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Warrior Factory details international expansion efforts


Andrae Marrocco

Illustration by Jonathan Hankin

Swinging on monkey bars, running up walls and jumping from platform to platform. No, it is not a scene from the local playground, but a typical day at The Warrior Factory.

This column is the next installment in the series seeking to capture the “world view”—experiences, challenges, predictions, advice and aspirations—of brands that have embarked on the daring adventure of international franchising.

Unlike the brand depicted in our last column, The Warrior Factory is a relatively new concept from the United States that leapt across the Canadian border very early on its existence.

Indoor obstacle parks remain a largely unfamiliar concept to most consumers. The Warrior Factory is poised to change that state of affairs with its franchise system that allows anyone to become a Ninja warrior for the day. “We are looking to build the next generation of ‘ninjas’ and to continue promoting the format as a sport,” states Carl Fantauzzo, CEO of The Warrior Factory.

Their facilities replicate the environment seen on the hit television show, “American Ninja Warrior”—but the focus is on children. More than a rigorous workout, it provides an opportunity for children to develop discipline and build confidence. The Warrior Factory is also equipped to host birthday parties, curriculum classes, open play sessions, summer camps, and more.

The creation of a concept

Creating a new brand, let alone a novel offering, is no small feat. How did The Warrior Factory come together? It began with Bernard Birnbaum’s vision to create a “Ninja Warrior” gym that would be accessible, safe, and entertaining for all consumers. While he had the vision and passion, he had no expertise or experience in the retail sector, the fitness industry or the ninja community.

Serendipity stepped in and, during season six of “American Ninja Warrior,” Birnbaum saw Fantauzzo (a native from his hometown of Rochester, New York) compete on the renowned television series. Birnbaum seized the opportunity to bring his vision to fruition. After several unanswered Facebook messages, fate brought the two of them together when they met at a local competition. They immediately hit it off and The Warrior Factory was officially born in 2016.

After some local success, Birnbaum and Fantauzzo knew their concept would appeal to consumers outside of their hometown. The concept of franchising came to mind and, after attending the International Franchise Association’s Annual Conference in 2018 in Las Vegas, they immediately knew that franchising was the future for The Warrior Factory.

“We really drank the Kool-Aid hard at that first conference; we saw the passion and inclusiveness of the franchise community. It was something that we wanted to be part of,” remarks Birnbaum, president of The Warrior Factory.

They immersed themselves in the franchising world, surrounded themselves with the right advisers and professionals, and within a year of establishing The Warrior Factory the founders (remarkably) crafted and developed a convincing franchise offering. Since that time, The Warrior Factory has opened two new locations in the U.S. and began its international expansion with the first international franchisee in Canada.

A shift to experience

When asked about current trends and challenges on the international stage, and how The Warrior Factory is positioning itself to navigate and take advantage of same, Birnbaum makes the following assessment: With all the changes in technology over the last decade, the retail sector has been hit the hardest. The mass exodus of retail companies has created a void within many retail corridors. Property owners who have experienced the increase in vacancies are now looking for concepts that will bring consumers to their centers and anchor tenants for modern retail.”

Combine that trend with consumers’ increasing penchant for experience-oriented services (over the traditional products and services), and one begins to see how there is a wide-open path of great opportunity for The Warrior Factory. Fantauzzo captures the sentiment well: “As consumer trends change, new industries are created, and The Warrior Factory has proven to be part of the current trends. In the United States, retail is no longer dominated by goods and services; there is a shift toward experiences. Consumers are looking to create memories and support their passions. They also seek non-traditional experiences and something that will resonate with their beliefs and ideals.”

One might ask, can a fitness-based experience/entertainment concept really resonate with a person’s “beliefs”? According to The Warrior Factory, it provides an environment where young people are to face and overcome obstacles in a manner they would never have imagined. Participants are building both confidence and strength that they take with them in their daily lives.

“After making it up a warp wall, ordinary daily challenges don’t seem so formidable,” muses Birnbaum. This additional element is one reason why the founders believe The Warrior Factory is of tremendous appeal for parents looking for new ways to keep their children active.

Engaging millennial parents is also very important to The Warrior Factory, and community outreach is a strong value of the next generation. The Warrior Factory execs believe millennials support concepts that work to make a difference and improve their communities. To that end, The Warrior Factory encourages its franchisees to partner with local community organizations for outreach programs.

Recent examples include work with local breast cancer coalitions, coordinating food and toy drives in local communities in which facilities are located.

The Warrior Factory is riding the high waves of international growth trends. It will be interesting to watch the impact of the brand’s philosophy, perspectives and strategic approach in international franchising as they seek to grow the “warrior community” across the globe.

Andrae Marrocco is a partner and co-chair of the Franchise & Distribution Group in the Toronto office of McMillan LLP. His column World View covers international franchising in each issue. Reach him at andrae.marrocco@mcmillan.ca

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