“To me, franchising is the ultimate team sport”
Snap Fitness CEO Chris Caldwell on how teamwork keeps the gym chain in good shape
When Australia went into lockdown early in 2020, gyms were among the businesses hardest hit. “Every gym, regardless of brand, was impacted by COVID-19,” says Chris Caldwell, who was appointed CEO of Snap Fitness in the midst of the pandemic in August 2020.
“When I got here, we were just starting to reopen, but there was a lot of change and shock,” says Caldwell. “And then we went into subsequent closures in some states.”
But it’s testimony to the strength of Snap Fitness – Australia’s second-largest 24/7 gym network with 250,000 members – that the brand continues to grow. Despite the pandemic, Snap opened 15 new clubs in 2020, and has another 25 launches planned for 2021. “A lot of our clubs are performing stronger than they were before COVID.”
Caldwell credits Snap’s decisive action in the face of the pandemic as helping the gym chain bounce back. Early on, Snap released a series of updates and videos to drive awareness around the cleanliness of their gyms, and the network’s online 24/7 ‘virtual’ fitness classes, at my.snapnation.com.au, kept the brand at the front of its members’ minds.
For customers, 24-hour gym access and strategically chosen sites are critical factors.
For franchisees, Snap offers a host of built-in support structures, from marketing assistance to gym design services. “Our franchisees have all those business resources at their fingertips,” explains Caldwell. “They can tap into operational support, IT, human resources and access to subject-matter experts on everything from Facebook marketing to property. That level of support makes it a compelling offer.”
Our franchisees have all those business resources at their fingertips”- Chris Caldwell
For Caldwell, this is the true appeal of the franchise business model, which unites a corporate head office – with its expertise and experience – to an army of highly engaged and motivated business owners. “Franchising to me is the ultimate team sport,” he insists.
A demonstration of this collective spirit in action came during the pandemic, when Snap made the decision to waive franchise fees in Victoria during the lockdown to help those gyms weather the downturn. “When, due to no fault of your own, your business suddenly has zero revenue, that can be very, very stressful…” Caldwell says of the decision.
While teamwork can be a nebulous concept, Snap strives to weave it right into the fabric of the company. Franchisees are encouraged to share findings and requests at a state level via a central advisory council (a group made up entirely of franchisees), who meet monthly with the corporate leadership team. “This creates a formal two-way communication platform to supplement and complement the daily conversations between all members,” says Caldwell.
Another reason for the network’s strong growth? A focus on innovation, says Caldwell, who cites the new partnership with Afterpay as an example of this.
Introducing Afterpay means that Snap Fitness members can sign-up to gym contracts, paying only 25% upfront and the rest over 6 weeks. The partnership will help Snap attract younger members, says Caldwell. “Which ties well to our offer. The younger demographic like to have flexibility and convenience – they want to work out when they want to work out. Being 24/7, convenient and having a national footprint appeals to them. So, we thought, ‘well this actually could work out quite well’.”
It’s another weapon in the armoury of an expanding company which, true to its fitness offering, is in great shape heading into 2021. But, whatever your line of work, Caldwell believes the following principles can also help your business grow this year.
1. Always be RED
“At Snap, whenever we go to market we concentrate on being RED, which stands for Relevant, Easy and Distinctive,” says Caldwell. “Our members are attracted to Snap Fitness because our facilities are modern and clean, they’re conveniently located and it's a pretty affordable offer. Keeping messaging simple and clear, and remaining innovative are also important.”
2. Honesty is the best policy
“When you’re communicating with franchisees or business partners you have to be brutally honest. Not angry or emotional – just honest about the facts,” explains Caldwell, who notes that Snap Fitness franchisees are “really, really busy” running businesses. “They just want to deal in facts, so they need to know two things: ‘How is this going to improve my business?’ or ‘Why isn't this improving my business?’ If they're not performing, then don’t sugar-coat it.”
3. Ruthlessly hone your focus
“At Snap, we've just gone through our strategic planning and budgeting for 2021. There were 90 projects that we wanted to do. I said, ‘Let's narrow them down to six.’ We spent a long time debating what those should be and making sure that we've got the capacity and capability in our team to deliver those six projects really, really well. What are the six? I’m not telling you that!”
Luke Benedictus is a journalist, who has written for a range of newspapers and magazines, and is the former editor of Men’s Health.
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