Helaine Knapp and the CITYROW Franchise Story
CITYROW is an up-and-coming boutique fitness franchise that is one of the first concepts to center around the rowing machine. Born from the mind of Founder and CEO Helaine Knapp, CITYROW classes deliver an effective and safe workout to people of all ages and skill levels.
The Early Days
Prior to breaking off onto her own entrepreneurial path, Helaine Knapp started her professional career in publishing and made her way into a couple of successful tech start-ups. She began regularly attending boutique fitness classes to stay active without sacrificing time spent with her friends.
After a while, Helaine began experiencing frequent back pain. Her doctor advised that she find a low-impact alternative to the high-intensity workouts she was regularly partaking in. Thus began her search for an activity that would keep her body safe while still giving her the results she was looking for. She wanted to stay in the realm of boutique fitness, but much to her frustration, there wasn’t anything out there that checked all these boxes.
Enter: The Rowing Machine
In her search for a solution, Helaine kept gravitating towards the rowing machine. It is low-impact, works 85% of the body, and torches calories. But Helaine could not see herself on a rower. She didn’t think it would be an appealing workout at all, and she still didn’t want to give up on the boutique fitness space.
But she couldn’t ignore the fact that the rowing machine provided the exact type of workout that her body needed. She decided to take matters into her own hands and transform the rowing machine into an experience that was welcoming and accessible to everyone.
Helaine created a sign-up website to gauge interest in a rowing-based fitness class, and the response was overwhelming. That told her everything she needed to know, and she began putting the pieces together that would later become CITYROW.
At this time, Helaine was still working full-time at a start-up tech company. She knew she was devoted to creating CITYROW, but she would need help if she wanted it to be successful.
Despite being the name and face of CITYROW, Helaine has no background in fitness. She invited one of NYC’s top fitness instructors, who also happened to be a college friend, Annie Mulgrew, to put together and teach the first CITYROW classes. Annie has been with CITYROW ever since as the Leading Instructor and Director of Programming.
Helaine also partnered up with Ashley Davis Keith for help with marketing, operations, and branding for CITYROW. Ashley remains on the team today at the Chief Operating Officer.
CITYROW quickly took off, and it wasn’t long before Helaine said goodbye to her tech job for good. The first studio opened in Union Square in 2014, and their second NYC location in the Upper East Side followed soon after.
Along with the dynamic workout experience that CITYROW provides, the sense of community, the welcoming studio, and the beautiful WaterRower machines used in class quickly created a mass following for CITYROW.
Helaine became acquainted with John Rotche of Franworth, a franchise growth equity firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Helaine had previously attended college at the University of Michigan. Helaine quickly realized the potential that the CITYROW concept had in the franchising world.
As a partner, Franworth worked side by side with Helaine to develop and put in place everything needed to create a successful franchise system.
A mere two years later, 58 CITYROW locations across the U.S. are now either open or in development. CITYROW GO, the online app, has also helped grow brand credibility and awareness. Thanks to CITYROW, the public perception of rowing is rapidly changing for the better.
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