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9Round makes its fitness play for Latin America


9Round has more than 30 gyms in Mexico.

Isaac Kably’s determination and pride are evident in his voice: “I’m 30 years old; I started 9Round when I was 25,” says Kably, when reached at his office in Mexico City. “I started with one and now we have 36 locations.”

All of those 9Round locations are in Mexico, with 22 concentrated in and around Mexico City, more near Guadalajara and as far south as Tuxtla Gutiérrez. Kably operates 10 locations of the kickboxing-focused fitness brand, more than the two or three he thought he’d open as the master franchisee, “but I loved it so much.”

So much indeed. Confident in 9Round’s appeal elsewhere in Latin America, Kably signed additional agreements this summer to develop the concept in Colombia, Panama, Chile and Peru. “9Round is growing all over,” says Kably, referencing the brand’s presence in 17 other countries to go along with its 600-plus studios in the United States. “If we closed our eyes for a second they were going to sell those markets.”

Colombia is his first target—“Bogotá or Medellín are a must for 9Round”—with 36 total locations between Colombia and Panama over the next six years before continuing to South America. Enrique Lopez, Kably’s brand manager for Mexico with a 20-year career in the fitness industry, will lead the group’s new development efforts.

Shannon Hudson

Founder Shannon Hudson believes the brand is ready to take on more of Latin America.

“He’s been in major gyms as a manager, in corporate sales, as a trainer,” notes Kably of Lopez’s background. Fellow 9Round Mexico executive Salomon Rayek, the group’s financial chief, also brings industry experience as a former Snap Fitness franchisee. It was Rayek who put 9Round on Kably’s radar  in 2014 after discovering the brand at a franchise expo in San Diego.

“So I took a plane, went to Texas, to Houston, tried my class, a free class and immediately started working on a business plan,” recalls Kably of his excitement for the concept. “I’m not going to lie, three or four days later I started talking to 9Round in the U.S. and just a few weeks later signed the agreement” as master franchisee for Mexico.

“I saw a great opportunity for the business in Mexico,” Kably continues. “In 2014 in Mexico, the fitness industry is not like it is today. There were just these big box gyms that charged these big prices for personal training.”

Kably was familiar with the franchise model, having grown to four units his network of Mexico City-based Prendamex pawn shops. The crime and violence that tended to accompany pawn shops “forced me to leave that business,” says Kably, and “I’ve always been a fan of sports and of boxing.”

Boxing is an especially popular sport in Mexico, with fighters such as Julio Cesar Chavez and Ruben Olivares becoming the stuff of legend. That familiarity gives 9Round, with its 30-minute, full-body circuit format a leg up in its appeal to consumers.

“Fitness in general is a universal language, it translates really well across any continent,” says Shannon Hudson, 9Round’s founder and CEO and himself a former professional boxer. “Mexico and boxing go hand-in-hand. It’s very popular there. It just works.”

That’s not to say expansion in Mexico hasn’t been challenging. While 9Round “shared with me everything they used in the U.S., I started from zero to put it in action in Mexico,” says Kably. “The culture is not the same, the language is not the same.”

Isaac Kably

9Round master franchisee Isaac Kably is taking the fitness brand to Colombia next.

Kably’s first order of business was to “tropicalize everything,” starting with the translation of every component from the operations manual to 9Round’s marketing materials and website from English to Spanish. He also adjusted the pricing, keeping in mind “in Mexico we have a very low income compared to the U.S.” A monthly membership in Mexico costs on average $50 versus $80-$100 per month at U.S. clubs.

Another important adjustment, notes Kably, came after he realized the demand for workouts throughout the day. U.S. studios typically close for a couple of hours midday but, says Kably, “I personally found in Mexico I can do all day long from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and staff it because wages are lower.”  

Those local insights are crucial to 9Round’s success in a variety of markets, says Hudson, adding, “What we don’t allow is changes to the workout space, the 9Round circuit.” Kably, he points out, has proven himself as both an operator and developer of the brand, and “I lean on those masters a lot to know where to go.”

“It’s all performance—actions speak louder than words,” Hudson continues of his confidence in Kably. “He’s got 30-plus successful studios. I have a lot of trust, I know the brand is in good hands.”

With five years of lessons under his belt Kably expects to not only add another 60-plus studios in Mexico—just 3.2 percent of the population has access to a gym—but reach 100 locations across his four newest markets.

“We can transfer everything we’ve learned in Mexico to those countries,” he says, stressing the “fitness boom” in the region.

Local concepts and other U.S. franchises such as Orangetheory and fellow boxing-based brand Title Boxing Club undoubtedly see the same opportunity—Title recently inked a 25-unit deal for Mexico City—but Kably is undeterred.

“There’s tons of competition, but nobody has this same concept with everything that’s 9Round,” he says.

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