A small Charlotte gym has big expansion plans.
ISI Elite Training has 14 gyms across the Southeast in the Charlotte region, South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. By the end of the year, ISI Elite plans to open 25 gyms, including in Rock Hill, Belmont, Concord as well as in Miami, Nashville, Tennessee, and Los Angeles, CEO and founder Adam Rice said.
By 2022, there will be 100 locations across the country, Rice said, mostly franchised sites.
Over the next three years, Rice expects to open about 20 more gyms around Charlotte in places like Ballantyne, Plaza Midwood, SouthPark, Matthews, Huntersville, Waxhaw, and Indian Land and Lake Wylie in South Carolina.
The gym, which focuses on athletic-based training, focuses on “functional strength training” using kettle bells, dumb bells, and run and sprints sessions working with coaches.
“It’s empowering to people. Not only are they building strength and confidence, they’re also connecting (with other people) through all of it,” Rice said.
That personal connection, he said is why boutique fitness studios, like ISI Elite and national brands OrangeTheory and F45, have risen in popularity. The term “boutique fitness” refers to small gyms, focused on group exercise in a specialized workout.
Memberships at such gyms grew by 121% from 2013 to 2018, while industry-wide the increase was 15%, according to the trade organization IHRSA.
ISI Elite also caters to families, Rice said. Each gym has a children’s room with a window wall so parents can keep an eye on their kids while they work out. Plus, ISI Elite has family fitness days and kid’s programs for ages 6 to 11.
Landing in Charlotte
ISI Elite has been headquartered in Charlotte for three years since Rice and wife Tristin on a whim, rebooked their vacation flight home from Hawaii to the Queen City instead of their home in Myrtle Beach.
The couple asked each other where they wanted to raise their family, and on the count of three, both said Charlotte.
“We had never talked about Charlotte, we’d never been to Charlotte together,” Rice said.
At the time, Rice was a fitness studio owner in Myrtle Beach. He created a smaller gym model in Fort Mill, S.C., where they now live, ditching the larger 5,000- to 10,000-square-foot facilities to less than 3,000 square feet.
The company has since grown to 14 locations, including four corporate-owned studios and another one opening in January in Apex, near Raleigh. The rest are multi-unit franchise owned.
Companywide, there are over 150 employees and 16 corporate workers, Rice said.
Rice said his fitness lifestyle started in high school while growing up in Iowa.
He said he was an overweight athlete when at age 16 during baseball camp, he was told he was too slow to play at the Division 1 level. So over the next six months, Rice focused on health and fitness, losing 70 pounds along the way.
He went on to play Division 1 baseball in high school and also played NCAA Division 1 at Coastal Carolina University, where he got a degree in sports management.
After graduation, he opened a small fitness studio at age 21 in Myrtle Beach.
Having to change the name from Beach Body Fitness, he re-branded to ISI Elite Training in September 2013. The name is based on Proverbs 27:17, for “Iron Sharpens Iron.”
Overcoming COVID pandemic
During the COVID-19 pandemic, 22% of health and fitness clubs permanently closed, according to the latest trends report from IHRSA.
Despite the pandemic shutdowns, Rice said ISI Elite has grown its membership 120% and retained 84% of its members while offering virtual and outdoors coaching sessions.
“Accountability is a factor many people really need. Most people don’t know how to workout,” Rice said. “The more tech savvy we get, people are losing connection with other people. And most people want to be a part of the community.”
The pandemic didn’t stop new gyms from opening. Laila Tafazzoli, franchise owner of ISI Elite Training in Dilworth, officially opened in January. It was one of three ISI Elite locations to open during the pandemic, company spokesman Perry Athanason said.
“It was tough,” Tafazzoli said, “you don’t know how people feel about COVID and if they’re ready to get back in gym.”
She started holding outdoor classes months before the opening and debuted with 125 members. She now has nearly 280 members.
Tafazzoli turned mask and social distancing guidelines into a positive training tool. “It’s just an additional training stimulus. Our lung capacity is going to be amazing,” she’d tell her members.
Working out at ISI Elite
ISI Elite classes are high-energy workouts, about 50 minutes long, Rice said. There are up to eight sessions available daily from 5 a.m. to late evening.
Memberships cost about $150 a month, Rice said. Members can sign up for four, eight or unlimited sessions per month.
The membership is split equally between women and men with each location having about 300 members, Rice said.
If a member skips several sessions, a coach will call them. “We want our members coming through our door,” Rice said.