Edward “EK” Navan isn’t your traditional franchise brand founder.
REGYMEN Fitness burst onto the scene last year, transforming the boutique fitness space with short, effective workouts backed by heart-rate science. But over the decade prior to that, Edward was pounding the pavement while traveling the country, making mistakes and applying what he learned from people he respected—and people who doubted he could do it.
He didn’t even always have a roof over his head.
“Between 2006 and now, I’ve had over 23 addresses,” said Edward. “I would often sleep on a friend’s couch, live in an extended hotel, or in an office. But I always knew where I was going. I knew that if I kept at it and kept treating people the right way, no one could stop me.”
Born and raised in Atlanta, Edward attending Berry College to play baseball and be a history major. After an injury put him out of commission, a professor recommended giving exercise science a shot. Soon, Edward’s apprehensions about studying anatomy and physiology transformed into a fascination, and he earned his degree in exercise physiology.
“I absolutely fell in love with learning about the different ways the body works, and how professional athletes and everyday people alike can build strength, move better and stay healthy,” recalled Edward. “I couldn't get enough. It changed the way I viewed fitness, my own training, and how I could work with other people.”
After college, Edward returned to Atlanta in search of a way to turn his passion into a profession. He started at a gym as a personal trainer, but struggled to market and sell his services to clients. Just when he considered giving up, Edward’s boss offered him a deal: If he stuck it out for 30 days and learned the ropes of sales, his rent would be covered. Edward took a chance on himself and agreed.
“I learned how to effectively sell training by learning how to understand people,” he said. “It’s not only about holding degrees and having technical knowledge about exercise—it’s about finding a common bond, listening more than you talk, and understanding what a client really needs.” Over the course of 30 days, Edward signed on more than 30 personal training members and accumulated a stellar roster of new clients.
This was a turning point for Edward. His goal of having a career in fitness had evolved into creating his own successful business. Through working with clients from all walks of life, Edward realized that he wanted to expand his business by working with more trainers and club owners. Over the course of five years, Edward and his business partner expanded his coaching business throughout the Atlanta market. In 2006, Edward decided that to further grow and learn more about the state of the fitness industry overall, he needed to see more clubs throughout the country—so he sold off his portion of the business and joined an established fitness manufacturing company. Edward served as a territory manager and consultant, working hands-on with gym owners around the Southeast.
After two and a half years of nonstop travel, Edward decided to apply what he learned and go for it. He opened a handful of his own fitness clubs within Atlanta. “When I opened those clubs, I found out firsthand how hard it is to be an owner-operator,” said Edward, never one to sugar-coat things. “It’s really difficult to run a business—the personal training side was much different.”
Three years after opening his clubs, Edward was ready to hit the road again in order to learn even more. He sold his gyms and became a representative with a fitness equipment company—this time, working with club owners to help create their ideal interior layouts. “By this point, I had a unique understanding of the industry,” said Navan. “I was gaining experience from every angle of a business—in sales, as a personal trainer and as a club owner.”
By this point, the first sparks of REGYMEN Fitness, Edward’s dream business, had begun to ignite.
“I always knew my end goal, and just had to keep moving, keeping my head down and learning,” said Edward. “I wanted to keep my hands on the pulse of the industry and understand how things were constantly changing in the field of fitness. I spent so much time building my networks of people. As it turned out, they helped me as I helped them, and these relationships continue to evolve.”
Like many others watching the industry in 2015, Edward noticed the emerging popularity of boutique fitness studios. “Training had changed quite a bit. It started becoming all about high-intensity, small group workouts,” he said. “I wanted to start my own version of what I knew that should be.” Edward wasn’t certain what this looked like, but he knew he had enough pieces to the puzzle to begin the process of creating the ultimate platform and experience.
So, he did—but in his own way, of course. Edward contacted some of the big box club owners he had built close relationships with over the years and pitched them his idea: By bringing boutique-style high-intensity interval classes to their health clubs, he could drive more revenue for owners while competing with the trendy studios.
