Interview with Chuck Runyon, co-founder of Anytime Fitness

Date: MAY 10th, 2011

Topic: Interview with a CEO

Nearly a decade ago, Chuck Runyon revolutionized the fitness industry when he developed an alternative to over-sized, over-priced gyms. While others were focusing on expensive “frills” that few members actually used or needed, Runyon designed smaller, neighborhood clubs featuring the things members want most: convenience, affordability, quality equipment and a friendly, non-intimidating atmosphere.

For his “unprecedented and unique contributions to the fitness industry,” Runyon was honored as the John McCarthy Industry Visionary of the Year (2009) by the International Health, Racquet, and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA). Runyon also now serves on the board of directors for IHRSA.

Under his leadership, Anytime Fitness has been at the forefront of numerous fitness industry innovations, including integrated security and usage-tracking systems, reciprocity, and 24/7 access to clubs. Runyon’s strategic vision has enabled the Anytime Fitness franchise to grow into an international powerhouse, opening approximately one club every business day.

BeTheBoss - Do you have a business background?

Chuck Runyon - Prior to co-founding Anytime Fitness, I spent several years working at every level of business in the fitness industry, from cleaning to new member sales to management and eventually consulting.

BTB - What made you decide to start Anytime Fitness?

CR - During the years before we started Anytime Fitness, while we were primarily doing consulting work, (Anytime Fitness co-founder) Dave Mortensen and I spent countless hours speaking with members of a wide variety of health clubs. We discovered that, above all else, members wanted three things from their gym:

  • Convenience – meaning 24-hour access and neighborhood location
  • Affordability
  • Friendly, non-intimidating club atmosphere.
With those ideas in mind, we developed the business model for Anytime Fitness. Our top priority was to create a member-friendly gym that entrepreneurs would be proud to own.

BTB - Why should someone interested in owning their own business consider a fitness franchise?

CR - Franchisees who own a fitness club get the tangible satisfaction of knowing that they are improving people’s lives in their community. Very few people get that sort of satisfaction from their jobs – it’s priceless. Plus, if you follow the franchisee model, you don’t have to re-invent the wheel. You can rely on the franchisor for expertise and support. When properly operated, a fitness franchise can give franchisees the financial benefits, and freedom they seek, to more fully enjoy life.

BTB - What sets Anytime Fitness apart from your competitors in the fitness franchise industry?

CR - A proven business model, franchise support, and a rapid but controlled growth rate that is increasing brand awareness. No other fitness franchise supports its franchisees better than Anytime Fitness. We have a great team of franchise consultants – and other support staff – many of whom also own their own Anytime Fitness clubs. So, when they consult with a franchisee about things like marketing initiatives and member-retention strategies, they know what they are talking about. Anytime Fitness is the #1 co-ed fitness franchise in the world, with 1,600 clubs now open in 49 states and 8 countries, serving more than 1,000,000 members.

BTB - What qualities are you looking for in a prospective franchisee?

CR - Someone with a passion for improving other people’s lives. No experience in the fitness industry or owning a business is needed. Those things can be learned. We want franchisees who are eager to impact their community in positive ways.

BTB - Can you describe the ideal Anytime Fitness location?

CR - Medium or small sized communities with a population base of 15,000 or more (Anytime Fitness “Express” clubs – typically 2,500 Sq. Ft. – typically do well in even smaller communities). Successful Anytime Fitness clubs are generally located on the ground floor of high-visibility retail centers adjacent to neighbourhoods and steady traffic streams.

BTB - Based on your observations, what concrete steps do your most successful franchisees take in order to build and grow their businesses?

CR - They get started running by assembling a team dedicated to “pre-sales” – new member sales prior to the club’s opening. Nothing substitutes for opening the door with 200-300, or more, members on day #1. Then, they dedicated themselves to learning about each of their members on a personal level. You cannot help someone else achieve his or her goals if you don’t know what they are. And satisfied members turn into wonderful ambassadors for your club.

BTB - What kind of ongoing support do you extend to your franchisees to help them become more successful?

CR - In addition to a week-long “New Franchisee Training” session at our corporate offices, each franchisee is assigned to a team of franchise consultants with specific knowledge about a specific stage of club development: pre-sale, year 1, year 1-3, year 3-5+, and multiple club owners. Franchisees move from one team of franchise consultants to another as their club progresses. Also, Anytime Fitness is very proud of its continuing education program, which we refer to as “Vitals Training.” A few dozen times a year, franchise consultants travel around the country, visiting clubs and hosting 2-day training session to rejuvenate club owners and managers.

BTB - What would you tell a prospective franchisee who wants to know about the profit potential of an Anytime Fitness franchise?

CR - Nearly half of our franchisees are so successful operating their first club that they open multiple clubs. Anytime Fitness has opened approximately 300 clubs each of the past three years – making Anytime Fitness the fastest-growing fitness club franchise in the world. For more a more specific idea about how the profit potential of an Anytime Fitness club, prospects should simply ask existing franchisees – or review our public Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD).

BTB - Can you describe your typical day as CEO of Anytime Fitness? What do you enjoy most about your job?

CR - The bulk of my day is divided between direct contact with Anytime Fitness franchisees and members of our corporate team. There’s nothing I enjoy more than hearing from a franchisee who wants to share a story about helping an individual member get more out of life – or an entire community participate in a healthy lifestyle initiative. It also gives me great pride to witness the wonderful support staff we’ve assembled helping franchisees achieve their dreams.