Carl Fantauzzo and Bernard Birnbaum are ready to compete.
Competition isn’t anything new to the partners behind The Warrior Factory, a new Rochester, New York-based franchise set to debut at the International Franchise Expo taking place at the Javitz Center in New York City on May 31 – June 2.
Fantauzzo is a five-time American Ninja Warrior competitor and national finalist who just recently finished filming for the show’s 10th season. Birnbaum is a real estate professional, investor and entrepreneur who caught the American Ninja Warrior bug as a fan and has competed across the country as part of the growing “ninja community”.
Now, the partners are set to tackle the franchise industry with the same drive and determination that is required for success when navigating and conquering the obstacle courses made famous by American Ninja Warrior. With registration of the company’s FDD in New York complete, The Warrior Factory team are set to unveil The Warrior Factory franchise opportunity at IFE with a large 20 foot by 20 foot island booth (#741) complete with an obstacle structure build out to provide demonstrations and let would-be franchisees experience the brand.
Much like competing on ANW, being strategic and building momentum has been the key to reaching this point in the company’s journey.
Creating The Foundation for the Factory
Prior to his first appearance on the popular NBC show in 2014, Fantauzzo found success with the family business, owning liquor stores and expanding into craft beer. This was a focal point of the profile the show did on Fantauzzo where crews from ANW traveled to his hometown, met with his family, and showed him in his businesses.
This caught the attention of Bernard Birnbaum, a third generation real estate professional and entrepreneur who had experience helping several startup ventures find success. Birnbaum saw in Fantauzzo not just a fellow ninja enthusiast, but also a potential business partner.
“I was one of those couch ninjas, sitting at home saying, ‘I can do that,’ and finally my wife told me to go for it. I found a gym in Buffalo and was making the more than an hour drive there from Rochester once a week to train. The whole time I was wishing there was a gym closer, so when I saw Carl on the show, I reached out to him and told him that I was in Rochester and asked if he ever wanted to open a gym. I reached out to him and didn’t hear back. I connected again a year or two later. It evolved from there,” said Birnbaum.
The two set out and traveled around the country to scout other ninja gyms. With that insight, they began to develop The Warrior Factory model focused on the differentiators and elements the two felt were important to be successful and make a positive impact in any community they served.
“We traveled to a ton of gyms that were doing things connected to the ninja obstacle courses, but we didn’t feel like they were doing it right. These weren’t businessmen and the experience was lacking what we felt we could create. Bernard and I really hit it off from the beginning and it has become the perfect partnership,” said Fantauzzo.
“One of the things we decided was to be retail-focused in our approach,” added Birnbaum. “There are a lot of real estate opportunities with big box stores that are now vacant. Plus, parents don’t want to take their kids to industrial parks late at night for classes – a lot of the other gyms were in those types of areas. We also decided to have separate areas for kids and adults inside of the gym. We created a concept that can exist in locations that give parents peace of mind,” said Birnbaum.
A year and a half later, the team opened the doors to The Warrior Factory in Rochester and the company has been thriving ever since. Based on that strong start, the team has continued to revamp The Warrior Factory prototype with plans to open 2nd and 3rd locations in the near future that will further maximize the amount of revenue possible.
“We complement each other well. Carl is great at being a brand ambassador and I bring experience as a property manager and in the real estate industry. Between the two of us we are able to leverage our strengths to make the overall business better,” said Birnbaum.
Franchising The Factory
The success of the partners’ first location led to several inquiries about franchising the concept and the two discussed and ultimately decided to explore the viability of a franchise model. They traveled to the International Franchise Association Annual Convention in Phoenix in February 2018, and that’s when they met Steve Beagelman, President & CEO of SMB Franchise Advisors.
“I was immediately impressed with the management team behind the brand. Carl’s experience competing at the high level he has and the national exposure through American Ninja Warrior, and Bernard’s expertise in the business and real estate sectors, it is just really a strong, complimentary fit,” said Beagelman. “Brands that are in the fitness category right now are really hot and this takes that to a whole other level. I think The Warrior Factory has a lot of legs and it’s going to be an exciting brand to watch grow.”
Beagelman and SMB Franchise Advisors helped finalize The Warrior Factory’s FDD ahead of the International Franchise Expo where they plan to kick off their franchise development initiative. The company is immediately focused on the northeast for growth and has a goal to start by opening 3-5 locations per year and scale from there.
“We’re headquartered in the northeast, so it makes sense to grow from there. The concept is great for both colder and warmer weather. When it’s cold, people are looking to do things indoors and then during the summer, kids are off so you have birthday parties and events,” said Fantauzzo.
For Fantauzzo and Birnbaum, the ideal The Warrior Factory franchisee doesn’t need to have a ninja background. The franchise model includes support from the corporate team to utilize a database of ninjas, trainers and managers who have been on American Ninja Warrior or are active in the industry and can complement those with the financial requirements to invest in the franchise opportunity. However, franchisees should have a passion for seeing people grow – both kids and adults – and make an impact in their communities. One of the company’s largest revenue streams is birthday parties where the team teaches kids all of the ninja techniques as part of the brand’s proprietary curriculum, part of the package provided to franchisees.
“We have great stories about kids who could barely lift their own body weight at first, and now they’re swinging around and doing the obstacles,” said Fantauzzo. “My passion has always been the kids and being part of a new movement and that matches Bernard’s. The show is turning ninja into a huge sport with an immense following. There are touring competitions and leagues that continue to grow every year. We want people who are passionate about getting kids off the couch, getting them off their iPads.”
As the company begins its foray into franchising, they are positioning the opportunity as a ground level chance for investors to be a part of the first ever “obstacle park” franchise.
“It’s such a new industry. It’s just flying right now. There has been such a resurgence of this obstacle course exercise, especially for children. They are going to be filming American Ninja Warrior Jr. for kids ages 9 through 13 soon. So, it’s not just the gyms shifting, but the show is seeing the opportunity for the children,” said Birnbaum.
Beagelman, a franchise industry expert of more than 25 years who has assisted over 200 companies grow their concepts through his SMB Franchise Advisors consulting firm, sees big things ahead for the emerging franchisors.
“In my opinion, this is the next evolution of the trampoline parks. The Warrior Factory is an exciting and unique concept for investors looking for the next thing within the very hot fitness category,” said Beagelman.