Florida Woman’s Fitness Business Explodes

By Miriam Valverde
Sun Sentinel

Ellen Latham admits to being a product of that cute-leg-warmer, Jane-Fonda-Workout era of days gone by.

So when the time came a few years ago to add more demanding sessions beyond pilates and yoga at her small Davie gym, she crossed the country meeting with fitness professionals to design the perfect intense workout.

Now she’s crossing the country again, this time with her Orangetheory Fitness franchises. Her science-based workout plan has become so popular that it’s now the foundation at nearly 80 Orangetheory studios nationwide, with another 150 franchise agreements already in place, including some in Canada and England.

From small things, big things come.

“I said, ‘God, I hope someone comes,'” the 57-year-old physiologist recalls of the beginning of her journey, when she spent $85,000 on treadmills, rowing machines and weights for her original Ellen’s Ultimate Workout gym in Davie.
And they did.

“They saw changes in their body quickly,” Latham said. “All of a sudden, it became Grand Central Station.”

Latham took her concept and opened the first Orangetheory studio in 2010 at the Harbor Shops in Fort Lauderdale, one block south of the 17th Street Causeway.

Now, South Florida is home to about 20 studios, including eight in Broward County and six in Palm Beach County. The workouts are organized and specific — and in high demand, with waiting lists for some classes.

“It’s individualized workout in a group setting,” said Latham, one of the four partners at Orangetheory Fitness. “That’s why it’s exploding in the U.S. and internationally.”

Franchise ownership is in demand, too.

The rapid growth of Orangetheory started when Latham turned to Dave Long and Jerome Kern at Ascente Group, brand consultants and experienced franchising professionals.

Long had served as vice president of operations at Massage Envy, growing the brand from 20 stores to 800. Long and Kern also expanded European Wax Center from five to 200 locations nationwide.

“We decided to come together and see if we could franchise the next big thing in the fitness business,” Latham said. Another partner and entrepreneur, Dave Hardy, soon joined the team to expand the concept to Canada.

Unlike big-box gyms where members often walk in anytime and exercise as they please, classes at Orangetheory are scheduled and typically have 24 people per session. Coaches divide the group in two.

While a dozen work on building endurance on the treadmills — pushing themselves to exercise at or above 84 percent of their maximum heart rate for up to 20 minutes of the hour-long workout — the others are pushing just as hard lifting weights or working on rowing machines.

Members track their heart rate on flat screens mounted on walls. Coaches also monitor the screens to ensure members are not overexerting themselves, as newcomers often do, Latham said.

Jeff Fleming of Fort Lauderdale says the fat-burning training sessions at Orangetheory have worked for him. He now feels stronger when he’s out paddleboarding or biking and isn’t fatigued throughout the day, he said.

“It’s a very, very efficient one hour,” said Fleming, who’s been going to an Orangetheory studio for six months. “You are going all the time. There’s no stopping.”

The 52-year-old likes the group training atmosphere, too. It keeps him focused and competitive, he said.

“You don’t want to be there slacking when someone next to you keeps moving,” Fleming said.

Pinecrest resident Mike Singer says he used to drive about an hour to go to an Orangetheory studio in Pembroke Pines.
He loved it so much he went from client to franchisee. He now owns two, one in Pinecrest and another in Coral Gables.

“When we first saw the concept, we couldn’t sleep for a while,” Singer said. “My wife and I decided that if we didn’t [buy a franchise], we would certainly regret it.”

About 250 people go to each of his studios daily, he said. It took about six months for the 16-month old Pinecrest studio to reach full capacity. His Coral Gables locale, only three weeks old, already has a waiting list for some classes, he said.

Each Orangetheory site has been a $300,000 to $400,000 investment, according to Singer. That includes the buying of equipment and studio build-out, he said, plus a one-time $29,500 franchise fee. Six percent of annual gross revenues go back to corporate, which provides marketing, training and other support, Singer said.

He is confident in Orangetheory’s potential.

“It’s all of the components of fitness done the right way,” said Singer, who has more than 20 years of experience owning and operating other small fitness clubs. “It’s high-tech, science and innovation presented extremely well. This is not a fad.”

The health club industry is in something of a boom time. Total U.S. industry revenue was estimated at $21.8 billion in 2012, the latest year available for data, and the number of clubs nationwide has grown 14 percent since 2005, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association, a trade group serving the health and fitness club industry.

Fitness offerings are wide-ranging, but Latham, who lives in Davie, is very happy with her niche in the field.

“Zumba is the queen of dance fitness,” she said. “In functional training, there’s CrossFit, us and bootcamps.”

Orangetheory is intense, but not over-the-top hard core, Latham said.

“We are more for the average American looking for endurance training and power,” she said. “Not everyone wants to be flipping tires.”

What: Orangetheory Fitness
Partners: Ellen Latham, Jerome Kern, David Long, Dave Hardy
Headquarters: 1815 Cordova Road, Ft. Lauderdale
Franchises: 78 open, 154 others awarded awaiting openings
Locations: U.S., Canada, London
Studios: About 3,000 square feet, about 10 employees per location, 8 in Broward County, 6 in Palm Beach County
Workout: Treadmill interval training, indoor rowing and weight training
Monthly membership fees: Orange Basic $59; Orange Elite $99; Orange Premier $159
More information: 954-530-6903,

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