Over one year ago, Chuck Runyon was the very first franchise executive that agreed to do an exclusive interview with Franchise Chatter. I spoke with Chuck again earlier this year shortly after the launch of his first book, “Working Out Sucks!” And now, to celebrate Anytime Fitness’ 10th anniversary this year and his appearance on ABC’s Secret Millionaire (with co-founder Dave Mortensen) this weekend, I’m delighted to present this new 2-part interview with Chuck Runyon, founder and CEO of Anytime Fitness.
Franchise Chatter (FC): First of all, congratulations on the 10th year anniversary of Anytime Fitness this month. Looking back on this past decade, what do you think were some of the pivotal decisions that you got absolutely right?
Chuck Runyon (CR): Thank you. It’s a significant milestone, and after 10 years, we’ve made some mistakes, but there are definitely decisions we made that have led to our long-term sustainability and growth. Looking back, here are just a few:
- Identifying a significant void in the industry, and offering a viable alternative to over-sized and over-priced health clubs. The 24/7 fitness model provided convenience to an increasingly busy society.
- Opting to use a franchise model to scale our 24/7 gym concept. Franchising was a comprehensive, fast way to grow because we were able to rely on other people’s capital and the capital of landlords versus having to take out a big pool of money.
- Becoming a full service franchisor, and aligning with the right affiliated companies and vendors in the areas of equipment, security, financing, real estate, insurance, and health club fee reimbursement, etc.
- Developing a top notch education and training program for franchisees. Each new franchisee is assigned to a team of franchise consultants with specific knowledge about a specific stage of club development: pre-sale, year 1, year 1-3, year 3-5+, and multiple club owners. Franchisees move from one team of franchise consultants to another as their club progresses. We instituted a “New Franchisee Training” session at our corporate office that offers a 360 degree look at the business from experts in the field. We also offer a continuing education program, which we refer to as “Vitals Training.” A few dozen times a year, franchise consultants travel around the country, visiting clubs and hosting 2-day training sessions to rejuvenate club owners and managers.
- Implementing reciprocity – Anytime Fitness is Anywhere Fitness. Use one club, use them all. Members are literally given the keys to the gym giving them a sense of ownership.
- Going Global – the business model is easily transferable, and has thrived in more than ten countries. Our aim is not limited to domestic success; we want to be the most convenient fitness option on the planet.
- Letting the business model evolve to include ancillary products and services such as the Anytime Health online program and personal training services through BodyWorkz, to name a few.
- Making culture a top priority! Our belief is that if we get the culture right, brand success will follow. As we continue to grow and hire new people, we make sure they inherently believe in our mission and share our DNA (core values), characterized as passion, purpose, personal, empathy, accessibility, creativity, balance, heart, courage, forward, bandwidth, and play.
- Investing in the physical, emotional, and intellectual well-being of our corporate staff. Excellence is never a part-time commitment; the Anytime Fitness staff knows that they need to be “all in” in order for us to thrive. Some of the ways in which we achieve this include: classes/opportunities in areas of personal development, relationship-building, and charity work; weekly onsite bootcamp taught by corporate staff/personal trainers; and quarterly weight loss competitions.
- Hosting an Annual Conference which gathers our franchisees, corporate staff, vendors, and members from all over the world for a few days of education, inspiration, motivation, and endless fun! Attendees are given the opportunity to attend tailor-made classes taught by experts in the field, share tips/advice with others in similar roles, and honor the exemplary achievements of their peers during a special award ceremony.
And it’s worth mentioning that there’s never a dry eye in the room during the award ceremony – especially when the videos of our national member success story winners begin to play.
It’s impossible not to get choked up when learning about 18 year old Daniel Lowe, a young man born with cerebral palsy but who intentionally opted to have his hips broken so he could walk across his high school stage to receive his diploma. Daniel trained for months with an Anytime Fitness trainer who offered Daniel free sessions.
Then, there are people like 71 year old Betty Lou Sweeney who prove that it’s never too late to get healthy – setting a world record for planking after being overweight and battling a life-threatening kidney infection. Bearing witness to transformations like these are why we got into this business in the first place, and it inspires us to keep going.
FC: What do you hope to do a better job of going forward?
CR: We’re never satisfied with the status quo, and are always looking for new and innovative ways to grow and improve, from both a franchisee and member-centric perspective. This includes harnessing the power of technology to meet the needs of a mobile society.
Earlier this year, we revamped AnytimeFitness.com to create a faster and more user-friendly site. The enhancements we made dramatically increased our SEO, and led to a 75% increase in free 7-day pass downloads.
We’ve also provided our franchisees with a more efficient, streamlined club check-in process, enabling more sophisticated tracking for recruitment and retention efforts.
We will continue to devote resources to our health and wellness website Anytime Health – the most notable addition of late was offering our member base access to virtual trainers 24/7.
We remain dedicated to our ongoing engagement efforts with franchisees by utilizing a variety of incentivized programs.
FC: How has your domestic business been since we last spoke?
CR: Despite a struggling economy, Anytime Fitness is the largest and fastest growing co-ed fitness chain in the world. We have nearly 2,000 clubs and 1.5 million members in ten different countries – adding new clubs at a rate of nearly 300 every year for the past 4 years, with no signs of slowing down.
Earlier this year, Entrepreneur magazine recognized our continuous growth and stability, ranking Anytime Fitness as #1 among Fitness Franchises and #11 overall in their Franchise 500 list.
FC: Can you tell us about the growth of Anytime Fitness internationally over the past year?
CR: Anytime Fitness continues to expand its footprint all across the globe. Earlier this year, we opened our first club in the Middle East in Qatar. In the last 12 months alone, Anytime Fitness has opened nearly 300 clubs worldwide, including clubs in New Zealand, Poland, Mexico, Japan, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the company’s 100th club in Australia.
FC: Anytime Fitness was recognized as one of the Top 100 Employers of Minnesota. Can you tell us more about the award, and what it means to your organization?
CR: The “Top 100 Best Companies to Work For” competition awards MN companies that are setting the standard for leadership, benefits, best work environment, innovative training programs, and employee happiness. Of all the awards that Anytime Fitness has received over the years, this may be our favorite because a brand is defined by its company culture and the DNA that is lived in the office each day. The honor serves as a collective testimonial from our employees that they believe whole-heartedly in what they are doing, and ultimately feel valued.
To read the second part of my interview with Chuck, please click here.