Back in the 1980s, Jordan Knight led the music group, New Kids on the Block (NKOTB). Today, the singer is returning to his retro roots by converting his Fit World gym into a Retro Fitness franchise.
"I think it's awesome, and I'm so excited about it," says Eric Casaburi, founder and CEO of Retro Fitness, which has 120 gyms in 15 states. "Jordan is a cool guy and has had a lot of success in the music industry. His personality also fits well in the fitness industry. He is engaging, stays in shape and has a passion for fitness, exercise and wellness. He understands the benefit of it."
Knight opened his club in Cranston, RI, in 1995. Later, while conducting online research, he discovered franchise opportunities with Retro Fitness and inquired about becoming a franchisee.
"When we looked at his application and figured out who he was, we rolled out the red carpet and tried to make him feel welcome," Casaburi says. "At the same time, we have completed several conversions, and we used the same rigorous criteria that we would with any applicant."
Before making Knight a franchisee, the Retro Fitness team visited his club to ensure that the gym fit the brand's synergy, had a good location, was the proper size, offered enough parking and could be successfully converted to a franchise operation.
"Jordan has a beautiful club, and he did the best job he could on his own," Casaburi says. "For independent operators, however, it often becomes more difficult, and the waters don't get smoother—they get choppier as time goes on and the amount of competition increases. We were able to give him some ideas that he could roll out to his club when it came to marketing, attracting new members and operating his club."
Knight was looking for a way to revitalize his club with a "fresh new vibe," he says.
"I was inspired by companies that have a lot of fun with their culture," Knight says. "Fit World was very 'spa-like' and had a relaxed feel to it. I wanted to bring a fresh and energetic vibe completely opposite to that, and Retro Fitness already encompassed exactly what I wanted. Beyond their vibrant interior and music, Retro Fitness is very enthusiastic about their members and encourages a fun and inviting atmosphere."
Knight is completing changes to his club to make it conform to franchise criteria, including adapting to the franchise's red and yellow color scheme, adding new amenities such as a Retro Theater where members can watch movies on a large screen while they exercise on the cardio equipment, adding a Retro Blends Smoothie Bar, adding a functional training area and enhancing the personal training program.
To align his club with the other franchisees, he also has changed his dues pricing. For a flat fee of $19.95 per month, members can access the fitness equipment. By upgrading to a $29.95 per month package, they can take advantage of premium amenities such as unlimited group fitness classes, a supervised children's playroom and tanning services.
Renovations will be completed by spring, and then Knight will consider whether to open another facility as part of the company's plans to add 200 franchise locations in the next two years.
Casaburi says Rhode Island has been on the company's radar for a while, and he and his team were looking for the right partner candidate.
"Jordan is a great one because he knows the marketplace," Casaburi says. We have been doing our due diligence, and when he is ready to open his second or third location, we can serve up good data so he can make an educated decision."
Casaburi says Knight is the first award-winning singer and performer to join the franchise system, which also includes professional athletes from the NBA and NFL.
"We take pride in having those types of entrepreneurs in our system," Casaburi says. "I think successful people like to align themselves with successful companies. We have all different types of people in our system, but the key is that they are all winners and they're all successful. Having Jordan on board is another feather in our hat, and it's a win-win for us and for him."
Q&A with Jordan Knight
Q: Why did you decide to convert your club into a Retro Fitness?
Knight: I was about to go on tour and feeling homesick. I love operating my club in Cranston, but with going on tour so much, I wanted to do something closer to home so I can spend more time with my wife and kids. I was looking around at different franchises on FranchiseChatter.com and came across Retro Fitness. From there, I checked out their high industry rankings on Forbes best franchises list and Entrepreneur Franchise 500. From there, I researched the CEO and founder—Eric Casaburi—and after watching him on "Under Cover Boss" [TV show] and media interviews, I knew I wanted to be part of his team. His personality and passion is inspiring.
I filled out the application on their franchise site with intentions of possibly selling my Cranston location to open a gym closer to home. The Retro Fitness team stopped by my gym to see if it might be ideal for a conversion, and it was a perfect fit.
Retro Fitness complements the vision I initially had for Fit World. I wanted to unroll new and lower membership prices—in addition to revamping the gym's atmosphere—and Retro Fitness has an unparalleled pricing structure with bright and exciting interiors. After connecting with the corporate team and franchisees, I noticed how the energetic branding was a reflection of the people who make up the brand.
