Meet the Man Taking Anytime Fitness Global
By building a brand that consumers (and franchisees) adore, Anytime Fitness CEO Chuck Runyon has found fans across the globe.
Most people hate the gym. (Go ahead, admit it.) But Anytime Fitness, which recently opened its 4,000th location worldwide, seems to attract a particular kind of devotee: Thousands of members have tattooed the company logo onto their bodies. Co-founder and CEO Chuck Runyon isn’t surprised by that; he knows a 24-hour gym like his can transform lives. That’s the foundation of his entire business; he started it 16 years ago, after his brother died from heart disease. Runyon had been working at a local fitness club and saw a greater opportunity to help people get healthy.
Today, Anytime Fitness has more than $1 billion in revenue, close to four million members worldwide and a bold international expansion strategy. This year, Runyon will open 400 new locations, the majority of which will be in international cities.
You’ve got ambitious growth plans. How do you approach expansion?
It doesn’t matter if you’re in China or Australia or Europe -- people want to look and feel their best, and they aspire to entrepreneurship. We can empower entrepreneurs around the world. We use a master franchisee strategy, so instead of selling and supporting individual units globally, a group will come in and buy a country. Australia was the first international master franchisee deal we reached, back in 2008. They understand the local market conditions and have some experience in either the fitness or franchise sector. They sell and support the franchisee network; we support them to be the franchisor.
Why did you opt for that model?
It provides an opportunity to scale because you’re harnessing someone else’s expertise and capital to grow a specific market. We are not experts at the Japanese franchising market or fitness industry, but we can partner with someone who is.
How do you work to stay ahead of your competition, both in the U.S. and internationally?
We have two types of stakeholders we are always obsessed with. One of them is our members -- we’re close to four million globally, and they have 24/7 access to any one of our clubs in the world. We’re more convenient than any other gym chain out there. And the other stakeholder is our franchisees. Our model is simpler to operate than competitors’, and we’re focused on franchisees’ profitability. If the franchisees are happy, they buy more units and our system grows.
Do you tweak the business to better serve international customers?
If you visit an Anytime Fitness anywhere in the world, 80 percent of it will always be the same. Our general rule is: standardized whenever possible, localized when necessary. You might see more group activity, some virtual fitness, maybe different machinery or design based on the local market. But from a consumer perspective, they first and foremost love the convenience and atmosphere of our club. You get all the big-club programming in a smaller environment, so it’s less intimidating. That resonates around the world.
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How do you explain the Anytime Fitness tattoos that your members have gotten? That’s some serious passion.
The stories from those people always center around some incredible life change: “I’ve run a marathon” or “I’ve lost 100 pounds” or “I’m a better parent, or spouse, because of this new healthy version of myself.” It’s saying, “I love who I am, and I want to show the world.” No one gets a tattoo because they’ve made a certain amount of money; it’s about a life transformation.
Nina Zipkin is a staff writer at Entrepreneur.com. She frequently covers leadership, media, tech, startups, culture and workplace trends.