written by Staff Report | Photos provided
In 2017, a local group of fitness enthusiasts had a vision: Take the idea of NBC’s hit television show, American Ninja Warrior, and build local ‘Ninja’ gyms for fans of all ages. In 2018 the Saratoga Ninja Lab was born.
If you are not familiar with the television show, it is a competition-based event in which elite athletes from around the country compete on the world's most difficult obstacle courses. The show attracts viewers of all ages and has been nominated multiple times for ‘Outstanding Reality-Competition Program.’
As the Ninja Lab owners say on their website “We were all leading the Ninja-life long before the show aired. We understood that functional strength and agility were far superior to bulky muscles or isolated sport-specific skills.” The owners’ backgrounds span the disciplines of personal training, rock climbing, extreme skiing, mountaineering, ice hockey, surfing, basketball, trail running and martial arts.
By early 2019 the Saratoga Ninja Lab was running on full steam, offering open gyms, classes, competition team, and birthday parties. Plans were already underway to launch their second location in Albany. In June 2019, the Albany Ninja Lab opened its doors with 12,000 sq ft of obstacles and party rooms; double the space of the Saratoga gym.
Then it happened. The country shut down, the economy went into a death spiral, and gyms faced dire uncertainty. According to co-owner and general manager Dan Kirchner, “We got creative, limited our numbers, and went into super-sanitizing mode.” While the numbers were disappointing during this period, the limited business allowed them to pay the bills and keep the company going. “We also took advantage of all the rescue plans available such as PPP and ERC loans.” Kirchner added. “We were able to keep the staff on, and still cater to our core customers.”
With the pandemic in the rear-view mirror, both gyms have been steadily growing their numbers both in customer base and revenue. They have been systematically adding new programming, some of which has been very successful and some of which has flopped. “We are always willing to try new ideas. If a customer suggests it, we will probably try it.” Kirchner stated. “Some of our more successful new offerings are home-school classes, tiny ninjas, and Nerf-war nights.”
According to their numbers, birthday parties account for 60% of total revenue, followed by camps, open gyms and competition team. “Since our gym was a new concept, we weren’t sure what to expect with revenue allocation,” Kirchner shared. “We have been surprised a few times, but it is easy to follow the revenue and focus our efforts on that programing.”
While the competition team may not be the top revenue producer, it has certainly put the Ninja Labs on the map. According to co-owner and head coach Geoff Snyder, the Ninja Labs are producing world-class athletes. “In 2022 alone, we had 23 athletes qualify for the World Ninja League (WNL) world Championship,” Snyder stated. “Of those 23, two advanced to stage 3 in their age division. Annika Kilinski took top honors in the Young Adult Division becoming the WNL World Champion, and Adelena Messier placed 3rd in the World and 3rd in the ‘World’s Strongest Ninja’ category.”
Snyder himself is no stranger to high-level ninja competition. He was a competitor on season 9 of American Ninja Warrior, and has been invited back for season 15, which is set to air later in 2023.
Another source of revenue for the Ninja Labs is hosting competitions. This year they are scheduled to host 7 competitions between the WNL and NENA (the Northeast Ninja Association). In February they hosted a WNL competition at the Saratoga location which drew 177 competitors with an entry fee of $70 per person.
The Ninja Lab owners are currently exploring franchising opportunities as they look to grow their brand. “If we can scale this idea, we can bring fitness, fun, and financial security to young entrepreneurs across the country,” Kirchner added.