The founding team of AirFit has gotten a lot done since presenting as an early stage finalist at the Bend Venture Conference just three months ago. The startup, which aims to operate gyms inside of airports, opened its prototype facility here in Bend, is planning for a first location in New York’s JFK airport and began raising a Series A round of $2 million. We caught up with AirFit’s Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Jenna Dodge recently to learn more about the company, what travelers want from airport gyms and AirFit’s plans for the future.
Co-founders: CEO Ty Manegold, CMO Cynthia Sandall and COO Jenna Dodge
Locations: Bend, with plans to expand to New York and beyond
I guess I’m wondering, why aren’t there gyms in airports already? It’s been tried before, but it was executed poorly. Companies before had located their gyms pre-security, which is inconvenient for travelers. There was one in the Las Vegas airport, but that wasn’t the ideal spot for an airport gym, given that it is a tourist destination airport and most people coming through aren’t looking to workout.
So how would AirFit work? We plan to offer day, month and year passes. We’re developing an app that lets you purchase passes for the gym, check-in at the front desk, and reserve showers and workout clothes if you need them. We are focused on securing locations behind security. We know from our own travel experiences as well as our in-depth research that pre-security locations will not deliver the user experience we want to provide. This way travelers can come in, work out, shower, hang out in our lounge and then hop on their flights without worrying about how much time they need to leave for after their workout to clear the security checkpoint.
What’s the background of your team? Ty came up with this idea while completing his MBA at the University of Oregon. He was in the entrepreneurship program, and he recruited Cynthia, who was in the sports marketing MBA program at the University of Oregon. They brought me on because I have experience owning gyms — I owned a crossfit gym in Montana. I have degrees in math and physics and have started other businesses as well.
Traveling is so hard these days. What does your research say about how travelers would use a gym? We surveyed people inside airports as well as outside. Of the people we contacted, 92% said that they would work out during a layover as short as two hours, and half of travellers reported that they’d work out before their first flight. Roughly 20% said they’d workout after their last flight, before they head to their business meeting. Also we had a significant number of people who said they’d use the gym just for a place to shower and rest.
What kind of workout could someone get? Most people wanted cardio, so our gyms will have plenty of cardio options. There will also be space for stretching and yoga, and we’re in the process of getting approval from the TSA for free weights.
How do you even get space in an airport? Are those leases relegated to giant brands? Ty has spent a couple years travelling around and meeting people involved with airport concessions. Each airport has a process for applying for spaces that come available, and increasingly there’s an emphasis on local companies, especially in the Northwest. Most of the leases include revenue share, so you want to be able to show that you’ll make enough revenue to sustain the space.
Can AirFit compete? We definitely can. At $25, our average sales ticket is much higher than the typical airport food or coffee shop. Many of the airports want us in there for that reason. In addition, at least with Seattle and Portland, we’re also semi-local.
What’s the idea behind the prototype gym? We want to make sure the gym works before we open one in an airport. We want people to come here (to the prototype) as if they were in an airport, even bringing a carry-on bag. We want them to try out the personal storage area. They’re welcome to work out and take shower and then give us feedback one what they liked and what we can improve. Learn more here.
With the leases and the building of the gyms, this pretty capital intensive. Are you raising money? Yes, we did an initial round of seed funding for $400,000, mostly from angel investors. We’re using that to pay for the prototype gym and the basic startup costs. We’re in the process of raising our Series A — that will go toward building out our first location, which we hope will be at JFK, and funding its operation until it turns a profit.
What’s happening with your first locations? We’re in the process of defining lease terms with JFK. Cynthia, one of our co-founders, moved out east to help with that process and Ty is planning to move to New York in a couple of months. We’re also talking with Seattle and San Francisco airports, and hoping to put our second and third locations there.
So this year could be a big one? Yes, our plan is open our first two locations — one on each coast and then have a solid blueprint for the next three locations after that. We’d like to have our doors open in 2016, be bringing people in and proving the concept. We’re really excited about the progress we’ve made so far.
You can reach Kelly by email at [email protected].