A passion for changing lives
Business View Magazine interviews Cory Lyons of Snap Fitness, as part of our focus on best practices in the health and wellness industry.
A significant and somewhat double-edged consequence of the modern 24-hour workday is that we’ve become both the profiteers and victims of our “unrestricted” work lives. Thanks to modern technologies like smartphones and cloud computing, the borders between working and social hours are no longer fixed nor rigidly determined, leaving us to contend with the so-called privileges of unpredictable schedules and 24/7 availability. Trust Snap Fitness, the now globally recognized and globally influential health and wellness brand, to use the gym to respond to these social circumstances with the elegantly simple solution of the local 24-hour fitness center. With more than one million members and over 2,000 clubs open, or scheduled for development worldwide, Snap Fitness’ no-excuses, results-count philosophy has already proven itself several times over to be a revolving door of opportunity for its valued clients and franchisees alike.
It was through owning big-box health clubs that Snap Fitness founder, Peter Taunton, came to recognize the rigidities and biases of traditional gym memberships. “Ultimately, he realized that members were often paying for services they just weren’t using—amenities like racquetball courts and swimming pools,” explains Cory Lyons, Director of Franchise Sales and Development. “He identified an opportunity with smaller health clubs, smaller facilities, and named it Snap Fitness.”
The first location opened April 2004 in River Falls, WI. Characterized by its small-box, compact facility, it built on the brand’s image of a leaner gym experience. “When we started franchising, our facilities were a lot smaller,” Lyons admits. “They were 2,000 square feet; no frills whatsoever – essentially a room full of equipment.” As Snap Fitness celebrated its 15th year of franchising and the brand continued to evolve, the average size of a Snap Fitness gym swelled to 4,500 square feet.
“We were the first major brand to go to market with no long-term contract,” says Lyons. “That, alongside our 24-hour electronic key card access system, really revolutionized the fitness space.” Many Snap Fitness facilities now offer daily high-intensity interval training (HITT) workouts, personal training options, and heart-rate technology powered by MyZone. “We also hold virtual classes through a proprietary program called Fitness on Demand. Most of our gyms are now outfitted with private showers, as well—not the locker-room style. It’s all part of the evolution of the brand.”
Today, much of Snap Fitness’ fleet is individually owned and franchised. The company has a footprint in 21 different countries, with over 800 units open and 18-corporate owned facilities in the U.S., alone. They have their global headquarters in Chanhassen, MI, which houses their Franchise Support Center. They also have separate offices for their IT division, and international departments in both Australia and the United Kingdom.
“Our franchisees don’t require a fitness background by any means, but we do expect them to have a passion for the business—that passion for changing lives,” shares Lyons. “We’re fortunate enough to belong to an industry that does that. We change people’s lives daily. So, we really want that passion to extend to our community.”
As a franchisor, Snap Fitness enjoys a hands-on level of involvement, offering franchise owners every available resource, from access to their in-house real estate team to health club demographics. “We like to be able to share our statistical data and research,” Lyons explains. “Not just how many people live in each given market, but what segment of the population? Are they in their golden years? Are they single families? Are they Millennials? We then have an in-house project management team that works directly with the franchisee and their contractor of choice to facilitate the club’s design and ensure that all products are delivered on time, from us and our vendors. In addition to that, our operations team is also heavily involved, both in terms of the grand opening campaign and the pre-sale campaign, utilizing that ramp-up period before the gym is open for business.”
Although franchisees are free to do their own hiring, corporate guidelines dictate that they must choose suppliers from a pre-approved list of vendors. “Just like most franchise systems, we do require all our franchisees to purchase their equipment from our preferred vendors,” says Lyons. “All of our preferred vendors work closely with us to provide the highest quality equipment at the lowest possible prices. It’s about exploiting that strength in numbers. Our largest supplier, Matrix Fitness, has been with us from the get-go. We’ve got a great relationship with them, as well as with Cybex and Octane Fitness. Tru Fitness is rapidly becoming a strong preferred vendor for us, too. They’re very supportive of our business model.”
With franchising continuing to provide a profitable option for private equity and other sources of capital, Snap Fitness has started to venture further into the multi-unit arena. Approximately half of their U.S. facilities in operation today are owned by multi-unit franchisees. “One component that we’re really focusing on, going forward with, is territory development,” says Lyons. “We plan on identifying targeted markets, as well as area developers for those markets, and really grow with them. We’ll always have the single-unit operators, but we’re really hinging our growth on specific, targeted markets through strategic area developer franchisees in those given markets.”
As far as operations, Snap Fitness is fixing its sights on developing an extremely robust platform of fitness offerings for its members. “We’re intent on transforming our 24/7 key card access fitness center into the world’s first 24/7 boutique fitness centre with HITT, targeted heart-rate-based training, and group fitness,” affirms Lyons. “Our product needs to evolve quicker than the industry is evolving. That’s what allows us to maintain a leadership role in the fitness space.”
All too often, stagnancy is the curse of success in the business world, and that seems to be especially true of the over $30 billion health and fitness industry in the U.S. For Snap Fitness, the key to growth has been grounded in a results-based management approach, and a philosophy that promotes a certain organization of community and culture. “One of the first things we teach our franchisees is how to be part of a community,” says Lyons. “Not just inside the four walls of the gym, but how to enrich that larger community outside the gates. We really focus on showing our franchisees how they can become involved within their respective communities—from sponsoring events to becoming a member of their Chamber of Commerce.”
The second element of Snap Fitness’ success formula is their concentration on achievement as opposed to process. “We talk about results all the time,” says Lyons. “That’s twofold. One way is, obviously, the results we deliver for our members. In each of our gyms, we have a tagline that reads: The strength of our members defines who we are. That’s so true when it comes to our brand. Everything we do at a corporate level, we do it with our members in mind. It all stems from member results, because we know that member results equate to member retention. We also focus on results for our franchisees. That’s what’s ultimately going to provide a financially viable, profitable experience for them—showing them that we have a sustainable, results-driven product that will get them the returns they desire.”
According to Lyons, Snap Fitness’ support team does a great job of coaching its franchisees to success. “We train them on operations, sales and marketing, as well as customer service and member retention,” he says. “Everything goes hand-in-hand. So often in the fitness industry, companies will focus solely on new member acquisition. We focus on that, too, but we’re also conscientious of membership retention for our franchisees. That’s a huge component of unit-level economics and growth.”
All Snap Fitness employees practice something called “Franchisee First”—a corporate mentality that centers on the idea that a franchisee’s profitability and contentment are the lifeblood of the organisation. “What that means is that if we’re not helping a franchisee, we’re helping someone who’s helping a franchisee,” Lyons explains. “It’s a mindset that’s really allowed us to nurture great relationships with our franchise owners.”
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AT A GLANCE
WHO: Snap Fitness
WHAT: A health and wellness brand
WHERE: Headquarters in Chanhassen, MN
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