Jeff Jervik, president and CEO of Fitness Together, has been involved with franchising for more than 20 years, making him the ideal candidate to facilitate growth and lead the overall strategic direction of the company. Fitness Together was founded in 1983 and currently has more than 400 personal training franchise studios, with plans already in motion that will add between 250 and 300 locations in the next five years.
As anyone who has successfully reached such an ambitious goal will tell you, dealing with so many moving parts takes a level head and a steady hand—among other things—and Jervik knows what this means better than most.
In his early 20s, Jervik was working as a fourth-generation bar owner in a small town in South Dakota, where he was born, and probably never imagined that he would one day be at the helm of one of the fitness industry’s largest franchise corporations. But after graduating from college and spending years working for some of the most highly successful corporate giants in the U.S., Jervik was able to count leading business minds like Steve Reinemund, former chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, and Aylwin Lewis former EVP of Development for Pizza Hut. Because of his unique career trajectory, Jervik is in the position to fully understand what it takes to manage hundreds of existing locations while also achieving significant growth, as he has worked on both sides of the fence, so to speak.
Throughout the 14 years he spent with PepsiCo, Jervik directed more than 22,000 employees and franchise associates as the vice president of Operations before moving on to Hawaii, where he spent seven years as a franchisee and operating partner for Papa John’s, ultimately growing the market to 17 locations with hundreds of employees. Following that, Jervik assumed the role of executive vice president of Operations for Krispy Kreme. Here, he was responsible for 114 company and 292 franchise locations, with system-wide annual sales of more than $800 million.
In May of 2008, Jervik joined the team at Fitness Together, succeeding the company’s founder, Rick Sikorski, after a private equity firm purchased the personal training chain and its sister company, elements therapeutic massage, in 2006. “They were looking for someone with franchise experience who could take both of the companies to the next level, so my background was a good fit, and the challenges they described were exciting,” says Jervik. “I’ve always been interested in personal fitness, and I liked the idea of running a company that helps people feel better.”
All Fitness Together locations have two or three private studios and offer hour-long training sessions consisting of 15 minutes of cardio and 45 minutes of one-on-one training. “While many other gyms offer personal training, we believe that our studios and training programs are much more individualized than what most clubs can offer, since that’s all we do,” Jervik says. “The people are so important—it’s all about the trainers and the personalized experience they provide for their clients. Additionally, it’s very rewarding for our owners and trainers to help clients literally change their lives by teaching them how to lead a fit and healthy lifestyle”
Founded in 2006, by Michele Merhib, elements therapeutic massage is a separate franchise business entity that falls under the same parent company (Fitness Together Holdings, Inc.) and provides a nice complement to the Fitness Together personal training studios. According to Jervik, some franchisees have elected to open both models, due to the high level of crossover among clientele. elements has opened 77 locations to date, bringing the combined franchise network to more than 600 locations across the United States, Canada, Costa Rica, Israel and Ireland.
Fitness Together was facing issues similar to many other large franchise corporations when Jervik came on board, so one of the first things he did was get to work on opening the lines of communication between the franchisees and the corporate office. “I spent the first seven months traveling, visiting with area directors and the owners of more than 150 locations nationwide, so I could fully understand their most pressing concerns,” he shares.
Jervik’s previous experience had taught him about the importance of letting franchisees know that their voices are being heard, so he conducted an extensive survey of all Fitness Together owners to determine specific support systems that would help them to better run their businesses. The end goal was to become a better franchisor and strengthen relationships with owners. “We learned that our franchisees really do want to have a say in the various strategies the company is working on,” he says. To make this a reality, Jervik formed a leadership council of franchise owners and area directors that meets quarterly. “It has already been very beneficial to the company as a whole, because the best ideas will often come from franchisees,” he says. “They are the ones who are really out there in the trenches.”
Jervik also brought about a cultural shift in the corporate office, even changing its name to “Fitness Together Franchise Support Center” as a way to drive home the idea that the headquarters exists to support the franchisees—not the other way around. “Everyone had to realize that there are no cash registers ringing in our Denver headquarters,” Jervik says. “It’s a way of getting everyone to understand what we’re really here to do for our franchisees.”
