A rising tide of interest is helping a local rowing-based fitness studio expand in Corpus Christi and beyond.
When local business owner John Harrel opened RowZone on Saratoga Boulevard in 2010, he became the first franchisee of a company that then consisted of three indoor rowing studios in Pennsylvania.
Despite the business' small size, Harrel had heard about the concept and it piqued his interest. He flew to Pennsylvania to see RowZone in action. He was sold.
"It's low-impact, full-body interval training," Harrel said. "It's a comprehensive workout."
Related: Keeping Up on Cardio TrendsThe workout combines machine rowing with functional fitness training led by an instructor. The studio also allows free rowing times for clients to practice with a personal trainer.
The corporate founders of RowZone planned on licensing the concept around the country. However, the founder died of cancer, Harrel said, and momentum stalled. As years passed, the number of RowZone studios remained at three in Pennsylvania, plus the one in Corpus Christi. Harrel, meanwhile, saw his classes filling and interest growing. Wanting to capitalize on the momentum, he negotiated an agreement to gain RowZone licensing rights in San Antonio, Austin, the Rio Grande Valley and Lubbock.
His first step toward expansion was adding a second Corpus Christi RowZone in Parkdale Plaza. The studio opened in February.
"I keep exploring how duplicatable the concept is," Harrel said. "I'm looking to expand to Austin and San Antonio in the next one to two years. I own the brand, I own the licensing rights, so we're going to see if this baby can grow up a little bit."
As a former All-American decathlete in the 1980s, Harrel's athletic side comes as naturally as his management side in operating the business. He frequently leads rowing classes. However, he likely will look for a franchisee to operate out-of-town studios. The Parkdale studio, meanwhile, steadily is gaining customers.
"It's actually started off stronger than my first location," Harrel said.
On a recent afternoon, most clients at Parkdale said they had learned of RowZone by word-of-mouth. They stayed after seeing results.
"It's changed my life," said Rona Jonas. "I've lost 100 pounds. I used to be a diabetic, and I used to have high cholesterol and asthma."
Those problems have ceased, Jonas said, since she started rowing five to six times a week and making other lifestyle changes.
"It took me 11 months of working out, being disciplined and watching what I eat," Jonas said.
Clay Boggess, who rows along with his wife, Lisa, has lost 40 pounds in nearly two years since joining.
"I wanted to do something hard," Boggess said. "I used to be a runner but I hurt my knees. This is great for you. You get a real hard physical workout, and you feel great."