Becoming a Fitness Club Franchisee Requires the Dedication of a Long-Distance Runner

The decision to become a franchisee takes much preparation research and soul searching plus the stamina of a longdistance runner Photo by Thinkstock
<p>The decision to become a franchisee takes much preparation, research and soul searching, plus the stamina of a long-distance runner. (Photo by Thinkstock.)</p>

Let's go for a run together. Not a jog, or a sprint or even a marathon, but a long run whose duration, terrain and destination is as yet to be determined. A journey where unexpected things will occur, the road will be obscure and the end is just the beginning. The metaphorical run that I am inviting you on is the process that I will undertake of buying a fitness franchise.

During the next several months, I will share with you the process I experienced in picking a franchise, and the process I go through as I open my franchised location. The goal is to show you what you might experience if you decide at some point to become a franchisee—or if you decide to switch your facility from an independent to a franchise.

As with any run, it is always a good idea to stretch beforehand. In this case, that means months of research and endless questions. What business is right for me? Am I ownership material? Where will the money come from? And is Piloxing really a thing? (It is.) When I finished struggling with those questions and many more, it ultimately came down to this: how badly did I want to be in business for myself?

Independent Club vs. Franchise

I decided that being a business owner is something I want to do, so with that decision resolved, I next had a daunting choice to make: should I start my own business or buy a franchise? Both options have advantages and disadvantages, of course. What follows are only a few pros and cons to consider:

  • Support/ongoing support. If you choose to go the franchise route, the franchise support center for each franchise, as well as other franchisees, can supply a wealth of knowledge on just about anything.
  • Operational guidelines. As an independent owner, you must develop all standard operating procedures (SOPs), programs and protocols for yourself. As a franchisee, the franchisor will provide everything for you.
  • Pricing. The franchise system will set your prices (for the most part), which means you will have less freedom to do so than if you become an independent business operator.
  • Products and services. A franchisor will have established products and services and will disallow any variation to those offerings, unlike independent business owners who can do as they please. 
  • Marketing. Franchise systems are designed around comprehensive marketing platforms. This is great, but it also is costly and limits your freedom to set your own budget at times like you can if you are independent.
  • Pre-open support. This is a huge benefit of being a franchisee, as the franchisor will be on hand to help you open your location.

After I spent countless hours researching and weighing the pros and cons of each business model, I chose to become a franchisee. I worked for a fitness franchise in the past, and I find myself to be a structured and organized professional, two traits desired in the franchising world.

Your decision will depend entirely on you and your resources, experiences, confidence and support network. There is no one-size-fits-all formula. It is individual-specific.

Franchising Basics

The next decision is which franchise to choose (and it doesn't have to be in the fitness business). More than 3,100 franchising concepts are in the market right now comprising some 900,000 businesses across more than 300 industries. In the United States, the franchising industry generates 21 million jobs and $2.3 trillion. The top 10 fitness companies on Entrepreneur's Top Global Franchise list encompass more than 17,500 units, with start-up costs ranging from $3,500 to $3.9 million.

Franchising is serious business. Fitness is obviously my passion and where most of my business skills have been honed, so that was an obvious starting point for me, but a lot of industries offer franchising options, so I explored a variety of industries rather than defaulting to fitness.

Talk to a Business Broker

In an effort to filter through the noise, I spoke with a broker. They aren't hard to find, but make sure you find one that isn't too aggressive or slimy. I searched online, made some calls and found someone with whom I was comfortable. Their primary job is to qualify you (both financially and professionally), guide you through the process and submit concepts that they think would be a good fit.

Most brokers are free. They work for you but are paid by the franchisor if a successful match is made. Brokers will provide you with a lot of information—and I do mean a lot. These guys think the 889 pages of the Warren Commission Report are a quick little bedtime read, so be prepared.

Brokers will not make any decisions for you. They will educate, inform, advise and maybe even cajole, but they will not tell you what franchise to buy. Using a broker depends on your personal preference, but I found no downside in my experience, and I even liked the surveys, comparison reports and constant recommendations I received throughout the process.

The Final List

Ok, the running shoes are on, and we are getting closer to our warm-up. With the help of my broker and, you guessed it, more research, I narrowed the list of 15 or so companies to three viable franchise options: a fitness concept, a moving and junk hauling company, and a massage studio. During the weeks that followed that decision, I made a lot of phone calls, sent many emails, attended many dinners and listened to many presentations.

This process is a long, slow undefined run. If you want to read about how this process eventually turns into an episode of the dating game, watch for the next column and find out which franchise I end up "marrying."

In the meantime, if you are considering opening a business of your own, take the 'Are You Business Owner Material?' quiz.


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 reached at [email protected].

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