As a professional businesswoman, living half my life on the road, I have to say that I am excited at the prospects for my fitness future. I am an avid exerciser, and prefer to workout in an environment for women. This preference is one that I have developed from years of working out, the co-ed gyms just don't do it for me. Too much stuff, too much sweat, too much noise. I have really learned to appreciate and enjoy my workouts, and like the environment of a gym for women. That being said, there is a real gap in the offerings for women, which is one of the reasons I began to research opening my own franchise, just for women, in my town.
About a year ago, my husband and I set out to research buying fitness franchises for women. Although I had a great business background, I really believe aligning with a franchise and an experienced team is the right way to go. Its not a small investment, and to me this is the best way I know to protect my investment and set the business up for success.
That being said, there can be a wide difference in quality in terms of concepts and the type of support given, and I wanted to be sure to select the best one. I spent so much time on the road, it was easy for me to visit locations and meet other franchisees. I thought it would be useful to share my findings with other potential franchisees on the same journey, especially since I had the opportunity to actually visit and workout in so many locations. By this point I feel like I am becoming an expert, although I am close I still haven't made my final choice. I do however feel more confident in my decision that this is the right business for me, and the right time to get into the industry.
I have multiple opportunities to visit Curves. They are fairly ubiquitous with 4,000 locations. I had discovered that Curves had closed over 6,000 location over the past few years, which was slightly disturbing, but it seemed like they now have new owners and have "shaken the trees" so to speak. For me the 1,500 sq ft model was a little too small. Curves is based upon a circuit workout, and a no-frills atmosphere. My business mind tells me it might be a nice place for a beginner to join, but what after that? How many times can you go around a circuit? My goal is to open a full service facility, and one that can really service members and build for the long haul. Although its certainly popular, I decided to pass on Curves.
When I was in New York, I was able to visit and workout at a Lucille Roberts. I could tell they had been around for a while, which was a good thing. I could also tell they hadn't renovated in a while, which wasn't as good. During that week I bought a pass and worked out in three of their clubs, all were about the same condition. I began to believe that they were busy only because the name was so well known in the area, everything was pink and really the equipment was in need of overhaul. On their website it said they were franchising, but after seeing a few of their suburban locations as well as some marketing pieces and ads with low price come-on's, I knew this wasn't the brand for me.
About 2 weeks later, I was working in the Boston area and was able to experience two great clubs... truly great. Healthworks was a full-service gym for women with great classes and luxury amenities. Very clean and upbeat with new equipment, you could tell this place was well taken care of, and well liked by the members. They have a full range of classes and some amazing Pilates instructors - some of the best I have seen. I decided to splurge for a private lesson while I was there, at their Copley Place location, it was well worth it and I gained knowledge which will stick with me for a long time. I also liked the fact that the gym was very well rounded, and offered a juice bar after my workout. I enjoyed three great workouts here, and wished they had a location closer to my home in Virginia. After researching, I found out that the company operates clubs only in Mass, and does not franchise. They would have definitely been one of my top choices.
Leaving Boston, I really felt that my Healthworks experience wouldn't be topped. I have made some workout friends there, and asked them if they knew of any other great places to workout in my travels. One of the women recommended to me elements for women. I had heard of elements before, but didn't know much about them except that they had gyms in South Beach and a pretty popular lifestyle magazine.
Imagine my surprise when I located an elements club in a smaller suburb of Boston (close to Cape Cod). elements was located in a great center with other stores that I loved such as Ann Taylor, JC Penney, Target, and GNC. I was surprised to see a gym in such a retail-type center, but after stepping inside I realized why. elements brilliantly blends retail and fitness together... I was immediately impressed. I could tell that behind this brand was a very forward-thinking team. I had an opportunity to meet the owner of the club, who was very welcoming and happy to speak to me about her experience. Like me, she was a businessperson turned franchisee. She told me she was looking for a business which helped others, and would also be profitable to own, and was attracted to the community nature of the elements fitness brand. I was only able to stay at her club for a few hours, but did enjoy an excellent workout in a lovely facility. I was immediately a fan of elements fitness and was looking forward to explore some of their other locations.
