- Associated Press - Saturday, February 1, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) - Siblings Erin Losie and Sean Emery had plans to start small when they opened H Street’s Old City CrossFit three months ago.

That didn’t happen.

“Our goal was to have 20 people sign up when we opened,” said Losie, 34. “We immediately had five or six times that.”

The billion-dollar CrossFit industry has grown dramatically in recent years, and in the process, has given way to a network of businesses - ranging from meal delivery services to clothing and shoe lines - that cater to tens of thousands of Washington-area devotees.

The fitness program, founded in 2000 in California, is a mix of aerobic exercise, gymnastics and weightlifting. The company licenses the CrossFit name to more than 7,000 gyms around the world for an annual fee of about $3,000.

In the Washington area, there are more than 150 CrossFit gyms, double the number of Washington Sports Club and Gold’s Gym locations combined, with more opening in the coming weeks.

“Growth has been phenomenal,” said Chriss Smith Jr., who founded Trident CrossFit in Alexandria, Va., with his wife in 2006. The gym currently has 610 members.

Local owners say relatively low startup costs, combined with exploding demand have made CrossFit facilities - called “boxes” in industry lingo - an attractive business venture. Members typically pay upward of $200 a month, with many paying more for private lessons.

Josh Dempsey, who founded CrossFit Silver Spring in August 2011, said he spent about $50,000 getting his facility off the ground. He was profitable within six months. Last year, revenue doubled to more than $200,000.

“A lot of our growth has come from word-of-mouth referrals,” Dempsey said.

The trend has become so ubiquitous that Reebok has introduced a line of CrossFit clothing and shoes, while ESPN has begun airing national CrossFit competitions.

A number of local meal delivery services have also cropped up to keep up with growing demand from CrossFit regulars, many of whom adhere to the Paleolithic diet, which promotes meats, nuts and vegetables over dairy and grains.

District-based Power Supply has made a business of this alone, providing packaged Paleo-friendly meals to more than 60 CrossFit facilities in the area.

In three years, the company has sold more than 300,000 meals, which cost between $9.50 and $15.50 a piece, according to partner Robert Morton.

“There are a lot of diet-centric meal services, but our goal has always been to fuel up people who are living an active lifestyle,” said Morton, a CrossFit athlete who quit his job as a senior vice president at district-based Blackboard to join the company.

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