Pickup USA founder’s still got game
Officiated pickup basketball games are at the heart of PickUp USA, which also offers boot camps and weight training.
Jordan Meinster loves to play pickup basketball, except for all the things he hates about it. “It’s too crowded, and there’s no organization to it, and people are arguing about foul calls,” he says, drastically understating the cacophony of fouling and swearing at the typical neighborhood park. “It’s an inefficient process.”
Enter his franchise, PickUp USA Fitness, which he started as one gym in 2012 in Irwindale, California, after a half-dozen years in banking and wealth management. The idea: “Let’s take pickup basketball, add a couple of refs to the experience. Let’s time the games at 10 minutes, and let’s organize the games,” he explains.
The result after one year of franchising is seven locations, one company-owned, with one of those franchised locations open, in Chandler, Arizona. The gyms are 12,000 to 14,000 square feet and cost $350,000 to $550,000 to open.
Gyms offer more than 100 hours a month of officiated pickup games, with teams playing 10-minute games and the winner staying on the court to play the next round of challengers. Instructors also lead one-hour basketball boot camps throughout the week, putting clients through workouts that emphasize hoopster skills.
“Do you make them do fartleks?” he is asked, referring to those notorious drills where you run to the free throw line and back, then to the half-court line and back, then to the far court free-throw line and back, and so on. “We call them suicides,” he says with a laugh. “Suicides, that’s definitely a part of it. Our trainers are ripping it up.”
Today’s PickUp USA model looks very different from Meinster’s first business idea. “Initially it was just pickup basketball with referees,” he says. “As it developed, we organically saw a demand from people who wanted training, one-on-one lessons, the weight room, the cardio room.”
But basketball remains the heart of PickUp USA, and despite his age (34) and height (5-foot-10, not exactly NBA material) he says he’s still got game. “My specialty you could say is hustle,” he declares. “I’m the guy who has the never-ending motor going up and down the court.”
Jay Bhakta is a franchisee in Chandler, Arizona, who opened his PickUp USA gym in April. He also owns five Liberty Tax franchises and two Primrose Schools daycare centers, and he used to own a UPS Store.
“I’ve been in the tax business for 15 years and I was looking for a change, something I would be more passionate about. When I saw it I thought this was a great, unique concept,” Bhakta says. “My son is 10 years old, and this is a concept that takes people from all levels.”
His biggest challenge was real estate, with many industrial buildings of suitable size not allowing retail to come in. “This location that I found was a little bit smaller than I liked,” but the proximity to a Sam’s Club, a Kohl’s and a major highway sold him, as did his neighboring businesses. “The building itself has sports businesses in it, like an indoor batting cage, cheerleading and tumbling, so it seems like there’s a good synergy.”
He charges $29.95 a month for the basketball boot camps, including open gym access and the fitness center. Add the officiated games, and the monthly cost is $59.95 a month.
Bhakta plans to open “several of these,” but not right away. “One thing I’ve learned over time is, don’t look for the second one until you master the first one.”
He evaluates franchises in a couple of ways. “The first thing I look at is profit margins. With Liberty Tax, if you provide the service and do your job right, what you collect you get to keep most of it,” he explains. With PickUp USA, he liked the fact that payroll is not going to go up as revenue grows. “You have your fixed cost, so everything else you pocket.” He acknowledged he’s owned multiple types of franchises. “It’s all over the place. I think I’m done now,” he says, but quickly adds, “I say that regularly.”
That leaves him with only one problem: no time to play basketball. “I played a couple of times but I’ve been so busy” getting the gym going. “I tell my friends, I used to work out until I opened my own fitness center.”