We spoke with Anytime Fitness CEO Chuck Runyon on the challenges and rewards of running a franchise and earning customers' loyalty.
Getting your business to stand out from the crowd is no small task, especially if you are in a marketplace with tons of competitors. With more than 200,000 fitness and health clubs worldwide, including more than 36,000 in the U.S. alone, Chuck Runyon, CEO of Anytime Fitness, knows just what it takes to get a leg up on the competition.
Anytime Fitness is the fastest-growing gym franchise in the world, with more than 3,500 gyms worldwide that serve nearly 3 million members. We recently had a chance to speak with Runyon about staying competitive in a crowded industry and turning first-time customers into loyal ones.
Q: When your business is in a crowded marketplace ̶ where Anytime Fitness finds itself ̶ how can you stand out from the crowd?
A: Consumers today are inundated with the noise of every business shouting for attention. Instead of trying to stand out with potential customers, business leaders must first ask themselves, "Are we doing enough to excite and engage our current customers?" In our business, we need to focus on helping members achieve better health. If we care, coach and connect with them – if we stand out in their lives – then they'll value our relationship longer and refer more business. My suggestion is to analyze your business from the inside out. Stand out to current customers and they'll help you grow the business.
Q: It's one thing to get a customer in the door; it's another to keep them coming back. What tips do you have for creating loyal customers?
A: First, focus on understanding your customer. What do they need or want? Why are they choosing to engage with your product or service? Once you gain clarity, work hard to meet or exceed their expectations.
In the fitness business, if members achieve results, they don't leave. If they don't experience positive results, then it's only a matter of time before they drift away or consider another fitness option. Your business is no different. If you regularly meet or exceed your customers' expectations, they'll show loyalty with their spending, length of engagement or even tattoos! (More than 4,000 people have branded themselves with an Anytime Fitness tattoo.)
Q: What are the greatest challenges when expanding your business internationally?
A: Market conditions and customer preferences vary greatly, and companies must be patient, nimble and thoughtful regarding which product or service modifications are necessary to succeed in different markets.
Our philosophy has been "standardize wherever possible, localize when necessary." Equally important, we carefully choose in-country partners to help us navigate the complexities of each new market.
Q: With so many franchises to choose from, what should someone be looking for when considering buying a franchise?
A: Research the industry to understand the risks and growth potential. How has the industry performed during downturns in the economy? How is technology impacting the sector? What are the macroeconomic trends that may support growth?
- Spend time with the franchisor and team. Franchising is a relationship between the franchisee and franchisor. Ultimately, the franchisor has significant influence on the direction of the brand and how and where it will grow, including reinvestments into the system. Make sure you're comfortable with the people, the track record and their leadership. Also, hire an attorney to help you review the Franchise Disclosure Document and Franchise Agreement.
- Contact other franchisees and understand the historical performance and strengths/weaknesses of the brand from their perspective.
- Follow your passion. So much has been said about following your passion, and, with thousands of franchises to choose from, find something you genuinely like, because you're going to spend many hours doing it.
Q: When you run a company with a partner, like you do with David Mortensen, how do you make sure you are always pushing in the same direction?
A: There's a term we use repeatedly with each other, and our entire leadership team: CAT, which stands for "communication, alignment and trust."
Like any productive relationship, we need to communicate often about what's going on in the business and candidly share our thoughts, ideas and frustrations. We also must have shared alignment to selflessly serve our stakeholders (consumers, franchisees and employees). And if we prioritize our stakeholders ahead of our own interests, that sheds the petty warts of ego and greed.
Trust is the third component, and it is built up over time. Trust can be difficult because it involves letting go. But once it's earned, trust frees you up to divide and conquer – it's extremely powerful.
Q: When your business becomes successful and self-sustainable, what do you do to make sure you are still moving forward and aren't resting on your laurels?
A: It's simple. We don't sit around thinking about accomplishments because, if we did, we'd lose our motivation to improve. We've already exceeded our financial dreams. So, now we focus on franchise owners and their customers, reinvesting our time, energy and resources to help them achieve their dreams – whether it's better health or a thriving business – and we're gratified when they realize success.
We've found this special place at the intersection of People, Purpose, Profits and Play™, and we want to bring others along on the ride, because it feels too good not too share.