Excel Fitness: Differentiating in Multi-Site Consumer Services

The Harris Williams Consumer Group recently advised Excel Fitness, a portfolio company of Altamont Capital Partners, on its sale to Olympus Partners. Excel Fitness is one of the country’s largest owned and operated fitness platforms with more than 90 locations. 

Here, our Consumer Group senior bankers shed light on why demand for fitness and other multi-site assets is returning, which traits made Excel Fitness a highly desirable company, and what investors should know about trends in the broader multi-site consumer landscape.

Back on the Radar

M&A investors are watching the consumer multi-site services space closely given resurgent consumer spending on away-from-home experiences. “We are continuing to see multi-site services subsectors such as fitness, early childhood enrichment, and experiential retail attract high levels of consumer traffic as consumers spend more dollars on experiences and services versus products,” says Ryan Budlong, a managing director in the Consumer Group. “Replicable business models, strong unit economics, the ability to open new locations, and the opportunity to carry out consolidation strategies in fragmented markets add to the appeal.” 

In terms of the fitness market, it had grown steadily for many years prior to COVID-19, with new opportunities being created by a few key trends. In the decade prior to the pandemic, the high-value, low-price (HVLP) model, high-end fitness clubs, and boutique studios drove much of the market growth, often at the expense of mid-market concepts. 

“Coming out of the pandemic, we are seeing the true platform brands in HVLP drive the recovery in the fitness market as a result of a disruptive value proposition being delivered to their members,” explains Zach England, a director in the Consumer Group. “The HVLP thesis investors had about the market and which models would take control has proven true. The leading players that were doing well pre-pandemic have accelerated market share gains, while mid-market and other local mom-and-pop operations continue to struggle or closed during the pandemic. Investors know these businesses are time-tested, resilient, and high-performing companies.” 

Exemplifying a Winning Model

Excel Fitness is an apt example of a successful consumer multi-site business. This differentiated group within the Planet Fitness system has developed a highly unique, value-added operating model, which drives new joins, customer retention, and a top-notch overall member experience. The markets where Excel Fitness has strategically chosen to operate is another crucial success factor, says Budlong: “These areas are seeing some of the strongest population growth in the country, and fitness and other multi-site businesses are often strong beneficiaries of high-growth geographies.” 

“Being in high-density markets with increasing populations can be important drivers of demand, for both new joins and retention rates,” explains England. “Operators with excellent new site selection teams like Excel’s maximize the platform’s potential traffic and membership levels by capitalizing on attractive real estate in dense locations throughout the U.S.” 

Excel Fitness also showcases the power of a strong top-to-bottom management team. England says the team is made up of true operators: “They know what they’re doing, can carry out their strategy across multiple locations over large scale, and have data-driven tools to inform decisions. Plus, Excel’s industry expertise doesn’t stop at corporate headquarters. A knowledgeable and experienced field team is a vital success driver of any fitness or multi-site company, and Excel has made such a team a priority.” 

“In today’s market, we are seeing investors more and more focused on businesses like Excel that potentially stand to benefit from, and perform well in light of, inflationary pressures and macroeconomic swings,” adds Budlong. “Whether in sectors like early childhood enrichment or the experience economy, investors are looking for defensible positions and growth across economic cycles, with resilience against supply chain disruptions or inflationary pressures.” 

In addition, buyers are highly focused on white space opportunities for these assets beyond the next five years, notes Budlong. “Buyers are asking what the asset’s 10-year growth plan looks like, what are the growth levers, and is there M&A growth opportunity?” 

Lastly, England noted a relatively new trend that investors are exploring: “As we’ve seen in the franchisor world, many operators want to become diversified platforms with multiple brands. If an operator can run one brand well, adding another brand or tangential concept can add a lot of value to the business.”

Conclusion

With consumers returning to gyms, studios, and other in-person businesses, the fitness and broader multi-site services sectors are on a rapid upward trajectory. Excel Fitness exemplifies a platform with the right capabilities to take full advantage of this growth. 

In addition to covering the multi-site consumer space, the Harris Williams Consumer Group has expertise across a wide range of sectors. 

To learn more, please contact our senior bankers. 

From essential services to the latest trends, the consumer industry provides investors with many ways to generate value. Led by experienced professionals, our Consumer Group partners with global investors and high-growth companies to turn their goals into reality. Our clients rely on us to understand their strategic options in the market and unlock value in their businesses through M&A. 

We have deep industry knowledge across sectors, including consumer products; consumer services; restaurant and retail; and food, beverage, and agribusiness. 

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