What Happens After David (BoxUnion) Buys Goliath (Title Boxing Club) During a Pandemic

On Jan. 6, 2021, when the industry heard that BoxUnion had acquired Title Boxing Club, some people may have been scratching their heads. Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic was raging and fitness brands were folding, restructuring through Chapter 11 filings or barely hanging on. So it was big news that a three-studio brand founded in 2016 bought a then 13-year-old, 166-studio franchise brand (with another 130 studios in development). (BoxUnion declined to share the purchase price of Title Boxing Club.)

But BoxUnion co-founders Todd Wadler and Felicia Alexander had always planned to expand, even if they hadn’t initially envisioned doing so with such a large acquisition, Alexander shared with Club Industry in a recent interview. (Watch the full interview in the video above.)

“Todd has always had an eye toward scale,” said Alexander, who serves as chief revenue officer. “When we started BoxUnion, the idea was we would open this on our own using our own resources, and then if we were on to something, scale from there.”

Prior to BoxUnion, Waddler, who is now CEO of the company, had spent his career in the investment banking world where he co-founded Moelis & Company, a global independent investment bank. He helped to grow it from four people to a multinational public company.

“When people in the early days would come into BoxUnion, they automatically thought it was a franchise because it was really well-designed, branding was absolutely incredible, our programming was amazing, our staff training and the service that one got inside of our studio were absolutely impeccable,” Alexander said. “We've always had an eye toward growth and scale. We were really lucky early on to be able to utilize our own capital to test this proof of concept but also to be able to attract some incredible investors to help us with our growth.”

Prior to the Title Boxing Club acquisition and the pandemic, Wadler and Alexander had been in discussions to acquire other brands, she said.  

And prior to the pandemic, Title Boxing Club was looking for a buyer, but the road to the acquisition wasn’t a straight line. After the pandemic began, Title Boxing Club reversed course and began seeking distressed assets to buy. With that in mind, Title Boxing Club CEO John Rotche reached out to Wadler in September 2020 to discuss Title Boxing Club buying BoxUnion.

“Once John got on the phone with Todd, he quickly learned that we weren't distressed and if anything, that we should consider buying them,” Alexander said. “I have to say that when Todd got off that call and called me up, I mean he was so unbelievably energized. He saw the vision. He saw exactly what we were going to do with this amazing gem of Title Boxing Club.”

The duo determined that their innovation in product and programming, and their culture of learning and development could be applied to Title Boxing Club and improve upon what already was a great brand, she said.

Steps Along the Way

Because the world was still in the grip of COVID-19 when the acquisition occurred, the first order of business for Wadler and Alexander was to strengthen the foundation and support of their acquired brand.

They retained about five of the existing team members and hired several new executives.

They decentralized the operations so people were in the field closer to franchise partners.

They launched Title University, which is a learning management system where anybody within the system can access content 24/7. The platform has different learning tracks depending upon functions: marketing, front desk, coaching, general manager, owner, etc.

The company rolled out a new suite of data and analytics to give its franchise partners better visibility into the business. In addition to being about to see the number of leads and enrollments as well as how many of those leads they converted into a membership, the new platform allowed them to see how many appointment leads they booked into a class and how many actually showed for a class.

“That really enables our franchise partners to diagnose where they might have opportunities to improve their operations,” Alexander said.

They hired an internal ClubReady expert to help train Title Boxing Club franchisees on the ClubReady member management system, which Title Boxing Club had migrated to just prior to the acquisition.  

They also grew the product team, which prior to the acquisition had consisted of a full-time employee devoted half their time to product, meaning the class experience and what is taught inside the clubs. Now, the company has six people working on product. This team developed a 52-week curriculum that is supported by content on the learning management system.

Members of the executive team have visited 92 percent of their franchisees around the country to gather feedback from franchise partners, trainers, managers and club members to ensure ground-up involvement in the setting of program priorities, according to the company.

Wadler and Alexander redeployed funds for their corporate office into a digital studio in Culver City, California, where they film learning management system content and content for Title Boxing Club On Demand.

They began bundling some memberships so members get unlimited access to Title Boxing Club On Demand, which has allowed franchisees to increase pricing due to offering customers more value.

Future Growth

With all these moves, the one thing the company didn’t do initially was focus on growth.

“We really felt the first thing that we had to do was build the infrastructure and really understand what it was that we had purchased, and that we were focused on our existing franchise partners before we could even think about bringing new people, new franchise partners into Title Boxing Club,” Alexander said.

Coming out of the pandemic, Title Boxing Club had 145 studios that survived and all three BoxUnion studios (which are still branded as BoxUnion).

But in March, the company announced it is now focused on smart, well-planned growth with a goal to double its domestic footprint by 2025 and to grow internationally, Alexander said.

Title Boxing Club is proof of the sustainability of boxing brands, considering it was founded in 2008, and new boxing brands that have popped up in the past few years are further proof, she said.

“Boxing is still in its early days of achieving mainstream adoption,” Alexander said. “I'm really excited about all of these other brands and the investment being made in the space because it's only going to help increase consumer awareness and ultimately bring more people in our doors.”

(Watch the full video above to hear more about the types of franchisees Title Boxing Club is seeking, the company's mental health initiatives and how COVID impacted the business.)