing, they can have better everything, but you can always be No. 1 at being a kind and nice human being. No one can beat you at that if you don’t want them to.”
George Sr., asked about his son’s growing business, is optimistic. “George III is taking boxing to the world, for health.” That is: applying the lessons of the sport to a workout context.
But that’s not automatically an easy flag to plant amid the increasingly crowded market of urban fitness offerings: spinning studios like SoulCycle and Flywheel; yoga and pilates studios; CrossFit classes; Shadowbox; and traditional all-purpose gyms.
Challenges to growth
Expanding the EverybodyFights brand doesn’t just involve brick-and-mortar real estate, but also technology: EverybodyFights trainers get certified through the company’s web platform, and teach classes using its mobile app, which lets them design workouts and stream them live to a TV. Nearly 300 trainers have been certified through EverybodyFights so far (including some who come over from Equinox and other competitors, says Foreman), more than half of them outside of Boston. Thus, franchising involves not just selling the rights to open up EverybodyFights locations, but also spreading the trainer certification program to those franchisees.
With franchising, consistency is crucial. In that context, the fitness brand Foreman says he’s looking to as a guide is Peloton, the stationary bike seller that offers spin classes over streaming video to customers who have the bikes at home. “They have just one studio, they’re doing the same thing every day, but they make it as convenient as possible for you to consume it.” Foreman is applying that model to his own business: “The same workouts I use in my gym, you can turn on your app and play it in your gym in China. For our franchisees, they’re just doing exactly what we do, but in their gym.”
The biggest challenge with rapid expansion will be keeping an eye on quality. Foreman stresses that he sees EverybodyFights as a community, and indeed, at the South Boston location, it shows. On a Thursday at noon in January, the place was packed with people working out on their lunch break. Everyone who walked in greeted Foreman personally, and he knew most by name.
But once Foreman is on Madison Avenue, working to succeed in the toughest market yet, it won’t be so easy to get to know every member. His warm-and-friendly Boston business is going to get a lot more complicated.
Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.
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