Now Reading
CEO Corner: Verdine Baker on StretchLab’s Incredible Growth

CEO Corner: Verdine Baker on StretchLab’s Incredible Growth

StretchLab is one of Xponential’s most successful brands, with the assisted stretching provider already having opened over 350 studios

Around five years ago, Verdine Baker made the fateful decision to move his family – with a newborn daughter – from the San Francisco Bay Area down to Southern California to help grow a fledgling stretching concept with only three locations.

Today, StretchLab is one of Xponential Fitness’ biggest success stories. The assisted stretching provider has already opened over 350 studios across the U.S. and internationally, and it’s on pace to hit 400 by the end of this year.

“That seems like a big number, but it’s still not in the grand scheme of where we know we’re going to be in the next few years,” Baker, who took over as StretchLab president in 2022, tells Athletech News. 

StretchLab’s ultimate goal, Baker says, is to make heading to the stretching studio as commonly accepted and widely practiced as going to the chiropractor or getting a massage.

Baker spoke with ATN about why he decided to join StretchLab, how the brand has been able to grow so rapidly over the last few years and what Xponential does to set its franchisees up for success in the highly competitive boutique fitness space. 

The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Athletech News: Why did you decide to join StretchLab and what’s your journey been like in becoming president? 

Verdine Baker: Before joining StretchLab (in 2018), I’d been at Crunch Fitness for 10 years. I started out as a membership advisor and then grew within Crunch Fitness corporate in the San Francisco Bay Area. Most recently before I came to Xponential, I ran all of the Crunch corporate locations in the Bay Area as a district manager. 

Then Xponential came recruiting me. I wasn’t looking for any opportunities at the time, but the health and wellness industry is small, and I got a phone call that led to a conversation about StretchLab, and I was really intrigued by the concept. Having been an athlete – I played soccer growing up and had a ton of injuries –  I knew the benefits of this service. So I came down and visited one of the founding locations, in Santa Monica. I got a stretch and had this immediate aha moment where I thought, “I can sell this. I can build systems around selling this service.” The rest is history, I suppose. We moved our entire family from San Francisco to Southern California to start StretchLab, this little brand with three locations at the time.

I’ve been with StretchLab for the last five years now, really since the beginning when Xponential purchased the brand. I initially served as the national sales director for a couple of years, focusing on in-studio operations and getting studios open around the country. Then I became the vice president of sales and operations, which I did for a couple of years. When our previous president, Lou DeFrancisco, left to run BFT (Body Fit Training), the natural progression was for me to become president. I have a fantastic team, most of whom have been tenured with us since the beginning, and we’re continuing to add folks as we go. They make me look good.

ATN: Why has stretching proven to be so popular with consumers across the country?

VB: It’s one of those things that people know they should do – there’s so much history and science behind the benefits of stretching – but it’s been an afterthought in health and wellness routines. The staying power of the brand and this modality is the journey that every client goes through in being able to feel better from before they’re on the bench to after. There’s an immediate satisfaction you get after getting a stretch, but there’s also a long-lasting effect. Massage therapy is a fantastic modality, but a lot of our members will say, “I’ll get a message and I’ll feel good immediately after the massage, but a few days later I may not be getting the long-term effect.”

credit: Xponential Fitness

A common theme among the folks that come to StretchLab is that they’re educated around maintaining a health and wellness routine, or wanting to maintain one. For athletes, it may be for performance. For an active senior, it may be just for them to move better playing pickleball. But that highly educated consumer profile gives us the leverage that we need as a brand to keep this service in their health and wellness routine to where this modality becomes as widely accepted as any other. Our goal is to be the worldwide leader in this modality. For us, that means getting to where (stretching) is as synonymous and as accepted as physical therapy, massage therapy or chiropractic care.

ATN: How does StretchLab set its franchisees up for success?

VB: Part of the secret sauce of Xponential is being able to get our partners to open their doors already in the black, or as close to it as possible. If a studio opens well, it generally does well long term. We start our presale process quickly, so while a studio is getting built we’re able to generate memberships. That also means getting our franchisees prepared for presale. What we’re doing in our franchise training and general management training is less about trying to teach somebody a whole entire playbook, when they’re going to need a quarter of the playbook in the next three to six months. So it’s about adjusting how we’re coaching our franchisees to help them keep the main things the main things as far as executable items to be successful. 

A critical part of our business is being able to leverage digital advertising to acquire potential members, leads or prospects, whatever you want to call them. So we really focus on educating our partners about the benefits of starting digital advertising early, and then actively have them start that digital advertising so we can gather leads even before we can service them. We’ve seen a strong correlation between the number of leads that we have in presale and how strong the studio opens.

We’ve also added automation as part of our communication, so potential members are able to get the right information about who we are and what we do at StretchLab even before that franchise owner has labor that can execute those communications.

credit: Xponential Fitness

See Also
Brea Ballard, the new World Gym Marketing VP, smiling

ATN: What does StretchLab look for in franchisees?

VB: There are three concepts that our top performers exude in how they do business, and these are some of the characteristics we look for in our potential partners. 

The first one is, they have to be energized around the concept of what we’re doing. That energy or passion doesn’t necessarily have to be for stretching, or even health and wellness, but they have to be energized around the prospect of building a business or being part of a community that’s building something special. Whether their motivation is to build employment opportunities in their community or have a business that actually helps people, it has to be about more than just the unit economics on some level.  

The second thing is having the ability to follow systems. That’s what franchising is all about, really. We’ve put out all the resources to figure out how this works. In a sense, we’ve spent all the money so that our franchise partners don’t have to. If you’ve managed projects, if you’ve managed different systems from start to finish, those kinds of things really help a franchisee understand that there’s a process and a system, and you just need to be able to execute it. 

credit: Xponential Fitness

The third and last piece is leadership, being able to be a leader in your organization. We’re going to give you a playbook and we’re also going to give you people, real industry experts, who are going to help you every step of the way, but you have to execute as a franchise partner. I can’t have my vice president of sales and operations come out and sell memberships for a partner long term or my vice president of training and experience come out and stretch somebody long term. Our partners have to be able to set the right expectations and hold their teams accountable. It’s about building the right culture. Can they make themselves attractive as an employer? Can they lead? 

ATN: What trends and opportunities are you noticing in the boutique fitness space?

VB: What’s been really exciting for us here at Xponential is seeing the different ways our consumers are interacting with our brands. Consumers today are looking for an omnichannel experience. Our consumers are looking at boutique fitness as more than just fitness, they’re looking at it as mental health, as entertainment and as community. I think that’s only going to grow. That’s why boutique fitness will always have a space.

At StretchLab, we offer some solutions beyond just what we do in the studio and on the bench. Trying to meet our members where they want to be met continues to be our mission. 

Scroll To Top