When Bill Lia tried offering traditional boxing programs at his four Gold’s Gyms in the Albany, NY, area, the programs did not measure up to his expectations for a group training business. In most cases, he offered the classes for free with the intention of eventually going to paid programming.

“All our previous attempts just were not successful,” Lia says. “We never had the programming end of it down as well as we should have. And I think the interest level just wasn’t where it should have been.”

But that was before Lia and his team turned to a mixed martial arts (MMA) circuit program that Focusmaster Fitness, Troy, NY, created. The program involves installing striking stations around a room with core exercise stations between each striking station. Each station includes a placard with instructions, but a coach also works with participants to tailor the movements to their level.

The Focusmaster striking equipment has been used in MMA studios for one-on-one training for many years, but Focusmaster tested it in a group exercise class format before approaching Lia about trying it in his clubs.

“The fact that it was MMA, and MMA being on the uptick right now, we thought that it would be a different animal than boxing,” Lia says. “MMA is just as aggressive as boxing, but there is an attraction to [MMA] that people want to be affiliated with, almost like from a branding standpoint. You see all the clothing and different things that have spun off from the MMA and the UFC.”

When the first Focusmaster classes were introduced at his Latham, NY, Gold’s Gym, Lia saw a higher level of interest than he had from his previous boxing offerings. In addition to the growing interest in MMA itself, Lia credits the high participation rate to the 30-minute, scripted class format that offers an intimate group feeling. The class can accommodate a maximum of 12 people, which allows the instructors to offer one-on-one coaching.

“It fit into our model of trying to develop small group training,” Lia says. “We believe it is part of the future of our business as well as the industry.”

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The cost to buy and install the six Focusmaster striking stations, which are now in each of Lia’s clubs, was about $15,000 per club. After installation, the main cost for the program is paying for certification of instructors (a two-day course) and paying the instructors per class.

Initially, Lia charged extra for the classes, but they have become so popular that he now also offers a higher priced membership for unlimited classes. In three months, he earned his return on investment, he says.

That revenue potential could grow further, as Lia is talking with Focusmaster about developing new programs, such as a kids’ program, a women-only program and a self-defense program. They also are discussing developing merchandising, including branded gloves and hand wraps as well as branded T-shirts.

“People involved in this program want to brag about it, so we think there is an opportunity,” Lia says.

The potential for increasing pro shop sales could be great. In the clubs that have had the program for about six months, each of the four classes offered almost every day has eight to 10 participants on average. And that is without much marketing of the program, except for a Groupon offer that drew 200 takers.

Running out of space is not a concern for Lia, as more classes can be added. However, the biggest issue for some club operators might be finding the space for the equipment in the first place. For his Focusmaster rooms, Lia renovated areas of his clubs that were not generating income or were not being utilized heavily. But because the striking equipment sticks out just six to eight inches from the wall, the rooms have space in the middle that can be used for other classes, too.

Overall, Lia says the program has been worth it for his clubs.

“It gave us something unique and different that no one else is doing,” Lia says. “It is motivating, in a team atmosphere. It’s a great energy created in the room.”