Leadership

3 Sustainable Online Models for a Thriving Fitness Franchise

Lucy Connor
17 November 20
10 min read
online-fitness-business-model

As we navigate the uncertain terrain of COVID-19, having a virtual offering has become a crucial part of running a successful fitness business. 

But whether your business provides live stream workouts, on-demand services, or a combination of both, a franchise needs a scalable model that can deliver consistently across every branch. 

In recent months, we’ve conducted a lot of industry research to create content that will help gyms and studios survive and thrive online. 

We’ve spoken with our customers to find out firsthand how businesses are facing the challenges of COVID-19 and learn as much as we can about what makes a thriving fitness business. We’ve also welcomed countless fitness industry experts onto The Fitness Founders Podcast to hear their insights on the industry’s biggest challenge to date.

From these insights, we know that fitness franchises need a compelling offer that combines an online and in-studio experience. The challenge now is to meet the member where they are, rather than the member always coming to the studio.

This is called a hybrid offering and it’s essential to future-proofing your enterprise and building a brand outside the four walls of the facility. There are two key areas to focus on to help you do this successfully:

  1. Supporting your franchisees. Maintain brand consistency and ensure that every franchisee thrives online. Their success is your success.
  2. Choosing the right online model for your enterprise. Every business is different. What works for one franchise won’t necessarily work for another.  

Further in this article, we’ll take a look at how you can support your franchisees for success and 3 online business models to consider. But before we dive in, we’ll recap on the definition of a hybrid fitness business.

Skip ahead to:

What Is a Hybrid Fitness Business?

In simple terms, a hybrid fitness business provides members with both onsite and online services. Onsite is the classes and training you offer in-person, and online is what you offer through live streaming or on-demand content. Over the last few months, many fitness businesses have been running online as a matter of survival. But as gyms and studios reopen, you’ll need to implement a business model that incorporates both options.  

In the next section, we’ll highlight 3 areas that are crucial to supporting your franchisees for success. Each point focuses on valuable insights from some of the franchise experts who’ve joined us on The Fitness Founders Podcast. 

3 Ways to Support Your Franchisees For Success

The main takeaway from the experts we’ve highlighted is that regardless of the business model you use, communicating with and supporting your franchisees will ultimately lead to success.

1. Playbooks Are Essential For Consistency 

Russ Harrison recently joined us on the show to share his insights on growing a successful franchise from the ground up. Russ is the Group Managing Director of Spartans Boxing Club, a community-based boxing franchise with four locations across Singapore and plans to expand further across Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. 

The first thing that every franchisee gets from Spartan’s is a welcome video from Russ. The video is incredibly comprehensive and covers everything from what a franchisee’s outlet should look like, their branding, marketing playbook, operations, all the forms they’ll need, and where to find them. 

The extensive detail ensures that every franchisee is equipped for success right from the start and maintains consistency wherever they are in the world:

“Whether you are in Australia or Singapore or Dubai or wherever else, that platform gives you everything that you need.”

Spartan’s has also created its own franchise business model and coaching accreditation program, and this has been essential for maintaining quality throughout every branch:

“We have our own coaching accreditation course that we’ve written from the ground up. It’s absolutely fundamental to the operations of our business. We found that that’s a really powerful tool to make sure that our quality and standards are all up to speed.” 

The key takeaway here is that playbooks are crucial for any franchise. Whether it’s in video form, a training program, or any other supporting documents, having this in place ensures consistency and quality across every branch. 

2. Educating Franchisees Is a Great Opportunity for Engagement

Lift Brands Inc Chief Product Officer Andy Peat shared valuable insights on the importance of educating franchisees when he joined us on the podcast. 

From everything including supporting locations through COVID-19 and the fundamentals of what it takes to run a successful gym, education has always been a significant focus for Lift to ensure success across their two franchise brands, 9Round and SNAP Fitness:

“We wanted to keep franchisees and managers engaged during the lockdown, whilst we were at corporate getting ready for an inevitable reopen. That came in the form of education. Across our two brands, we produced around 50 educational pieces covering everything sales, marketing, onboarding trainers, leadership, everything.”

Engaging with franchisees in this way is excellent for learning what other resources they need to succeed and how you can improve your processes from the top-down. It’s an opportunity for you to learn as much as it is to educate and engage franchisees. 

