Sarah Luna got her start in the fitness industry as a Pilates instructor in Chicago. Twelve years later, the 34-year-old is helping lead one of the largest fitness chains in the country as the recently appointed president of Irvine-based Xponential Fitness LLC, which oversees a variety of cycling, rowing, stretching and other increasingly popular exercise brands.
At the time of Luna’s start in the industry, fitness videos were on DVDs, maybe even VHS tapes in some cases. Today, the business is far more diverse and complex with workouts now being streamed—specifically through a platform called GO in Xponential’s case—product and retail are important revenue streams, and boutique concepts are popping up and coveted among landlords.
It’s an industry landscape Luna will now help guide Xponential through as it continues its growth, which has happened at a rapid clip.
“Xponential Fitness and the brands that have been acquired have grown very, very quickly over the last couple years. 2018 was really about acquiring brands and 2019 was really about streamlining the brands,” Luna said in a call with the Business Journal this month.
“While our focus was always brand centric, the parent company really worked as a support function and was always intended to be a support function, but my role now is to look at the Xponential parent company to see if the way we’re supporting the brands is streamlined.”
That means increased communication among the brands as opposed to working in silos, Luna said.
The executive began shadowing for the position in March, went on maternity leave to give birth to her first born in the midst of the pandemic and then returned in October to finalize her transition to Xponential president, which became official Jan. 11.
Luna’s promotion also led to the promotion of Pure Barre Senior Vice President of Operations Regan Stokes to president of Pure Barre, one of eight Xponential brands.
Steering the Portfolio
While Xponential’s corporate office remains closed due to COVID-19, the company continues with its aggressive growth plans, which includes international franchise development.
Luna will oversee that growth, ensuring Xponential enlists the right franchise partners to help grow the business, which is focused on expansion of all eight of the company’s brands.
On the domestic front, the focus in the near term, Luna said, is to assist franchisees with reopening and being in compliance with local health and safety regulations.
Luna, since 2018, had been president of Pure Barre, a position she was promoted to after Xponential acquired the brand. While her start in the industry was instructing classes, she’s also been on the business side having owned a Jazzercise franchise before running Equinox’s Los Angeles and Orange County clubs’ Pilates departments.
It was at Equinox where she met Xponential founder and CEO Anthony Geisler, who hired Luna as a national sales director at Club Pilates in 2015.
Geisler’s been on a tear growing Xponential since starting the business in 2017.
The company’s portfolio now totals eight brands, ranging from Pilates and indoor cycling to stretch and rowing. Franchising has helped grow the overall business’ footprint to nearly 1,700 locations across the brands, with 2019 systemwide sales totaling $536 million.
Last year saw growth for Xponential’s brands in Saudi Arabia, Australia and South Korea.
The company was ranked by trade publication Club Industry at No. 13 earlier this month in its annual list of the 100 largest health clubs.
Most, about 91%, of the company’s studios are currently open in the U.S., according to Luna. The remainder continues to operate virtually.
“[COVID] absolutely had an impact and we’re still recovering, but we moved very, very quickly to make some big decisions and one of those decisions was to push out our virtual product as well as provide assistance to our studios so they could operate virtually,” she said.
“We were one of the first in the fitness industry to go virtual. So one day we were operating brick-and-mortar and the next day we were virtual. We didn’t skip a beat and we were able to keep our communities alive.”
Evolving Fitness Routines
Streaming virtual courses had been a boon for Xponential and the overall fitness industry before the pandemic and even more so during.
“What’s interesting is that when I was teaching in Chicago—I think it was 12 years ago at this point—the brick-and-mortar experience and community experience was there and while there were virtual workouts, many were on DVD and even VHS at the time. We’ve really seen streaming products rise,” Luna said.
Xponential has its own production facility across from its Intersect office campus headquarters near John Wayne Airport, where workouts are filmed for on-demand videos across the eight brands for the GO streaming platform.
“It allowed us to really weather the storm for COVID, but we feel very confident in our brick-and-mortar locations mostly because we know that humans are communal people and like to be in that community and be out and about,” she said.
“It’s a very rare breed that can stay focused on their fitness in their home without a trainer or instructor.”
To continue iterating on the in-person experience, the company is in the early stages of developing its XPASS program. The single subscription option to access workouts across the eight brands has been in consideration for a couple years now, Luna said.
The company completed beta testing in Scottsdale and Gilbert in Arizona last month. It’s launching the XPASS in Phoenix, Dallas and Tampa for further testing. A national launch is slated by the end of the first quarter.
“What we find in boutique fitness is that many of our consumers already hold two or three memberships and that may be one membership within our [Xponential] ecosystem and then two or three with outside concepts,” Luna said. “What our hope is, is that for those that are looking for different [fitness] modalities to have different options, they will choose the XPASS.”
The membership program, along with regular production of on-demand virtual workouts and continued expansion, will help as Xponential continues to push through the lingering effects of the pandemic.
Added Luna: “The strong will be able to weather the storm and we fully intend on making sure we’re still around for that long haul.”