28 Nov 2022 World leisure: news, training & property
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Health Club Management
2022 issue 7

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Leisure Management - Shannon Hudson

HCM People

Shannon Hudson

“I wanted to bring real kickbox training to the average person in the most convenient format, while taking out the worst part – getting punched in the face!”

Hudson started 9Round with his wife in 2008 photo: 9round
9Round has over 600 locations in 20 countries photo: 9round
Hudson won the world kickboxing title photo: 9round
There are currently 11,000 members on the 9Round app photo: 9round
9Round’s screen technology was built in-house photo: 9round

What’s the elevator pitch?
9Round gives you an instructor-led, full-body circuit training workout designed by certified professionals. You’ll punch. You’ll kick. And you’ll sweat. Then you’ll walk away ready to tackle anything. 9Round makes members stronger in 30 minutes, physically and mentally.

What sets you apart?
It all starts with authenticity. I won a world title as a professional kickboxer and wanted to bring real kickbox training to the average person in the most convenient format, and of course to take out the worst part – getting punched in the face!

Convenience is our USP. Because of our circuit training format, there are no class times. Customers walk in, are greeted with their fighter name, get a killer session and are out the door in 30 minutes.

Who are the main people driving the business?
We have 52 head office employees all working with one purpose. To serve franchisees and help them win. Winning is having a profitable business that serves their communities. From our operations, legal, finance, distribution, marketing, video, IT, and workout team, they’re all vital ingredients for the 9Round world.

How did it all begin?
We were definitely one of the first specialised boutique studios. My wife and I started 9Round from basically nothing in 2008. We were cash-poor but passion-rich. We leased 1,100 sq ft space in Greenville, South Carolina, and couldn’t even afford a sign on the building, but after 30 days, we had almost 100 members and that’s when we knew we had a tiger by the tail. Here we are 14 years later, in 20 countries and 600 locations.

Did being an early mover have advantages?
Absolutely! No one had ever seen a workout format like it. It was unique and so effective that all of our member and franchise growth was organic from current happy members. Lord knows, we didn’t have an advertising budget at all. We couldn’t afford one.

What are the key lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Grit, determination, big dreams, trust your gut intuition and a never-give-up attitude are what makes it work.

How have you scaled the business?
If you don’t have brand standards, then you don’t have a franchise. We built this business by owning the supply chain too. Every punching bag, boxing glove and T-shirt we own and ship from our distribution centre. This puts us in complete control of quality of products, branding and what products are in the locations.

Are workouts standardised?
Yes, our workout programming team gives all locations the exact workout to give members for each day and the workouts change daily.

What shape would you say the business is in today?
We are very blessed to be in a very good position for the next 10 years. We’re very solvent cash-wise, as we’ve never had any debt whatsoever, and we pay our bills the moment they come in.

We’re also building a very talented field team to support our franchise owners. One of our goals is to get as much face-to-face time with our franchisees as possible. It’s all about building relationships and trust.

Lastly, we’re developing some really exciting technological innovations, such as an on-demand programme and in-studio screens to give members an even better experience while they exercise.

How has the pandemic been for you?
It sucked! I think personal service businesses such as hair care, nail salons, and gyms got hurt the most. But with crises comes innovation and creativity. Our team thrives on moving fast, being nimble, and trying new things. We love being pioneers and trailblazers.

To this day we’re still the largest unit-count kickboxing franchise chain in the world and have been for the past decade. There are a ton of companies that can be great for a year or two, but to do it for a decade is substantial. We’re very proud of that.

How many sites are open and what’s your pipeline?
We have 603 units open worldwide with over 400 of these being in the US. We’ll open 15-20 more sites this year.

What are your global plans?
As I mentioned before, we’re in 20 countries. One of our most successful regions is the Middle East and in particular the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). We have 40 units open in KSA. Japan is up to 10 locations and starting to move faster too.

We want to continue our international growth, as we believe that part of our operation can be bigger than our US business.

What proprietary systems form the foundation stones of the company?
We have a lot, including a patent on the bag-hanging device that holds our punching bags. We also have numerous word-mark and design-mark trademarks active and in use in all the countries around the world.
Our workout system, stations, and trade dress are also proprietary. We are especially proud of our in-studio screen technology which we built in-house. On top of that, we have a killer legal team that polices the IPs.

Who designs your workouts?
The original approach has come from me, but now we have an entire team that programmes the workouts.

Members of this team have all the letters after their names, from CPT (certified personal trainers), GFI (group fitness instructor) and kinesiology degrees, to CSCC (Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach). We even have a kickboxing course called Kickboxology that’s accredited by ACE, NASM, AFAA and others.

Tell us about your on-demand set-up
We have over 11,000 members on our 9RoundNow app. Our goal is to be at 15,000 by year-end.

We’re on all devices, including Roku, Apple, Android, Amazon Fire and more. We’re proud of this as we built an entire studio at our home office to film the content.

We add new content to this app each week and franchisees can upsell, down-sell and include this app with memberships – it’s been a great addition.

How are franchises funded?
Franchisees are individually owned and operated and many use the SBA [US Small Business Administration], while some leverage home equity or personal savings and others work with a rich relative. We also have several third-party vendors through which franchisees can get funding.

What services do you provide franchisees?
The home office’s job is to make it easier for the franchise owner to operate a successful business.

Because we own all distribution, franchisees have a one stop shop for kit, which is very helpful. They don’t have to wonder about quality, price, or customer service. It’s all vertically-integrated.

We also have an optional in-house digital marketing service they can tap into if they choose. Fitness fanatics usually aren’t very savvy with digital marketing so we provide a service that can help.

What tech are you using?
We just signed up to work with Glofox as exclusive International software partner. The initial agreement is for 20 markets, and this will expand to a further 15 markets in the next two to three years.

Glofox will deliver integrated payment processing, royalty collection and management, local operational support for franchisees and detailed single-source network-wide reporting.

Why is franchising such a good fit for the health and fitness sector?
All fitness brands have the same thing in common. We want to get people off the couch and living a healthier lifestyle. Franchising is a distribution model that allows local people in communities to own their own business. It’s a wonderful arrangement and very empowering.

Will you go beyond kickboxing?
This rolls into the next question as we absolutely love the health and wellness space and will continue building 9Round, but look out, as we have some surprises coming!

What’s the end game?
There’s really no end game. One day I may not be the day-to-day CEO, but we want to set 9Round up to live forever.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
Keep more money coming in than is going out and keep your credit clean. Simple but timeless.

Originally published in Health Club Management 2022 issue 7

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