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TMCNet:  Detroit Free Press Tom Walsh column

[January 24, 2013]

Detroit Free Press Tom Walsh column

Jan 24, 2013 (Detroit Free Press - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Young stud Chicago football player gets recruited by Bo Schembechler as a future linebacker for the University of Michigan.

Young stud breaks his neck during senior year in high school. Linebacking future is kaput, but Bo hires the kid for the coaching staff at U-M, where the kid earns a sports management degree and a Rose Bowl ring.

Kid goes to work for Tom Monaghan's Domino's Pizza, and later for go-go food franchisor Krispy Kreme. Then he grows Ductz into the nation's biggest air-duct cleaning outfit and does the same with Hoodz for kitchen stoves.

He's named 2011 Entrepreneur of the Year by the International Franchise Association, following in the footsteps of Monaghan (1986), J. Willard Marriott (1984) and other luminaries.

Today, at age 44 -- and still in Ann Arbor after all these years -- we find John Rotche (pronounced Rot-CHEE) mixing it up in the frantically competitive fitness world as president of Title Boxing Club.

Earlier this month, he opened Title Boxing's first two Michigan locations in Ann Arbor and Brighton; a third launches next month in Farmington Hills and others are planned later this year in Grand Rapids, Okemos, Novi and Canton.

When Rotche hooked up with ex-boxer and Title Boxing Club founder Danny Campbell last year, Campbell and his partners had about 50 clubs open around the country. Now there are 415 under development and 300 more planned this year.

Is Rotche, who owns 25% of Title Boxing Club, an adrenalin junkie or what Surprisingly, he was calm and soft-spoken during a recent conversation at the Ann Arbor club, surrounded by sixty 100-pound punching bags hanging from the ceiling.

"There's no fighting here," he explained, "no bloody noses. It's all about training like a boxer, building the core." There are 25 to 40 classes a week in the fresh, clean, deceptively simple 4,300-square-foot facility. Aside from big bags and lots of medicine balls, there's one boxing ring, where a trainer dons pads on the hands and guides a club member through a light sparring workout.

For a monthly fee of $69, members can use the club and take classes as often as they want. A Title Club card, for $649 a year, is good at any club in the country. So far, the gender ratio of club members is running about 70% women to 30% men.

What's the risk, I asked Rotche, that Title Boxing will be a short-lived fitness fad in a world that has given us Jane Fonda videos, NordicTracks, Pilates and Tae-Bo classes through the years "There are lots of approaches to fitness," he said, "and sure, there are some flash-in-the-pan ideas. But boxing is not a fad; it's one of the oldest organized sports.

"And today, fitness is gravitating toward group activity versus individual, and away from big-box gyms. We start at an opening bell and end class with a closing bell. It's called a club, not a gym, and that's not accidental." "There's a reason why Jazzercise is still going strong after all these years," he said, referring to the dance-based group fitness program founded in 1969.

At this point, Rotche was on a roll, in full franchise-selling superstar mode. Title Boxing is a relatively inexpensive franchise opportunity, he said, with cost of entry about $150,000. There's no expensive machinery with moving parts -- just the bags and balls, the ring and the space, a small staff and a corner reserved for a retail shop of Title Boxing brand-name clothes and accessories. Insurance costs are modest because participants aren't slugging each other.

One person not at all surprised by the explosive growth of Title Boxing this past year is Sheldon Yellen, who is something of a John Rotche expert.

Yellen, CEO of Birmingham-based disaster recovery and restoration firm Belfor Holdings, was so impressed with the performance of Rotche's Ductz cleaning crews during the Hurricane Katrina aftermath that Belfor bought Ductz and made Rotche president of Belfor's franchise group, which launched and grew the Hoodz kitchen exhaust cleaning network.

"He's a passionate, very inspirational guy, a terrific salesman, someone people love to follow," said Yellen, whose five-year employment contract with Rotche after the Ductz purchase was winding down when Rotche met the Title Boxing folks last February.

After a career that's already taken him from Bo to boxing, with pizza and doughnuts and ducts and stove exhausts along the way, there's no telling how many plot twists in the John Rotche story lie ahead.

Contact Tom Walsh: 313-223-4430 or twalsh@freepress.com ___ (c)2013 the Detroit Free Press Visit the Detroit Free Press at www.freep.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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