PALM SPRINGS, CA — In November, Gary Heavin, founder and CEO of Waco, TX-based Curves International Inc., was awarded the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year® 2004 award in the Services Category. Heavin was recognized for growing Curves International from a single gym in 1995 to what is today the fastest-growing franchise in history, according to Guinness World Records.

“I kind of expected to win,” admitted Heavin. “It's part of that entrepreneurial thing. We built the ninth largest entrepreneurial company in the country. And we did it in nine years. There's no down side. A Walmart opens up and it shuts down all the local hardware stores and retail stores. When a Curves opens up, we don't even take people out of other gyms because they weren't going there. The only ones we hurt are the hospitals and doctors.”

Curves International operates more than 8,000 locations in 25 countries, accounting for more than 80 percent of the women's fitness market and one of every four gyms in the United States.

“I looked at the millions of women who weren't exercising and saw what no one else saw as a way to get them into the gym,” Heavin said. “As a result, four million women are in the gym and will be healthier for it.”

In addition, his clubs have created 30,000 jobs, 8,000 of which are entrepreneurial opportunities for people, he said.

Heavin plans to expand the overseas part of his franchise.

“We are now the McDonald's of fitness of America,” he said. “My goal is to be the McDonald's of fitness in the world. We are thriving overseas. Our first challenge is to build a quality organization in the international market.”