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How the Top Crunch Fitness Franchisee Uses Group Fitness To Fuel Expansion

How the Top Crunch Fitness Franchisee Uses Group Fitness To Fuel Expansion

CR Fitness plays a leading role in Crunch’s overall group fitness push, even test-running new class concepts for its corporate parent

CR Fitness Holdings, a leading Crunch Fitness franchisee, has been on an expansion tear as of late, recently surpassing the 50 location mark as it eyes 100 clubs by 2026. 

A key reason for the Crunch franchisee’s success is its commitment to offering a broad range of high-quality group fitness classes specifically tailored to the member profiles of its individual club locations in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas.

Alyssa D’Aquino, vice president of group fitness at CR Fitness Holdings, tells Athletech News that when CR is opening new franchise locations, it makes group fitness a priority.

“We make sure we open a club with at least 55 to 60 classes and work from there,” D’Aquino says. “Our really strong clubs at the moment have over 100 classes a week.”

Group fitness is “a huge part of the presale process” when CR is opening new clubs, D’Aquino notes. That includes surveying new members on their preferences in terms of class types and scheduling, as well as educating them on Crunch programming. 

By the time a CR Fitness-owned Crunch club opens, D’Aquino and her team have a strong idea of the types of classes they should offer and with what frequency, based on the feedback they get from the location’s first batch of members.  

“Right off the bat, we’re able to come in without having to just throw things up in the air and see if they stick,” she says. 

Part of CR’s commitment to group fitness stems from the larger Crunch Fitness brand, which offers over 100 class formats spanning just about every modality a member could want, including many proprietary formats and partnerships with top brands including Zumba. At the corporate level, Crunch adds around 10-12 new classes each year so things don’t get stale for members at its 400-plus locations

“We always say at Crunch that we want it to be members’ one-stop shop, for them not to feel like they have to go to multiple studios or different gyms,” D’Aquino says. “When they come here, they have a spin studio, boxing, hot yoga, fitness-style classes, bootcamp, it’s all in one. And we offer it all for a ridiculously low price.”

credit: Crunch Fitness

But CR Fitness takes things a step further. Most franchisees don’t have the operational expertise and financial resources of the Brandon, Florida-based company, which has investment from North Castle Partners, a private equity firm whose health, fitness and wellness portfolio includes brands like Equinox, Barry’s and Therabody.

“We’re not afraid to take risks,” D’Aquino says. “If it’s something new, we are the first franchise to go ahead and test-run it. We were actually the ones pushing for boxing to become a part of the Crunch umbrella.”

Last fall, CR Fitness helped Crunch officially launch its boxing classes, which have become popular amid the rising popularity of strength training

The team at CR Fitness also places a high emphasis on the way it designs its group fitness spaces. That includes deviating from the corporate Crunch playbook at times.

Around a year ago, CR Fitness realized that Crunch’s HIIT Zone, the brand’s signature functional training area, which is typically found in an open layout in the middle of the main gym floor, would be better off in an enclosed space to give it a studio-like feel and encourage more people to take classes. 

“Having it out on the floor is great because it draws a lot of attention, but we were also getting the opposite, having members complain,” D’Aquino says. “It’s tough to put on a class in the middle of a club.”

The move paid off and now CR Fitness uses the walled-off design concept at most of the new clubs it opens.

credit: North Castle Partners/CR Fitness

Trends in Group Fitness

In terms of which group fitness classes and exercise modalities are popular with Crunch members right now, it’s mostly a matter of broader fitness industry trends, according to the CR Fitness executive. 

While it differs slightly on a club-by-club basis, D’Aquino says that at the macro level, across all CR Fitness clubs, the most popular classes right now include strength-based classes, Pilates and boxing. HIIT training remains as popular as ever, but the focus has shifted to Crunch’s more strength-focused classes as opposed to cardio-heavy offerings. 

Pilates has surged in popularity just over the last few months, D’Aquino has noticed, a trend she puts down in part to preferences among fitness influencers, who have been honing in on things like core strength. 

“Everything is so tied into social media,” D’Aquino says. “I teach my group fitness managers to stay on trend and see what influencers are posting. Not that we’re going to base our entire business (off that), but that’s how the world is right now.”

On the other end of the spectrum, cycling has fallen from its pandemic-era height of popularity, although there are still some individual CR Fitness locations where Ride, Crunch’s spin class, is still the most popular group fitness class. 

D’Aquino is quick to point out the cyclical nature of trends in the fitness industry, so the popular group fitness modalities of today might not stay on top for long, and vice-versa. 

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“I always say the fitness industry is a trend, it’s like this constant wheel of things that become trending and then trend back down, so it all comes back around,” she says.

There are some classes – and brands – that stand the test of time, however. 

“Zumba is always among those classes that perform very well,” D’Aquino says. “We know if we throw Zumba on the schedule, it’s going to (get people interested in) everything else that we have.”

Group Fitness Rebounds From the Pandemic

Echoing the findings from others in the group fitness space, D’Aquino says consumer demand for in-person classes has mostly returned to pre-pandemic levels across CR Fitness clubs, although it took a little while for things to get back to normal. 

credit: Crunch Fitness

“I would say this past January was the first time (since the pandemic) where we had a true January,” D’Aquino said, referring to what is typically the busiest month for buying gym memberships.

However, as with modality preferences, things can vary on a club-by-club basis. 

“Our club in South Tampa, for example, their group fitness never really popped right back off, but their HIIT Zone was so strong, so we made sure we capitalized on that area and gave them a bit more customized formatting,” D’Aquino says. “Now they’re doing better than ever.” 

That showcases CR Fitness’ approach of analyzing and understanding each club for its unique features, including member demographics, and creating group fitness programming that will do best at that location.

At each club, D’Aquino and her team set out to create a unique and thoughtfully designed group fitness schedule, matching classes with what will give that club’s members the best experience. It’s a complex logistical undertaking, but one that pays off with increased member engagement and time spent in-club.

“It’s like creating a puzzle and being very systematic on when you run certain classes, making sure they don’t battle against each other and creating a flow of classes we want the member to take,” she explains. “Maybe they’re going to do a fitness-style class into a spin class into a yoga class. It all matches up, so they’re there for two to three hours instead of just coming in and going out.”

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