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Baby Boot Camp's Appeal Starting to Show

This pregnancy niche franchise has moms-to-be talking.

Baby Boot Camp

Any number of Web sites feature the merits of


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Dunkin' Donuts



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But while these big names tend to hog the spotlight, moms-to-be are sipping on their Dunkin' lattes while talking about an innovative but still under-the-radar franchise.

Florida-based Baby Boot Camp is aimed at expectant mothers in search of a safe workout. Kristen Horler, the company's chief executive and founder, began franchising her business in 2003, adding 12 new franchisees the first year and doubling expansion the next. This year, her franchisees will number 120. In the past six months, her recruitment more than doubled, with up to 10 franchisees signing on every month.

Franchisees have reported receiving calls even before doing any local advertising.

So why are expectant mothers demanding this hot concept in their hometowns?

Franchising a Need

"There didn't used to be any programs catering to the

pre- and post-natal group," says Horler. As a personal trainer expecting her first child in 2001, she couldn't find any prenatal workout programs to fit her needs, so she created a fitness category. While franchises like

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Curves cater to women's fitness, nothing had yet filled that pregnant and postpartum niche.

"Many fitness experts say they're scared to death of pregnant women," she says, emphasizing the importance of strength training combined with cardio during and after pregnancy. Baby Boot Camp provides fitness programming to pregnant and postpartum women in a group environment, safely adjusting the workout to women at different stages of pregnancy.

Horler says more women realize it's safe and beneficial to exercise during pregnancy, leading to an upswing in membership.

"In 2001 I thought we were just filling a local need, but I found that women everywhere are desperate for this," she says. In about four years, Baby Boot Camp franchises expanded to 26 states, Canada, Bermuda and the U.K.

Forget Maternity Leave

Not surprisingly, 96% of Baby Boot Camp franchisees are women and 85% of those are mothers or pregnant.

Most Baby Boot Camp franchisees are recreational or professional athletes who made full-time career switches to the health and fitness field. Considering most franchises in that field average about $28,500 in startup costs, according to FRANdata, Baby Boot Camp, at $2,800 to $6,800, is a bargain.

Like many franchises, Baby Boot Camp doesn't provide earnings claims, but Horler says most owners see a profit in their first year. Unlike typical gyms, Baby Boot Camp classes take place at various locales such as parks and malls, so costly rent is eliminated.

Initial startup fee

: $2,800 to $6,800

Factors affecting startup costs


  • Initial franchise fee -- $2,200 to $4,200
  • Insurance -- about $200
  • Fitness certification -- about $400

Erin Shirey started her first Boot Camp franchise three years ago with 22 paying moms. Now she has about 145 members at her Portland and Beaverton, Ore., locations. She made back her initial investment in the first four weeks and is grossing two and a half times what she made the first year.

Shirey, now Baby Boot Camp's West Coast manager, knows women that had to sell their franchises because they couldn't juggle family and business. The mother-child franchise fills a unique niche for women with families, she says.

"After their first or second baby, women don't want to continue traveling and having late night meetings," says Horler. Yet, these women also don't want to be shut out of the business world. Now in her second pregnancy, Shirey has no plans of taking maternity leave, as bringing her first child to business meetings is no problem. "People know this is a mother and child business," she says.

Most of the business is home-based, and Horler schedules her office duties around her children's' nap times, taking them to class when she teaches. "The mom and baby niche market is huge and growing all the time," says Shirey. "A business like this wouldn't be possible eight years ago, but now we are able to do it out of our houses."

Besides blending motherhood and business, the franchise provides a much-needed support group for both owners and members. "You're not only getting classes, you're entering into a supportive network," says Shirey.

Best of all, Shirey points out, the market isn't going anywhere. "People are always going to get pregnant and have kids," she says.

Out of more than 2,900 franchise systems currently active in the U.S., 779 concepts have started franchising in the past three years, according to the 2007 State of Franchising report by

FRANdata. The health and fitness category was second only to fast-food restaurants in new-concept growth from 2003 to 2006.