Too many fitness and yoga franchises stick their unlucky owners with a failing business and an expensive lease plus bank and credit card debt. These five criteria help sort the winners from the losers.
We’re not endorsing any of these, just using them as examples to make our points.
1. What’s the franchisor’s commitment to marketing the brand?
Consider Planet Fitness. Every year they release funny ads that instantly go viral and resonate with millions of consumers who have “gymtimidation.” Plus, their unique anti-gym message gets tons of free exposure every January from newspapers and TV stations doing their requisite New Year’s features on healthy living.
However, most fitness franchise systems do virtually no regional or national advertising. Want Facebook presence or email marketing? That’s up to you–they don’t do that.
Their name recognition is nil, so no one’s likely to Google them in hopes of finding a nearby location. They may provide predesigned materials like ad slicks or postcards to owners for use in newspaper ads or direct mail campaigns. …But without an active online presence and integrated email marketing, you’re not likely to get significant results from those ads and campaigns.
Sales and marketing is something that most fitness franchise owners dread. Unless you love it AND you’re good at it, choose a franchise that takes most of this responsibility off your shoulders.
2. What’s their unique selling proposition?
Consumers are surrounded by gyms, health clubs, yoga studios and similar fitness businesses. And they’re mostly indistinguishable from each other.
You want a franchise that targets a specific niche that’s underserved or appreciates a specialized environment.
Curves caught on like wildfire (and rapidly overexpanded) because they targeted a niche that no one paid attention to: out-of-shape women intimidated by exercise who blossom in a social and fun environment. Frankly, they’re STILL the best at targeting this niche.
Look for a franchise that’s doing something different. While CrossFit may or may not fit the legal definition of a franchise, they’re doing a great job of targeting people who want to push themselves as hard and as far as they can.
3. How’s their product development track record?
You absolutely must choose a franchise that continues to develop new programs and classes for your clientele. Far too many fitness and yoga franchises completely drop the ball on new program development. The programs you opened with…are the same tired programs one, two, even three years later.
For example, one gripe about the once-rapidly-expanding Curves has been that once you’ve done the circuit for a few months, it gets kinda boring and that’s really all there is to do. Similarly, Sunstone Yoga’s original concept of classes themed around Spark, Fire, Earth, Water, etc. was creative; but students sometimes were disappointed by the lack of variety and progression after they had attended classes for awhile.
On the other hand: with group fitness programs in the U.S. and franchised gyms outside the U.S., Les Mills has created ten different fitness programs, from BodyPump to RPM spin classes; and they’ve added the Grit series to capture the small-group personal training opportunity. They’ve got everything from aerobics to yoga to fitness dance and more covered.
And most importantly: Les Mills refreshes its programs every three months with updated music, choreography and ongoing instructor training.
You want a fitness franchise that’s continually rolling out new programming and refreshing or retiring existing classes and programs.
4. What’s their process for ensuring consistent quality?
Consistent quality builds brand equity. It’s what makes your yoga franchise’s name and brand count for something in the minds of consumers.
McDonald’s sets the benchmark for a consistent customer experience. It’s neither the best nor worst food. The prices aren’t the highest or the lowest. But you can nearly always count on a clean restaurant and food that’s exactly the same whether you’re buying it at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport or at a drive-through in San Jose, CA.
Consistent quality and a consistent experience is one of the biggest issues we see with fitness and yoga franchises. From facility cleanliness to billing policies to instructor quality and class content, individual franchisees within a single franchise frequently range from great to horrible. You never know what to expect when you see one of their locations, because the experience is entirely dependent on the individual franchisee. And that makes that name you franchised…worthless.
In a healthy franchise system, the franchisor provides technology, systems, processes and procedures that help your operations run smoothly and consistently, every single day. But they also have processes for monitoring franchisee performance like required training, inspections and customer surveys. And they kick out franchisees who simply can’t meet the standard despite repeated attempts.
5. Is there an active franchisee organization?
It’s tough for an individual owner or area franchisee to effect much change in most franchise systems. Your power is greater in numbers.
One of the best ways to leverage that power is through an active and engaged franchisee association that’s working collaboratively with the franchisor to continually improve marketing, introduce new programs and retire old ones, and improve operational effectiveness and efficiency with better systems, whether that’s a mobile-friendly website design rolled out to all franchisees or an operational improvement like online employee timekeeping or nationally negotiated vendor discounts.
For each franchise system you consider, assess whether most franchises are owned by single-location franchisees, or whether the franchise system uses an area or territory model, where only multi-location franchises are sold–for example, the Northeast Texas area. The healthiest systems are usually the ones that use an area or territory model.