Jessica Yarmey never planned to open a kickboxing gym — let alone a fast-growing franchise that would gain the attention of world champion boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr.
But today, less than three years after debuting the first-ever KickHouse Fitness, her brand has been acquired by Mayweather Boxing + Fitness and grown to nearly 30 locations across the country — with more on the way.
The secret? A Warren Buffett quote, says Yarmey: “Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful.”
“Brick-and-mortar fitness was heavily affected in the pandemic, but I thought there was an opportunity to get in,” Yarmey says. “I’m a big believer in changing people’s lives. I knew it was a down time, but I was confident that it wouldn’t be down forever.”
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Leading with branding
Pre-pandemic, Yarmey was the chief marketing officer at Club Pilates, where she helped the company expand to more than 615 locations. With her background in marketing and branding, she felt comfortable building a memorable, relatable concept that could be replicated anywhere.
“Every single person had their own journey and fear through Covid-19,” she says. “It’s the same individualized approach we bring to the mat. Every person who comes in brings their own expectations and challenges. And that’s the power of brick-and-mortar fitness.”
“My goal was to create something that could be put anywhere and would still connect and resonate,” she adds. “What I see many franchisors missing are the elements of a brand that will allow someone to connect immediately [and] emotionally with what you’re doing.”
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Reintroducing the world to kickboxing
Though it wasn’t in her five-year plan to open a fitness franchise, she says, Yarmey identified a gap in the kickboxing world and felt there was no better time to jump in. That’s when KickHouse was born.
“I’ve always been athletic,” she says. “I grew up playing soccer, was a personal trainer and even took the Club Pilates teacher training when I was the chief marketing officer. The fact that I am very much a beginner in kickboxing helped me create a format that can be executed by a beginner.”
Together with an investor partner, Yarmey’s first step was to design KickHouse as a place she would want to go. “Despite being an ex-athlete and working in fitness, I’ve still felt intimidated walking into studios,” she says. “I’ve also felt insecure when I couldn’t figure out exactly what I was supposed to be doing during class. I worked closely with my director of programming Gwen Dannenbaum to ensure that the coaches and the workouts would start at the beginner level and progress from there so anyone could do the workout.”
Two-and-a-half years in, Yarmey feels an obligation to not only share her appreciation for kickboxing but also shed light on her entrepreneurial pursuits with fellow aspiring franchisors and franchisees.
“I have felt the benefit of kickboxing to power my tough days,” she says. “To give that toolset to other female entrepreneurs, there is no greater sense of reward.”
That might explain why 40 percent of all KickHouse franchisees are women, and the entire central support team are women too. Another 10 percent of franchises are Black-owned, and Yarmey hopes to only increase those numbers.
“Representation matters, and our diversity evolved as the brand evolved,” she says. “I didn’t go into this feeling like I would gain a platform to speak to women entrepreneurs. But the more I share, the ones who are connecting most to my story are other females trying to figure out what they’re going to build themselves.”
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Finding good partners
As Yarmey looked to continue KickHouse’s rapid growth, she began to pursue additional funding and other creative solutions to help scale. In October 2022, MW Fitness Holdings announced it had acquired KickHouse. “At the end of the day, the goal is growth and the reality is you can get to growth in a variety of ways,” she says. “The partnership with Mayweather Boxing is going to accelerate the growth of both brands.”
By joining Mayweather Boxing, KickHouse has gained support in franchising aspects like development, build-outs and site selection, while Yarmey has stepped in to help Mayweather with marketing and sales. Since the acquisition, Yarmey has signed four new KickHouse agreements. “We are seeing the business accelerate, and we are seeing the economies of scale that we had modeled out on paper,” she says.
When it comes to franchise success, Yarmey attributes self-awareness as a major player. “Understanding what we do very well and what we are missing or not doing as well — KickHouse leads with marketing and sales, and the Mayweather team leads with development and support functions. The ability to combine strengths is something we both saw as an opportunity.”
“Both of our goals are to have strong global brands with strong central support structures,” Yarmey says. “It helps our brands take a step forward by combining resources and leveraging each other’s strengths.”
Looking back, Yarmey knows that starting a business is one of the scariest things a person can do. But if you have that entrepreneurial bug, it might be worth the risk, she says.
“Say you’re a good people leader, but you’re not strong in operations — that’s where a franchise makes a ton of sense,” she says. “It de-risks entrepreneurship. You go in with built-in partners, people to work with you to make it less daunting.”
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