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Sarah Luna, the newly-appointed president of Xponential Fitness, is one of the youngest ever executives for a global fitness brand at just 34 years old. How did she achieve it? Through hard work, determination, and one fateful Pilates class.
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Interview by Kieran McLoone, deputy editor for Global Franchise
“I never thought that I would end up in the position that I am today,” says Sarah Luna, the newly appointed president of health and wellbeing parent company, Xponential Fitness.
And at 34 years old, who can blame her? Many entrepreneurs can spend years trying to find their calling, and cycle through a multitude of roles before the right position comes along. For Luna, however, fitness franchising wasn’t just a possibility; it ran through her veins.
“I started dancing at the age of three and had a professional career. I then eventually entered the world of Pilates in college, but before that, my mom was a Jazzercise franchisee and my dad was an independent small business owner,” explains Luna. “From a young age, I was able to see the stark contrast between being the owner of your own destiny, but with the support system of a franchising model, versus doing it as a smaller mom-and-pop.”
Luna doesn’t look back on either of these potential avenues with judgement, but knew from the very start that the business-in-a-box format that her mom was able to harness was more appealing than the challenges of the independent journey walked by her dad.
“That was always very attractive to me; to see that there were opportunities to be your own business leader, but do it with the support system that comes with a franchise model.”
From Equinox to Xponential
Luna’s pathway toward becoming one of the youngest female presidents of an international parent company began in 2015 when she had a fateful meeting with Anthony Geisler, the founder and CEO of Xponential Fitness. Having worked as a Pilates coordinator for luxury fitness brand Equinox since 2013, she knew that she wanted to be a part of this new adventure from the moment the opportunity arose.
“I was teaching at Equinox, and Anthony was a member,” explains Luna. “He was investigating Club Pilates at the time and wanted to make sure that he actually liked it as a concept before acquiring this brand. It just so happened that it was his birthday, so I invited him to a birthday Pilates session.”
That session was the start of something special. Not only did Geisler hop on board the Pilates train, but he wanted Luna to join him as national sales director for the Club Pilates brand. For somebody in their late-twenties with extensive Pilates and dance training, opportunities like that don’t come along often.
“For me, as a classically-trained Pilates instructor, I wanted to get on board and have a hand in what Club Pilates would look like,” says Luna. “I knew this was going to disrupt a very fragmented industry, and it was going to provide a distribution channel for Pilates to get out to the masses. I wanted it to be done correctly.”
Driven by empathy
This step up into the Xponential Fitness family wasn’t Luna’s last taste of the on-the-ground franchisee experience, however. As well as owning her own Jazzercise franchise location, she also endeavored to work on the front desk of a Club Pilates site to get a real taste of what the network’s franchisees had to contend with. Additionally, she attended each and every grand opening possible. Equinox may have been a thing of the past, but the hard work had only just begun: “I was on the road a lot, and I’ll never forget that I hadn’t seen my husband – fiancé at the time – for nearly six or seven weeks. We were coming up on our honeymoon, and then I said I was taking a week off. I met my husband at the airport, we went on our honeymoon, and then when I came back I hit the road again,” says Luna.
“That was early on in the Club Pilates growth story, and it was incredibly important that we had someone going all over the country to see what was working and what wasn’t for the things we were rolling out from corporate office. I was working in the office Monday through Friday, and then going to these grand openings Friday through Sunday. I was jet-setting all over the country.”
“If I’m able to effect change at both the corporate and franchise studio level, then I’ll be happy”
With Xponential Fitness’ acquisition of Pure Barre in 2018, Luna received yet another promotion and was now president of this boutique brand. Her first port of call? Obtain even more hands-on experience to empathize with the needs of her franchisees.
“At Pure Barre I spent about two months at the front desk at a location, and you gain so much insight. Your learning curve is going to be much quicker than just operating from the corporate office. More importantly, you’re able to gain the respect of those that you’re working with because you’re able to walk in their shoes and see what they’re up against,” explains Luna.
“The POS system wasn’t working, the toilets weren’t working, and the instructor had slept through their alarm – that was a day where everything possible went wrong, and it’s very humbling to see what our franchise partners deal with on a daily basis. From the corporate office, we may forget that toilets break, or instructors are people, too.”
No sign of stopping
It seems as if all the hard work Luna has put in over the six years since joining Xponential has paid off, with the parent company now having eight franchise brands in its network, totaling over 1,700 international fitness studios. But rather than rest on her laurels, she’s looking to utilise all of this experience to make the franchisee journey as seamless and successful as possible.
“We tend to attract two types of franchise partners: One would be the practitioners like myself, which would be somebody that has a fitness or teacher background and wants to take that experience to the next level. The other type comes from more of a corporate career path; they’ve worked in running a business through accounting or finance, but found that they were in something that they weren’t passionate about. For either, we help them to be entrepreneurial while also having the guardrails of support in the areas where maybe they aren’t an expert,” says Luna.
“What excites me is when we have our franchise training and they’ll come through and say to me: ‘I’ve thought about all these aspects of the business, but I didn’t even consider liability insurance or marketing.’ There are lots of lightbulbs that go off during the training phase, and that shows that we’re providing value. The way I see it, the perfect marriage between an entrepreneur and a franchise model is being able to plug in those gaps – whether they’re to do with skillsets or outside knowledge – so that they can ramp-up their business successfully.”
Part of Luna’s job now is to help other entrepreneurs walk down a similar path to what she originally did; interestingly, many of the inquiries Xponential receives are also from female franchisees, with the fitness industry being especially receptive to women.
“That was always very attractive to me; to see that there were opportunities to be your own business leader, but do it with the support system that comes with a franchise model”
“Many people want to be in fitness, but don’t know exactly what that looks like,” says Luna. “We have a process to help them not only choose whether single-unit, multi-unit, or area developer would be best, but also whether something like yoga is a better fit than barre. It’s just about raising your hand that you’re interested, and then letting us help to guide you when the time is right.”
After the journey so far, which will no doubt continue for many years to come, what has been Luna’s main takeaway?
“Serving those around me; specifically the franchisees,” she says. “Success for me is seeing that there’s success in others. That may be my teammates or it could be franchise partners, but if I’m the only one that’s successful, then that isn’t success to me. If I’m able to effect change at both the corporate and franchise studio level, then I’ll be happy.”
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