BODY20 already has nearly 300 franchise locations sold as business owners and fitness enthusiasts take to the benefits of electrical-muscle stimulation workouts
When Christopher Pena got started with BODY20 back in 2017, electrical-muscle stimulation (EMS) workouts weren’t popular in the United States. In fact, the concept of EMS itself wasn’t well known in America outside of a select few in the medical community and a handful of hardcore fitness enthusiasts and brave entrepreneurs.
By the summer of 2023, BODY20 celebrated the opening of its 30th EMS fitness studio, with just under 300 franchise locations sold and more in the pipeline. The vast majority of that growth has happened over less than two years.
“We just started scaling the brand,” Pena, BODY20’s president, says of the expansion.
The fast-growing boutique fitness concept puts members through 20-minute long workouts while wearing an FDA-cleared EMS suit. EMS works by using electrical stimulation to create frequent muscle contractions, mimicking the natural action potentials your body sends to your muscles to tell them to move. Essentially, BODY20 takes your brain out of working out.
The whole-body EMS technology used by BODY20 produces over 150 times more muscle contractions than a conventional workout. That allows users to build muscle and burn calories in a fraction of the time, all while promoting better recovery through increased blood flow and other advantageous physiological responses.
“It’s biohacking you and your body,” Pena says. “That’s where we get our tagline, ‘Every.Body.Unleashed.’”
During a typical BODY20 workout, members perform compound strength-training movements like squats, without weights, while wearing an EMS suit. BODY20 offers some cardio as well, but it’s primarily designed to replace lifting weights, not your weekly spin class.
Among several benefits, BODY20’s whole-body EMS workouts are designed to increase blood flow and circulation in the lymphatic system. That helps you recover quicker from the body’s natural inflammatory response to strength training. Whole-body EMS has also been shown to increase the amount of testosterone and human growth hormone (HGH) your body produces in response to strength training, which has muscle growth and recovery benefits.
Persistence Is Key to Growth
If BODY20 today stands as a pioneer in the burgeoning EMS space – the fitness concept was listed on Entrepreneur Magazine’s Top New and Emerging Franchises list – it wasn’t always smooth sailing for the franchisor.
In the years between his first foray into EMS workouts and BODY20’s current status as a leader in the modality, Pena and the BODY20 team have been hard at work building a business infrastructure from the ground up to support its growing list of franchisees.
That started with Gregory Breitbart buying out Pena’s original partners and becoming BODY20’s CEO in 2019. Pena and Breitbart knew it was important to start slowly and methodically, putting the right procedures in place and hiring the people that would position BODY20 for the explosive growth it’s now enjoying.
“Using the skyscraper analogy – we dug down first,” Pena says. “Greg and I have always had the idea that we should be over-prepared for scaling this brand.
Despite the careful approach, BODY20 proved to be a hit with franchisees faster than either Pena or Breitbart expected, with prospective partners from around the country lining up to get in on the recovery and muscle-building benefits of EMS.
The brand experienced some early growing pains, but the BODY20 team stayed the course, and to great effect. BODY20 ranked as the 292nd fastest-growing private brand in the U.S. on the prestigious Inc. 5000 list for 2023, better than any other franchisor in all industries, not just fitness.
“The first few years were tough, and we had just about everything thrown at us, including a once-in-a-100-year global pandemic, which surprisingly was probably our easiest challenge,” Breitbart has said of scaling the brand. “We didn’t have overnight success, but our patience and determination to do things the right way, even if it meant going slower, ultimately paid off.”
Pena and Breitbart stuck by their original plan of building a solid base before focusing on growth. BODY20 recently appointed Lisa Donohue as its Chief Marketing & Experience officer and has hired several other fitness and franchising industry vets.
“We were really focused on getting the right executive team in place,” Pena says of the additions. “We’ve hired people who understand not just fitness but how to work with franchisees, because franchising is a very specific industry.”
The Future Is Bright
Fast forward to 2023, and BODY20 is all-in on growth, looking to continue to sell franchise licenses across the country and support its existing franchisees with best-in-class resources.
Expect to see more BODY20 studios pop up in spots around the country soon. The EMS brand is on pace to have 100 locations open by the end of the first quarter of 2024, with specific plans to expand or increase its presence in locations including New York, Chicago, Seattle and throughout California.
While BODY20’s core customer base is approximately 70% women – the average member is a 40-plus-year-old female – EMS training is proving popular with people of all genders, ages and fitness levels.
“We walked into our studio in Boca Raton one day, and there was an NFL pro athlete training next to a 92-year-old woman, and they’re getting the exact same workout, doing the exact same movements,” Pena notes. “Where else can you find that?”
What Franchisees Should Know
As it continues to expand, BODY20 is looking for franchisees with strong business management experience. Having a strong sales background is also a plus for potential franchisees.
“Ultimately, fitness will always be a sales business,” Pena says. “You’ll always have turnover and you’ll always have to generate more membership.”
Franchisees who join the BODY20 family can expect support from a corporate team that has created a system, or “playbook,” it knows will help business owners grow their EMS studios.
The BODY20 team is constantly working the numbers to give franchise owners helpful business insights based on data. Pena shares the example of he and his team pouring over KPIs in a recent quarter to figure out what top-selling franchisees did better than their lower-selling counterparts. While most would assume the top-selling studios were simply better at closing deals, Pena said the numbers told a different story: the best and worst-performing studios during that quarter had a less than 2% difference in their closing ratio, but their difference in following up with leads was 20%. It wasn’t that the higher-performing studios were naturally better at selling, they were just more persistent.
“When you’re a franchisor, you have a responsibility to not make things arbitrary or emotional,” Pena says of BODY20’s numbers-first approach. “If you’re a franchisee at BODY20, you’ll find that we focus heavily on providing proof first.”
That said, the BODY20 team is more than willing to listen – and take action – to help franchisees who need it, especially when pain points or weaknesses in the current system are brought to light.
“If you’re following our playbook completely and you come to us and say something doesn’t work, we have more time, effort and resources to throw at that problem than you do, and we’re going to,” Pena says. “Chances are if you’re in Sacramento and something doesn’t work, there’s a place in New Hampshire that’s going to run into the same problem, so we need to figure it out.”