With its electrifying workouts and radiating business model, Bodystreet has blasted a trail across Germany. Now Mark Holland has brought the franchise to the UK
Zapping people’s bodies with electricity to make them fitter and stronger may sound more like the plot of a superhero movie than a viable business model. However, the German fitness franchise Bodystreet has not only supercharged clients but also its profits by opening hundreds of franchises in its native country over the last decade. And now the company is hoping to replicate this success in Britain with the help of its UK managing director Mark Holland.
And it’s safe to say that he’s no franchising rookie. “I’ve been in the sector for almost 20 years,” he says. Having clocked up time at franchises like ChipsAway, Oven Clean and Cartridge World as well as spending five years as a franchising development consultant at The Franchising Centre, Holland has a solid understanding of what to look for in a franchise. “I’ve spent a lot of time advising people on the right way to franchise their businesses,” says Holland. And given his extensive experience, it’s hardly shocking that he would recognise the potential of Bodystreet.
His interest was first sparked after he’d tried electro muscle stimulation (EMS) training for himself. “I came across the technology two years ago,” says Holland. “As a keen cyclist who hates going to the gym, being able to maintain my physique by just going once a week for 20 minutes was very intriguing.” And he’s hardly alone in being fascinated by the concept. While the technology has been around for over a century and was famously used by Soviet elite athletes in the 1960s, the concept of sending electric impulses through muscles and forcing them to contract has recently had a bit of a renaissance. Over the years, celebrities like Madonna and sport superstars like Usain Bolt have publicly incorporated EMS into their workout routines. But despite knowing this, Holland was stunned to find out just how powerful it was. “It was crazy,” he says. “It was really the most effective workout I’d ever had.” Following the experience, he was understandably energised when he heard the news that Bodystreet was looking to expand its franchise onto these shores.
Still, years of franchising experience had taught Holland to never invest in a franchise without doing the due diligence. Fortunately, Bodystreet didn’t disappoint. “For a franchise that’s just ten years old, they have really perfected their system,” he says. Once Holland got a chance to speak with the franchisor and current franchisees, he became even more convinced that this was an opportunity too good to walk away from. “Their energy and enthusiasm was a huge attraction,” says Holland. “Seeing how committed they were to supporting their franchisees I just knew that they’d support me too.” That’s how in early 2016 the franchising veteran took the plunge and became the master franchisor of Bodystreet UK.
Kicking off his new franchising adventure, Holland’s faith in the franchisor’s support was soon vindicated as he set out to learn everything he could about the model. “I went on exactly the same training that every franchisee goes through,” he says. The three-week course took place in both Munich and in the UK and not only did the training include intimate details about the franchise, it also saw him receive hands-on instructions on how to use the EMS technology. “And all this was very important because while I did understand franchising, I didn’t understand Bodystreet’s model,” says Holland.
Armed with this new knowledge and the ongoing support of his franchisor, Holland ventured back to the UK in search of the best location for the franchise’s first studio. “I was looking for an environment that mirrored the German market,” says Holland. It didn’t take him long to select Milton Keynes. Not only is the Buckinghamshire town full of time-pressed consumers who would benefit from Bodystreet’s workouts, the community is also no stranger to new technology. Over the last year alone the town has been the backdrop for self-driving cars and smart traffic-light trials. “In other words, Milton Keynes is the kind of place that accepts new things and that wants to be at the bleeding edge,” says Holland.
Nevertheless, there was still one hurdle to overcome before opening the doors to Britain’s first Bodystreet studio in July 2016. “There were some things that I was convinced that the British public wouldn’t accept,” he says. One of those things was the fact that German Bodystreet studios were very open, meaning that people passing could see the people working out. “And to me, that would be too much for the more reserved Brits,” says Holland. “Luckily the franchisor convinced me to skip putting up blinds and frosted windows and to trust the German model. And they were absolutely right to do so.” Not only did the open space make the customers feel more safe when they worked out alone with their personal trainers, it also helped create a buzz around the company as people saw what happened in the studio.
Having opened its doors in the middle of the summer, by autumn the studio had proven to be a hit. “Any fear that Britons would be different from the Germans were unfounded,” he says. “Everyone who’s tried it went ‘wow’.” This became even more apparent in October when the studio broke even, just months after the launch. “It just proved that the system could work anywhere as long as you replicated it,” he says.
But proving the franchise model’s potential was just the first step. Knowing this, Holland didn’t rest on his laurels to start looking for his first franchisees. “We used the regular marketing methods like Franchise Direct, the Franchise Expo and on several online portals,” he says. And the offering certainly received a lot of attention. For instance, one of Holland’s old business associates used to work at a company that funded franchises and when the new master franchisor sent his buddy a business plan to evaluate the company, his acquaintance ended up being so impressed that he asked to become a franchisee himself. “He phoned me up and said that my business plan looked brilliant and could he please have one,” Holland laughs. That’s how Bodystreet ended up having three franchises up and running by early 2017.
And given his experience in the world of franchising, Holland is understandably quite particular about the people manning the company’s studios. “Every business leader needs three skills to make it work: sales and marketing, knowing how to operate the company and genuine business acumen,” he says. “What I’m looking for are people who can show me two out of those three qualities.” The way he sees it is that if a candidate has experience working in the gym sector and can demonstrate a keen nose for business but lacks the skills to make sales, that’s something Holland can teach them. “However, if they have just one of those skills then that is going to mean that we’d have to do their work for them,” he says. “And not to sound flippant but that’s not a franchisee: that’s an employee.”
Having secured his first batch of talented franchisees, Holland is now actively looking towards future expansions. “We have three more franchisees signed up already: one in Gibraltar, one in south-east London and one in Birmingham,” says Holland. “And we have four more confirmed to start their training later this year.” By the end of 2017 Bodystreet aims to have 12 units up and running. However, given the impressive growth of the franchise in Germany, Holland is optimistic about how much the company can spread even more in the upcoming years. “My personal goal is that we will have 200 studios by 2020,” he says. “The time for Bodystreet is now. The UK population will not get less busy or overweight and we offer a solution for these people.”
His main takeaway from the journey so far is how Bodystreet has helped clients improve their health. “This is going to sound almost evangelical but we’re actually transforming people’s lives, helping them reduce the risk of diabetes and boosting their self-esteem,” Holland concludes. And with ambitious expansion plans in mind, the franchise is poised to change many more people’s lives.