Club Pilates, one of eight brands under the Xponential Fitness flag, is slated for development in Saudi Arabia.

A master franchise agreement with Xponential Fitness will bring Club Pilates, Pure Barre, CycleBar, YogaSix and AKT studios to Saudi Arabia, where women-only gyms have been gaining popularity since the government began licensing them in 2017 as part of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s Vision 2030 plan.

John Kersh, chief international development officer for multi-brand franchisor Xponential Fitness, said with the recent reforms Saudi Arabia emerged as a growth market for the company’s boutique fitness concepts. Sultan and Mohammed Alhokair, who previously brought United Kingdom-based Fitness First to the Middle East, formed their First Agility Company and will open more than 50 studios in Saudi Arabia over then next three years.

“Sultan and Mohammed are the younger generation that’s leading Saudi Arabian business into new areas,” said Kersh. “They’re progressive.”

The first location is expected to open in October in Riyadh as a multi-brand flagship studio “that highlights all of the brands,” said Kersh, and like all the studios slated for development it will be for women only, as Saudi laws generally prohibit mixed-gender venues.

The initial five brands—Club Pilates, Pure Barre, CycleBar, YogaSix and AKT—are the ones the franchise partners believe will “resonate most strongly with their female clientele,” said Kersh, and they may elect to open locations of Xponential’s other brands, StretchLab, Row House and Stride, in the future.

In addition to their fitness franchise experience, Kersh noted the Alhokairs have “deep experience as business operators.” Sultan Alhokair is deputy chairman of the Fawaz Abdulaziz Alhokair Company (also known as Fawaz Alhokair Fashion Retail), the largest franchise retail operator in the Middle East with more than 1,750 stores across 13 countries. Brands within their portfolio include Zara, Banana Republic, Mango and Nine West, among others.

And while Kersh acknowledged that political tensions between the United States and the Saudi Arabian government persist, “we try not to get too mired in that political world,” he said.

Kersh and Xponential are in the midst of a “big push” for international growth. Earlier this year the company’s Club Pilates brand inked a master franchise agreement in Japan for the development of more than 165 locations over the next 10 years. Newly formed Club Pilates Japan Co. Ltd., comprised of franchise partners Naoki Shimabukuro, founder and CEO of web marketing firm Idea-Link Corp., and Akira Onoue, COO of Idea-Link, are leading the Japanese development.

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