CEO Corner: Alpha Fit Club’s Sam Tooley on Winning in Group Fitness

Tooley has grown Alpha Fit Club into one of New Jersey’s top group fitness concepts. The brand is now eyeing expansion into other states

Running a successful group fitness studio is no small feat. Scaling it to become a thriving franchise brand is quite another. Sam Tooley, the co-founder and CEO of Alpha Fit Club, has done both. 

With some help from fitness clients turned business partners, Tooley opened the first Alpha Fit Club in his hometown of Westfield, New Jersey, in April 2019 during an incredibly trying time in his life. Just five years later, Alpha Fit Club has become one of the most popular boutique fitness brands in the Garden State with 13 locations open and more coming soon.

A cult favorite among New Jersey fitness enthusiasts for its circuit-style workouts that blend HIIT-style cardio with traditional strength training movements, Alpha Fit Club locations feature blacked-out studios and bold branding that add to the brand’s unique vibe. Alpha Fit Club is in talks to expand into areas like New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Washington, DC. In time, Tooley expects it to become a national brand. 

Tooley spoke with Athletech News about how he went from an online fitness coach to CEO of a thriving franchise brand, what separates Alpha Fit Club workouts from other group fitness concepts, and what’s next for the brand as it grows. 

The following conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and length. 

Athletech News: Can you tell us about your background and how you got into group fitness? 

Sam Tooley: I moved back to my hometown of Westfield, New Jersey, about seven years ago, right after college. My dad basically said to me, “What do you actually want to do?” At the time, I just wanted to just coach. I started my career on Instagram, coaching endurance athletes all over the world, everybody from first-time 5k runners to Olympic-level athletes – I had a few females qualify for the Olympic trials in the marathon.

I was nervous about having just an online business, so I opened my first studio really out of fear of somebody hacking my Instagram account or that business just not working out. I signed the lease on a 500-square-foot studio. It was legitimately me, my dog and a squat rack – most people were coming to play with the dog.

ATN: How did you transform that small space into a thriving, multi-location franchise business in Alpha Fit Club?

ST: When I moved back home, my dad passed away super suddenly and far too soon at 58 years old. The month I signed the lease to my gym – nine months after my dad passed – my little brother passed away in a home fire. That first year of business in my tiny studio with my dog and the squat rack was a fight. Some weeks I would be on the couch, some weeks I would get back in the studio. 

Fortunately, I had two clients who became my mentors. They told me they were thinking about buying something in the group fitness space and asked if I’d be interested. We looked at a few different concepts, and I said, “Listen, I think these are great, but I think we can build something different. We can build something better.” They became my business partners, and I threw every dollar I ever had into our original Alpha Fit Club studio in Westfield. We opened that studio on April 27th, 2019, and grew it to almost 500 members before COVID (temporarily) shut us down basically one year later. 

credit: Alpha Fit Club

ATN: Why did you choose to build Alpha Fit Club’s workouts around circuit-style HIIT and strength training? 

ST: When we first started five years ago, I thought a strong sense of strength was really missing from the group fitness scene. You had a little bit of it in concepts like Orangetheory and F45 but nobody was really doing strength the way I envisioned. We wanted to put together the perfect blend of strength and conditioning so people could feel like they got a holistic, total-body, workout every time that they came in, whether that’s once a week or six times a week. I also wanted every shape, size and fitness level to be able to work out together.

When you walk into an Alpha Fit Club, you’re brought through a demo where the coach explains exactly what’s going to go down; you’re then brought through a warm-up and then you go through stations – we’ve got six stations, typically six minutes in duration, and you’ll get a one minute rest period in between; then there’s a cool-down at the end. We’ve also put together a four-week training block. Each of those weeks lends itself to the week prior so you really feel like you’re working through a strategic progression of programming. 

credit: Alpha Fit Club

ATN: What are the demographics of Alpha Fit Club members?

ST: We have around 60% women and 40% men. To have that high a percentage of men in a boutique fitness concept is rare. I think we’ve done that by infusing strength and through our branding – the room is blacked-out, you’ve got a big wolf mural on the wall; even the name “Alpha” brings a bit of that edge. But quite frankly, our female clients are usually the biggest badasses in the room. In terms of age, it really just depends on where we (open studios) and what the demographics are in those areas.

ATN: When did you begin franchising Alpha Fit Club, and was that always your goal for the brand?

ST: We went into this with the intention of franchising. Westfield was a great case study to refine the product and the brand. Our initial pushback was, “It works in Sam’s hometown but is it going to work somewhere else?” We put our money where our mouth was during the pandemic and opened in Verona, where I literally didn’t know anybody, and Red Bank, where we knew very few people. Members were very receptive.

After about a year of the corporate stores (Westfield, Verona and Red Bank) building communities of 600-plus members, people started to come knocking; we sold 20 locations in New Jersey before ever opening a franchise. All of that interest was internal, either from our coaches, members or their friends, because they saw and felt what was happening inside the four walls. 

credit: Alpha Fit Club

ATN: What are your short and long-term expansion goals for Alpha Fit Club?

ST: By the end of 2024, we should have 20 locations open, all of which will be in New Jersey. But we are in active conversations with potential franchise partners to go into everywhere from the Washington DC metro area to Westchester County and Long Island, New York, to Fairfield County, Connecticut, to Pennsylvania. We have every intention of making this a national brand.

ATN: How has the boutique fitness market changed, specifically with regard to the evolution of strength training, since you founded Alpha Fit in 2019?

ST: I think you’re just seeing more competition in general, whether it’s similar concepts like a Fitstop or even watching Orangetheory infuse more strength into what they do. Brands like MADabolic are incredibly strength-heavy and focused on periodization. But every brand, regardless of the modality, seems to be talking about strength. Transparently, I feel like it’s a different question as to whether or not they truly execute on it. 

ATN: Are there any exciting initiatives we should be looking out for?

ST: In the fall, we’re going to be launching one of our first major brand-wide events. It’s our version of what we’re calling the Alpha Games, where every single gym is going to come together. Right now, we’ve got around 4,000 members across our locations and we’re hoping to get 2,000 of those members under one roof where we throw basically a fitness festival including a competition, music, food, vendors and brands. The only way you’re getting in that door is if you’re a member at one of our gyms. 

The post CEO Corner: Alpha Fit Club’s Sam Tooley on Winning in Group Fitness appeared first on Athletech News.


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