Alex Mortensen, chief operating officer of PF Baseline Fitness, is helping to lead the Planet Fitness franchisee's plan to double to more than 100 locations, countering an industry trend of gyms closing after pandemic-related shutdowns.

New memberships are exceeding expectations at recently opened Eagan and Elk River clubs, Mortensen said.

A rebuilt south Minneapolis club opened in November, one of eight PF Baseline sites opened in early 2020. It closed after a few weeks because of COVID-19 restrictions, then was among businesses destroyed in the unrest after George Floyd's death.

"It's given us confidence to get back on that development pace to plan out multiple new openings this year," Mortensen said of recent results. "We'd like to be in the high single digits to low double digits, in the 8, 9 to 12 range."

At 20,000 to 25,000 square feet, PF Baseline's gyms are larger than many competitors, accommodating social distancing without eliminating a lot of services, Mortensen said. Like other health clubs now offering hybrid online and in-person workouts, franchiser Planet Fitness created an app for at-home workouts. The app also offers touchless gym check-ins and lets users see how busy a club is before visiting.

Mortensen founded PF Baseline with CEO Scott Majkrzak in 2009 with one club in Fargo. The company now operates 53 Planet Fitness gyms with 300,000 members. Most clubs are in Minnesota, Iowa, the Dakotas and Nebraska. Six in California are closed under that state's COVID restrictions, Mortensen said.

Growth accelerated after PF Baseline partnered with private-equity firm Freeman Spogli & Co. in 2017, Mortensen said. Both parties have reinvested to continue expansion.

Q: Why did you take on the private-equity investment?

A: In 2017 we were around 20 clubs and were in a position where we were going to need to slow down some of our growth just based on some capital constraints or we needed to bring on a partner to catapult us. Through some internal relationships we found a private-equity company, Freeman Spogli & Co., that checked all the boxes. They were in line with what we wanted to achieve and understood that Planet Fitness had a long runway, and they've been nothing but a great partner. We went from 20 clubs in 2017 to 50 in pretty short order.

Q: What is PF Baseline's growth plan?

A: The goal is to go to 100 in the short term. We want to be one of the top franchisees in the system. We've got a strong team. The business model is extremely strong. But you also have this people component. You see people that have never been to a gym or haven't been in a long time and see these transformations. It's a unique business where you have the ability to be successful financially but also have the ability to see people develop and change their lives.

Q: Why is Planet Fitness a good choice as a health center?

A: It's all about the "Judgment Free Zone." It's not intimidating. You can get what you want done; you don't have to wait in lines. It's a relaxed environment. You're not surrounded by mirrors. There's not a bunch of body builders. It's more focused on general fitness and just a comfortable atmosphere. It's a high-value offering. No money down, $10 a month, no commitment.

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is