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Taking Time to Learn the Business Makes You More Fit to Be Multi-Unit Franchisee
When Karmen Nenahlo signed up to be an Anytime Fitness franchisee, she jumped in, as she puts it, “both feet first.” She knew from the beginning that she wanted to be a multiple-unit operator, but got more than she bargained for in the beginning.
“I expanded way too fast,” Nenahlo said in an interview with Franchise Chatter. “That was my biggest mistake.”
In the first eight months after signing on as a franchise partner, she was busy trying to get five locations off the ground. When she made a mistake learning the ins and outs of the business, it was like multiplying that mistake by five, she said.
If she had to do it all over again, she would start off mastering the challenges of having one new business before moving on to additional units. And it’s advice she would give to any other franchisee who’s just starting out.
Seven years later, Nenahlo has survived her trial by fire and she has made a success of her nine Anytime Fitness Clubs — eight in Wisconsin and one in Michigan. But in the beginning, she had it tougher than most franchisees. Financing wasn’t a problem, because the economy had not yet taken its downturn, but with five locations in less than a year, her cash reserves were very low, she said.
“I think I would have gained a lot more and learned a lot more if I had come in and operated one location, even if it was just six to eight months,” she said.
The lesson she learned that could help potential franchisees: “Get in and fully understand the day-to-day operations so you can better lay out expectations and give better directions when you hire someone.”
Franchise Model Instilled Confidence
Nenahlo, 31, jokes today about her inexperience back then and the feeling of “being invincible” that led to her ambitious and rapid expansion. But her confidence was also spurred by the Anytime Fitness franchise model, she said.
She was 24 when she signed an agreement to be an Anytime Fitness franchisee, starting in partnership with her brother Kyle Smith, whom she has since bought out. With a degree in finance and a minor in accounting from Minnesota State University, Mankato, she went to work as a financial analyst but didn’t like being a “numbers cruncher.”
“I actually come from outside the fitness industry which I think is fairly common for Anytime Fitness (franchisees),” she said. “Fitness has always been a passion for me and I loved working out. That was more of my outside-work life. I never considered it as a career.”
But driving by an Anytime Fitness location one day, she decided to check out the franchise. She also looked at Snap Fitness, which has a similar business model to Anytime, but emphasizes no contracts for members and low-priced memberships. Snap’s focus on discounts and “no-frills” facilities was not something that interested Nenahlo when she compared Anytime Fitness with Snap. She tried to envision herself as a Snap member and couldn’t see the appeal even as a potential consumer. The brand also seemed riskier to her as a business person.
“I knew I’d never necessarily want to be the person advertising the lower cost because all it takes is for someone to come in with a lower one and beat you,” she said.
Plus, she was impressed with the fact that Anytime Fitness’ co-founder Chuck Runyon personally greeted her and talked with her for about 30 minutes when she made her first visit to the corporate office.
“It was kind of that personal relationship and understanding the story behind the franchise,” that sold her on the company, she said. She made her first inquiry about becoming a franchisee in March 2006 and by June, she had quit her job as a numbers cruncher. She had great confidence in the Anytime Fitness system.
“I just always knew it was going to work; there was no fear basically,” she said.