Have Your Say: Rowing Into Action – The Total Row Fitness Franchise Approach to COVID-19

We built Total Row from the ground up when rowing-centric workouts were relatively unknown. Today, we still maintain direct ownership of the flagship location in Buckhead (Atlanta, GA) and are intimately involved with our franchisees and their expansion locations. As owners, we pride ourselves on staying current on everything related to both fitness and larger scale franchise aspects of our business. This helps us stay ahead of the curve when the tide shifts. And boy, did the tides shift…or were rather turned upside down. The COVID-19 outbreak put our core business and franchise principles to the test. Spoiler Alert – Total Row is Passing the Test!

When the COVID-19 outbreak closed businesses starting in March 2020, Total Row, along with every other business, was thrown into a whole new world overnight. The change came fast and the immediate question was: how can we maintain our high-quality fitness offering and continue to reach our local community without a physical studio? This concern was coupled with the overriding concern for maintaining the long-term value of the franchise and brand we worked so hard to build.

We knew we needed to act fast, but without sacrificing the quality we had established as a cornerstone of the brand. The answer ultimately came in waves and we literally built the first operational platform overnight. We started at about 5pm when we heard the order that our city was shutting down all fitness studios. We were ready to roll for morning classes the next day, so we capitalized on that opportunity to create something new. The initial platform was aimed at replicating live, in-studio classes as much as possible, without being burdened by excessive technology requirements and planning. We used what we had on-hand. This consisted of our standard classes, a decent camera, our studio mic, Zoom, our scheduling software, and our fantastic coaches. We were shooting a full schedule of live classes on that first day of quarantine.


Once this initial, live distribution model was established, we began building on that momentum. We learned that our members cared more about class availability and quality, rather than being live, especially in this time of uncertainty for everyone when “normal” schedules became a thing of the past. This is when we started offering on-demand classes. We upgraded our on-demand platform with less cumbersome software requirements for the end-user, which provided a more polished product. Members and guests alike can log on any time they want, take classes that consist of yoga, rowing, bodyweight, TRX, recovery, and more. Between 1-3 classes are currently being added each day.

As for our franchise model, we’ve learned some lessons but were impressed with how our model reacted. Our Buckhead location is approximately one month into this crisis, and while it is certainly feeling the financial stressors that all small businesses are facing, the unique and intentional structure of Total Row has allowed it to weather the storm much better than some competitors.  Our community of members have overwhelmingly been supportive and continued to maintain their memberships, or where they couldn’t, have donated to our coach’s fund. Additionally, Total Row is designed to run on a lean operating model from staffing to overhead. The emphasis has always been on quality over “flash,” so flexing down to a lower revenue model is more doable than it is for some other competitors who rely more on significantly larger, more expensive spaces with large staffs.


Today, we are offering a comprehensive virtual platform on the Total Row website that includes daily live classes, on-demand classes, and virtual personal training. The programs are very high quality, but affordable and accessible for anyone. It’s everything that’s great about Total Row. The programs can be easily accessed from Total Row’s website at totalrowfitness.com/virtual


Looking to the future, we expect some of the recent changes to become permanent and are adjusting to that. However, what we’ve experienced is that our franchise model will not be ultimately affected in the long-term financials. At Total Row, community and small classes have always been the foundation of our business model. When working out, people love to push their physical limits in the presence of others. They want to hear the person next to them breathing heavy and watch the coach sweat. Technology just can’t replicate that intimate feeling you get.  


While Total Row is eager to get back into the studio to workout with members again, our new virtual capabilities will be beneficial to both members and franchisees in the long term. We are excited about this new value-add for future franchisees. These new tools allow franchisees to introduce their territories to the Total Row brand weeks before they have a studio space ready to host classes, and at zero cost to them. We are choosing to embrace the change, rather than run from it. Stay Strong and Stay Safe!

About Total Row

Total Row Fitness is a new, rowing-centric fitness franchise with 7 locations currently open or in development. Owned by husband and wife team Elliott and Lauren Smith, Total Row prides itself on dynamically staying at the forefront of fitness trends, while keeping true to its founding principles of quality, community, and affordability. 

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