Business Cover

Survival of the Fittest Lafayette is serious about fitness and has fierce market competition to prove it.

by Mike Stagg

Orangetheory Manager Mandie Harrington
Photo by Robin May

[CORRECTION: The first name of Orangetheory franchisee Dr. Jason Cormier is incorrect in the print version of this article. It has been corrected online and in the flip-and-turn paper. ABiz regrets the error.]

The studio at Orangetheory Fitness throbs to loud music as 24 people sweat their way through a one-hour, heart-monitored workout scientifically designed to maximize their metabolism, increase energy and reshape their bodies.

The Orangetheory Fitness studio in the Ambassador Town Center is the latest of 550 franchised units in the country, but only the third in Louisiana. The compact facility situated across a large parking lot from Field & Stream near Costco is also the latest entrant in Acadiana’s highly competitive fitness market that is being transformed by the proliferation of franchised operations.

Owned by Dr. Jason Cormier, a Lafayette neurosurgeon, the Lafayette Orangetheory Fitness studio opened Jan. 6 with just over 500 members enrolled, according to manager Mandie Harrington.

Harrington says Cormier went through a workout at another Orangetheory facility and walked away a believer, soon buying a franchise to bring to Lafayette.

“The science behind Orangetheory is that by getting your heart rate into certain zones of performance that it will stimulate your metabolism to keep burning calories for up to 36 hours after the workout,” Harrington explains.

The company’s website says the one-hour workouts, which are conducted only in groups and consist of cardiovascular and strength training, burn an average of 500 calories per session. Heart rates are monitored via wrist bands or chest straps, and the data of each participant is shown in real time on flat screen panels positioned around the studio. There are treadmills, rowing machines, suspension machines and free weights involved in each workout. The founders of Orangetheory Fitness were also involved with the development of the Massage Envy franchise.

The group approach to training is part of a back-to-the-future trend in fitness, according to a global survey of fitness professionals released by the American College of Sports Medicine in December. Group training jumped to sixth among fitness industry trends in the 2017 trends survey after not having been in the top 20 for years.

Orangetheory encompasses a number of trends, including app-based fitness monitoring, circuit training, group personal training and high-intensity interval training. Membership levels are based on the number of classes.

“We offer personal training in a group setting,” Harrington says. She also notes that Orangetheory’s niche includes being a performance assessment component in a broader fitness regimen.

“We have triathletes and other high-performance athletes who use our studios to hone their fitness as competitions approach,” says Harrington, whose husband is a member of Red Lerille’s Health & Racquet Club but uses the Orangetheory sessions to monitor his overall fitness progress.

Orangetheory’s single Lafayette location stands in stark contrast to the 18 Anytime Fitness facilities in Acadiana (with two more in development). Anytime facilities, like Orangetheory’s, are smaller, boutique operations compared to traditional full-service health clubs. There are cardiovascular and aerobic machines as well as free-weights. Anytime’s more spartan approach trades accessibility for amenities.

Brittany Tilbury manages two of four Anytime Fitness locations owned by Tré and Rochelle Dupuie of Youngsville. The Dupuies own Anytime sites in Broussard, Carencro, New Iberia and their hometown.

Tilbury, who’s been in the fitness business for 13 years, says Anytime’s 24/7 card-enabled access is the chain’s main draw over what she called “mom and pop operations like Red’s.”

“Once a member has been in our system for over 30 days, they can access any Anytime Fitness site around the world using their card,” Tilbury explains.

“We’re an oilfield state, which means businesses tend to operate 24/7 so having the option to get in a workout any time of the day is a real plus,” Tilbury adds. “Being closer to where our members live and work is also an advantage.”

Harrington of Orangetheory and Anytime Fitness’ Tilbury agree that club membership is sensitive to the amount of disposable income available. Tilbury says the two-year slowdown in the oil patch had some impact on membership, but she thinks the worst appears to be over.

Competition in the fitness market shows no sign of cooling off. Cycle Bar is set to open soon near Whole Foods. It’s a 10-year-old indoor cycling franchise operation based on group rides involving “great instructors, great music and a great environment,” according to its website.

Snap Fitness, another 24/7 fitness franchise, has five locations in Acadiana, — two in Lafayette and single operations in Youngsville, Broussard and Abbeville. “Lafayette has a passion for fitness,” Harrington says.

And finding outlets for that passion is clearly getting easier, though the question of just how many new and older entrants can survive in this evolving market remains to be seen.