3. Two-Way Communication Builds Trust

Steve Pirt shared a wealth of knowledge with us when he came on the show. Steve is the CEO OF Friction Free Fitness and previously the National Director of Franchise Operations for UFC Gym. 

In this episode, he talks all things franchise and everything he’s learned from his extensive experience. Steve gives us some great insights into how large franchises operate, how to communicate effectively with franchisees, and the importance of a proven playbook, especially in a fitness industry transformed by COVID-19.

The essential point these experts are driving home is that communication needs to be open and effective. As Steve highlights, it’s important that your communication is ongoing and works both ways. It’s only with listening that you’ll know how to improve: 

“You better be on your toes, and if you are going to educate franchisees and expect them to follow in compliance on a playbook, it better be proven. How was the playbook put together? What’s the content in it? The educator, they have to be relentless about over-communicating following up on expectations. You can’t expect playbooks just to be sent out after one day of orientation in a 3 ring binder with a nice font on it, and expect everyone to get excited. How is it conveyed and educated, not the first time, but weekly, quarterly, monthly?”

You have to seek to understand before you seek to solve; if you are not trying to understand what a franchisee’s pain points are before offering the solution, you will immediately miss the mark.

Once you understand the best strategies for supporting your franchisees, the next thing you need to take on is implementing a future-proof business model. Next, we’ll look at 3 online business models for franchises, outlining the pros and cons of each to help clarify which choice may be best suited to your business.

3 Virtual Models to Help Franchisees Succeed

The one crucial factor that changes with your business model is who controls the content, which will lie either at a corporate or franchisee level. This decision will impact two key areas: your brand on a global scale and member experience at each location. 

1. Leave On-Demand and Live Streaming to Your Franchisees

This option leaves individual branches to their own devices when it comes to creating both on-demand and live stream content. While it’s one of the most straightforward models a franchise can choose, it comes at a cost: it will be difficult to maintain a consistent experience for every member, at every location, if each branch is moving to the beat of its own drum. 

If you go for this model, it’s essential that you support your franchisees with a playbook: the dos and don’ts of your brands’ online services. 

The main benefit of this model is the high chance of franchisee success: each branch has a slightly different target market and will know the best messaging and what will work culturally. By allowing them to create their own offering, you’re empowering them to tap into and leverage these unique aspects.

2. You Produce On-Demand, Your Franchisees Have Creative Reign Over Live Streams

This model leaves the on-demand content completely up to you. You’ll decide on what the on-demand class experience will be for the members and distribute the content to franchisees accordingly. The live streams are left up to your franchisees.

The benefit of this is that you have more control than the model mentioned previously. On-demand is where you’ll showcase your wider brand, but leaving the live streaming to franchisees also means they can tailor the content to create a personalized member experience. 

The live stream aspect, in particular, will work well for existing local members; they’ll still be working out with the trainers they’ve built a relationship with, and the workouts will be familiar too.

Another benefit of this model is that branded on-demand content is a powerful sales and marketing tool that will ultimately help to expand your locations. For new investors, a high-quality on-demand library is a great selling point. 

3. You Produce Both On-Demand and Live Stream Content for Franchisees

This model will provide consistency throughout your online services and allow you to create a completely branded member experience. Though it’s not a fitness franchise, we’d liken this example to Peloton’s offering. With Peloton, live or on-demand, every person across the world, choosing that class will get the exact same experience. 

There are a couple of points that you miss with this model. That’s not to say it’s not a great model, but its success will depend on the nature of your business. Firstly, this choice may diminish the role of branch instructors – especially during lockdown where there will be no onsite classes running. 

The second is the element of personalization. If your franchisees planned classes and allocated trainers previously, taking that away could impact the member experience. People will have grown to expect certain instructions leading certain classes and might feel put out when your online offering is more generic. 

In Summary

One key takeaway we can summarize from the 3 models we’ve looked at today and the expert guests we’ve had on The Fitness Founders Podcast is that choosing the right model for your franchise will impact growth. But there’s a greater emphasis on how you equip your franchisees for success.

There are pros and cons to every business model, but both online and onsite: communication with your franchisees is essential. Whether it’s training updates, webinars, new playbooks, or check-ins – it’s crucial that you have the support and two-way communication in place to help them succeed.