The next month, I was sent on assignment in South Florida, which gave me the opportunity to enjoy some warm weather, as well as discover some new clubs. The bar had been set high from my recent experiences at Healthworks and elements, so I was expecting a lot from my next visit, I assumed that South Florida would boast some great showplace clubs. I began with a visit to Lady of America, and felt like I stepped in a time machine back to 1985. The fact that "ladies" was still in the name, and the teal and pink interior made me want to don some leggings and flashdance. The clientele here was older, but I was in Boca Raton. I gave them the benefit of the doubt that this wasn't a star location, and ventured south to Broward County. I visited a second Lady of America club, and was equally unimpressed. The girl working the front desk was more concerned with her text messages than any questions I might have had. I asked her for a tour and she pointed "locker rooms are back there and this is the workout floor... you're welcome to walk around." Thanks, I thought and explored for a few minutes. It didn't seem very well run to me, and again - what's with the pink and teal?? I think for an older clientele with lower expectations this might not be a bad choice, but it was clearly not the brand for me. Looks like they peaked quite a few years ago.
Also in Broward County I was able to pass by a Shapes Express gym for women, which I had heard about. It was located in a nice but hidden shopping center off a main road. I had used my GPS to locate the club, I am not sure if I even would have seen it from the road. Once I found it, it was a very nice building and very well kept. There weren't too many Shapes Express locations, but I liked the concept and wanted to see a facility. I had already exercised this day, but I did take a tour and met with the manager, who was very pleasant. The facility had nice equipment and offered some classes, but it seemed to lack any real identity. I even saw a couple come in to ask about rates, not understanding it was a gym for women. I wasn't really sure what the benefits would be to me by aligning with this franchise. It didn't seem very crowded and there were not too many of these clubs yet, although the staff was very nice and physically the location was very clean and new. I took a copy of their class schedule with me, and was on my way.
The next day, in Miami, I used Yelp! on my phone to find the best local gyms. I knew Miami would not disappoint me. I was positively giddy when I saw there was another elements gym just a few miles from me. I had such a great experience at elements fitness in Massachusetts, I was curious to see if it would be consistent at this elements gym also. I arrived to this club at 4:00pm, into a very full parking lot. It took me a moment to even find a parking space, but as I was parking I noticed several women in workout gear heading in the same direction, I knew a group class was about to start. When I arrived at elements in Miami, the gym was full. Lots of energy, music and people! I was surprised to see so many personal trainers, I counted 16 and there may have been more. My business mind quickly kicked in, and I did the math... this was a club that was generating some serious revenue. The manager was very busy and I didn't want to bother her, but I did have an opportunity to meet the fitness director, who explained to me elements personal training programs. I liked what I heard, their model is a very affordable platform, a really great value for members which was clearly well received by members. elements moved to the top of my short list for a franchise to open... I was hopeful that they would have a territory available in Virginia. The club I was at was a little busy for me being a first time user, so I decided to head to Miami Beach to check out a yoga concept that I had my eye on.
Green Monkey. Not a name I would have expected from a chain yoga studio. But the classes were innovative, and I could tell it was a very well run operations. They had branded apparel and mats, everything I would have expected. The prices were high, but not outrageously so. As I expected the instructor was amazing. One of the better yoga experiences, in my book. The class was filled with avid yogies, and more were waiting outside for the next session. I could tell this place was popular, and profitable. I like the idea of owning a yoga studio, but am concerned about direct and indirect competition. The more expensive a business is to launch, the fewer direct competitors (logically) that will come into a market. Yoga studios are comparatively inexpensive to open, and highly dependent on the instructors. If you lose your instructors, you can lose your following. This is scary to me as a business owner. At least with a health club I have members on contract, and many amenities to attract and retain clients. As much as I love yoga, I think the best idea is to incorporate into my gym.
In August, I will have a much earned 2 week vacation, and plan to take that time to make my final decision. My ultimate goal was to have my new business open for January, which is the busiest period of the year for health club. If I select my franchise and buy a territory in August, that should give me enough time to select my location and get my club open for the New Year. I am very excited about this endeavor, and very satisfied that I invested the time to do the visits. I hope the information I shared was useful to someone who is also looking to get into this wonderful industry.