This is the second part of my 2-part interview with Chuck Runyon, co-founder and CEO of Anytime Fitness. To read the first part, please click here.
Franchise Chatter (FC): What can you reveal about your appearance in an upcoming episode of Secret Millionaire? Why did you decide to do it? When will the episode air?
Here’s a bit of a teaser for what you will see on the show:
Dave and I in 100+ degree heat with just $71.03 between the two of us for the week, living in a rundown house with crickets, spiders, and cockroaches, weeds growing on the inside, a barely functioning air conditioning system, and a shared bedroom with no access to media of any kind. We worked 15-21 hour days doing volunteer work, filming, and interviewing.
It was even more grueling from an emotional perspective. We met some outstanding organizations and courageous people who are giving their time, energy, and money in meaningful, admirable ways. In the end, our heart had more blisters than our hands. Make sure to tune in!
(Update: If you are in the United States or its territories, you can watch the entire episode by clicking here.)
FC: Can you tell us the story behind your new charitable giving program, Heart First? How does the program work and who will it benefit?
CR: As I mentioned before, filming “Secret Millionaire” changed Dave and me in profound ways. I remember how each night after a grueling day, we’d find ourselves having some pretty deep conversations revolving around the importance of leading a purpose driven life. And it was during one of these talks that together we coined the term “Heart First.”
The program fits into our larger Anytime Fitness vision and mission of giving back, and we want to encourage our franchisees to lead with their hearts. In our industry, the best trainers and owners simply care more about their clients. Heart First gives them a way to “spot” people in
need and give them a helping hand in a different way.
For those that choose to participate, they will contribute a monthly fee in exchange for a discount on their upfront franchise fee. With input from club owners, each year we’ll choose a different organization or group of organizations to receive the donations.
FC: Your first book “Working Out Sucks!” was published earlier this year. How did that opportunity come about, and what were your goals for the project?
CR: Let’s face it – you don’t expect the CEO of a fitness chain to publicly announce that working out sucks, especially when the country is in the midst of a serious obesity crisis. In fact, if I were to follow the lead of the pseudo health and fitness industry, I would endorse the magic weight loss pill or gimmicky diet plan, and showcase people running on treadmills with big smiles on their faces. But the problem with these less than truthful tactics is that it offers false hope to a vulnerable segment of the population.
In writing the book, I wanted to offer a get real approach to getting healthy and to re-energize the debate in this country about creating a new tipping point for change. And it all starts with admitting that yes, working out sucks, but the alternatives – from heart disease to premature aging, diminished income, unhealthy kids, less sex – are a lot worse.
In trying to get this message across to the masses, I decided the best way to do this was to write the book “Working Out Sucks!” I enlisted the help of Rebecca DeRossett, a psychologist with years of experience helping people achieve positive behavior change, and Brian Zehetner, a nutritionist, strength expert, and overall Chief Science guy at Anytime Fitness who contributed the kick start 21 day fitness and nutrition plan.
WOS was published by Da Capo Press/Perseus Books Group, a publisher in New York.
The book is meant to offer some tough love, and provide not only a supersized dose of motivation, but practical tools to help you change bad habits and make healthier food choices.
I will keep sharing this message with anyone who will listen, because in the end it’s going to take everyone doing their part (the medical community, health and wellness industry, local and national government, schools, and parents) to create a new tipping point.
FC: What are your thoughts on the influx of new fitness franchises, particularly in the area of group fitness (inspired by the success of CrossFit)? Do you have any plans of expanding your offerings to tap into this new fitness trend?
CR: To remain stagnant would be the kiss of death in this industry, so yes we do have plans to expand our offerings in the group fitness area. In fact, we have recently brought on Shannon Fable, an exercise programming expert that will design unique, distinctive, small group X training programs to impact revenue for trainers, create a competitive edge, and maximize retention.
In addition, we will be implementing more multi-purpose rooms in our gyms, which will offer more opportunities for such programs.
FC: Has the lending environment improved over the past year? How are your franchisees financing their new Anytime Fitness centers?
CR: Although our fundings in the equipment financing sector have remained strong throughout the recession, we have seen a slowdown in both SBA and conventional bank loan fundings during this same timeframe. I’m happy to say that over the past 12 months, we have seen the units funded through the SBA loan program increase. Although it is not a tremendous increase at this time, it is an increase we can measure based on the new clubs that we have opened.
The majority of our new franchisees (around 80%) are financing their fitness centers with equipment leases in addition to their own personal cash investment. A smaller percentage (around 15%) are using the SBA loan program for financing assistance. And finally, the minority (around 5%) are financing all in cash, whether it be personally or with the help of an investor.
FC: I recently saw some photos of a brand new Anytime Fitness club with a cool new look and color scheme? Are you testing a new club design? What are your goals for the redesign? When do you plan to roll this out system wide?
CR: We actually began the process of redesigning our clubs in October 2010 by enlisting the help of Fabiano Designs, an award winning firm based in New Jersey. The remodeling effort is the next evolution in our club style, and an example of how we’re constantly striving to improve the member experience every way we can.
The traditional Anytime Fitness purple color still maintains a presence in clubs, but is complemented by softer and more natural tones. The 4,200-square foot gym floor has been re-organized to provide a more structured space, allowing key workout areas to be more visibly defined.
In addition to the new design schemes, we will be adding more multipurpose rooms to accommodate group fitness programs. There are currently 391 clubs that have undergone this design, and more will follow.
We’ve also introduced scent marketing in our clubs via ScentAir to ensure that our gyms don’t smell, well, too much like a gym. We settled on the eucalyptus-mint fragrance as it is fresh, invigorating, and gender neutral.
Even as we seek uniformity from club to club in certain ways, we still encourage the franchisees to make their own mark on their club’s culture by injecting their own brand of fun, compassion, inspiration, education, and accountability with their members.