The CEO of kickboxing franchise 9Round has a goal of opening 1,000 stores by 2018, so it may come as no surprise that Forbes magazine recently put 9Round on its list of America's Most Promising Companies.
9Round Co-founder and CEO Shannon Hudson, a retired professional kickboxer, says someone from Forbes asked him about his company's growth, number of employees and gross volume of sales, but he didn't know about the list until someone from Forbes called him later to inquire if he wanted to purchase a plaque to commemorate his spot at number 99 on the list.
"We are very flattered, and we are in company with some great businesses on the listing," he says. "I didn't know we would get it, and it's exciting to be a part of the list."
Hudson founded 9Round in 2008, and in 2011 he won the IKF Light Middleweight Kickboxing Champion of the World title.
"I grew up competing and doing martial arts, and it's all I ever knew," he says.
After seeing Curves' 30-minute circuit training model and 10,000 locations, he decided to plug kickboxing into a similar model to create 9Round, which unlike Curves is co-ed.
To start the business, he and his wife borrowed money from a friend and maxed out their credit card. After signing up 100 memberships in just 30 days, he knew that they had a special concept.
"We now have 207 stores open across the world with three in Canada, two in Mexico, one in Australia, and in April, we will have our first store in the Middle East," he says.
Like Curves, 9Round is designed as a 30-minute workout with different stations with a drill in between. For example, a member might do jumping jacks and then do the drill on the next punching bag. The first two stations are dedicated to conditioning and include such equipment as kettlebells and dumbbells. Stations three through eight include different kinds of punching bags and conditioning equipment, and the final station focuses on the core. Hudson says he has integrated a lot of the bags used in professional kickboxing training at his clubs.
"Our members may not know what a double-end wrecking ball bag is, but it's the secret sauce to getting in shape," he says.
A bell rings every five minutes, signaling that exercisers should move to the next station. It doesn't matter when a member arrives--he or she can jump into the next round and then rotate through all nine rounds for the full 30-minute workout. The exercises change every day. Each Sunday, the management team records the drills, white boards them and tests them, and then sends them to each of the clubs.
"When you go to a 9Round in California, you will be doing the same drill as in South Carolina, which creates camaraderie and builds a team and family atmosphere, which is what we are all about," he says.
By keeping the clubs to around 1,200 square feet, the facilities have no wasted space, and each workout feels like a personal training session for the members, he says.
"A lot of the big-box gyms have a lot of moving parts with juice bars, tanning beds, child care and showers, but we focus on doing one thing and doing it better than the world," he says. "We try to be as lean and efficient as possible."
About 75 percent of the members are women.
"It surprised me when more females than males were attracted to it," Hudson says. "I think it is empowering for females to have an outlet where they can kick and punch."
9Round had 84 clubs in development last year and has about 150 in development this year.
"We want to continue to keep on climbing, and we're going to enjoy the climb," he says.
Forbes selected the Top 100 privately held companies on its annual listing based on revenue and employment growth, operating margins, product ideas, length of time of operation, management, capital raised and other factors.
Editor's Note: Along with 9Round, another fitness-related company also made the list: Big Ass Fans, which sells large fans to fitness facilities. To view the complete list, visit http://www.forbes.com/most-promising-companies/.