In February 2013, Flirty Girl Fitness in Lincoln Park, Chicago, dredged up a bit of controversy. In its search to obtain a liquor license, it faced some neighborhood opposition. “People really like to misunderstand our business,” said Kerry Knee, the co-founder and CEO of Flirty Girl Fitness, a women’s-only fitness facility. “People were acting like we were going to become a brothel if we obtained a liquor license, but it’s not like that at all.”
According to Knee, Flirty Girl Fitness has always struggled with public misperception of the club’s brand and what it represents. Part of that misperception is derived from the fact that Flirty Girl Fitness offers pole dancing classes, which have become a popular concept.
Knee made the point that pole dancing classes were only one aspect of the club. “Pole dancing is one out of 50 classes we offer,” she said. “We’re more than just a pole dancing studio. Some of our members have never even stepped foot inside a pole dancing class.”
If they had, Knee said they’d be in for one heck of a workout. “It’s so incredibly athletic and fun to do,” said Knee. “You build up so much strength. It’s frustrating that a negative misperception is out there.”
Despite what the public may think, Knee and her business partner — and sister — Krista Knee, have made a profitable business through the unique fitness concept. By offering pole dancing classes, in addition to a variety of other group fitness classes, a full-service spa, fully-functioning bar and night club, Flirty Girl Fitness has become a prime spot for events and bachelorette parties. According to Knee, the studio hosts upwards of 30 bachelorette parties every Saturday.
“When I first opened I didn’t realize bachelorette parties would be such a big part of the business,” said Knee.
The first Flirty Girl Fitness opened in Toronto, Canada in 2005. Since then, two additional locations have opened in Chicago, in the Lincoln Park and West Loop communities. Knee explained the goal behind Flirty Girl Fitness’ concept was to create a place where women felt comfortable working out and having fun.
“If you have any extra weight on you at all, women feel very uncomfortable in a gym,” Knee stated. “At a women’s-only gym, there’s no pressure. When you take men out of the equation, the gym experience becomes more social.”
Knee also explained that comparing Flirty Girl Fitness to Curves is like comparing apples to oranges. “The problem with Curves is there’s no appeal,” said Knee. “Working out at Curves is like ripping off a band aid — quick and painless. We’ve got way more of a cool factor.”
According to Knee, members come often to take Group X classes, workout in the cardio/strength area, get manicures and pedicures in the spa, and socialize with friends at the bar. “For me, it makes much more sense as a business owner to have multiple profit centers,” said Knee.
Despite the neighborhood opposition, Knee was able to secure the Lincoln Park location’s liquor license. In Chicago, businesses searching to obtain liquor licenses must notify each legal registered voter within 250 feet of the establishment that an application to obtain a liquor license has been filed. In addition, the club had to pass inspections from several city departments.
“Our liquor license got a lot of media attention,” said Knee. “It was a very lengthy process, but at the end of the day, it was worth it for our business.”
No matter what your thoughts are on pole dancing and bars, most would admit the Flirty Girl Fitness concept is anything but average. “Our clubs are fun,” said Knee. “Working out doesn’t have to be boring.”
By Rachel Zabonick