Q&A subject: Anytime Fitness, CEO Chuck Runyon
Founded: 2002 in the US; 2010 in the UK
Number of franchises: 3,000 worldwide, more than 60 in the UK
Global footprint: Active or in development in 29 countries
Anytime Fitness recently celebrated the launch of its 3,000th club worldwide in Stroud, Gloucestershire, achieving the milestone faster than the internationally renowned giants of the franchise sector. Its 24/7 health club model has proved equally popular with customers and franchisees alike, with growth showing no signs of slowing down. US media outlet Entrepreneur named the brand its number one global franchise in 2015. Whilst in the UK for the launch of the milestone club, CEO Chuck Runyon took time to discuss the history and phenomenal growth of his business.
(1) What’s the story behind the founding of Anytime Fitness?
My business partner and I were in the fitness industry prior to Anytime Fitness and we had larger clubs that had squash courts, a pool and saunas – all the usual set-up. We had these large clubs but understood that most of our members didn’t use most of that square footage.
We wanted to provide more convenience and the two key points for members were 24/7 accesses and eliminating some of the payroll that goes with operating big clubs. We just wanted to give our consumers what they wanted: cardiovascular fitness 24/7 and the use of any club in the network, anywhere. That was the start.
(2) Has that clear idea of who your customers are been important in the growth of Anytime Fitness?
I think it’s very important. Any entrepreneur understands that it’s really tough to be everything to everybody. We were able to focus on a much simpler model that’s been able to scale in the last ten years. We had the risk of losing some of our customers wanting a whirlpool or squash. We were willing to take that risk.
(3) Do people seriously visit every day of the year – even on Christmas Day?
They do! Let’s say you’re not visiting family or you’re single or your activities don’t start until the afternoon. There will be people there on Christmas morning and afternoon. One of our bigger days is Thursday morning of Thanksgiving – everyone wants to get in there for a workout before they eat all the calories.
(4) What made you notice this data on what was being used?
It could have been anybody. When we launched Anytime Fitness the industry experts said it wouldn’t work. There were concerns around safety or the lack of staff present – that it just wouldn’t be possible.
So firstly we had the courage to take this new idea and give it a try. And then we also had a smart team with the IT aptitude to create the software and hardware packages. This was in 2002, before the iPad, smart phones or Facebook, so we had to make our own software to make this happen. There are consumers who still want every amenity but we’re not trying to be everything to everybody. A quick workout in a convenient location is our model.
(5) When you first started out, did you foresee this kind of growth happening?
To be honest, it’s exceeded our expectations on every single level. There’s no way we could have anticipated this level of success 13 years ago. From what I’ve read, modern franchising has been around for about 150 years. I don’t think any other brand in the history of franchising has grown to our geographic reach. We are in 29 countries and 3,000 locations after 13 years. There’s been some fast-growing ones but not with that international penetration. From what I can tell, we’ve done something no other franchise brand has ever done before. We’re very proud of that.
(6) When it comes to a 24/7 operation, how confident were you when you started out that it was the right way to go, when nobody else was doing it – even now, it’s unusual. Did you have doubts?
Yes, of course. You can’t help but listen to some of those detractors. Our biggest concern I guess was the female member – are they going to work out at 10pm or 11pm when there’s not a staff member present, and maybe a guy at the back working out with free weights. We didn’t really know that until we opened but at the moment the ratio is 50/50 male to female, so there are no issues there whatsoever.
(7) In the UK there’s a lot more focus on health and fitness now than ever before; consequently it’s also a competitive marketplace, with growing numbers of fitness franchises. How do you stand out from the crowd?
On the upside the consumer pool continues to grow. The challenge is that club growth is outpacing consumer growth – and GDP growth. So yes there is this surge of new fitness centres at every segment: studios, high-end and budget. So we do have to find new ways to be more remarkable for that member experience.
Where we have the edge is, ultimately members join a club because they want results and today’s landscape gives them so many choices, we don’t need as many members. Therefore we can know them better, provide that personal education and personalised programmes to help them achieve results. At the end of the day that’s what everyone wants, so if we can help our members achieve results better than our competitors, then they’ll prefer us and stick around.
(8) That personalisation of service is of the utmost importance?
I think it’s becoming more of a premium in a competitive market. People will ultimately seek out a club that’s closer to their home or work for convenience, then after they join it’s really the experience that will help drive that loyalty. We consider it our job to drive you to success. It’s a big priority of ours.
(9) Does that impact on the traits you look for in your franchisees? Have they changed over the years from when you began?
Yes, it changes everything – years ago they were attracted to the simple, low payroll model. Today it’s still simple, but we’ve got more people in the club – more payroll. It’s a little bit more dependent on execution than it has been in the past so I think that’s going to filter through to what we look for in our franchisees too. They need people skills.
(10) Any advice for how someone can stand out from the crowd as a prospective franchisee?
We look for how much homework they’ve done on the plans. Can you sense their passion? We try to judge their emotional intelligence. We’re looking for people very passionate about the fitness industry. Experience can be helpful but doesn’t necessarily matter because we have great training.
(11) Entrepreneur named Anytime Fitness No1 domestically 2014 and No1 globally in 2015. What was your reaction?
I was in the office both times and I had goosebumps. It’s kind of like winning the Superbowl of the franchise industry. It’s something we’ve celebrated throughout the year during our training events. Every single franchisee has a part in that.
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