Raising the bar

Health and fitness has long been big business in the UK and now franchising is leading the way as the UK populous search for more efficient workout solutions. Gareth Samuel takes a look at franchises that are raising the bar.

Corporate gyms have in many ways revolutionised the way in which Britain loses weight. In the years prior to the development of brightly coloured neon gyms and health centres, going to the gym was a rare occurrence. Now, because of demand, a large societal shift towards white-collar office work and a universal need of the masses to ‘look-good’, weight loss and health is big business.

Franchising and fitness have long enjoyed a harmonious relationship. The franchising method of expansion suits the business operating procedures of gymnasiums and health clubs, as the fitness demands of the general public are similar across the country. Also the fundamental necessities of a gymnasium or health club are not specific to one area or locations, enabling them to be replicated more easily through franchising.

One such franchise leading the way is sásta, a revolutionary health and fitness brand from across the Irish Sea. In order to improve the way in which Britons get fit, Fiona Egan launched this truly innovative franchise, which uses patented ‘fitness pods’ which create a sealed vacuum around the runner, making exercise exponentially more effective. The business has gone from strength to strength since it began franchising. Fiona and her team have helped recruit outstanding and enthusiastic franchise owners across Ireland and they are looking to expand internationally, they have just secured investment in Brighton and sásta Madrid is very much in the pipeline.

Fiona’s success was spawned from a personal battle with fitness. “My lifelong struggle with my weight initiated my research into sásta,” Fiona says. “I decided that it was time to find a guaranteed, sustainable solution. Since its launch in the Irish Market in September 2012, sásta’s rapid expansion has seen company turnover grow by 100 per cent in the first six months trading, with plans for a 10-fold growth in studio sales in 2014."

The way in which sásta has become one of the most talked about businesses in Ireland in such a short period of time is astounding. Fiona herself took the Franchising Woman of the Year award at the 2013 Irish Franchise Awards. She too is adamant that franchising suits fitness and weight loss brands perfectly.

She adds: “Developing a proven business model in the fitness and weight loss industry is expensive and time consuming requiring a lot of varied expertise so the franchise model lends itself extremely well to providing entrepreneurs the opportunity to fast track their business setup by taking on a ready made business with proven results.”

In addition to the excellent work sásta has done in pushing health and fitness franchising forward, Anytime Fitness, one of the world’s largest gym franchises, has just been named number one on the coveted Entrepreneur Top 500 franchise list. The business began trading in 2002 and, just 12 years later, has used the franchise model to expand throughout the world – there are now more than 2,500 locations in operation (all of which can be accessed through one membership).

CEO Chuck Runyon believes it is the simplicity of the business model combined with the convenience of the product offering, in a growing market, that has enabled the business to thrive in the way it has done. “I think that the business model is a bit simpler than some of our competitors. With the 24-hour access to gyms and the idea that each location does not have to be staffed,” he explains. “I think that as consumers we are all getting busier. It used to be that people would come in after work for a work out before going home for the evening. Now people want to do their exercise when they want, which is partly why Anytime Fitness has seen such growth.

“We give franchise owners the choice of a few gym designs so they can pick how they would like their location to look in their area. Franchise owners get our full ongoing support. We have over 2,500 stores worldwide and so have seen everything before.” It is this flexibility for partners, in a sometimes-rigid industry, that has helped attract so many investors.

Anytime Fitness is also the focal point of one of the most interesting corporate branding developments of recent times. Currently over 2,000 people have the Anytime Fitness logo branded onto their skin because of the difference the gym has made to their life in one way or another. “The Anytime Fitness tattoo is something that really came about accidentally. At one of our annual conferences in the US, someone stood up and told the room a really moving story about how Anytime Fitness had changed their life and how they had a tattoo of the logo because of that. It just went from there really and now I think more than 2,000 people, who have achieved something monumental, have the tattoo. We do help people change their lives and build their confidence and this tattoo idea is testament to this,” comments Chuck on the bizarre phenomenon.

In addition to fitness businesses making an extremely attractive investment opportunity for interested entrepreneurs, the flipside of the health coin is weight loss franchises. Companies such as LighterLife and Rosemary Conley both offer a tangible service to consumers in the form of a better lifestyle in a socially inclusive environment. LighterLife actively recruits franchisees to help inspire groups of women and men to lose weight through eating better and generally living a healthier lifestyle.

For Katrina Tansley, Westmeath LighterLife franchise owner in the Republic of Ireland, helping people through their struggle with weight loss provides huge job satisfaction. She says: “There is no better feeling than knowing you are making a real difference to peoples lives. It's not just the lives of our clients that improve but their families too, who benefit from their loved ones living a healthier, happier life. In my previous career I never felt the same sense of achievement as I do now, in fact I can say my life is enriched by the success of my clients and my business.”

In addition to the immense reward that comes from changing the lives of customers for the better, running a successful business such as LighterLife has financial reward too. Katrina adds: “We have learnt much over the last six months but it is the support of LighterLife Central Office that has been key to our success. We plan to open another satellite practice in our zone next March based on the level of interest and enquiries from that area. We know that successful clients are walking advertisements for the programme, so success breeds success and we are both excited and confident of the future!” The underpinning force behind the rise in health and beauty franchises is undoubtedly a society-wide need to keep healthy. Technology has made our lives easier across the board and so physical activity is no longer a necessary part of the day. Health and fitness are commodities that will always be in demand to some extent. Buying into one of the UK’s premium health brands, like CoLaz, Lighterlife or sásta, therefore, is likely to be a shrewd investment that saves lives in the long term.