Taking a group exercise class that will be offered at his studio allowed this franchisee owner to see the class the way a current or potential member would see it.
Once you become a fitness facility owner, taking a group class at your fitness facility becomes a whole new experience. (Photo by Thinkstock.)
Last month I went to Franchise University and learned from the support team how to open and operate my franchise business. While I was there, I went to one of the local franchisee locations and attended two of the HIIT group exercise classes that my new studio will offer. I had attended a few of these classes in the past; however, this was the first time I would be taking one since I decided to purchase the franchise—and that changed everything. I was no longer evaluating the workout and analyzing the operation through the eyes of a prospective buyer. I was an actual franchise owner with money on the line and an unrelenting ticking clock counting down the hours until my studio's grand opening.
Allow me to set the stage first. I arrived in Denver at 12:15 a.m. after weather delays pushed my flight back three hours. Once there, I was treated to a nice 90-minute tour of the scenic expanse known as the Greater Denver Airport Runways. This unscheduled trip caused me to lose my hotel reservation for the night and arrive at the rental car counter at 2:30 a.m. Despite all of these travel headaches, I never once considered canceling the 8:00 a.m. class that was scheduled for day one of Franchise U. I found an all-night Wal-Mart and purchased fruit, Gatorade, dark chocolate and a $3 towel to shower with for when class was over.
Despite physically feeling like I just finished a 18-hour shift at a treadmill testing factory, I was alert and ready to take on the 45-minute class that alternates one minute of all-out effort of various functional and bodyweight exercises with 30 second rest periods. What I wasn't ready for was the exhaustive mental documentation of every operational aspect that I would catalog in my mind with each passing minute. By the time the class had ended, I felt as if my brain was sweating as much as my body.
The class started for me when I opened the front door. Within the first 90 seconds, these were some of the business practices that I began to evaluate and subsequently worry about for my own future studio:
- Smell, lighting, natural light, lobby space, plants, seating, TVs (size, make and model), music, water/refreshments, resources (hand-outs, marketing collateral, community board, etc.) and anything else that immediately hits the five senses
- Everything about class participants including: age, engagement, clothing, accessories, locker room and facility usage/needs, perceived activity level and interaction with the technology components of the studio (heart rate monitors, sign-in procedures, online member forms, etc.)
- Every staff-related interaction with the clients and other team members
- Process and procedures for all things sales, sign-in, set-up, trouble shooting and time management. Were these things happening and were they happening according to franchise guidelines?
- Studio environment including: equipment condition, sound echoing, temperature, high and low dusting, sweat stains, music volume, color schemes, instructor appearance and interaction, and the heart rate board
- Branding and more branding. Was this studio following franchisor recommendations? And was it all tied into a comprehensive social marketing and media plan that engages current members and provides exposure to prospective clients?
And none of this even takes into account the success or profitability of the studio, or any training, employee issues, franchise requirements or back office metrics that I wasn't privy to at the time. This wasn't just a class; it was a timestamp on my fitness career that will divide my life into pre and post studio ownership phases. And if that wasn't terrifying enough, ironically it was an 1980s theme class.
I'll end this column with a call to action for all of the mangers out there reading this post. I challenge you to audit a class this week, preferably one at your own facility but any class will do. Here's the catch: You need to evaluate the operation as if you personally have $150,000 riding on your ability to analyze, replicate and improve upon the experience. You need to be honest with yourself and your ability to motivate and lead a team of part-time employees to see and implement your vision. It's not as easy as it sounds, but give it a try and then comment here on what you saw. Maybe your observations can help me find some things I missed.
Matthew Cicci is a freelance fitness writer and small business owner in the Chicago area. With more than 15 years experience in the health and fitness industry, Cicci has operated businesses in the not-for-profit, commercial, private, franchise and residential fitness markets in the New York City. 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: firstname.lastname@example.org