After four years as a Gold’s Gym franchisee, Titan Fitness, McLean, VA, is leaving the Gold’s Gym International franchisee fold to develop clubs under the Fitness Connection brand. Fitness Connection is a Houston-based company of seven clubs that Titan Fitness recently acquired for an undisclosed sum. Titan Fitness said it plans to take the Fitness Connection brand national.

“We’re extremely proud of what we were able to achieve as members of the Gold’s Gym family,” Jeff Skeen, CEO and president of Titan Fitness, said in a release from Gold’s Gym, Irving, TX. “We will always have a strong passion for the Gold’s Gym brand and great memories of our time as a franchisee. Leaving the Gold’s Gym family was an extremely difficult decision for us; however, we’re excited about our opportunity to work with a health club brand which we recently acquired as part of our seven gym expansion in the Houston market.”

In January 2008, Skeen and his company secured $200 million in private equity funding to grow its Gold’s Gym portfolio nationwide to 60 open locations in the next five years, the company said at the time. Three years later, Titan had grown to 16 locations, but the company recently sold its eight Minnesota clubs to Gold's Gym franchisee Jon Barton and then acquired the seven Fitness Connection clubs, giving the company 15 clubs today.

On July 8 (after the initial posting of this story), the company completed an equity offering of $4.6 million from three investors, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Titan Fitness will convert its six Raleigh, NC, clubs, which were purchased from former Gold’s Gym franchisees Kirk and John Galiani, and its two Reno, NV, clubs to the Fitness Connection brand in July.

AJ Mushtaq, CFO for Titan Fitness, declined to give more details about the decision or future plans, but he said that more details would be forthcoming.

For its part, Gold’s Gym will continue an aggressive growth strategy that features a strong commitment to franchise development and the expansion of its corporate-owned portfolio, according to the release from the company. Gold’s has 700 locations and 3.5 million members in 42 states and 30 countries. The company is reportedly in talks to purchase Bally Total Fitness, Chicago.

“We’re excited about the future of the franchise side of our business,” Gold’s Gym President Jim Snow said in the release. “Last year was one of our best years in terms of franchise development, and we have big plans in store for both our full-service and Gold’s Gym Express concepts. We remain committed to being the best franchisor in the space.”

Snow added that Skeen and his team have been outstanding operators and the company appreciated all of their contributions to the Gold’s Gym brand.

“It has been exciting to watch them grow under the Gold’s Gym umbrella, and we wish them well in their new endeavors,” Snow said. “We have both evolved our business models, and this arrangement works out well for both sides.”

Titan Fitness and Skeen have been star franchisees for Gold’s Gym. In July 2008, Titan Fitness won the Visionary Award from the company for its creativity and leadership in obtaining the $200 million in private equity financing for the acquisition and construction of new Gold’s Gyms and for converting existing independent clubs to the Gold’s brand. That same year, Titan also won the Bravo Award, also known as the Franchisee of the Year Award, from the Gold’s Gym Franchisee Association.