The fitness industry is poised to maximize gains post-pandemic, and these five fitness franchises are primed to get Canadians back in shape
By Gina Makkar
At the onset of the pandemic, fitness franchises facing lockdown restrictions jumped at the chance to create fun, fresh opportunities for customers to exercise at home. As one franchisee notes, the past year and a half has made clear that “physical activity is essential to maintaining a healthy immune system and it plays a huge role in our mental health.” Fitness franchises have excelled in creating flexible options for pandemic workouts. And thanks to their innovative adaptations, as restrictions ease, many concepts are positioned to come back stronger than ever.
World champion kickboxer, founder, and CEO Shannon Hudson launched 9Round Fitness to create a 30-minute, circuit-style kickboxing workout for the boutique studio fitness environment. With a new round starting every three minutes, it quickly became known as a place to get a fun, high-intensity workout on your schedule.
The first location opened in South Carolina in 2008 and the brand grew to 100 locations by 2012. “In the competitive global fitness industry, 9Round brings a lot to the table with its simple, yet effective workout model that encourages both physical and mental strength,” says Hudson.
Since fitness was already a fast-paced industry prior to the pandemic, when the crisis hit, the home office team worked quickly to create safety measures and roll out virtual workouts to ensure franchisees continued to operate during the lockdown. “It was a difficult time for everyone, especially in the fitness industry, but together we are coming out of it stronger,” says Hudson.
The brand expanded to offer robust workouts at home and in studios to suit all comfort levels. “The feedback for our on-demand workouts was tremendous. We realized that this should be something that should become a part of our business model permanently.”
Despite challenges, 9Round continues to grow worldwide and is on track to open 33 international locations this year. Hudson says the five-year goal is to be open in 30 countries. The brand looks for franchisees with a fighting spirit and a “never-give-up” mentality. “We want people who are always striving to win and be the absolute best. These qualities paired with a business background make for an ideal 9Round franchisee.”
Hudson’s advice for success is to focus on the micro to enjoy the macro. “For instance, narrow your focus on helping one single customer get the best experience possible with your brand, then move on to helping the next, and the next. And before you know it, you have hundreds of happy customers.”
30 Minute Hit
As pioneers in the fitness industry, founders Deanna and Jackson Loychuk had already begun creating an online hit-at-home program before the pandemic reached North America. When lockdowns started, they were prepared. “It was amazing for our members; they were so grateful,” says Deanna.
The workout concept was already COVID-friendly, with bags spaced apart and members facing away from each other. During COVID-19, the team enhanced safety measures by spreading out the start of each circuit to maintain 10 to 12 feet between stations. They also developed a proprietary app that allows members to view an online cue for a seamless, hassle-free check-in process.
As classes resume in some provinces, online is here to stay for members who love the flexibility of exercising at home or catching a workout while travelling. “It’s been a great added program. That would be our silver lining,” says Deanna.
Post-COVID-19, the duo says fitness is coming back bigger and better. “Franchisees had the upper hand. They had the support of the franchisors,” notes Deanna.
“Timing wise, there’s reduced competition because a lot of mom-and-pop businesses unfortunately couldn’t survive. They didn’t have the resources to develop an online program or a mobile check in,” says Jackson. “We provide a top-notch turnkey system and I think our franchisees would say they felt really supported through this.”
Jackson adds that it’s easy to operate when things are good, but the true test is how a company responds when things turn. “People get into franchising for the systems and the support. I think that we’ve proven that we can weather the storm. If we can get through this, it’s a brand and a system thatpeople should feel comfortable investing in.” says Jackson.
As they continue to grow, they seek franchisees who want to live an inspired lifestyle. “It’s about doing something positive in the community, making a difference, and creating relationships with the members,” says Deanna.
The couple’s advice for franchisees? Embody the core values of HIT: hustle, inspire and trust. Have the hustle to make things happen, the ability to inspire their team and community, and trust in the systems. “They also need to be trustworthy because their members are trusting them with their health. If they can hit those three core values consistently, they’ll always see success.”
Planet Fitness – one of the largest and fastest-growing franchisors and operators in the United States – launched in Canada in 2015, and the concept of high value at a low price in a Judgement Free Zone® quickly caught on. “Every time I’m in one of our gyms, I see everyone from seniors getting their walk on to firefighters and athletes. The CEO often says the competition is not the other gyms, it’s the couch,” says Jessica Sisk Roehle, with a Planet Fitness franchise group that operates 26 clubs in Ontario and the Maritimes.
To overcome the pandemic closures, the Planet Fitness brand launched the “United We Move” campaign just days after the lockdown restrictions came into effect, providing free virtual workouts on social media. “After the year-and-a-half we’ve had and given what we know about who is susceptible to COVID-19, physical activity is essential to maintaining a healthy immune system and it plays a huge role in our mental health,” says Sisk Roehle.
