Three months after he was let go by Gold’s Gym International (GGI), Joel Tallman created a new company with the owners of former Gold’s operator American Club Systems (ACS).
Tallman, along with ACS owners Charlie Lindsey and Tim Goodwin, have collaborated on FIT Brands, an umbrella of fitness concepts that includes ACS, the newly branded Max Fitness clubs and Club Administrative Services, which provides billing and collection services specifically for fitness clubs.
Tallman said he had many opportunities to consider after leaving Gold’s.
“Several of the opportunities that I had prior to accepting this position actually may be part of our plans going forward,” Tallman said by phone from Atlanta before boarding a flight to his home in Seattle.
Tallman was the senior vice president of franchising and global operations for Irving, TX-based GGI, which announced his departure on June 14. Before joining Gold’s in 2000, Tallman was an area director at Bally Total Fitness, Chicago.
“I’ve been in the business for 27 years, and 25 of them were with two companies,” Tallman says. “It really gave me an opportunity to see what was out there, to see what the opportunities were. It was a great opportunity to sit down and have great discussions with several groups and then make a decision. It was really important to work with good people, and I’m very pleased to be able to work with Tim and Charlie and some of the people that are coming on board.”
Tallman says he began forming the concept of FIT Brands “the day I wasn’t with Gold’s.” He compares the structure of FIT Brands to that of Louisville, KY-based Yum! Brands, which has Pizza Hut, Taco Bell and KFC in its portfolio, among other fast-food restaurants. Not all of the clubs formed in FIT Brands will be under the Max Fitness brand, Tallman says.
“I really designed this company to be kind of the Marriott of fitness franchising in that there’s many different Marriott concepts,” he says. “The franchisee can really enter the marketplace in a lot of different ways.”
ACS, a fitness club development and consultation company based in Columbus, GA, has recently rebranded its Gold’s Gyms to Max Fitness in both Columbus and Auburn, AL. There are currently nine Max Fitness clubs in operation, with the remainder in south Texas and Baton Rouge, LA. The company projects it will have more than 200 Max Fitness, Max Fitness Elite and Max Fitness Express clubs in operation within the next two years.
“This is just the beginning of what we see as a tremendous opportunity to align new industry innovators with companies that have set their roots deep in fitness,” Lindsey says. “We’re bringing it all together under FIT Brands to ensure we consistently provide the highest quality results for our clients—whether that’s helping our members reach their potential or our business customers meet their goals.”
Tallman, Lindsey and Goodwin are all partners in FIT Brands. Lindsey calls Tallman, who will serve as president, the “driving force” of the company.
“He’s a visionary who is at once creative and pragmatic,” Lindsey says. “In our world, where operations and constant innovation come together every day, that’s a delicate balance, and Joel does it like nobody else in the industry.”
Although the FIT Brands’ revenue model will be driven primarily by corporately owned clubs, franchising will be an important part of the company, Tallman says.
“One thing that I really did take away from Gold’s Gym was it allowed me to understand the relationship that could be had and really the fellowship, the fraternity of the Gold’s Gym franchisees,” Tallman says. “I want that. Franchising will be part of this company because of the family, because of the camaraderie.”
Tallman becomes another in a long line of operators with ties to Gold’s who have broken away from the company and created a new brand. Royce Pulliam (Urban Active), Kirk and John Galiani (Onelife Fitness) and Jeff Skeen (Fitness Connection) are all former Gold's operators who now run their own brands.
“There’s just a life cycle to a business, and I think it’s a very natural thing for a business that’s going into a growth mode to look at flying its own flag,” Tallman says, “or in some cases, multiple flags, like we will. I don’t really think it’s a commentary on Gold’s Gym. You look at all those organizations, and they’re doing some of their own brands and continuing to grow.”
Tallman says it was Gold’s decision to remove him from the company. When asked specifically about the future of Gold’s, Tallman took the high road.
“The only thing I’m going to look back on in my last 11 years is really what I drew from the franchisees,” Tallman says. “That was just special, and it will always be. As long as I’m in this industry, I don’t know if I can recreate the relationship with the franchisees, but I certainly will try. Gold’s Gym was a great stepping stone for my career, and I’m thankful for that opportunity. But now, I’m excited about what’s ahead.”