Over the years, I have tried to impress upon my staff that the gym is a person's third home. After their actual residence and place of employment, many of a club's core members will spend more time at their gym than any other location they visit in a typical week. For that reason, it is important to view your gym or studio as an extension of your member's lives. Much like finding the right house, the neighborhood where you open your studio should make your members feel a little bit like they are at home.
Luckily, you don't (and shouldn't) have to go it alone. As much as any other benefit a franchisor provides, the help and assistance it offers when it comes to choosing a physical location is invaluable. And it all starts with building your real estate team.
- Franchise Support. The nice thing about aligning yourself with a franchise outfit is that they have real estate support professionals on staff to help with the heavy lifting. My contact flew out to meet me for several site visits to help me determine the most successful location based upon his previous experience with existing franchisees.
- Realtor. I was given the name of a realtor not long after I signed the Franchise Disclosure Document. He was a local agent who knew the Chicago market as well as the franchise-specific details that would determine a great location. I could have used my own realtor, but sticking with the franchisor-recommended realtor made the most sense.
- Legal Consul. Another benefit of the franchise model is that it offers trusted legal representation to help you secure the lease. These guys have specific franchise-site knowledge and know what to avoid and what to ask for when it comes to reviewing your lease. They have negotiated these contracts before and are instrumental in protecting your best interest when dealing with landlords.
- Architects. This step comes just after signing the lease, but in reality, it begins once the letter of intent has been accepted. Without question, it makes the most sense to go with an architect who has worked with your franchise before. He or she will know precisely how to design the concept in accordance with brand standards, saving both time and money.
The Site Pack
Imagine trying to make a cake from scratch without any directions. Sure, you could probably do it, but wouldn't it be nice to have an actual recipe to go by? The franchise site pack is a lot like a recipe. It serves as a checklist of sorts for identifying just the right site for your studio. Here's how it works. Before the franchisor agrees that you have a solid location, you fill out important information on the site pack forms that have been predetermined to set you up for the best chance of success. Categories include zoning, signage, visibility, access, foot and vehicular traffic patterns, parking, neighboring tenants and more. This crucial information is organized in a clean format to ensure that you are not missing any important detail in your search.
Love Thy Neighbors
Establishing your location next to the right mix of co-tenants is important for a number of reasons. First, you want health and fitness conscience people walking and driving by your storefront. My location is surrounded by a GNC, Sports Authority, supermarket and women's fashion. All of these businesses supply ideal potential customers for a group exercise studio. Second, you will need a clean, safe and friendly area for presale and opening activities. The right group of retailers will take care of their sites and will be a big asset toward attracting future members. And finally, if this is truly to be an extension of home for your clients, then the surrounding stores needs to embody that neighborhood feel. Your co-tenants should add value in the same way that your next-door neighbor improves your property value by maintaining their yard. Finding that perfect mix is difficult, but if you search long enough and do your research, it will pay off when you open your doors.
Matthew Cicci is a freelance fitness writer and small business owner in the Chicago area. With more than 15 years of experience in the health and fitness industry, Cicci has operated businesses in the not-for-profit, commercial, franchise and residential fitness environments, including a regional fitness consulting position and managing an 80-acre residential complex in New York. Cicci has held several industry-wide certifications, has a bachelor's of science degree in management and studied under the master's program for exercise science at Syracuse University. He can be reachedat email@example.com.