The New York City-based boutique fitness brand, known for its high-energy mash-up of dance cardio and interval training, has just entered into a franchise partnership with Xponential Fitness, the wellness-focused offshoot of private equity firm TPG. This link-up will allow AKT to expand in a major way, and fast.
How fast? Well, according to Xponential CEO Anthony Geisler, 15 to 20 locations are expected to open in the next 12 months; in 2019, around 100 to 150 new AKT studios are projected to debut. He's not yet able to say where, except that the West Coast will be involved. But chances are that every major city (and a lot of not-so-major ones) will be home to an AKT studio at some point in the future. For an idea of the scale that’s possible, you need only look at Club Pilates—another member of the Xponential portfolio along with CycleBar, StretchLab, and Row House—which currently has 352 active studios and over 200 more scheduled to open this year.
According to Kaiser, going the franchise route (something Well+Good called as a major trend in 2017) isn't something she took lightly. “This was an opportunity that I spent much of the past year considering,” the celebrity trainer tells me, fresh off of a training session in Spain with longtime client Shakira. “While I was very hesitant when the term ‘franchise’ was originally brought to the conversation, I have come to realize how incredibly different this concept is. This is a sophisticated franchising opportunity that will allow AKT to maintain the luxury experience of the brand with partners who, as a team, control and have grown most of the fitness franchises in the US. When combined, we will create a franchising powerhouse that has never before been realized.”
"This is a sophisticated opportunity that will allow AKT to maintain the luxury experience of the brand with partners who, as a team, control and have grown most of the fitness franchises in the US." —Anna Kaiser
Thanks to Xponential’s existing network of real estate contacts, franchise owners, and studio-goers, the growth process is primed to be a cinch. All new studios will have the same look and vibe as the four existing locations in New York City, the Hamptons, and Connecticut. Kaiser will remain in charge of that quartet, while continuing to oversee the brand’s creative direction and personally leading the instructor certification program in each new city it enters. (Not to mention she’ll still be training private clients, teaching group classes in studio and online, leading retreats and workshops, working on a beauty collaboration, evolving AKT’s retail offerings—aren't you exhausted just thinking about it?) “I’m very involved with the overall expansion, and I think that role will continue to grow as we expand,” she says.
Her involvement is crucial to AKT’s next phase—after all, there’s a reason why no other luxury dance cardio brand has expanded in such a big way up until now, despite the genre’s popularity. “I think why people have shied away from [scaling a boutique dance fitness experience] is that there’s so much room for interpretation. Quality control is hard because every instructor is different,” she says. “But it’s possible to scale AKT much more easily [because] I’m curating all the material, from minute one to minute 60. So any of the classes you visit in any of these cities will be exactly the same.”
It’s a turning point for dance cardio, to be sure, and also for the boutique fitness world as a whole. While brands like SoulCycle, Flywheel, and Barry’s Bootcamp may get all of the attention on the coasts, their footprints are relatively tiny compared to franchises like Orangetheory (which has awarded over 1,000 licenses globally), Pure Barre (nearly 500 locations around the country), and Club Pilates. Now that the number of new studio modalities seems to be slowing—and some once-promising spots have closed altogether—could franchising be the key to continued growth for the breakout stars of the early 2010’s, many of which are facing increased competition from at-home streaming services?
Kaiser seems to think so. “Right now, fitness is scale,” she says. “It’s about experience. And as I mentioned at the Well+Good TALKS panel, it is about offering that experience live. This partnership provides an incredible opportunity for us to forge forward to become the largest female-driven dance concept in the nation and lead the charge in the future of fitness.” Kinda makes you want to bust out Kaiser's signature Turn and Party move, doesn't it?
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