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Express Growth in Express Clubs

Many in the industry applaud Curves for what it has done — move an otherwise sedentary population into workout mode. However, a disturbing trend has occurred due to Curves' success — frenzied imitation. Every other article about the fitness industry seems to focus on a new 30-minute circuit facility.

Don't get me wrong. There is room for more than one circuit club company in our industry. In fact, offering consumers a choice in the type of club they join as well as the brand of that club is the only way to reach out to broader populations.

However, some of these franchises are growing at astounding rates. As a club owner, that may sound good to you, but considering these businesses are franchises, I wonder how good this is for their franchisees and the industry in the long run.

One express club franchiser recently expressed concern to me about how so many franchisers could be opening so many clubs a year while servicing their franchisees properly. This acquaintance receives at least one call a week from franchisees going out of business and wanting to sell their equipment, often citing lack of franchiser support for their closing.

That begs the question, “How well are franchisers servicing their franchisees?”

Do they really provide the proper business and fitness training for franchisees and their staff? Remember, many of these express club franchises don't require a fitness or business background for their franchisees — just a passion for fitness. Do the franchisers help the franchisees pick their club's locale or at least give them proper guidance in how to pick a good location? Do they provide the necessary marketing materials for success? What about back office systems? Is there someone there at all times to promptly respond to franchisee concerns and needs?

You've probably seen many of these circuit facilities/express clubs open in your market only to shut down a year later. While the closing of a club can occur for various reasons, I would bet that lack of franchiser support is at the top of the list.

Not all of these express club franchises are going to make it. Some will be bought; some will close and others will thrive (in part because of good franchisee support systems). Still others will lumber along and suck the life savings out of more franchisees who thought they were going to make a quick buck, be their own boss and help people get fit along the way. Little did they know how much time they would be required to put in at their club, how much money they would have to invest and the revolving door of employees (and members) they would see.

I know that I can't lump all express clubs together because some are offering great support to their franchisees. And regardless of franchisee support, the clubs themselves are providing a great service by attracting a group that might not otherwise be exercising. However, I just hope that in the long run, the frenzy to copy (and some contend, improve upon) a successful model doesn't do a disservice to the industry, to these franchisee owners and to the new club exercisers.

After all, is more really always better? Not if the franchisees aren't successful, and certainly not if these franchisees are closing down shop at the same rate as new franchises are opening. If that's the case, then you just have to think that something is wrong with that model.

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