Ladies Workout Express: Healthy figures, healthy profits

Offering a women-only environment and a specialised 30-minute circuit training programme utilising the latest hydraulic systems is proving a huge draw for Sandra Hutchinson's Castlereagh, Belfast franchise

I've been a fitness instructor for 13 years and I'm very impressed with the Ladies Workout Express equipment. It's easy to use but very effective - after five weeks of my gym being open my members are already noticing inch loss. I'd been teaching classes around the Belfast area for various fitness clubs, but had always thought of starting my own business.

I visited a franchise exhibition and there were two ladies fitness franchises there - speaking with the Irish Master Franchisee Chris Donaldson helped me to realise that Ladies Workout Express offered the best support package so I signed up as a franchisee in June. I travelled to Florida for a week's induction training at the USA head office of Ladies Workout Express, which helped me to understand how to run and manage a business, which was quite intense but very enjoyable.

I found ideal premises but it took longer to finalise the lease than anticipated, leaving just four weeks to complete renovations for my launch date in mid-September. I enjoyed project managing the fit out as I have taken on renovation projects before, although not to this scale, so having the head office team there to advise me on the marketing and operations and provide staff training was invaluable - being part of a franchise means ongoing support and advice is always there. After just five weeks I'm nearly up to 100 members, which means I have exceeded the targets I'd set in the business plan.

At the start the franchisor provided some staff to help with my launch and I now have two girls employed to work in the gym. I'll be employing a further member of staff to enable me to focus more on marketing and advertising to increase membership over the coming months, although I will still continue to teach my classes.

I would hope to reach 250-300 members by the end of my first year and also to be encouraging those members to stay active - this business is all about getting people to use the gym every week by keeping it exciting and challenging and providing a good atmosphere.

I'm also developing different classes and I want to bring in new ideas to keep the experience fresh for my members. So many women prefer a women-only gym environment because they can feel self conscious and intimidated going to a gym where men are working out as well. Some of my members are travelling eight to 10 miles to my classes, which shows the popularity of this concept.

Interview by Stuart Anderson