Xponential Fitness acquired four brands in 2018 and another in 2019 to round out its portfolio of eight fitness franchises. The franchisor of Club Pilates and CycleBar added Pure Barre, Row House and the dance-based studio brand AKT among others since its creation in 2017 by CEO Anthony Geisler, and now Xponential is putting more top-level leadership in place as it nears 1,700 studios and almost 200 corporate employees.
“2018 was about acquiring brands. 2019 was about converting those brands to the Xponential model and 2020 and going forward we’re putting in place the oversight needed” to drive all the brands forward, said Sarah Luna, the newly named president of Xponential Fitness. Luna, who spent three years in sales director and senior operations roles at Club Pilates before being promoted to president of Pure Barre following its acquisition by Xponential, said the creation of the role is in line with Geisler’s broader goal of developing internal talent to lead company-wide initiatives.
“The plan from Anthony’s end was to continue to grow from within, that’s been a priority for him,” said Luna as she noted last year CycleBar President Ryan Junk was promoted to chief strategy officer. Regan Stokes, Pure Barre’s senior VP of operations, is stepping into Luna’s role as president for that brand.
A former Jazzercise franchisee whose mother is still an operator in that brand, Luna, 34, said she’ll continue to focus on being an accessible leader by making herself available to franchisees, getting into studios for secret shops and calling studio-level sales staff to stay plugged in to how they handle recruiting gym members.
“I truly value those conversations with our franchisees,” she said, adding it’s easy for a franchisor to become insulated in an ivory tower. “I don’t want to be isolated from what our franchisees are experiencing.”
In 2020 and into this year those experiences included major impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, including studio closures and a larger shift in how consumers interact with fitness brands.
“Initially our response was to protect the cash of our franchise partners, and that’s still a focus,” said Luna. Xponential stepped in to help franchisees negotiate leases and work with vendors, it reduced some fees and it kept 100 percent of its corporate staff employed.
“They are and continue to be our first responders,” said Luna as she added the company’s franchisee support network is more important than ever. “We didn’t want to be shortsighted and cut back to 80 percent of the support when our franchisees needed us at 100 or 110 percent.”
Now, she continued, it’s “how do we keep driving top line revenue for our franchisees.” One effort was the holiday rollout of a national online gift card platform to directly support individual studios.
“It’s not exactly rocket science, but we looked at those gaps and where we could offer franchisees ways to take advantage of the seasonality,” said Luna. Xponential is also fine tuning its XPass program, a single membership that lets customers take classes at any of its studios across all brands, and last year it quickly launched GO, its on-demand fitness platform with live and streaming classes.
Positioning GO, which Luna called a “massive platform,” within the brick-and-mortar studio offerings is among her first focuses as Xponential’s president, as is putting infrastructure in place to support franchisees exiting the system.
“We have opportunistic buyers who are coming to the table and so we have franchise partners who are saying, OK, maybe I want to look at transitioning out,” said Luna as she pointed out a healthy franchise system sees a franchisee turnover rate of about 10 percent and Xponential’s is less than that. “It’s more about helping connect the opportunistic buyers with franchisees so they have a successful exit.”
With plenty on her plate, Luna said she’s excited to help lead Xponential forward. “I’m up for the challenge, that’s for sure,” she said.