Krishea Holloway heads up the legacy brand that helped put boutique studios, HIIT, franchising and women’s fitness on the map.
When Krishea Holloway walked into Curves for the very first time, she was 20 years old and a new accounting graduate from the University of Hawaii – Manoa. Today, as President and CEO of the brand that blazed the trail in women’s health, boutique fitness and circuit training, she is the very embodiment of the chain’s target market: a busy, wellness-conscious, 40+ woman who wants effective strength and cardiovascular training in a fun, supportive, non-competitive community.
En route from Hawaii to Georgia with her high school sweetheart husband in the late-‘90s, Krishea stopped in Kentucky to visit with family. Her mother suggested going for a workout: “You don’t have to worry about any make up or anything because it’s all women,” she said. Krishea didn’t know what to expect from a small-scale, ladies-only club. What she discovered was a full-body resistance and cardio circuit with fast-paced 30-second intervals, and a variety of movements and equipment that challenged her and stirred up muscle memories of her youth in competitive karate. She also found franchising announcements pinned to the gym bulletin board that seemed to shout out, “New Concept!” at a very reasonable $19.9K price tag.
With her entrepreneurial wheels turning, Krishea settled in Georgia and started due diligence immediately. She attended the 5-day Club Camp orientation in Waco in December 1997, and opened her first Curves in January 1998. One location led multiple locations, then to 15 years working in nearly every department in the corporate office, earning her a profound understanding of all the aspects of the company from the front lines to the back- and boardrooms.
“We’re 30 this year, and we’re proud of it,” says Krishea, who took the helm at the end of 2019, just five months shy of COVID closures. Even though Curves has the monicker “the old ladies’ gym,” she touts the legacy brand as a trailblazer that set the bar for of boutique fitness decades ago. “We [started] a lot of what we’re seeing in the fitness industry, along with franchising,” she explains. “We were one of the first fitness franchises out there.”
Furthermore, while boutique fitness has flourished and women often outnumber men in studio classes, Curves is still one of the very few brands that speaks exclusively and directly to women. “We are our own niche,” states Krishea. “What hasn’t changed [in three decades] is that women need strength training. We need something that is fun, fast and safe. We juggle a lot of things on our task list, and we need something effective, and our 30-minute workout is just that.”
Krishea points out that Curves was also a pioneer in high intensity circuit workouts. “We did interval training even before it was called HIIT: 30 seconds on resistance then 30 seconds on metabolic conditioning… The 30-minute, full-body workout is our home-grown concept, and there are some things that don’t need to change.”
A legacy brand does not, however, mean legacy thinking. “You have to be able to look ahead,” says Krishea. “You have to consistently ask: what do [our customers] need and want, and how does that play into our business model without changing our culture or our philosophy.”
With a keen dedication to their savvy, mature, female market, Curves embraces technology and develops innovative ways to educate and connect with clients. MyCurves on Demand launched in January 2020 and gained momentum through COVID. Franchisees shipped resistance bands to subscribers so at-home workouts could reflect the in-studio intervals even without a home gym, and coaches made one-to-one calls to check in with clients and provide the kind of personalized touch that digital just can’t replace.
“I do think the hybrid approach is the way forward for the fitness industry,” says Krishea. “We see the future as a seamless integration between bricks and mortar in-club fitness and on-demand fitness. It’s really the best of both worlds: get the workout when and where you want it with the support and guidance of the coach.”
Curves has also developed and implemented nutrition programming and Health and Wellness Education classes, which address topics of specific concern to women, such as strengthening the pelvic floor, stretching, stress reduction, balance, and posture. “We also recently introduced new technology to our franchisees and our members with body scanning and target heart rate tracking,” Krishea adds. “This will help our coaches with member accountability, gamification and retention
Both forward-thinking and past-informed, Curves is capitalizing on what has fueled their long history of success while innovating for their market, and Krishea’s believes that the company will emerge from the pandemic stronger than before. There current focus is on helping franchisees regrow their memberships and get revenue back up. They’re even testing a Curves On the Go franchise concept that brings functional fitness off the circuit and into a few outdoor neighborhood locations.
Being a woman at the top of a company that serves exclusively women against the backdrop of a male-dominant industry is an interesting place to be. Krishea is proud that “the majority of our franchisees are women, and we like to help straighten each other’s crowns,” she says, but she also realizes that the company’s ripe “old” age and perhaps its female focus yields a misapprehension that Curves is somehow dated or stale.
In a world where “everybody thinks the newest concept is the concept they need to be focused on,” a legacy brand like Curves isn’t often invited to sit at the table. “We do get overlooked,” admits Krishea. Nevertheless, “We’re still here and it still works. Women’s health is important to us, and we will continue strengthening women for the next 30 years.”