Iron Tribe was founded by fitness industry veteran, Forrest Walden (bio), back in 2008 in his 400 square foot garage. Initially, it was just to have a place for Forrest to do group based workouts with his friends because he couldn’t find anywhere locally that offered the right amount of space and equipment. There was no charge to belong but you had to have a personal invite.
However, as more and more friends begged to come and join his garage gym, Forrest began to dream about what it would look like to start a brand new concept that would take his team based, group workouts to the next level and allow more lives to be impacted.
The first official Iron Tribe location opened in February of 2010. The response from the community was immediate and overwhelming. In fact, the 250 membership cap was reached in under eight months with a waiting list of others to get in. This location has operated at max capacity with a waiting list since hitting that mark in September of 2010!
With the goal of franchising the concept from the very beginning, Forrest systematically worked himself out of the business so that he could begin to refine the model and plan the next few locations. Initially starting on the floor coaching for the first three months, then moving to manager of the facility for the next three and eventually moving his office out of the first location within the first six months, ensured Forrest that he understood the model operationally and would be ready to duplicate it.
This led to partnering with Jim Cavale (bio), then a client of the ITF Homewood gym, to open the second location. The ITF 280 location is considered to be the franchise prototype, as it is located in a strip center (proving out an “anywhere USA model”) and was not dependent on Forrest or the referral base he had built from his garage gym. In fact, Jim ran it from the first day and Forrest has never coached a class or sold a client in Jim’s facility, or any for that matter, since opening that first Iron Tribe.
The ITF 280 gym also had an amazing start (100 members within 100 days) and within four months, Jim left management in the hands of his team to join Forrest in their humble 400 square foot “corporate office” to begin laying the ground work for future expansion aspirations the two had to franchise the Iron Tribe brand.
Their goal? To establish a franchise opportunity to scale the purpose of the Iron Tribe brand; “To Create Fitness Communities That Change Lives.”
The success of their second gym also proved that they had a scalable business model and system for them to continue to developing with their own gyms in Birmingham
Armed with this confidence, the search for a third location began. However, in this location, the ability to add a corporate office next door was paramount. Creating an “operations-based culture,” where the corporately owned gyms rank at the top of the chain, ensures a constant involvement in the brand-wide delivery of Iron Tribe’s day-to-day experience.
The third location, ITF Downtown, opened in March of 2012 and also experienced tremendous success. In fact, it has grew faster than any other ITF location to date. The corporate office is in fact next door and corporate team members can walk over at any point to engage with client in conversation, work with a team member on a new system or just grab a workout in one of the classes!
The very next month after the Downtown gym, ITF Mountain Brook opened up its doors as the fourth location, and less than a year after that, Iron Tribe 150 opened up in Birmingham metro’s Hoover area. Following the lead of the three other locations, each of these gyms have built fitness communities that are transforming hundreds of lives each!
Operating now five corporately owned locations in its Birmingham headquartered market, has given solid insight into the model as to how it runs most efficiently and how it can be continually developed for optimal performance by those who run it.
What this means for Iron Tribe franchise partners, is that there is no “ivory tower” corporate office environment, where the ITF Corporate Team is out of touch with those operating a franchise in the system. Anything passed down to franchisees, has been tested and proven in corporately owned gyms first. Best demonstrated practices and marketing plans are refined and maximized before they’re ever systematized as an official part of the model.
To date there have been more than 70 franchises awarded in markets ranging from Seattle to Miami, and in between.
At TribeCon, Iron Tribe’s annual franchise conference, the top performers are crowned for their achievements in establishing their fitness communities and changing lives with the Iron Tribe brand.
Most recently, TribeCon saw Iron Tribe New Orleans’ Downtown NOLA gym win the award for top franchisee, with Iron Tribe Atlanta’s On Ponce/Midtown gym, the Iron Tribe Naples’ (FL) gym, Iron Tribe Nashville’s Belmont gym and Iron Tribe Tuscaloosa’s gym, all finishing in the top five.
With dozens of franchise owners and their respective full-time teams of operators and coaches, taking the Iron Tribe brand to markets around the U.S., these five have made the biggest strides toward the Iron Tribe purpose of Creating Fitness Communities That Change Lives!