Evan Hearnsberger – Xponential Fitness
When you’re a boutique fitness company whose studios are filled with rowing machines, stationary indoor bikes and treadmills, a global pandemic and mandatory shutdown orders might seem like a final burnout round.
Most members can’t afford such equipment—often computerized with individual health metrics—and many joined the studio because they crave interaction with other fitness aficionados and enthusiastic trainers.
But even as gyms were forced to close in-person operations amidst COVID-19, Xponential Fitness saw an opportunity to accelerate the rollout of GO, their on-demand digital fitness product. Using the mobile app or website, members can log in and do modified or simulated exercises—say, running in place or performing rowing motions with weights—or mix up their routines with new and different types of trainer-led workouts.
“We were able to be very nimble once the pandemic hit—it was all about being open-minded and thinking outside of the box,” says General Counsel Evan Hearnsberger. “We have a dense and loyal member base and we’ve been able to help our tightknit community get the same sort of feel out of virtual classes. While not identical, it’s something that they’ve been embracing.”
Headquartered in Irvine, California, Xponential was founded in 2017 by dot-com millionaire Anthony Geisler with its flagship brand, Club Pilates. Today, its verticals include CycleBar, StretchLab, Row House, AKT, YogaSix, Pure Barre and STRIDE, and it has close to 1,600 open studios around the world.
Indeed, Hearnsberger has gotten quite the legal workout since accepting his first general counsel role in 2018, handling everything from merger and acquisition oversight, to franchisee support, to contract drafting and implementation.
More recently, his focus has been squarely on COVID-19—and fast-tracking the GO platform. The plan had been a phased rollout over 2020 (brand by brand), but each company now has its own app featuring live classes and an on-demand library. In facilitating this, Hearnsberger worked quickly to negotiate and cement agreements with vendors and programmers, while also establishing terms of service, member waivers and other agreements.
During the pandemic, he has been helping Xponential navigate state and local COVID-19 orders and establish guidelines like contactless entry and exit (members go directly from their car to their assigned station, and vice versa); non-contact temperature checks; reduced class sizes; stringent cleaning procedures involving air sanitation and foggers; increased periods between classes to allow for cleaning; and touchless dispensers and water machines.
“We’re taking every single possible safety precaution to make sure people feel comfortable getting back to the studio and to ensure we are in line with state and federal guidelines,” Hearnsberger says.
Focusing on its core
Now, as those existing franchises reopen and people get back to their workouts, Xponential is focused on adding franchise locations—or “putting more dots on the map,” as Hearnsberger describes it. The company has existing joint ventures or master franchisees in Germany, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Austria and Australia, and is continuing to expand internationally.
As Hearnsberger explains, Xponential was established in 2017, but some of its brands have been selling franchises for over a decade. For him, representing each of those brands and Xponential means filing annual franchise disclosure documents and complying with other federal and state laws and regulations, including those regulating employment and privacy; establishing strategic partnerships with domestic and international vendors (for example, payment processors); managing and protecting intellectual property; interacting with in-house and external marketing groups on strategy and franchisee recruitment; working with landlords; and inking master franchise agreements and letters of intent outside the U.S.
According to Hearnsberger, a master franchisee acts as local franchisor in its foreign jurisdiction—Xponential provides each master franchisee with infrastructure and support, and in return, receives local knowledge, expertise and contacts to better assist franchisees in their unique foreign markets.
The company also leverages experience and lessons learned from its legacy brands to make sure its newer brands (and their respective franchises) are on track—the most recent (and likely the last vertical to fit under Xponential’s umbrella) of these being indoor running franchise STRIDE, acquired at the end of 2018. While Hearnsberger has overseen such acquisitions, he notes that much of the heavy lifting has been done by outside counsel.
“It’s definitely an exciting time for us,” he says. “It’s been extremely fulfilling from a creative standpoint, advising these diverse brands at different stages in their development.”
A well-rounded background
The University of San Diego School of Law grad boasts a diverse portfolio himself: He holds a certificate in Mandarin Chinese from Tsinghua University; he served as a staff attorney at Bernstein Litowitz Berger and Grossman LLP and Hughes Marino; and he co-founded Findbeijing.com to provide lodging and tour services during the 2008 Olympics.
Prior to joining Xponential, Hearnsberger worked in-house at a wholly different enterprise: Pieology Pizzeria in Rancho Santa Margarita, California.
“I love and still eat at Pieology often, but it was nice to move from helping people sell pizzas to helping people get in shape and exercise,” he says with a laugh. “That had a fundamental appeal.”
As did Xponential’s rapid growth, energetic and enthusiastic leadership, and the boutique fitness industry’s overall momentum, he says. All told, he adds, it’s exciting to collaborate with these distinctive brands and help keep them nimble through evolving legal and strategic landscapes.
“It’s really the motivation that all of our staff and leadership has,” says Hearnsberger, who himself goes running as often as he can with his new puppy. “It’s great to help problem solve, getting really hands-on in business strategy and growth.”
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