Blink Fitness Has Its Eye on New Orleans
NEW ORLEANS – Since 2011, Blink Fitness gyms have earned a loyal following thanks to a combination of high-end feel and very low monthly membership fees (like $15 low …). Even the news that Blink Fitness owner Stephen Ross is a major Trump donor wasn’t enough to dissuade many New Yorkers from making it their workout spot of choice over the last few years. Especially when the alternatives include Equinox Luxury Fitness Club, a corporate cousin of Blink that charges an initiation fee and monthly dues in the hundreds.
There are currently 96 corporate Blink locations around the country plus an additional 11 franchises. The company, however, is planning an ambitious expansion that could result in many more franchise locations opening soon. As part of that effort, Blink is talking to potential partners about opening several locations in south Louisiana.
The company estimates that four possible New Orleans-area locations could employ up to 100 people and fill about 60,000 square feet of retail space. They expect an investment of about $7 million. Site selection and a review of potential franchisees are already underway.
“We would sell the full territory so someone would purchase all of New Orleans or potentially New Orleans and Baton Rouge,” said Patti Rother, Blink’s director of franchise development. “We do have some franchisees that we’re speaking to about the opportunity. We do a lot of research on certain territories and find what we think are the best and then spend our time focusing on those and finding the right people to develop with us in those markets. New Orleans is one that we think offers a really great opportunity.”
Rother said she hopes to finish the franchisee search and begin building out the locations before the end of 2020.
“We love going into underserved markets, neighborhoods that haven’t had an opportunity for affordable fitness that’s also high quality,” she said. “That’s been our bread and butter. We truly are a disrupter in the segment. We really wanted to challenge the paradigm that you just get what you pay for and instead create a really incredible member experience in the high value, low cost segment.”
To keep costs down, Blink looks for “second generation” retail space (a commercial building left behind by a former business) in “under-served” areas. In New Orleans, Blink is setting its sights on New Orleans East, the West Bank, Metairie/Kenner and Mid-City.
“The last time I was there I saw that there were quite a few locations that would fit the bill for us,” she said. “It might be some of the big box stores that are downsizing or rightsizing their locations or it could be pharmacies that have gone out of business but specifically have the right size box for us so we’re not building anything from the ground up.”
Rother said their target is a space of about 15,000 square feet – typically one story in the suburban markets.
“In some urban areas like New York or Chicago we do have multi-level gyms. We can get pretty scrappy and creative with our designs,” she said. “We need just about the size of a Walgreen’s or CVS, the junior anchor in a strip center. Not the main anchor box.”
Rother said Blink wants to maintain many company-owned locations but knows that franchising is the key to quick growth.
“When we really need to gain market share more quickly, we know that the best way to do that is to partner with franchisees and specifically franchisees who know these markets incredibly well,” she said. “Coming into a new market and hiring people, there’s still quite a huge learning curve. You’re trying to understand the nuances of a community, and so we found partnering with franchisees born and raised in New Orleans really gives them a leg up and allows them to be successful in a market.”