According to the 2016 Health Club Consumer Report, 35 percent of consumers go to boutique fitness studios, more than any other segment, and spend $4 billion more annually to attend boutique fitness classes than traditional commercial facilities.
It should come as no surprise then that independent boutique studios and franchised studios are quickly becoming popular ways for entrepreneurs to enter the fitness business as owners. Many first-time fitness entrepreneurs face the dilemma of whether to start a business from scratch or buy a into a fitness franchise. Being an independent studio owner allows you to have complete control of the name of the brand, the look, the programming, the marketing and several other factors. It also allows you to make brand changes when you see fit. For some people, this may be the most rewarding option.
However, when you start your own business, you will need time to develop pro-forma financial statements and an operating budget. In a franchise system, the operational roadmap, training, infrastructure and financial requirements are usually clearly defined from the onset. Because of this, a franchisee may be able to open their doors quicker, which in turn may generate revenue faster.
A passion for fitness and an entrepreneurial mindset are critical components of being a successful owner, whether its as an independent operator or a franchise operator. Here are some benefits of franchise ownership:
1. Freedom. Studio ownership allows entrepreneurs the freedom to work for themselves and maintain an entrepreneurial spirit. Independent studio owners and franchise owners both make day-to-day business decisions themselves, but those in a franchise system are guided by the experience of an established enterprise.
2. Personalization. We don’t live in a one-size-fits-all world, and customers don’t want to engage in a one-size-fits-all fitness program. It’s important to consider a fitness franchise concept that provides for adaptability in programming with a structured business model without significant fixed expenses, such as equipment. This allows owners to adapt to fitness trends and provide a personalized, custom experience to each member.
3. Collaboration. The franchise model offers franchise owners the ability to grow under a recognized brand and a proven system and to share in the benefits of a larger group of business owners. Even though each business is independently owned and operated, all franchise owners share in the collaborative benefits of the organization through the support and oversight of the franchisor, such as marketing and operational support, fitness program design and an established business model. Franchise communities often host collaborative events where owners can share their experiences and learn best practices from one another.
4. Recognition. In an industry with increasing competition and relatively low barriers to entry, brand recognition can be a powerful competitive advantage. Franchise owners enter the fitness world with the benefit of increased brand recognition.
5. Growth. According to Statista, the United States is home to almost 20 percent of the more than 186,000 health and fitness clubs in the world, ranking it as the largest fitness market. In addition, about 25 percent of people in the United States say that exercise, workouts or sports in general are part of their daily routine. The percentage of the U.S. population that engages in daily sports and exercise has consistently grown during the last five years from 18.5 percent to 20.4 percent. Because of this and the millennial fitness appetite, annual industry revenue for health and fitness clubs is expected to grow to more than $29 billion domestically by 2020 from its current $25.8 billion. Growth in this category is certainly a good incentive to get into this segment whether as a franchise owner or independent owner.
If you are considering becoming a studio owner, you need to consider several factors before making your decision. The first step is determining if you would like to be independent or part of a franchise. It comes down to personality, background and personal choice. You have to decide whether the systems and support of a franchise model outweigh the entrepreneurial freedom of being an independent business owner.
If you decide to go the franchise route, the next step is choosing the right franchise brand. Much like choosing a fitness program, making the choice of which franchise is the right fit for you largely depends on where you are in your personal journey.
Answer these questions to narrow your choices:
- How much or little brand support do you want and need?
- What’s the competitive landscape in your market?
- Who is the target customer for the concept or concepts you are reviewing?
- What location makes the most sense to consider for your target audience?
Once you have a short list of options, it’s critical that you test out the customer experience yourself. Visit some of your options. Being passionate about the brand and service is of the utmost importance when selecting which brand is the best fit for your needs. Once your list is narrowed further, it's time to have discussions with your remaining choices.
If you consider yourself to be somebody who is fitness-minded and wants to be involved in actively running a business, becoming a fitness business owner can be a rewarding entrepreneurial endeavor whether on your own or through a franchise.
Trever Ackerman is the chief marketing officer of WellBizBrand Inc., the manager of health and wellness brands Elements Massage, Fitness Together and FIT36. Previously, Ackerman served as head of marketing for Les Mills U.S., where he oversaw the company’s marketing and communications efforts for more than 3,300 fitness facilities in all 50 states. Prior to that, he held multiple leadership positions in business development, human resources and marketing at 24 Hour Fitness, which, at the time, was a four-million-member organization with more than 400 locations in 18 states. A non-traditional marketer, Ackerman focuses his efforts on connecting marketing and communications with both top and bottom line growth. He is passionate about building high-performing teams, helping people move more and providing opportunities to give back to communities. Ackerman holds an MBA from Georgia State University and a BSBA from the University of Denver.