Chris Elms ran a successful boutique-gym business long before the market exploded. With YourZone45 he’s giving franchisees a chance to get in on the action, one heart-pounding HIIT session at a time
Today YourZone45, the fitness-studio franchise, is growing across Britain seemingly without breaking a sweat. However, its success has been a long time coming. “I launched my first studio in 2003 because I didn’t like gyms,” says Chris Elms, the founder. “They were so boring.” And his fellow gym-goers seemingly felt the same way, sluggishly moving between stations without any fire in their reps. Noticing this palpable lethargy, Elms realised how making exercise fun could be a great business opportunity. Determined to not let this chance slip through his fingers, he set up his own studio and aimed to invigorate every fitness aficionado stepping through his door. “I based everything on three key principles: motivation, enjoyment and results,” he says.
Even though his enterprise succeeded in putting smiles on his clients’ faces and laid the foundation for his future franchising success, outsiders may have been less than impressed by his first studio. “I actually set up in a little 700 square foot portacabin,” he says. “The walls were extremely thin, so it was very cold in the winter and boiling hot in the summer.” But despite these humble beginnings, Elms made the most out of the situation. While he bought some ads in local publications and did a lot of leafletting, word of mouth quickly proved the best way to bulk up the business. “People saw better results and walked out of the session motivated and sweating in a way they’d never experienced before,” Elms says. “And that really enticed them to continue and to tell their friends.” As the rumours spread, the club quickly grew to over 100 members.
He spent the next few years growing the business and even launched a second studio. But by 2010 he’d become tired of the business taking a big chunk out of his time. “I was stretched out working over 100 hours per week over two sites,” Elms says. “That’s when I started looking at franchising.” Careful not to rush into it he did his research and realised he’d already laid much of the foundation needed to make it big. “I’d been running boutique-fitness studios ten years before it became fashionable and I knew that what made them work was the community feel you only got when the owner operates it,” Elms says. “At the time I was that owner but it could’ve just as easily have been someone else who knew every member and was equally passionate about the business.” The realisation that franchisees could serve this purpose persuaded him to move forward with his plans.
But the research had also made Elms recognise that his model needed to be updated. “The sessions needed to be more like McDonald’s cheeseburgers, something that could be replicated time after time,” he says. Therefore he introduced new stricter structures restricting individual trainers’ personal preferences from influencing sessions, And it didn’t take long before the revamp made an impact. “We saw a huge spike in members’ results because they were now training at an even higher intensity,” Elms says.
While changing some parts of the model, Elms ensured interval training remained at its core. “If you push your heart rate up above 84% of its capacity for 12 to 20 minutes of a workout, you’ll kick in the afterburn effect, which is when your metabolism stays a lot higher and burns more calories for up to 36 hours after the workout,” he says. In a bid to ensure every member can track and benefit from the training, he also incorporated MyZone heart monitors into the new model. “What’s great about it is that everyone is at a level playing field,” Elms says. In other words: no matter if you have to sprint or just require a brisk walk on the treadmill to reach your maximum capacity, you can still take part in the session.
With these updates in place, Elms and his team began to recruit franchisees that could push the business to the next level. “We needed people who understood what we wanted to achieve, our journey, where we’d been and where we were going,” he says. Casting a wide net across franchise and business sites, the franchisor was especially looking for fitness instructors eager to start a business of their own. Eventually, Elms found the perfect candidate. “They had a background in fitness and sales, so we knew they could get the club open, would understand the concept and could sell right off the bat,” he says.
Having found the new franchise, Elms decided to take the new concept for a spin. “We launched our franchise pilot in 2014,” he says. Under the new trade name YourZone, which would later add 45 to mark the length of the sessions, the concept quickly proved a roaring success. “They became profitable within five months,” Elms says. With the pilot making impressive gains, the franchisor is now looking to expand the network further.
Central to this ambition is the understanding that franchisors are only as successful as their franchisees, which is why YourZone45 thoroughly preps them to ensure they stay true to form. “We start with a week-long initial training course where we cover every aspect of the business,” says Elms. From how to run the franchise and manage finances to delivering workouts and great customer service, franchisees learn everything they need to run the business at the new flagship studio in Greenwich. The initial training is then followed by three days of on-site training once the studio has opened. “After that we offer them on-going support by having the franchisors and a manager from a sister club talk with them on a monthly basis to ensure they meet their targets and help steer the business in the right direction,” says Elms.
Given the support on offer and the care the franchisor has put into the system, it’s hardly surprising that YourZone45 has been able to grow exponentially since launching the franchise model. “We’ve got four sites open and another three in development,” Elms says. “And we’ve got another four or five people that we’re in progressive talks with.” And he’s not stopping any time soon. “We aim to get 12 new franchisees in 2018,” he says. “Reaching the 100 mark is the next goal, which we should reach in the next three to four years.”
Moreover, that’s hardly the only way he’s planning to grow the business. “As we continue to grow and develop, we are looking to expand overseas,” he says. “The goal is to get to Australia and to the States.” Having already began talks with potential master franchisees, Elms reveals that he’s planning to start the international expansion over the next two years. But he’s also adamant about not letting the growth get out of hand. “We’re not looking to go crazy and have thousands of sites worldwide over the next few years,” he says. “It’s about making sure the franchises we’ve already launched are successful.”
Given how this attitude has already served him in good stead, it feels safe to say that YourZone45 is here to stay.