Editor's note: This article has been corrected and updated from the original version.
Suburbia. Word of mouth. Support.
For local business owner Victoria Holsclaw, such contributions have added to the success of her Woodinville and Redmond Koko FitClubs. After only two years in the business world, Holsclaw understands and appreciates the collective support of these small communities in the expansion of her consumer market.
“In an awful economy, we’re growing because people are telling people about Koko,” Holsclaw said.
Holsclaw, a graduate of Inglemoor High School, earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish at Western Washington University and went on to earn a teaching certificate in Spain. After teaching public school in Spain and the U.S., and managing a tutoring franchise for four years, she decided to try something new.
She looked into opening a business. Realizing the struggle of small, new businesses in recent economic times, Holsclaw began researching franchises. “With a franchise, you get support and a proven business model—it’s easier than inventing something,” she said.
Then she stumbled upon Koko FitClub.
The former teacher never imagined herself in the position she is now—a business owner and marketer for two thriving fitness clubs. “I’ve always liked the idea of helping people—this is just a different way of doing just that. I really feel my calling is now to help people live better, longer, quality lives,” she said.
How much, exactly, does it take to open a Koko FitClub?
Startup costs for one club can be upwards of $250,000, according to Holsclaw. This she referred to as the “build-out fee,” which covers finding and settling in a location, equipment supply and building construction (walls, paint, carpet, furniture), as well as marketing costs.
Much of the funding she received came from local independent and business investors who believed in the company. “With the way things are, people with money don’t want to buy stock or put their money in a bank where it’s going to sit there and earn almost no interest. So they invest in people,” she said.
Many of her investors frequently visit both locations because they like to see their money put to good use, she said. They are proud to see the positive impact they are having on the community.
Unlike some business owners, Holsclaw did not come from money. “I am not independently wealthy,” she said. “I just went for it because I feel so strongly that there is nothing else, anywhere, as good as Koko is for what it does.”
Realizing she might very well wind up back at square one, Holsclaw embraced her youth, gathered up her savings and took the risk.
So far, so good.
One year after the opening of her Holsclaw was able to start up a second in September. Both are busy daily with people, the number of new clients rising exponentially.
She has plans to open up eight more: one each in Bothell, Lake Forest Park and Kenmore, three in Kirkland and two more in Redmond.
“I’m ready to open up as many FitClubs as I can, as fast as I can,” Holsclaw said. “This is only just the beginning, and we’re still very small.”
Holsclaw is very optimistic for what lies ahead, for people are just beginning to discover the beauty of her company. “I’m proud of what Koko offers, because it works. Our program is basic, and it does what it needs to do,” said the owner.
Encompassing weights and cardio alone, Koko offers individual fitness plans for every type of person. Whether Koko clients enter a club with goals to lose weight, build muscle, condition for sports, define muscle or to just stay healthy, there is a workout designed for everyone.
Before membership, those who are interested in the company are given a complimentary session, testing out the cardio and proprietary weight machines. Lissa West, a “FitCoach” who works at the Woodinville location, said that it is her job to give fitness evaluations to new members, “measuring strength, range of motion, fitness level, and other factors that play into creating a plan that’s right for each individual member.”
Taking the clients’ goals and abilities into account, coaches create customized workout plans that are designed by well-known and respected trainers, such as Michael Wood, Rob Parr and Kathy Kaehler.
For $79 per month, members are given unlimited access to the club, where they can come in for quick, efficient, 30-minute workouts. At the beginning of each visit, members insert their “Koko Key” (something similar to a USB) into a machine. The key acts as an archive that records and presents each individual’s status and goals, and takes him or her through every step of a workout. “It is the world's only automated personal trainer,” said Holsclaw.
The price of membership at Koko is more than it is for cheap bargain gyms, but much less than hiring a personal trainer, which can cost more than $300 per month for six visits, according to Holsclaw. “We’re not just another gym around the corner, we are a new category—what you get is personal and affordable.”
The biggest challenge, according to Holsclaw, is getting people in the door. “We are constantly working against the ‘oh-that’s-not-for-me’ attitude of people who think we are too expensive or difficult. But after taking that first step, our program sells itself.”
Holsclaw remarked that even some personal trainers prefer the Koko methodological workout, because they can simply follow directions and don't have to plan for themselves after training others all day long.
The best part about it all, according to Holsclaw, is getting to know people and seeing them reach their goals. “A lot of people have never felt successful with fitness, which is something I can relate to.” Prior to her experience with Koko, Holsclaw had difficulty staying on a steady workout plan, and often felt discouraged when meeting with personal trainers and entering traditional gym settings.
“I am my perfect client,” said Holsclaw, who has lost 35 pounds in fat and gained 10 in muscle due to her involvement with Koko FitClub. “I finally feel hope, which is a huge thing. It’s something that I’m happy to see in all of my clients.”
This is particularly obvious in Holsclaw’s interaction with her members.
Michele Stoudt, one of Holsclaw’s regular clients who described herself as being “on the forefront of many fitness trends,” claimed to be in the best shape of her life. “As a former rowing coach, I’m getting in better shape during a 30-minute workout here than I used to get out on the water for two hours. It works.”
Stoudt is just one of the people who love to come in to Koko FitClub to exercise in the friendly environment Holsclaw and her team have created. A day doesn’t pass when Holsclaw doesn’t compliment Stoudt with a comment like: “I’m so proud of you,” or, “You rock.”
Comments such as these go a long way, because starting and running a business requires more than supportive investors and years of savings. In today’s economy, Holsclaw is well aware that growth depends on the success of business, which, again, is measured by the people.
Tucked away in the small community of Woodinville, Holsclaw realized the advantage of customer referrals for her first fitness club. Starting from ground zero, it was helpful when members began spreading the word. “I would like to take all the credit, but it’s really the members.”
“This franchise sits apart from the rest because it is effective, engaging, both in product and experience, and members are wild for it,” said Holsclaw.
As soon as the Redmond location opened, membership skyrocketed, due to success at the Woodinville club, as well as the in-city location of the new club, according to Holsclaw.
Woodinville was No. 17 in the line of clubs created since the establishment of the first Koko FitClub in Boston in 2009. Redmond was 48, and the organization hopes to hit 100 by the spring.
Things are growing exponentially, and friends of friends keep asking the question, “Where to next?”