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The Pillars of Fitness Franchising

As I reflect back on my career in fitness it dawns on me that I have been directly involved in not only fitness but the franchising of fitness for most of my professional life. My very first franchise encounter was with Gold’s Gym, which was quite the learning experience. I became a licensee and eventually owned three locations. I still love that brand and I travel out to Venice, CA now and then to train at the original Gold’s known as the Mecca of Bodybuilding.

What I learned from being a licensee of Gold’s was how important it was to have standards for a franchise. It was the lack of standards with Gold’s that eventually pushed me in another direction, which was to become a franchisor.

Over the past 3+ decades since I became a licensee of Gold’s I have honed from my experience three areas that can make or break a franchise. I call these the three pillars of franchising. If all three are done right, then there will be high levels of success for the organization. Here they are:

Pillar 1 - Profit

Let’s face it, people buy into a franchise for the opportunity to make money. The right way to do it, though, and the long term path to great profits in a franchised business is through the shear delight of the customer all the time! The franchisor must focus the entire franchise on profitability based on giving customers the highest level of satisfaction that they can possibly obtain. In fitness, this means RESULTS for their body and mind! And, if high levels of results can be delivered to health club members on a consistent basis, then customers will reward the business with great profits! This is a win, win scenario. The customer wins from great value for their money, the franchisee wins with high net income in their bank account, and the franchisor wins from the continued growth of the franchise and the profits derived from business expansion.

Pillar 2 - Customer Experience

The customer experience will determine how much value they assign to their membership. This is where a franchise system can shine if the concept is structured properly. The concept needs to be fresh at all times and this requires constant work and innovation on behalf of the franchisor. This is not an area for the franchisee. The franchisor develops and maintains the concept and the franchisee executes it. The concept of the fitness studio accounts for about 20% of the customer experience, but it is the sole responsibility of the franchisor to keep it fresh and innovative. The workout is the largest piece of the success pie. The workout experience itself is half of the success pie! Take a concept like HOTWORX where there are so many different well produced workouts for customers to choose from that it keeps the satisfaction level for members very high. Traditional gyms rely on local delivery of workout content most of the time that is less reliable and very expensive to the gym owner.

Workout content is KING my friends! When the workout content is controlled by the franchisor, then the consistency and the integrity of the workout method can remain intact. Consistency is the key to workout success for customers.

The last 30% of the customer experience equation is straight up customer service. This area is completely reliant upon, and controlled by the franchisee. There are two parts to customer service in the fitness studio business, cleanliness and hospitality.

Cleanliness is an absolute no brainer. The gym has to be spotless, clutter free, on point with the brand design requirements and alive with the right background music at all times. There can be no exception to this for the sake of the customers. Sounds like common sense I know, but some operators just don’t get it for whatever reason and they are penalized in the form of lost members and lost profits.

The second part of customer service is hospitality. This is the most important aspect of a business that has to be supported by everything else that constitutes the customer experience.  What is required for hospitality is for the entire staff to be on their “A” game at all times when they report for duty at the studio. Customers should feel at home no matter which location they choose to visit for a workout!

So here it is. This is how hospitality works for customer service…

Just be nice!

When we started our first franchise, Planet Beach, in the spring of 1996, the first commitment I made to myself as a new franchisor was to be a freak about the importance of member reciprocation so as not to have the same problems that Gold’s had with respect to that issue. Gold’s had three different variations for reciprocation and it was utter chaos for the owners and for the customers. To this day, I am still a stickler about all aspects of customer service. Common sense, though, should govern how reciprocal members are treated. Reciprocal members deserve the same high level of hospitality and respect at all locations within the franchise and not just their home location! There can be no exceptions to this rule!

Customers reward businesses with 5 star reviews when they feel like they are respected and greeted with a smile at an establishment. It doesn’t take volumes of customer service books to understand how to deliver it. Just be nice to your customers. A smile and a little bit of love for all of your customers, no matter who they are, goes a LONG WAY! Franchise owners are in full control of this aspect, and all locations rely on each other to get it right every time for the sake of the customers and the brand reputation.

Pillar 3 - Teamwork

Anybody who knows me understands that I am a football fanatic. I played the sport for many years and grew up as a kid listening to all of my dad’s football war stories. The game has shaped my life and has given me an understanding of business from a competitive standpoint. That understanding is naturally a part of my strategic beliefs that I practice for the two franchise brands that I am responsible for as a CEO.

In my book, HOT EXERCISE, the last few pages address the topic of franchising as team. Without a doubt, a franchise is a team. The franchisor is the coaching staff and is responsible for teaching and motivating the players to execute the playbook for the purpose of scoring the most number of points possible. In franchising, these points translate to profits. The franchisee is the player on the team responsible for executing the franchisor’s playbook. Both the coach (franchisor) and the player (franchisee) must work together and have the discipline to perform their roles at the highest level for the benefit of the fans who are the end users of the fitness business. There is no other way. The roles of the coach and the player cannot be blended. The coach cannot go out on the field of operations and score the points and the player cannot be distracted trying to make up their own plays.

When the discipline of the two roles, coach and player, franchisor and franchisee, are adhered to and when they both practice teamwork to understand and deploy the three pillars of franchising, then the magic will begin to happen for the entire organization.

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Stephen P. Smith, MA
CEO and Creator of HOTWORX, Author, Former National Collegiate Bodybuilding Champion and Arena Football Player, Certified Professional Trainer


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