“The franchise really puts the time in and stays on top of implementing new policies and is sensitive to ensuring teams are adequately trained.” The Planet Fitness App was redesigned to offer touchless check-in and a crowd meter that allows members to check club capacity. Additional features like special workouts and live screenings created more at-home offerings. “It’s the way of the future and the pandemic really moved us along. It’s a positive.”
Though Planet Fitness is newer to Canada, Sisk Roehle says it’s a strong brand that understands its principle and values, and it’s a tremendous opportunity poised for growth. “They tapped into something great with the high-value, low-price model and its Judgment Free Zone®. They are easy gyms to be in, and very friendly, and they have standards that are adhered to.”
Sisk Roehle’stop advice is to believe in the brand. “Does the brand make sense to you? Do your values align with the brand values? Can you sell this and grow this? The more you believe and think you have an opportunity to grow, the more you will.”
Orangetheory Fitness (OTF) offers group personal training with a one-of-a-kind science-backed, technology-tracked, coach-inspired workout. It’s scientifically designed to maximize results for each participant.
Blake MacDonald, president of OTF Canada, says the concept works at every level. “Members get an amazing workout, staff can do what they love and advance their fitness career, and for franchisees, it’s one of best returns on investment in the industry. When a concept works for all stakeholders, you have a real winner on your hands.”
During COVID-19, the brand created new, exciting programs to keep members engaged. In addition to launching an online platform, Orangetheory Live, they incorporated a bootcamp-style outdoor workout called Outdoor 45. At home, the corporate team implemented operational safety protocols and provided financial consultants to ensure franchisees took advantage of government assistance. “We helped franchisees adapt the business model to ensure their survival. We reinvested in the business on different fronts to ensure franchisees make it through. I truly believe we’ll be big winners when all is said and done.”
MacDonald says the support they provide, from cutting-edge technology to unparalleled sales and marketing systems, is a big advantage. The fitness department dreams up cutting-edge workouts for every day, which are then delivered by the more than 1,500 locations. So, no matter where you are in the world, you’ll always get the same great workout. The corporate team supports its franchisees through negotiations, construction, and operations geared for revenue growth.
With a robust business model, Orangetheory requires franchisees who can maintain a strong workforce and remain knowledgeable and engaged, which isn’t always easy. “It becomes transparent to the customers if the franchisee has that care factor. If they don’t have that care factor, staff won’t have that care factor, and that’s what builds our culture.”
MacDonald advises franchisees to follow the system and use its resources and guidance. “When you look at all top performers across Canada and globally, it’s the studios that follow the system and follow what’s being laid out for them that are most successful.”
Oxygen Yoga and Fitness Inc.
For founder Jennifer Hamilton, it’s humbling to reflect on how Oxygen Yoga and Fitness weathered the storm for the last 15 months. “Our team and franchisees have never been more collaborative and united than during this past year.”
With the goal to remain connected, they created an “Oxygen Everywhere” Facebook page, which garnered an immense following. When studios reopened, an on-demand platform provided members with a virtual alternative. The online presence helps leverage franchisee onboarding by building awareness before they touch down in a new market. It’s also helped cast a wider net internationally.
Not a typical yoga studio, Oxygen offers a range of yoga and fitness classes, and FAR infrared technology provides plenty of physical and mental health benefits. “It’s about building community with clients, and diversity allows members to come in and try something different.”
Hamilton says in the past year, people have stepped back, revisited, and reevaluated the importance of health and fitness. “I think the virtual programs allowed people to gain confidence in their living room, front yards, and backyards. It’s our job as professionals to create a safe place for people to come and feel welcome.”
Training prepares new franchisees to understand the fundamentals of the business and once open, adjust for better success, as each market has its own unique draw. For Hamilton, three checkpoints determine the success of classes. “It’s the time, the instructor, and the class itself. It’s obvious when you do an inventory if a time works, or a class is well-received. It allows franchisees to understand the demographic they’re working with.”
As Oxygen continues to grow, Hamilton is thankful for her forethought in partnering with David Patchell-Evans to broaden her network to take the brand to the next level. Patchell-Evans was recently named one of four Canadian business leaders inducted into Junior Achievement Canada’s Canadian Business Hall of Fame. “I couldn’t be more grateful to be aligned with a man who is such a visionary, but humble and down to earth.”
Hamilton’s advice is to bring passion to the table. “Allow passion to be fluid within the business model and follow the plan. Be there with a smile, say hello. It creates positivity, and it’s contagious. As an owner, when someone comes up to you and says ‘thank you,’ that piece of knowing you’re providing a place for people to come in and take care of themselves physically and mentally, it’s an incredible thing.”