Meanwhile, in order to keep his dream afloat, Edward worked three jobs to help keep his vision funded and on track. From 2015 to 2018, while running his licensed model inside of big boxes, he continued traveling the country as an equipment representative, learning what clients from New York to Chicago to San Francisco wanted from their workouts. Edward used what he saw to refine his product within clubs around the nation. “We were training our coaches and sales staff and creating a culture we were proud of,” said Edward. “We were testing the product, getting feedback, and learning from every mistake.”
The stars aligned in 2017 when Edward met industry veterans Donnie Jarreau and Troy Archer at an IHRSA trade show. Jarreau and Archer had been asking around about the latest cutting-edge programming, and thanks to Edward’s extensive network and widely-known ambition, they were quickly pointed toward the entrepreneur. Edward explained the systems he’d created and his vision for a studio.
“They loved the concept, and they said they believed in it,” Edward said. “They’d been in the big box health club game for over 25 years and knew that the boutique studio model was the direction they needed to go in. They took what I’d been building for three years and had the resources, and most importantly, the shared vision, to finally back it.”
Thus, REGYMEN Fitness began.
“Donnie and Troy afforded me the luxury to go hire my dream team—hand-picked people that I had worked with and kept in touch with for over 10 years. All that time, I was building bridges instead of burning them,” explained Edward.
Jarreau brought on Tom O’Keefe, who was well-known within the industry through working with major franchises Smoothie King and Anytime Fitness, as REGYMEN’s president. O’Keefe brought on Nick Binnings, who had a successful pedigree starting franchises and growing companies, as Chief Operating Officer.
“Everyone in the industry knew I was always working on something but just hadn’t found the right avenue yet,” said Navan. “Honestly, those people saw a lot more misses than hits, but I kept my head down and stayed the course.”
Edward’s commitment paid off in March 2018 when the team officially opened the first REGYMEN Fitness studio in Pensacola, Florida. In the first year alone, 10 REGYMEN studios opened across Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, Texas and North Dakota. Edward also formed a close relationship with the YMCA, making his specialized workouts more accessible to communities through the iconic organization.
In 2019, the team decided that the best route for REGYMEN Fitness would be a retail storefront, most effective as a stand-alone model for franchising with licenses only made available to select YMCA branches.
Today, REGYMEN Fitness is just getting started.
“I want REGYMEN to be a nationwide company, expanding internationally over the course of the next five years,” said Edward, ever the visionary. “We want our franchisees to be the most passionate and empowered owners in the industry—we want them to be the brand.”
Indeed, as REGYMEN Fitness continues taking the industry by storm, Edward continues putting people above all, just as he has his entire career. He looks forward to helping provide financial freedom and stability for REGYMEN coaches and employees and eventually seeing them evolve into owners of their very own studios—just as he was able to.
“When someone hands me a check to buy a franchise, they are putting their kids' college money on the line. I take that personally,” he said. “I want to make sure we are giving them the best possible product and support. That is why I've brought the team in that I have—industry professionals that care deeply and honestly about other people.”
Edward speaks transparently of his career’s ebbs and flows. To him, they are a testament to his creativity, resiliency and trust in his vision, and he wants REGYMEN franchisees to feel that their risks are worthwhile, too.
“Well-respected people in the industry told me that it would never work. How do you dig out of that? You just keep going,” he said. “To get to your end goal, you will have disagreements with people, accept criticisms, and understand that every bit of advice is there to help you evolve and grow. You’ll have to swallow your pride sometimes. At the end of the day, you have to keep your mind focused and you have to bring people up along with you. I want our franchisees to understand we’ve been there—we’ve felt the lowest, and we’ve felt the highest. And going forward, we will get to the highest together.”
If Edward’s grit is any indication, the sky isn’t even the limit for REGYMEN Fitness.
“I never knew how I’d do it. I don't even know how we are here now,” he said. “You just have to believe—and keep doing it."