Orangetheory Fitness founder opening hundreds of new gyms nationally

Dave Long’s timing might have been better. The entrepreneur launched his fitness concept during the depths of the Great Recession, and his comparatively steep prices seemed out of step with the frugal mood of the times.

“Pretty much everybody thought it was a horrible idea,” recalled Long, head of Boca Raton-based Orangetheory Fitness. “We were selling primarily $99 and $159 memberships. People who didn’t understand what we did were comparing us to Planet Fitness for $10 or $20 a month.”

Seven years later, Orangetheory Fitness is a bona fide hit. The company has sold 850 franchises nationwide and boasts 140 employees at its Boca headquarters.

Orangetheory landed on the Inc. 500 list of the nation’s fastest-growing privately held ventures for three years in a row before falling to number 926 in 2017. Orangetheory’s annual revenue of $40.7 million in 2016 means it’s hard for the company to sustain its fast path of growth.

Exercising at Orangetheory means donning a heart-rate monitor, then embarking on a workout that includes intense bursts of activity on treadmills and rowing machines. The goal? Pushing your heart rate to the “orange zone,” or about 83 percent of maximum effort.

The science behind the workouts helps Orangetheory justify its monthly fees.

“If there’s value in the product, people are willing to pay for it,” Long said.

While prices vary by region, monthly fees at the South Florida gyms range from $59 for one workout a week to $169 for unlimited sessions.

As Orangetheory expands, Long said he finds plenty of demand for memberships and franchises. But one challenge is finding spaces that fit its 3,000-square-foot format.

Orangetheory scooped up a number of empty Blockbuster Video locations, but now that those spaces have disappeared, the company is scouring shopping centers for space. In some cases, tenants such as LA Fitness have the power to block Orangetheory from taking neighboring spots.

Before launching Orangetheory, Long was an executive at Massage Envy while it added hundreds of locations. Later, he worked as a consultant to European Wax Center, an expansion-minded chain of salons.

A University of Florida graduate, Long achieved a longtime goal of landing on the top spot on the Gator100, the list of fastest-growing businesses run by UF alumni. The orange in Orangetheory is unrelated to his alma mater’s color scheme. Long said he was looking for a catchy color to build a brand around.

Long started the company in Fort Lauderdale, and in 2016 he moved his headquarters to Boca Raton. A self-described fitness junkie, Long has equipped Orangetheory’s main office with an employee gym, along with a yoga studio and nap pods.

Hometown: I grew up in Spring Hill, north of Tampa. Now I live in Delray Beach.

First job: For the summer before I turned 16, I started a residential window-washing company with two other guys. We charged $40 to $75 per house. We learned how hard it is to do outside sales. We didn’t have a real scalable business model. Once we went through the customer base that saw value in our business, we were out of customers. After I turned 16, I started working at a grocery store. I’d been hanging out at a General Nutrition Center, and I bugged the guy there until he hired me. That job was more in line with my passion.

Best business advice you’ve received: Be relentless. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. By really sticking with it, you can accomplish a lot.

Best business book you’ve read: The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. It sounds like it runs counter to the idea of working hard, but it’s really about strategy, about getting results and thinking differently. For so many people who become successful, success comes with just an endless rat race of work and email. One of the big things is really managing your email, instead of letting your email manage you. That’s something we really stress here at our headquarters — getting off the hamster wheel. I’ve improved, but I was a real slave to email for a while.

Biggest business challenge: There’s a whole bunch of things going right. We’ve got so much growth going on that the biggest challenge is being able to find the right talent in areas like technology. And right now, we’re looking for 500 new locations for studios. There’s just a lack of space in the shopping centers where we want to be. So real estate is our other big challenge.

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