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Interview: James Williams, CEO, Mayweather Boxing + Fitness

Interview: James Williams, CEO, Mayweather Boxing + Fitness

With over 100 units in development in the U.S. and new franchisees being signed seemingly every other day, it’s safe to say that Mayweather Boxing + Fitness is carving a firm place in the fitness franchising industry.

We sat down with James Williams, CEO of the boxing franchise brand and firm member of Mayweather’s ‘Money Team’, to talk about what’s next for this explosively popular concept.

GF: Thank you for talking with us, James. How do you explain the fierce demand for Mayweather Boxing + Fitness?

JW: A big part of it is Floyd’s brand and everything that he’s achieved in sports over the past two decades. There’s probably not another athlete who stands alone in their sport and has achieved the level of success that Floyd has, having been at the top of the sport for 21 years and never having lost a fight.

People associate that name and that brand with winning and with being a champion. When people are looking at new business opportunities, they want to back the winning horse. Floyd himself has been incredibly successful not just in boxing, but in business. As people are looking at new opportunities, that brand has played a huge part in the explosive growth.

We are also hitting the market at the right time. The fitness industry is growing globally, group fitness is the fastest-growing segment, and boxing group fitness is a thriving category. As people are looking for opportunities to invest in a franchise, we placed ourselves in a very attractive industry, in a super fast-growing segment of that industry, and under the banner of the most prolific boxer in the world today. That’s what contributed in large part to our initial growth.

What happened then was that private equity firms and multi-unit operators of other fitness brands began to see our growth, and those groups understood the attractive economics of developing an entire territory. Unlike most franchise brands, which – by the time the brand has enough consumer awareness and market appeal, the prime territories are often already gone – we were in the unique position of having a household name brand, together with prime territories still being available.

That led to us doing some major territory development deals very early on; for example, one private equity group is developing the whole of the San Francisco area, with a commitment to build 30 units; and we have others in South Florida, Chicago, Dallas, Sacramento, Tampa, etc.

So a lot of the demand has come from – and will continue to come from – these sophisticated investors, who recognize the unique opportunity to take a prime market and to completely own that territory.

GF: Why did the brand opt to immediately begin franchising, rather than open company-owned locations?

JW: Our senior executive team has a successful track record of building global fitness franchises. From that experience, one of the biggest issues that we have seen in franchising is that of friction between the franchisor and its franchisees.

When a franchisor is building and operating corporate-owned stores at the same time as running a franchise business, what often happens is that they start to compete – for real estate, for talent, and for resources from the franchisor.

For us, we didn’t want to have that friction. We wanted to be truly aligned with our franchisees, both philosophically and economically. So, we built our flagship location to serve as the template and model for a successful and thriving Mayweather Boxing + Fitness studio; and then built our operating team to support and empower our franchise network.

Our corporate focus is on developing our franchisees and our franchise system, rather than building and operating corporate stores, which – in our opinion – would run the risk of resulting in not sufficiently supporting the franchisee network. We believe this is the most effective model to run a franchise business and to set up our franchisees for long-term success.

Through no fault of their own, most brands don’t have the ability to franchise right from inception, because they would struggle to get buy-in to that concept. For us, the Mayweather brand gave us the ability to create our successful flagship template, and then build out our franchise model right from the start.

GF: What does Mayweather Boxing + Fitness bring to the crowded fitness table, that differentiates it as a business – for both investors, and gym-goers?

JW: For us, there are three elements of the business that really drive our differentiation from the perspective of an investor or franchise owner.

First, it comes down to the power of the brand. Floyd has around a 70 per cent consumer awareness in the U.S. The biggest form of marketing for group fitness today is digital advertising: Facebook, Instagram, Google Ad Words. As you’re scrolling Facebook or Instagram or whatever it may be, and you see an ad pop up, consumers are multiple times more likely to know of the Mayweather brand than any other group fitness concept.

That translates directly to a lower cost per click, lower cost per lead, and ultimately lower member acquisition costs. So, for the same marketing spend, our franchisees are able to drive their revenue growth much faster than anything we’ve ever seen in fitness before.