The amenities and different profit centers were also very attractive. Fit World is already a big box gym with group fitness, childcare, locker rooms, tanning, etc., so converting into a Retro Fitness was a cost-effective way to improve existing amenities, while adding a few more to increase membership value.
How did you initially become interested in owning a health club, and what were some of the challenges of running an independent operation?
Knight: Fit World is an independent club. My brother [David] was the one who initially had the idea to open a fitness center. He was previously a salesman at a gym in Massachusetts and pitched me with the idea of funding a gym together as partners. We opened our gym in Cranston, RI, in 1995 and hit a homerun. However, we came across some lease issues down the road that forced me to relocate the club. I only moved about a mile away from the current location and was able to maintain the existing membership base due to our great staff and GM.
I had been operating Fit World successfully, but it was beginning to experience stagnant growth with tougher competition in the market. It was clear that changes needed to be made – I needed to bring a new energy into the club. These changes would require huge financial and time commitments, and with me going out on tour soon, it would've been difficult to devote my energies to revamping the gym. If I was going to invest in the club, I wanted someone to support me and 'hold my hand' through the process. Converting Fit World into a Retro Fitness provided me with all of the above, plus more. They already have a proven business model and the right systems in place, so it takes out a lot of the guess work and will make our transition much faster.
One of the major disadvantages of being an independent owner is that you don't have a network of other club operators or owners that you can reach out to for support. You kind of have to walk in the dark and find your own way. When I was signing the franchise agreement, all I could think about was how great it was going to be to have a network of 100-plus owners and managers available as resources.
Q: What kind of "fresh vibe" were you looking for in the conversion to Retro Fitness, and what are the benefits of becoming part of a franchise?
Knight: I was inspired by companies that have a lot of fun with their culture. Fit World was very 'spa-like' and had a relaxed feel to it. I wanted to bring a fresh and energetic vibe completely opposite to that, and Retro Fitness already encompassed exactly what I wanted. Beyond their vibrant interior and music, Retro Fitness is very enthusiastic about their members and encourages a fun and inviting atmosphere.
Outside of having support from the corporate team and owners, as a Retro Fitness franchisee, we benefit from their vendor relationships and internal research to provide us with the most innovative, cutting-edge equipment available. They even have a progressive mobile app that integrates third-party fitness platforms together and will sync to our cardio equipment.
Another unique feature to the Cranston area—that's popular in all Retro Fitness locations—is the cardio movie theater. It's a brilliant idea. The rooms house a variety of cardio equipment instead of seats and play movies on a large screen throughout the day. It's great for new gym goers who might be intimidated to work out in front of others. Also, with the addition of a Retro Blends Smoothie Bar, we're really upgrading our beverage offerings for members with all new flavors and options.
Q: What other cities are you looking to expand into?
Knight: Eventually, I would like to expand the franchise and open gyms closer to my home in Massachusetts. My next gym could be anywhere in between Cranston, RI, and Milton, MA.
Q: How much will the renovations cost, and when will they be complete?
Knight: The full renovation will cost around $200,000 and won't be fully completed until early May 2015. Some equipment will be refurbished with the Retro Fitness red and yellow color scheme. Meanwhile, older equipment will be replaced by new, innovative machines.
Q: Why did you decide to add a functional training area?
Knight: We already have a functional training area, but with its growing popularity, we knew it could use an upgrade. More and more people are realizing that there is a clear difference in training solely on machines versus the full-body workout you benefit from with functional training.
Q: What were your rates with Fit World, and how do you think changing to a flat fee will help to attract or retain members?
Knight: Fit World used to have a flat rate of $29.99 per month. Now, our membership rate will lower to $19.99 per month, even though the amenities are increasing. Members have the option to stay at the $29.99 rate for a VIP membership to receive unlimited access to group fitness classes, tanning and childcare. We wanted to provide members with more flexibility to ensure they're never paying for amenities they don't use. Some people don't care about group fitness classes, tanning and childcare – they just want to use the machines, so our new pricing structure is ideal for everyone.
Q: Talk about how your fame and music career have helped you to be a successful business owner and what it takes to run a club in today's competitive market.
Knight: You need a strong work ethic in any business, especially in the entertainment business. It's all about making people happy and serving the fans. This is paralleled in gym ownership when it comes to serving members. In the entertainment business, your fans are everything – they're No. 1, and if you don't realize that, you won't be around for long. That's why New Kids On The Block is still on tour today after breaking out in the late '80s. I translate this to my club and remember that without our members, our gym is nothing.