When Pure Barre was acquired in October of 2018, the fitness franchise had grown to roughly 500 locations, but in recent years it had experienced high turnover in the executive ranks. That trend would only worsen as the brand joined Irvine, California-based Xponential Fitness. Sarah Luna, the president of Pure Barre, explains how she managed to rebuild a decimated and nationally dispersed company--and how she infused the new operation with a culture of communication. --As told to Christine Lagorio-Chafkin

In the early days after the acquisition, I traveled the country to interview all of Pure Barre's 45 or so corporate employees--they were scattered in offices in Denver and Spartanburg, South Carolina, as well as remote offices in other cities. I went to say, "You're a great employee, we want to keep you. Everyone is moving to Irvine, California, and you're more than welcome to come." In most cases, the answer was "no."

Just one employee relocated, and three others stayed on. While I needed to scramble to hire, I discovered there were not a lot of efficiencies in the previous structure. For instance, there had been four administrators overseeing the front desk, handling small tasks and pushing paper around--franchise agreements or any sort of contract. So I hired just one person to do the job going forward. She went to go train with the four individuals and came back defeated, saying, "You're expecting me to do four people's jobs!"

And so a lot of my early days involved coaching the new team in and telling them, "You have to trust me. I'm not expecting you to do four people's work. What I am expecting you to do is help me find a solution so that it's manageable by, you know, one or two individuals." It is possible: Today we use DocuSign, and we digitized thousands of paper documents.

The exodus of corporate employees gave us the opportunity to have this Renaissance phase--a year of asking "What do you want your job to be? How do you want your department to function?" and then saying "Go run and make it happen." I hired 15 people in the two months before the holidays. The key to making it all work was to check in with everyone often.

We'd just moved into new offices in Irvine, and we didn't have phone lines or desks yet. It was like bootstrapping--but bootstrapping a company that already had 500 franchise locations. The staff that are still here today are the ones that look back and go, "Oh my gosh, that was so incredible and fun."

For the first two or three months, every week I met with every department. That was enough time to allow them to move really quickly, but not run too far down the wrong path before checking in with me again. I also started having all-hands-on-deck team meetings every single week, where we would go through the entire business.

Our mantra coming in was "We've gotta be united. Let's be 500 moving as one." Everyone hears everything that's happening with the business. That has also allowed us to run very quickly, and also helped us prevent a culture of, "Well I didn't know, or I wasn't told."

One of the early things that I brought into the company was producing very well-written standard operating procedure documents as well as doing a national sales call monthly for all of the general managers and all of the franchise partners. It was solely dedicated to helping them grow the sales of their business. It allowed everyone the most information--and saved my bandwidth from answering one-off questions.

We've had to make massive, hard changes and we're finally starting to see the results. We've spent the last year investing $14 million into our studios, and refreshing their design. We also did a software conversion for all of the studios. We launched a new membership app. We launched a new website. 

There was some animosity for a while from our partners, with all the changes. But since then, we have seen double-digit growth in same-store sales. Franchise partners that previously had been planning on selling their studios now report that they've never made more money.

And our structure of communications is clearly working. I had a franchise prospect come to me and say he'd asked five of my employees the same question--and got the same answer. He knew we were all on the same page. He said: "I feel like I can really trust this team."

Published on: Nov 18, 2019