Next, Jervik listened to the company’s clients by conducting a variety of extensive, in-depth market research studies that employed focus groups and surveys to determine ways Fitness Together could improve as a brand. “We felt that we had to know what our clients were thinking, and the things we learned have turned out to be key in developing the strategic direction of our personal training studios,” he says.
The market research demonstrated what most people in the fitness industry already know: Many people who walk into a gym still feel intimidated by the large pieces of equipment, their own insecurity and feeling they are being judged by others. “That’s why we believe we are so appealing,” Jervik reveals. “At our studios, clients get one-on-one attention from their trainers in private rooms. No one else is around to interrupt or watch what they are doing.” The research also indicated that Fitness Together clients appreciate that they don’t have to use equipment that a bunch of other people just sweated over moments before. Instead, every time clients enter a studio, they can rest assured that everything has been prepared by the trainer just for them and their individual workouts.
CONSISTENCY IS KEY
When Sikorski opened the first Fitness Together studio, it was in response to a perceived need in the market. As someone who already knew his way around gyms, he noticed that retention was one of the biggest challenges club owners faced. This reality eventually led Sikorski on a personal training mission; his first location opened with a focus on what worked for his clients from a programming standpoint and operated as an entirely referral-based business.
Today, Jervik recognizes the importance of continuing this focus on the client and is working hard to ensure that each location maintains consistency in the way it treats (and trains) clients. “We do this through our ‘trust but verify’ system of regularly auditing our clubs,” he says. “We have an entire team that spends most of its time out in the field, and our area directors are also very involved.” In addition, Jervik says, the company has a structured support program in place where owners are visited on a quarterly basis and receive a performance improvement plan, as well as monthly follow-up calls. Fitness Together also holds a national meeting every 18 months and regional meetings twice a year. “It’s important that we stay in touch,” he says. “Our people have a real passion for the industry and the clients they are training, as well as for their own personal health.”
When it comes to being a great franchisee, Jervik says the most important piece of the puzzle is that the individual is committed to running the business and to being actively involved on a daily basis. “It’s all about the relationships you can build with your trainers and clients,” he says. “Most of our best owners are trainers themselves and continue to work with clients.” This firsthand knowledge allows them to have an inside perspective on what it takes to be a great trainer, which also helps with hiring.
FOCUSING ON THE FUTURE
According to Jervik, Fitness Together is currently in the first year of a strategic three-year plan that will allow the company to expand while also improving current business. “We are really focusing right now on adding the right people to help it grow,” he says. “To do this, we are getting reconnected with the various certification bodies and schools, so we can find the best trainers and set them up to realize their dreams.” In addition, instead of using the shotgun approach, Jervik says Fitness Together is going for targeted, deeper market penetration at existing locations by encouraging fitness franchise owners to get involved in their local chambers of commerce and participate in community events as a way to reach potential new members in the immediate area.
Part of the company’s growth strategy includes developing stronger brand awareness and coming up with new revenue opportunities. “You can’t just stay the same forever, or you will be outpaced by the competition,” Jervik shares. “We are in a time when the quality of your hospitality really matters.” Today, people do seem to expect more from their experience and for their money, a reality that Jervik sees as a great opportunity. “Your product—cleanliness, overall effectiveness, customer service—matters now more than ever before,” he says. “Now is the time to be the best at these things.”
To do this effectively, Jervik advises club owners to focus on the basic elements of customer service—if clubs master these, he says, they can grow faster and be well positioned for the upside of this economic downturn. As an example, Fitness Together has invested in software, which provides key performance indicators and personalized dashboards for each owner. Thinking of all of these “little details” will help club owners provide the best experience for members every time they walk through the door. “It’s really a great time for the fitness industry,” Jervik says. “Fitness and wellness are becoming more mainstream than ever, and we think our company has a track record and a future plan that will put us at the forefront as baby boomers continue to age.” –CS
Keys To Success:
GET back to basics. Make sure you are in touch with the experience you are providing for members every time they visit your club.
DEVELOP brand awareness. You can never be too clear about who you are and what you stand for.
ENCOURAGE staff to build stronger relationships with members whenever possible. This is the stuff success is made of.
COMMIT to giving your business everything you’ve got every day. Hands-on owners who have done it all often experience the greatest success.
SURROUND yourself with great people, and don’t be afraid to teach them everything you know.
CONDUCT market research by opening the lines of communication with members and employees—if you listen to them, they will tell you how best to improve your club.