Founders Article - The Beginning of an Era

The Beginning of an Era
Jenelle Gilliard                                                
I had the pleasure of interviewing the founders of The Warrior Factory, Carl Fantauzzo and Bernard Birnbaum. Their idea of building an ‘Obstacle Park’ sprouted in 2016 as they both saw how ninja brought people together and encouraged them to step out of their comfort zones. The Warrior Factory opened in 2017 and in the two short years of being open, has announced its plan to franchise and now, has two more locations opening up this year in Buffalo and Syracuse. The Warrior Factory brand has been on the rise and continues to grow every day.
Q: What kind of personality does your brand have?
Carl: Fun, outgoing, and welcoming are three words that I feel define the brand. The Warrior Factory is not just a place to train. It is a place to build relationships with family and like-minded people. The sense of community that TWF creates goes above building local communities and creates connections throughout the nation.
Q: What was your vision from the outset?
I saw how trampoline parks had dominated the entertainment industry and knew that ninja was the next big thing. I knew in my heart that Rochester was not going to be the only location and that we were in the midst of creating something that was going to be much larger than ourselves.
Carl: I competed on American Ninja Warrior and sought to build something similar. I wanted to build a place that is more than just a ninja training facility but a place that would affect the lives of youth. The Warrior Factory is more than a business- it is a business that has a real impact on people’s lives.
Q: What makes The Warrior Factory different from other ninja gyms/competitors?
Carl: We can both agree that there are a couple major components that make TWF special; the staff, safety and quality of obstacles. Safety, attention to detail, obstacles, and padding are a primary thought rather than something that is in the back of our minds. We wanted to be a premier facility and did not spare any expense to do that.
Bernard: In addition to that, TWF has created an inviting and safe environment. It has become a type of place that you feel like you can walk in the door and try anything safely.
Q: How did you build your team? What characteristics must your staff have?
Bernard: The way we built our team can be described as “home-grown and organic.” We believe the employees take on the attitude and vision of the upper management and executive officers, so we strive to promote direction and more importantly, encouragement, daily.
Carl: It is vital that our employees are welcoming, positive ad encourage kids to challenge themselves. Safety and satisfaction of the kids is the number one priority of all our staff members.
Q: What is your favorite thing about TWF brand?
Carl: The family atmosphere and positive community that TWF has created is like no other. The amount of people that know each other, hang out and even travel together simply because they met at The Warrior Factory is incredible.
Bernard: I agree. On top of that, we love seeing people wearing TWF merchandise because it means that they loved the facility and their experience enough to represent the brand.
Q: What is the need of this market?
Carl: For kids to get out from behind their screens and get active again. I find that kids don’t have enough imagination for activity and play anymore. This is why The Warrior Factory was built; a place where kids can be themselves and have fun while receiving a good workout.
Q: How do you generate new ideas?
Bernard: Of course, The Warrior Factory takes inspiration from the show, American Ninja Warrior, but in addition to that, we have weekly staff meetings with each management team per location. These meetings follow an open forum format where everyone is free to express their ideas and opinions. We actively listen to customer demand and are very open minded to change around the facility.
Q: How did you know when you had the right idea? What ignited your spark?
Bernard: How do you know when you had a wrong idea seems to be more important. Finding out that certain things don’t work allowed us to look at how to turn a wrong into a right.
Carl: I agree, our experience through trial and error have allowed for us to become pioneers of this industry as we are forging new territory and new ideas incessantly.
Q: What has been the most important part of your business journey thus far?
Carl: We can both agree that finding the right business partner has been one of the most important parts of our journey. Having a good dynamic and being able to balance each other out has been extremely beneficial to our relationship and building TWF brand together. The experience that we both have and different situations that we endure everyday allow us to learn from our mistakes and use the solutions to our advantage.
Bernard: I think that making the decision to franchise and attending the international franchise expo was an “ah-ha” moment for us. We received such good feedback and it solidified that we had something big in the works.     
Q: To what do you attribute your success?
Bernard: Hard work, making sure everything is held to the highest standard, no easy way out, no shortcuts, surrounding yourself with the right people and making sure work gets done are the reasons why we have been successful in generating and growing The Warrior Factory.
Q: What is the future for this type of business?
Carl: Similar to the need of this market, the future of this type of business is getting kids out from behind the screen. The TV show may go away, but we are branding ourselves as a fun center but with a lot more to offer than a trampoline park. We are the next best thing to hit the entertainment; and right now, the sky is the limit.
Q: Do you have a dream location?
Bernard: Rochester will always be home, but right now, Buffalo is our dream location. The Warrior Factory Buffalo, set to open September 7th, 2019, will become the flag ship location, embodying all the changes that needed to be made in comparison our Rochester location.
Q: If you had the chance to do it all over again, what would you do differently (if anything)?
Carl: We wouldn’t change a thing. All of the mistakes and successes have gotten us to this point and it has been a big learning experience for us. We needed to make mistakes in order to figure out where our shortcomings were.
Q: Do you have any criteria for choosing a franchisee?
Carl: A perfect franchisee embodies the vision of building a community and someone that has a mindset above just simply making money. We want franchisees who want to build kids up and encourage them to succeed. They need to understand that they are going to meet new people and have an impact on the lives of kids and families.
Q: Where do you see TWF in the next 5 years? 10? 15?
Bernard: We want to be aggressive and aim for 30-40 facilities in the next 5 years which we believe is achievable if we stay on the same path that we are on. In 10 years, we hope to have closer to 50-60 locations in multiple countries and regions. In 15 years, we would love to have over 100 units in 20 different countries.
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