When Ellen Latham lost her job managing a Miami spa in 2000, she was a single mother to a 9-year-old and terrified she wouldn't find work. She used her background in physical education to make ends meet, eventually turning her at-home Pilates class into Orangetheory Fitness, a fast-growing exercise brand that in 2018 booked $180 million in revenue. 

Latham founded her Boca Raton, Florida-based company in 2010 with franchise-industry veterans David Long and Jerome Kern. They started with the premise that customers might experience better results if they were more attuned with how their individual bodies respond to exercise. The company achieves this with the help of wearables that track exercisers' heart rates, inclines, speeds, and calories burned. The "orange" in Orangetheory refers to the "orange zone"--that is, a period of time in which a person's heart beats at optimal efficiency. Ideally, customers should aim to spend at least 12 minutes in this zone during each 60-minute coach-led fitness class.

After hitting this point, a person's body will work harder later to recover oxygen lost during exercise, which can accelerate the metabolism and help burn calories, says Latham. People don't keep coming back to the gym for its orange motif, she says. "They are coming back because they get results from their workouts."

And that's led to significant growth for the boutique fitness brand. Indeed, in the last year, Orangetheory added 219 franchise locations and one corporate-owned studio across the U.S and India, bringing the company's global tally to more than 1,300 franchise locations. It has also built a cult-like following among members--with some devotees getting tattoos of the company's logo, notes Latham. Meanwhile, its two-year revenue totals shot up 341 percent since 2016, helping Orangetheory hit No. 35 on the 2020 Inc. 5000 Series: Florida list, a ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the state.

While the company can credit much of its past success to helping customers understand their orange zones--and cultivating a community of superfans--its future success has everything to do with being able to deliver a fuller picture of customers' health.

Part of that strategy rests in Orangetheory's use of wearables. While the company started out simply strapping heart-rate monitors to people's chests, in recent years it has begun selling the technology. Though customers can still borrow devices during class time, they can pick between four different versions of proprietary wearable devices. The gadgets cost as much as $129 and may be worn around the chest, wrist, or arm.

While Long says the devices account for just 10 percent of Orangetheory's sales, the hope is the technology will become more popular with users, as the company builds out its offerings. In December, Orangetheory partnered with Apple to create a wearable that attaches to the Apple Watch, so customers can track a wide range of fitness and wellness data.

"We believed in it so much and it was a big focus of the brand early on," says Long, Orangetheory's CEO. "We wanted to build a wearable that was easy to use and helped us pick up massive member engagement."

The company is also looking into joining the at-home fitness craze by releasing content on wellness topics, such as sleep, nutrition, and recovery guides. That's a step in the right direction, says Andrea Wroble, a health and wellness analyst with the market research company Mintel--though she thinks Orangetheory could go further by streaming its classes. Home workouts have proved to be a promising way to scale for some companies--and that could deliver dividends for Orangetheory, she says.

Orangetheory's plan to expand further into fitness tracking is a good one, because it could help the company build a stronger connection with its community, adds Wroble. "It creates a partnership with followers where the company can crowdsource ideas and the community feels seen and heard," she says.

Still, standing out in the boutique fitness industry, which has exploded in size in recent years, may be tough for Orangetheory. In 2019, the U.S. health and fitness club industry reached an estimated $34.5 billion in revenue, amid different concepts like gyms and class studios, according to Mintel. 

What's more, at-home fitness incumbents like Peloton and Mirror are already doing a sizable business and gaining widespread traction among users. So elbowing in on that market might be tough.

Latham isn't deterred. "We're not trying to create another fad in fitness. We are still appealing to huge masses and getting new clients," she says.

To that end, Orangetheory continues to grow its physical presence, which should bolster its bottom line. Individual franchises cost between $576,000 and $1.5 million to start, which includes a $59,950 initial fee. The company hopes to reach 2,200 locations worldwide by 2025.