Let's talk about lists, in particular the new studio checklist that franchisees get before opening their facilities. This list is an all-inclusive roadmap detailing anything and everything necessary to handle the various phases of construction, vendor relations, licensing, hiring, pre-sales and opening.
The day that your franchise project coordinator introduces you to the new studio checklist is simultaneously exciting and terrifying. My particular list has more than 100 development action items, and that's not even counting the marketing and corporate overview lists. So, when your priority list starts with the new studio checklist and becomes an insurmountable to-do list, it may have you dreaming about your bucket list.
The benefit of having an organized and detailed list such as this one far outweighs the intimidation factor. After all, what good is having franchise support without the luxury of their many years (and units) of experience guiding you through those pre-opening months? However, a list so vast and covering nearly every aspect of your new business can still be a little scary.
What I've learned is that the specified task doesn't necessarily get accomplished with the ease and manner with which it is detailed. Below is a select sample of some of the more common items that appear on my (and virtually any) new studio checklist, and what I actually experienced as I endeavored to check them off.
Checklist Item: Project manager sends a welcome email with login credentials for various corporate sites.
Reality: You will be inundated with more information than a first year medical school student. None of it will come into focus for a few more months, and everything will start and stop several times before any actual momentum begins to occur.
Checklist Item: Obtain existing floor plan from the real estate broker or future landlord.
Reality: The real estate broker and landlord will ignore your multiple emails, texts, phone calls and skywriting until you threaten to hold their pets hostage.
Checklist Item: Work with your lease attorney and director of real estate to negotiate the lease.
Reality: Wade through more emails than a cable company complaint department in a fruitless attempt to get a final draft that satisfies all parties – over the course of two of the slowest months of your life.
Checklist Item: Obtain the necessary state/city/county business forms and determine any special operating considerations required for a fitness business.
Reality: Spend weeks listening to on-hold music from various government offices and finally give up and call a local colleague to get the answers you need.
Checklist Item: Contact the corporate-recommended insurance vendor to obtain studio insurance.
Reality: Exactly what you think happens when you contact an insurance salesperson.
Checklist Item: Engage a sign vendor to create an exterior sign rendering to submit for approval by corporate and your landlord.
Reality: Identify a vendor after several refuse to return your calls. Discuss the importance of brand standards with the vendor. Wait a hockey season to get a rendering. Then find out that the permitting process takes eight weeks. Eight weeks! It's an illuminated sign not an international arms dealer visa.
Checklist Item: Set up payroll.
Reality: Speak with an overly enthusiastic corporate-recommended vendor who is more than happy to detail every aspect of her business in minute detail. At the end of the three-hour call, you realize you have only said the following six words: "Great, please email me the options."
Checklist Item: Set up account with the uniform and logo wear vendor and place your initial order.
Reality: Realize that the potential cost for minimum quantities and set-up charges could be the GDP of a small Latin American country. Call corporate and vent. Have charges waived during pre-sales.
Checklist Item: Approve architectural drawing and have contractor submit to the building department for approval.
Reality: Meet with several general contractors who each tell you something completely different regarding codes, scope of work, time frame, price and permitting. Again, another four to eight weeks for approval before work can begin. Tectonic plates move faster than the permitting process.
Checklist Item: Begin purchasing office, fitness, logistic equipment.
Reality: This one is actually really easy. Preapproved vendors already have the template for you studio, so it's basically just a few phone calls—and writing a bunch of checks.
Checklist Item: Begin placing ads for all studio personnel.
Reality: Corporate supplies pre-made ads for each position that need to be filled and recommends where to post the ads. The tricky part is hiring people for a concept that doesn't exist (in my area), at a studio that isn't built yet, with an as-yet-to-be-determined start date, for a position that will be expected to do any and all things to get the business off the ground. Those employees exist, right?
Checklist Item: Set-up studio software and begin training.
Reality: A frustrating trial and error process where you feel as awkward as a bodybuilder in a seniors yoga class. Learning a new CRM is never fun, but doing it while managing hundreds of other operational imperatives doesn't help.
As I said, these are just a few of the 112 items on my studio checklist. Some are more demanding than others. For example, the local bid process is much more involved than setting up the phone and Internet accounts. But, the overwhelming quantities of items that need to get accomplished and their time-sensitive nature relative to one another make starting a business the all-encompassing undertaking it has widely been made out to be. So the next time you sit down and start making a list (grocery, Christmas, hit—whatever), make sure that item 113 is REST.
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, 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