Franchise Players is Entrepreneur's Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kara Lodewyks had always been an athlete and fitness buff, so her decision to become a franchisee with Fitness On the Go -- which trains clients in their homes -- was a great fit. She rose from fitness trainer to owner in just six months. Then, last year, tragedy struck: Involved in a devastating car accident, Lodewyks broke her neck with a C-2 fracture, the same injury that permanently paralyzed the late Christopher Reeves. Lodewyks, fortunately, was luckier: By throwing herself into strenuous rehab and wearing an oppressive HALO neck brace, she relearned walking and other physical tasks. At the same time, she was gratified to see her trainers support her and her business. Today, that business is thriving and so is Lodewyks -- so much so that she recently participated in a fitness competition.
Name: Kara Lodewyks
Franchise owned: Two territories in Manitoba, Canada.
How long have you owned a franchise?
Since November 2013.
Franchising offers a simple system and infrastructure that saves the franchise owner time, money and a very large and often daunting task of building a brand from the ground up.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
After graduating from the University of Manitoba with an honors degree in biochemistry, I quickly realized the job market for this particular field was less than ideal. So, I worked in the corporate world as a manager for a weight loss clinic. I was earning the clinic over $200,000 per year in program and product sales and scraping by paycheck to paycheck. Because of this, I switched into entrepreneurship to have full control over my time and income. I have always been an athlete, and organizing a team of personal trainers was a very good fit for me.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
Fitness on the Go is a very unique company. From a client standpoint, one of the biggest challenges for parents or people in the workforce is finding time in the day to exercise. Fitness on the Go makes working out very easy to incorporate into someone’s day by having professional trainers come to their home. In terms of how it would do in the marketplace, I knew this concept was both needed and absent in Manitoba. And I knew that if I was the person to bring this to Manitoba and be the reason for these positives changes in clients' lives and in the personal training industry, it would be a very satisfying.
From a trainer standpoint, I admire the company’s mission to change the personal training industry for the better. You would never find “personal trainer” and “financial freedom” in the same sentence. Fitness on the Go has created a culture for trainers whose yields include a long, positive and financially rewarding career. I didn't want to profit off the hard work of my trainers as my previous employer did off me. This business model is not only in line with my values, it is the change that is needed to make this industry fair.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
My territory fee was $25,000 for two territories in Manitoba, plus $1,500 in travel expenses for initial training.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
I did most of my research online, comparing different companies including startup costs, product marketability, ongoing overhead costs and time commitment. I also looked at how this particular company would stand in Manitoba against its competitors. Fitness on the Go was far more sophisticated and positions the business in a much smarter way than any other company that I have researched.
What drew me in was that there were no brick-and-mortar costs, which gave me the ability to work wherever I want -- including Starbucks! I have limited ongoing expenses and I love that this really does create a residual income stream as I grow my team. As my trainers find success, my residual income builds. The harder the trainers work, the larger their reward. Operating a business with employees, as I learned in my experience as a manager, forces you to work with staff members that may not be as motivated if they know they aren’t as fairly compensated.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
I would say the biggest challenge I had to overcome was growing the business too quickly. I recruited about 15 trainers in the first few months and was not able to give my attention to everyone as needed. I was spread too thin and lost about half my trainers. I now pay very close attention to making sure my trainers are looked after and feel special.
I aim to ensure that my trainers are succeeding and have all the resources and guidance to grow a consistent flow of clientele and income. I focus on trainer retention by creating a team culture with my trainers and a sense of community, so that they feel part of something much bigger than training clients.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
Investing in a franchise has honestly been the greatest decision I’ve ever made. If you are the type of person that is after time and financial freedom, then this is the right path for you. I would advise thinking about how the business will look five years from now. Don’t ever think you can slap-on an employee to alleviate your role and become an absent business owner. This usually doesn’t result in the freedom you are looking for.
The biggest piece of advice I can give is to not be afraid to jump. If you aren’t happy where you are with your career, then don’t wait to make the change. I wish I had taken this advice sooner. There are only so many hours in a day you can work, so find something to help create the life you want. For me it was finding a way to build a residual income, where you are paid whether you roll out of bed or roll over!
What’s next for you and your business?
I am so excited about the future and what’s to come with Fitness on the Go. As the company is expanding franchise opportunities to U.S. markets this year, I have been discussing taking on more territories in Manitoba. We are not just hiring trainers, we are changing the entire industry to help trainers earn what they are worth and help them create the life they want. I am striving to make FOTG in Manitoba a household name.
I want everyone to know that we are the best in-home personal training service in the province. My goal is to grow my team from 15 personal trainers to 25 by the end of 2015 and keep my team happy and motivated to change lives.