The Portland, Oregon-based functional fitness concept takes a unique approach to personal training and the business of franchising
It’s hard to stand out in the crowded boutique fitness space, but every once in a while, a new brand comes along that truly challenges the status quo.
Fulcrum Fitness, a community-oriented functional fitness concept based in Portland, Oregon, separates itself from the pack in two ways: a unique approach to personal training as well as how it’s building its brand through a combination of traditional franchising and licensing its model to other gyms.
David Levy, a teenage bodybuilding champion turned personal trainer and rehab specialist, created Fulcrum back in 2008 to improve on what he saw as a shortcoming in his preferred functional fitness method at the time, CrossFit.
“I loved the energy and the community but not the injuries I got, so I knew I had to create something that everyone could actually do for life,” Levy explains. “All that went into a blender and voila, Fulcrum Fitness was born.”
Fulcrum describes its approach to functional training as “a comprehensive fitness method for all levels and all body types.” While specific movements vary depending on the fitness coach designing the program, a Fulcrum workout includes some combination of strength, conditioning and high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Fulcrum workouts feature full-body movements like calisthenics, dumbbell, barbell and kettlebell exercises, and movements performed using functional equipment such as battle ropes, plyometric boxes and medicine balls.
Fulcrum workouts are meant to be challenging but they’re also designed to help people progress safely under the careful supervision of expert coaches.
“Our focus is creating optimal health, which means meeting people of all backgrounds and fitness levels exactly where they are and giving them what they need,” Levy explains. “This focus positions us well to serve a more mature demographic (educated 30-65 years old looking for long-term fitness benefits) compared to other, more hardcore brands. We end up serving a lot of people who got hurt doing other things.”
The Future of Personal Training
The Fulcrum method is built around the brand’s unique approach to personal training. Fulcrum’s approach solves what Levy sees as fundamental flaws in the two dominant personal training business models currently used at most gyms and studios.
Under the “legacy training model,” as Levy puts it, gyms rely on personal trainers to build their own books of business. That’s great for the gym, until a top trainer leaves (to join a competing club or start their own business) and takes their entire client list with them out the door, depriving the gym owner of once steady-flowing revenue.
“On the flip side, you have boutiques which want to retain great talent but often use a cookie cutter model of pre-programmed workouts,” Levy says of the other model.
Fulcrum coaches are encouraged to bring their own knowledge and personality to training clients and designing programs, but they do so within the larger system of the Fulcrum method. That’s a win-win for FitPros since it allows them to do what they’re passionate about while at the same time getting help from an established brand.
“Talented coaches are gratified through creative expression and like to be recognized for it,” Levy says. “The Fulcrum method balances the creativity of expert coaches with the scalability of a system, which they have a part in the evolution of.”
Fulcrum offers three types of training sessions: one-on-one personal training, small group training of up to four clients and team training featuring groups of up to 20 people. The difference between a Fulcrum team training session and the typical boutique group fitness class, Levy says, is that Fulcrum trainers are dedicated to actually teaching rather than serving as eye candy.
“We’re in the middle of what happens when you either stick a bunch of personal trainers in a room and say, ‘you’re certified, go build your own little business,’ and something like the more cookie-cutter (group) workouts you get where the coaches are basically cheerleaders encouraging people to watch screens,” Levy says of what makes Fulcrum different.
Functional Fitness for Everyone
Another way Fulcrum is changing the personal training game is through its philanthropy foundation, which creates fitness coaching mentorship and internship opportunities for young people from less-advantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.
The foundation harkens back to one of Levy’s reasons for creating Fulcrum in the first place – to democratize access to high-quality personal training for functional fitness.
“There are droves of people out there who either don’t know about functional fitness or who think it’s just not for them because of how they look or how much money they have,” the Fulcrum founder says. “The foundation provides a way to reach out to those communities by inviting youth into the gyms to experience functional training but even more importantly, to show them a path to a career in fitness and a future in business ownership they never dreamed possible.”
Graduates of the foundation are encouraged to become Fulcrum coaches and even become franchise owners one day.
An Innovative Approach to Franchise Growth
Fulcrum is gearing up to rapidly expand beyond its Portland roots, and it’s doing so in two ways. First, prospective partners can franchise their own individual Fulcrum studio for an initial investment of between $172,000 and $350,000 plus a $50,000 franchise fee, which are modest entry costs compared to most fitness studios.
“We come in at around half the cost of competing brands and are offering generous incentives as we ramp up the program,” Levy notes.
Aside from Fulcrum’s unique take on personal training, Levy says a key selling point of the business is that franchisees have significant flexibility in how they choose to build and position their Fulcrum studio.
“We have a modular system that allows for add-ons like a wellness or recovery suite, along with the ability to be adapted to a variety of different environments, from bare-bones industrial spaces to existing gyms looking for the next upgrade,” he notes.
In addition to its traditional franchising efforts, Fulcrum offers an “in club” program that essentially allows established fitness brands to open a Fulcrum studio within their existing facility.
Levy says that for big box gyms, installing a Fulcrum training suite can give them an in-house boutique fitness experience that rivals smaller, more intimate studios. With Fulcrum, large gyms can better engage “sleeping members,” or those people who sign up for a membership but don’t come to the gym often or purchase any additional services.
“Installing a Fulcrum training suite adds another touch point for marketing for clubs,” Levy explains. “It’s like an amenity, so immediately you open up the possibility for upsells with a 50% profit margin depending on the operation.”
As Fulcrum looks to expand, the hottest areas for the functional fitness brand right now in terms of franchise interest are from states in the West and Southwest regions of the U.S. Fulcrum is also looking to open a corporate location in Honolulu in 2024 and is in ongoing talks about potentially expanding Asia.
Levy is understandably optimistic about Fulcrum’s growth potential, but he doesn’t want to lose sight of why he created the brand in the first place as it grows.
“My biggest fear is being acquired by a firm that ends up corrupting the brand down the road,” he says.