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Brandon Cullen’s MADabolic targets high achievers looking to age athletically.

Fitness for every body is a hot button topic these days and the majority of gyms and boutiques market to a full range of clientele with high-five-friendliness and workouts that adapt to every attitude and skill level. MADabolic makes no bones about going after the high achiever who values strength, structure, and accountability. It’s by no means a lack of sensitivity, body-positivity or accessibility that motivates the growing franchise and co-founder, Brandon Cullen; it is a desire to create a non-nonsense, performance-driven space where people just like him can gather to train intelligently.

Brandon Cullen’s 6’1” frame “wasn’t exactly huge” compared to the other players in the Ontario Hockey League, East Coast Hockey League, and American Hockey League where he played in the late-90s/early 2000s. It was a rough, hard-hitting game for the 17-year-old power forward who prioritized fitness and conditioning to make sure he could compete with the men in major juniors. In the off-season, Brandon hit the gym hard and even trained other players in to help supplement his late-night bartender income. At the peak of his career, the day after he signed his first NHL contract, Brandon suffered a career-ending concussion and never played again.

At 27, exploring what felt like a natural transition to fitness and coaching, he and fellow former hockey pro, Kirk Dewaele, identified a conspicuous hole in the fitness market. “We saw successful products in everyday boot camp-style training, and there was really good sport-specific training, but there was [nothing] in the middle, which essentially was us – this pocket where you could train everyday people (or people that are somewhat past their sport) like athletes,” says Brandon.

Together, he and Kirk developed MADabolic, a strength-driven interval training concept that prioritized a one-on-one coaching experience in a group atmosphere. They targeted an underserved demographic of high achievers looking “to age athletically” with less “fluff” and more force, fewer high fives and more structure and accountability.

“No one’s really targeting these everyday go-getters,” says Brandon. “In North America, most competitors are chasing the 25-and-under/40-and-over client pushing calories burned and weight loss.  Sure, I think it’s a bigger market, but I also think it’s really crowded. If you think of cycling, Pilates, boot camps, hot yoga – they’re all really chasing this one generic consumer.”

MADabolic proudly markets itself as the industry’s first and only strength-biased interval training franchise where personal performance is revered, not feared, and strengthening supersedes socializing. The typical client is 25 to 45 years old, but Brandon maintains that the workout’s appeal has more to do with mindset than an age or body type. MADabolic clients are results-oriented, A-type individuals who seem to crave the best things in life right across the board. They’re less likely to linger post-workout than they are to high tail it out the door to their next bit of business, whether it’s a kids’ carpool or a corporate meeting.

The M.A.D. Difference

The MAD in MADabolic refers to the studio’s signature intervals: M, for Momentum is “a gradual build in intensity where clients learn to manage their pace over a 30- to 35-minute build,” Brandon explains. “On these days we’re focusing on athleticism and endurance – single sided athletic based movements, foot speed drills, jumping and landing – all these intervals are done at a 2:1 work-to-rest ratio. The goal is to teach clients how to manage their pace so that they come out of the gates at about 70% and peak at a nice, controlled sprint at about 90%.” The “A” is for Anaerobic, a 1:1 work-to-rest session that concentrates on speed and power and provides ample recovery intervals, so when it’s time to go, you can hit maximum effort and then repeat. “D” for Durability is a 3:1 work-to-rest ratio: longer, usually slower, “down and dirty” work periods, like hitting the slide board for two to five minutes followed by a bear crawl for two to five minutes or a farmer’s carry for two to five minutes.

Through a consistent top-down approach, Brandon and Kirk program the 52-week annual calendar, which is split into four 12-week cycles and rolled out to all the franchises. Every 13th week is an unloaded week emphasizing slower range of motion movements without weights. “We have well over 10,000 clients within the system right now across the 22 locations and 75% of them are on an unlimited contract and train with us four to five days a week,” says Brandon. “They’re a committed bunch. So, if you’ve been grinding it out for 12 weeks, you welcome that unloaded week.” It also provides a window into the all-important disciplines of mobility training and recovery that intelligent, life-long athletes require.

Trainers and Tech

The coach-to-client relationship is of paramount importance at MADabolic. Carefully selected and trained coaches perform the demos that preface every class and, while they’re charismatic and supportive, they’re also the allies that high achievers crave. “You come in our doors and we’re here to make you fundamentally better from a performance-related or movement-related aspect every single day,” says Brandon.

Franchise partners are encouraged to be extremely selective when hiring coaches who are sent to Charlotte, NC for a two-day boot camp. There, movement patterns are stripped down to fundamental mechanics and baselines are set for on-floor training expectations. Back in their host cities, trainers go through a four-to-six-week onboarding process, which includes shadowing and implementing them strategically on the training floor. “Your clients get to see them going through this and they really respect that you’re not just throwing somebody on the floor after a two-day certification,” says Brandon.

He also explains that while nothing will ever replace the live-and-in-person demos and individualized attention on the MADabolic training floor, the company is always open to technology that enhances customer experience and deepens the client-trainer relationship. MADabolic’s internal music team curate’s playlists so trainers can personalize the feel of their class with off-radar alternative, dance, hip hop, and rap mixes; they offer clients a free downloadable nutrition blueprint; and they “developed an entire learning management software that is implemented company-wide from the pre-opening franchise journey path to the general manager and sales path, to the trainer learning path.” Their goal is always to streamline operations and data aggregation, but to keep the in-studio experience driven by human connection.

A Strong Expansion

The tools and processes behind MADabolic’s expansion evolved from the founders’ deep belief in their niche product, their years of frontline dedication, and deliberate partnerships. Brandon and Kirk had grown the MADabolic portfolio to 10 successful locations yet turned away franchise requests to prevent scaling beyond the systems they had in place. Private equity offered to take over, but the duo wanted to maintain a hand in directing the future of their enterprise.

Then, in 2019, ZGrowth Partners approached them. “They are a franchise accelerant and they brought capital and business expertise into our business,” says Brandon “ZGrowth came in and they said, ‘We’re blown away with what you have done [so far]… We are great at scale. We have decades in franchising experience. We want to help you with that and give you more time back to make the workout experience better’.” The MADabolic team is now filled with experts in various areas, from legal and real estate to marketing and social media, so that every aspect of the client journey and the franchisee journey is smooth and managed, and the company’s expansion is motivated by intelligence and market demand rather than greed.

Typical MADabolic boxes are either 2500 or 3500 square feet, and while other boutiques are pumping up the chic factor, MADabolic keeps their lobbies and amenities “pretty lean”. With 21 locations in the US and one in Canada, Brandon wants strategic and viable growth where franchisees succeed rather than compete with and cannibalize each other.

“I think we’re seeing this rapid growth right now because it’s such a different offering,” says Brandon. “And whether you are a person that values the training itself or you’re an investor seeing a hole in the market, [MADabolic] is speaking to people.” It’s speaking the language that success-driven athletes and franchisees understand and want.

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