From its origin Down Under, Jetts Fitness, the gym chain, has pulled itself up from Australia to the UK and scaled at a pace reminiscent of the top speed on a treadmill
Ten years after its 2007 launch on the Gold Coast in Australia, Jetts Fitness, the gym franchise, was lifted effortlessly into the UK in the iron grip of master franchisor Matthew Symons and UK director James Garner. Boasting backgrounds as franchisee and franchisor respectively, they’re well-placed to meet the needs of those who join their network – despite not having any gym business experience. “It’s unique to be able to understand both sides of the coin,” says Garner, who previously worked in food and beverage. “I was with Starbucks for a long period of time, during [which] I started the licensing programme for them which is called corporate franchising.” He was also part of the team that led Starbucks’ UK franchising efforts, which gave him a unique insight that resulted in him becoming a franchisee with the coffee shop chain. And it was in this market that the pair became friends and decided to join forces.
From a sector renowned for giving customers the caffeine-based boost needed to get up and go, Garner realised health and fitness was the next big thing and tied up with Symons. “I’ve been a franchisee for 15 years in a few other brands,” Symons says. “Essentially it’s during that period I identified a lot of things that franchisors do well and things they don’t do so well.” On the back of that, he’s determined to cut out the bad habits he witnessed to only bring along the best bits.
And for what was lacking in fitness operational experience, Garner made up for with a zest for wellbeing, making him an ideal spotting buddy for their venture. “I’m into my health and fitness anyway, [as] a gym-goer, a member and a consumer,” he says, reflecting that the market has really ramped up over the past seven years, with the latter half resulting in a “prominent switch” that saw the industry here to stay.
With the marketplace ripe for picking and Symons wielding wisdom to share, it was a matter of timing and extensive research that led him to Jetts Fitness. “I went on franchise exploration days with pretty much all of the main players in the UK,” Symons details. “Jetts popped up at the end of that journey and said ‘Oh we’re looking at the UK at the moment.’ There was just one guy probing the market at the time, we got chatting and it turned into ‘Actually you guys seem a good fit to take this on for us in the UK’.” It’s a big turnaround from Jetts Fitness’ original plan to manage franchising itself but Symons explains that the distance combined with his and Garner’s achievements made it an easy decision for the franchisor to hand over the reins.
But Jetts Fitness didn’t appoint the pair in charge recklessly. Indeed, the duo were put through their paces, with the initial meeting happening around three years ago. “It was a very exhaustive process,” Symons recalls. “They were very precious about bringing their brand to the UK. The thing you learn about Jetts is that they hold it very close their heart, it’s a big cultural piece for them. They’re passionate about health and fitness and helping to change people’s lives.” The franchise wanted to determine its would-be UK arm was the right fit with the existing brand and upheld existing values, all of which Symons quite enjoyed. “That’s how I believe you develop a successful model,” he says. “If you get it right, the money will come. If you’re just doing it for a transactional process, unfortunately quite often that will fail.”
After 12 months of training at Jett Fitness’ Sunshine Coast HQ, the pair felt equipped and ready to return to the UK. “That was a real hardship, I must admit,” laughs Symons of his time Down Under. “It’s a lovely area.” Although the Australian adventure had come to an end, Symons and Garner weren’t abandoned. Indeed, one of the franchisor’s regional directors, who boasts 60 clubs in Oz, temporarily relocated to help the UK operation take shape. “It’s been really good,” says Garner of the initial hand-holding. “Both Matt and I think we know what we’re doing but at times it’s nice to have that verified and to bounce some ideas –whether that be construction, site location or technology – off someone who’s done that.”
Of course, once the set-up and systems were in place, they jumped into the driving seat full-time without someone on standby to help. “It’s fair to say that whether you’re liaising with a support in Birmingham or in Sydney, the difference is just the timescale or distance,” says Garner. “The reality is that once the cultural distance is understood, taking it to the UK was very simple.” He pointed to his time with Starbucks and its Seattle office, which connects to operations globally. “There’s no doubt Australia is a highly legislated business environment to be in,” Garner continues. “They [as a nation] very carefully monitor the franchising culture and that hasn’t stopped the basic culture of the [Jetts Fitness] brand. They’ve already grown in New Zealand, Thailand and the Netherlands, so the processes and procedures were already in place for Matt and I.”
According to the 2018 State of the UK Fitness Industry Report from LeisureDB, the leisure consultancy, there are over 7,000 gyms in the UK. So what exactly sets Jetts Fitness apart from others on the market? “That’s a really good question,” opines Garner, who points to the model and membership as well as the investor. “If we take the bricks and mortar as it were, we have to remember it’s a 24-hour convenience – a commercial gym, with which many successful brands operate. Jetts, specifically here in the UK, is a commercial offering but has a very boutique feel.” What that means is that while there’s a certain formula to the clubs, each can have its own look to feel bespoke and independent, retaining an economy price point without slapping customers with boutique fees. Continuing on what’s in it for franchisees, Garner adds: “From an investor’s point of view, Jetts is very culturally different. We’re not a transactional franchise at all. Matt and I set out not wanting to be like that – we want a long leg of sustainable success for this brand. We want good people.” Seeking like-minded individuals who are passionate about getting involved with their franchise, franchisees secure access to large territories in good trade zones, which Garner and Symons believe are critical steps for success.
Naturally, there’s nothing quite like getting your hands dirty to understand what works and what doesn’t, no matter how confident you are in your business plans. “That experience comes from actually doing it,” says Symons. “You can’t document every single possible outcome in a franchise manual.” In any case, the outcome has been solid for Jetts Fitness in the UK with seven clubs open in around 14 months. “We always came on board with a roadmap – do things in a sequence and you can’t run before you can walk and that analogy remains true,” says Garner. “We’ve been tripped up in previous histories or have been part of companies that have expanded too quickly. The reality is that the infrastructure we have in the UK, to do six or seven [clubs] in a year, hasn’t been a stretch at all. All these clubs are successful, all have been built with care and attention and they’re the best they can be in the communities they serve.”
In terms of the network mix currently, four are franchises and three are company-owned. “We’re not a transactional franchise, we put our money where our mouth is,” says Symons. According to Garner, there are another three clubs in the pipeline but that’s all he can say at this point. “Everyone knows everything in this industry but probably the most confidential thing is our sites [in terms of] what we’ve secured,” he notes.
Looking at the year ahead, the pair plans to build on the foundation that’s already in place albeit without wild urgency to make more gains. “We don’t have an ambition to triple the openings,” admits Garner. “We believe that finding the right people and the right sites are more important. If that scales up as we grow, then that’s fantastic, we’re ready to meet that.” Overall though, the goal is to continue growing around ten to 15 clubs annually, which will be sustainable. “Matt and I are in it for the long term,” he adds.
Given the UK’s fitness sector is continuously going from strength to strength, Garner and Symons certainly have reason to keep their chin up.