Ashburn’s BlackBench Fit founders look to the future
There are no bench press machines or rows of Nautilus equipment.
One of the rooms simply has dumbbells piled along two walls in a corner and resistance bands hung over hooks.
For co-founders Lisa Allen and Trish Drennan the simple nature of their workouts began as a practical necessity five years ago when the company started.
The two mothers, each with three children at home, had jobs in public and investor relations.
They lugged their black benches around in SUVs. Their first workout was at a park and it had eight participants.
By late fall of that year, the weather became so cold that Drennan and Allen packed up at the end of a workout one day and said "see you in the spring."
Customers were miffed. They wanted more.
There was such a demand to continue classes that they had to figure out a way to produce a year-round program.
The women bought a trailer, and eventually the company began renting an indoor dance studio, alternately conducting classes outdoors for six months and indoors for six months.
For a time the two resisted moving into a brick and mortar location, because the overhead cost was tremendous. It also indefinitely hemmed Allen and Drennan into one space.
After consideration, however, they realized that a physical space confers a level of legitimacy the company needed in order to recruit qualified trainers and boost membership.
When they did make the decision to move into a physical location they knew it needed plenty of space and the ability to go outdoors.
They found their spot in a non-descript industrial park, tucked in with Lost Rhino Brewing Co. and the Times-Mirror distribution offices in Ashburn.
BlackBench Fit is not trying to be everything to everybody. Drennan acknowledged that her program isn't for everyone, but for the ones who are there to work.
"We get on people for not showing up to class," said Drennan explaining that there is really only a one strike policy with the BlackBench Team. After that Drennan or a team member is going to call and ask why you couldn't make it.”
Instead of having the bells and whistles and aesthetics of a traditional gym, the company focuses on accountability.
Allen and Drennan have built a core following by being real with their clientele.
One of the bullet points on their website states, "No quick fixes will be promised: Rock-hard, chiseled bodies can’t be achieved in 90 days and an Acai drink won’t help you shed 20 pounds. "
The company monetizes its program by offering two payment options. Patrons can chose to join for an eight-week program or they can become an annual member and pay on a monthly basis.
The company offers services in nutrition and even has an agreement with a local organic food provider to deliver healthy pre-packaged meals to patrons who live a more busy lifestyle, for an added charge.
One of the initiatives of the company more recently was to get young people who are not members of a sports team or club to still take control of their fitness.
After a bit of time the program gained traction and athletes began to come in their off-season.
Earlier this month, the company joined with Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning.
Their intention is to help young athletes prevent injuries, in lieu of training them for performance in a particular sport.
Both Allen and Drennan mentioned that many young athletes are highly skilled, but if they're injured than their skills can not be utilized anyway.
By grabbing a younger market and creating a loyal following, BlackBench Fit can add to their membership, maybe even grab some parents in the process.
When asked about the future, Drennan, who has a background in finance, explained that successful companies are like successful athletes, they look at things in terms of long run stability, not on a season-to-season or quarter-to-quarter basis.