Rob Shapiro is the founder of One2One BodyScapes, a personal training fitness franchise based in Newton, MA. During the past 12 years, One2One BodyScapes has grown from one location to 13 with franchisees across Massachusetts, New York and Texas. In the next five years, Shapiro plans to expand One2One BodyScapes nationwide. You can reach him at rshapiro@bodyscapesfitness.com, 617-232-1010 or visit his franchise’s Web site at www.one2onebodyscapes.com.

Do you dream of running your own business but aren’t sure how to get started? Buying a fitness franchise could be the solution. Despite the hard economic times, fitness franchises have seen an increase in sales. However, before jumping into the fitness franchise business, you need to know a few things.

The first step in buying a fitness franchise is figuring out your budget. How much are you able to spend? The type of franchise you can buy depends on your budget. The cost of buying a franchise varies with each type of fitness franchise. The price tag can range from $100,000 to more than $1 million to purchase a franchise. This price greatly depends on the brand and how large the franchise is. Before you get involved with researching different types of franchises, determine the money you can allocate to the purchase. It will save you time and stress in the long run.

The second step is deciding what type of fitness interests you. You need to narrow it down and find your passion. You can choose from many types of franchises, including small boutique fitness facilities, big box clubs and personal training studios.

The third step is to understand and discover the marketplace for your business. Research the demographics of the area, real-estate opportunities and other fitness facilities that are nearby.

The fourth step is to validate the franchise, which entails calling existing franchise owners to see how their business works. Ask important questions, such as whether they like their job and how their franchise is doing.

If validation goes well and if you feel comfortable with the market, budget and franchise that you’ve chosen, you can then participate in discovery day, which is a great way to learn about a business and see how it runs. You will see the franchise in action and learn its day-to-day operations. You might even meet the principals of the franchise.

People buy franchises because they want to own their own business and be their own boss. The trouble is that most people aren’t sure about how to start their own company or choose the right industry for their interests. Franchising is a great way to bridge that gap. Buying a franchise eliminates all of the headaches of learning how to own your own business as well as the logistics of starting your own business. When you become a franchisee, the hard work has already been done for you within the franchise system. You walk into a business and system that’s already created. The head of the franchise has paved the way for marketing support, customer service support, human resource manuals, accounting and all the components involved in a small business.

Some people believe that you need a fitness background or personal training certification to buy a fitness franchise. In my opinion, all you need is a passion for fitness because in a good franchise system, you will learn the protocols and other information necessary to run the business.

The advantage of buying a franchise over opening an independent gym is that you have the benefit of the system and its existing units. If you have 10 units within the same city, you can market the brand together. The brand carries more strength with numbers. Franchises allow you to be independent while still working together as a cohesive unit.

Good franchises have a support system in place, providing you with the ability to call another franchisee to discuss problems and ask questions. The franchise system is a community. All the franchisees have the same goal of helping the brand succeed. When you open your own gym, you’re on your own. You don’t have the same benefits or support system that you do within the franchise community.

However, opening a franchise isn’t easy. The hardest parts of starting your own business, whether it’s a franchise or a start-up company, are the long hours and ramp-up process. It can be nerve-racking for franchisees because most people who start a franchise come from the working world where they are used to a consistent paycheck. During the ramp-up process, a franchisee won’t see that consistent paycheck. Owning a franchise allows you to be your own boss, but you must be able to deal with the initial loss of steady income. If you anticipate the struggles during the ramp-up process, you’ll ease your nerves and be better prepared for what’s to come.

The key to franchise success is buying into the system. You need to pay close attention to your business and make yourself available for questions, customer service and day-to-day operations. Before you hire new people, you must be fully immersed in the franchise so you can be a resource for new employees. When you hire new employees, make sure you choose the right people because that allows you to concentrate on other important items, such as marketing and scouting new locations.

Lastly, be in tune to the company’s needs and never forget how you fit into the bigger picture of the brand.