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Slowing down

Curves International — the ubiquitous small-scale women's-only gym format — opened its 10,000th location in November. Having hit that milestone, though, the franchise is putting the brakes on its expansion plans, at least in the United States.

For the remainder of this year, the company will open no more than 50 clubs in North America — down from a pace of 50 a week it had been opening over the past few years.

Curves co-founder Gary Heavin has issued a self-imposed moratorium on establishing any more American franchises, according to Joe Piller, U.S. and Canadian sales representative for Curves.

“We are where we need to be in the United States,” says Piller. “The international market is where we are focused.”

Curves has exploded since moving into the franchise business in 1995. Heavin and his wife Diane initially sought franchisees in rural and suburban communities for the boutique fitness centers catering to women 35 to 55 years old.

They looked to communities with a minimum of 10,000 residents to open the 1,500-square-foot clubs where women could work out and take weight-loss classes with no men, no makeup and no mirrors. To draw cash-strapped women into the franchise back in 1995, he set the cost of a turnkey franchisee at $19,900. Today, the cost is $39,900.

Gary Findley, former president and COO at Curves explains the strategy was to surround the large cities before going in.

Curves' founding strategy was to establish a franchise in small towns with populations between 10,000 and 25,000 residents. Typically, the franchisees' membership grew to the point that they would open another franchise in a market no less than 50 miles away.

“That's how we would dominate a state and then roll over into the next state,” says Findley who left Curves in 2004 when it had 8,500 locations.

Franchise Times managing editor Nancy Weingartner says Curves is experiencing growing pains.

“I think it's smart that they are stepping back and helping the existing units grow their membership,” Weingartner says.

In Franchise Times annual Top 200 for 2006, Curves was 66th in worldwide sales with $1.297 billion and was sixth in the United States with 7,992 franchises in 2005.

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