Stories from the Covid-19 Front Lines: Devan Kline, Burn Boot Camp CEO & Co-Founder
Name: Devan Kline
Title: Co-Founder & CEO
Brand: Burn Boot Camp
Units: 260+, with 400+ territories sold
Segment: Boutique fitness, gyms
How has Covid-19 affected your brand?
We are feeling extremely optimistic about the future of our company. Being 100% family-owned, we were able to make short-term decisions that didn’t undermine long-term initiatives. We shut down our gyms on March 17 and now are back to 91% open. The vast majority of our membership continued with us despite our being closed. Times of greatest uncertainty form the strongest bonds. The strength and fortitude of our community afforded us the opportunity to award 25 new units and open 32 gyms, despite the pandemic. When we won the IFA NextGen Competition in 2018, one of the judges asked me, “What makes Burn Boot Camp different?” I simply replied, “Our community.” They were confused by my answer. “It’s unclear exactly how the concept will differentiate itself from others,” NextGen Judge Dave Mortensen said, “other than by harnessing the founder’s intense personality, but there’s no doubt he’s on a mission.” We are on a mission and that’s what make us who we are. Covid-19, despite the tragedies, was exactly what Burn Boot Camp needed to set itself far apart from other major fitness brands. We are young and agile enough to sustain the blows of the pandemic but large enough to push through. I’m very proud of our people for locking arms as a unified front to serve our members. We are 100% confident that this will go down as the jump start to Burn Boot Camp becoming the biggest player in our segment in the U.S. in the coming years.
What are you doing to help your franchisees through this? What are your franchisees doing for their customers?
During Covid-19, like most brands, we pivoted early and often. We had an in-flight digital offering, “Burn On Demand,” that we flipped into our core offering during the shutdown. It was slated for early 2021, and within 48 hours we went fully digital. Some of our top trainers and I live-broadcast camps daily at 9 a.m. Eastern time. This has been very popular for members at home on quarantine orders. We started creating Kids Camps, hip-hop dancing, kickboxing workouts, live yoga sessions, and many others. We also created a Partner Rewards Program and began attributing equipment, retail, and nutrition sales online to our franchise partners’ POS system. Our franchise partners went to great lengths to serve their members. From drive-by and pick-up orders at the gym to livestreaming arts and crafts for our clients’ children to give mom a break, we did it all. We approved our locations to run an additional layer of livestreaming that would allow their communities to see each other and be together on Zoom, met our clients outdoors, at local high schools, etc. We even had a client who is battling cancer tune in and livestream her workout from her hospital bed! Our system went all out... and we weren’t going to be the ones to stand in their way. At Burn, the best ideas win regardless of who they come from.
How are you handling your corporate employees?
When the pandemic first hit, about 10 of us barricaded down and spent the first 72 hours going to work. We barely left the office. Anyone can be good in good times; it was a treat for me to see how outstanding we could be during the bad times. I’ll never forget one of those nights when our Director of Marketing Emily Bollman and I left the office at 11 p.m. As I walked out of the office, I looked back to shut the lights off. Before I could hit the switch, I looked up through the double doors and saw a whiteboard with two giant words on it wrapped in a giant blue heart, it said, “Member Love.” That’s when I knew we were going to not only “get through,” but use this as an opportunity to separate ourselves from the pack. The last thing I was worried about was my team at HQ and managing their performance. We all agree that a performance culture is what makes a winning team. I don’t look at resumes, college degrees, or experience. I make my hiring decisions based on the level of hunger they possess. Our team absolutely loves our franchise partners – you don’t witness the level of community we have at Burn anywhere else in franchising. Our leadership team Jolene Purchia, Matt Labuda, Jason Grosso, Brett Marhenke, Victoria Ciresi, Patricia Harding, Bryce Morrow, and Kim Hunter put the company on their backs, along with our Alan Huggins, Tom Wylie, and Ted Theodoropoulos and said, “We got you!” It was truly special to be a part of.
How are your franchisees handling their employees?
We don’t have employees at Burn, we have teammates. The system reflected HQ’s behavior and followed recommendations closely because we’ve built a deep level of trust. They all know that Morgan (Morgan Kline, my wife, co-founder, and COO) and I hold the purest of intents with their business and want them to be successful very much. We coached and guided them to make the best decisions possible for themselves and their teams. We also are extremely transparent with regard to our company-owned location program and we shared insights daily. We were right there on the front lines battling with them. I’m not the type of leader to send my troops into battle without me. I think our franchise partners mirror that mentality when it comes to running an individual unit or multi-unit program.
How are you working with your suppliers?
Our suppliers have been affected. We have a large supplement and retail division that has seen delayed shipping because of a lack of material resources or delay of them. We took this opportunity to roll out “Burn Equipment,” just like 99% of the fitness industry. There was a period where the entire planet was sold out of certain equipment (especially steel products) so the rollout was light. We are working right now with our equipment vendors (mainly TKO) to stock equipment in their fulfillment centers on our behalf, knowing we will sell through it. They are taking a risk for us because we have kept our word 100% of the time during our first 5 years of our existence. We are excited to have built such a trusting relationship with our suppliers that they are willing to stick out their neck to see our success through.
How do you see the future of your brand, operations, market, etc. post–Covid-19?
Covid forced acceleration of what was already coming. Digital fitness will have lasting effects on the fitness industry, and is here in 2020 in the form of what I thought might be 2025–2027. Training is a service business, and no number of screens will replace human connection, compassion, and a good ol’ high-five. Digital fitness has been around since far before the Internet. I think those who think “digital is everything” or “digital is a fad” will be sadly mistaken either way. The future of the fitness industry is both: having a brick-and-mortar presence where human connections can be forged, as well as a tie-in digitally so clients can take their favorite gym on the road. Few saw the pandemic coming and it crushed brick-and-mortar. The Internet or power grid isn’t exempt from harm, volatility, or potential blackouts for whatever reason. For this reason, I think purely digital companies are just as vulnerable to an extraordinary event as brick-and-mortars are to a pandemic. I don’t see any players in the industry delivering excellence on both sides, and our plan is to do just that!
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