That first point really showcases the ability for our franchisees to grow their member base much faster. The next important thing for them is keeping those members. The biggest driver of member retention in group fitness is the results that your members are getting - how they look, how they feel and that they see improvements and progress over time. We spent several years together with Floyd and our group fitness experts, taking everything that Floyd had developed as an elite level athlete, and tailoring and adapting it for the group fitness market. Through those workouts, our members achieve better results over time, which ensures that they stay for longer and ultimately deliver more value for our franchisees.

The third area of differentiation is our technology. We believe that the fitness industry, like many others, is evolving towards more integrated uses of technology; and we want to be ahead of that curve. We invest heavily in our tech capabilities, including things like our Virtual Reality product, in which our members can train with Virtual Floyd, where it feels like they’re being coached to box by him.

That’s a big driver of interest in our studios for members, for the media, and for franchisees. We also have our fitness app, which is a really valuable member engagement tool, as well as allowing members to train at home on days they can’t make it to the gym.

In terms of differentiation for members, a key part of it is the Floyd workout, and our members being able to “Train Like The Champ.” A lot of them really enjoy things like the McGregor Knockout, where they’re learning the exact punch combinations that Floyd used to knock out Conor McGregor. That’s a fun thing that they enjoy, and they feel pretty cool walking out of the gym and knowing that combination.

Community is also a big part of the offering at the Studio level. We have a lot of programs in place around community engagement; things like MAYweather Madness, where members are teamed up and compete in various activities to win prizes. We do that at the overall franchise level as well, where members have the ability to win things like signed gloves by Floyd, and top members across the system can get flown out to LA for a meet-and-great with Floyd. For us, it’s about creating that community where they feel like Mayweather Boxing + Fitness is a home away from home, and where they’re working out with family and friends.

The Mayweather brand is a huge part of that. Our members are genuinely inspired and motivated to be a part of Team Mayweather. Most of our members are wearing Mayweather gear when they come and work out – having “TEAM MAYWEATHER” across the back of your shirt is a really cool and powerful and motivating thing that we’re able to offer – and that gets us real buy-in and excitement from our members.

GF: Which international markets are you targeting most aggressively? Does the concept translate seamlessly overseas?

JW: We’ve had a lot of inbound demand from investment groups around the world for master franchise deals. We’re exploring those right now in a few countries: the U.K., Australia, Russia, and Mexico. The boutique fitness industry is booming globally. The U.S. is generally ahead of other fitness markets, so the trend we’re seeing in the U.S. now in terms of the rapid growth of the group fitness market is going to happen in those other countries over the next few years. Boxing group fitness is going to be a big part of that growth. We see the international markets being a huge growth area for us to develop with sophisticated operators in each country, who have previous experience as master franchisees or in operating fitness clubs at scale.

The concept certainly translates. Floyd’s popularity globally is huge, and the consumer appeal we see here in the U.S. will be reflected around the world. The 3,000 square foot studio space, with the high margin group fitness membership model, is something that is already growing quickly in other countries and will be a big part of the global fitness industry in the future. As we move forward with international expansion, it will be with sophisticated investors who see the opportunity in their own countries in the same way that the private equity firms have already seen it here in the U.S.

GF: With the news earlier this year of NBA star Joakim Noah joining the brand and helping it grow, can we expect any other celebrity endorsements?

JW: We have a number of high-profile people involved in the business that we’ll continue to build everything closely with. Because this is Floyd’s business, it generates a lot of interest from people in that world, and we’re excited to continue to partner with smart investors and partners, like Joakim, who share our vision and passion for building a truly differentiated global fitness community.

GF: What has been your highlight of 2019?

JW: Becoming the fastest growing new fitness franchise ever was amazing.

This business has been well over five years in the making between me, Floyd and our other co-founder, Burrel Wilks. We spent several years developing the business plan, recruiting what we believe is the best team in the industry, and building our franchise infrastructure.

To see the response both from fitness consumers, as well as from entrepreneurs, business owners and sophisticated investors throughout our first year has been incredible. Experiencing the growth that we’ve achieved after all of those years of hard work behind the scenes has been a fantastic journey – and has set the foundation for an even more exciting future to come, together with all of our employees, franchisees, and members around the world.

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