One of the knocks you often hear about franchising is its inability to foster creativity, that working in such a structured system doesn't allow entrepreneurs to behave independently for the good of their businesses. Nowhere is this sentiment as overtly expressed than in the design of franchised fitness facilities. It's a false argument. Saying franchisors stifle creativity is like saying peanut butter ruins the flavor of jelly. Not only is it untrue, but it also overlooks the critical advantage that the franchise model has over going independent – adaptation.
Let's begin with some of the absolutes. For obvious reasons, franchisors will insist that their owners stick to a number of design-related features, such as color, logo design and placement, equipment selection, size and, to a certain extent, layout. These design attributes (among others depending on the franchise) will be mandated to create the brand identity, look and feel that the franchisor wishes to associate with its culture. The consistent branding and unified look helps potential customers identify and relate to a known brand rather than a questionable newcomer.
However, the best interest of franchisors is served by having studios differentiate themselves and evolve as knowledge evolves about how their user interacts with their brand. For example, my specific location is on the slightly larger side of the square footage parameters recommended by my corporate office. That allowed me the design flexibility to add and augment certain features based upon the research and experience from existing studios. (See how I revised my design layout by looking at the design document at the bottom of this column.) Not only am I not handcuffed in my ability to think creatively, but I am encouraged to do so. After all, the uniqueness of my location could potentially inform the design of future locations and thus allow the brand to learn and grow significantly.
Examples of features that I've been given liberty to change included: studio entrance/exits, welcome desk size and footprint, communal areas, cubby/storage areas, locker rooms and class viewing areas. I made informed tweaks to all of these functional spaces based on two advantages. One, I had managed a number of facilities before and know both the traffic patterns and special concerns that group exercise participants have. Two, I know how I want my studio to flow. I have a model that when implemented will capitalize on the features that I have designed into the space. If all goes according to plan, the layout should reduce bottlenecks, foster community and elicit a 'wow' feeling from some of the viewing angles being built in.
However, even though this is my studio and I do have a fitness background, I still defer to the architectural and design professionals on the major issues related to the build out. These people know their stuff, and I would never want to question their years of experience when it comes to getting this facility built out correctly. Their skill and the franchisor's knowledge will go a long way toward making the facility design process seamless and stress free.
Matthew Cicci is a freelance fitness writer and small business owner in the Chicago area. With more than 15 years experience in the health and fitness industry, Cicci has operated businesses in the not-for-profit, commercial, private, franchise and residential fitness environments in the New York market. 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 reached at firstname.lastname@example.org