During a time when many companies were halting growth, Peter Taunton saw 2008 as an opportunity to do something different.
In the midst of the financial crisis of 2008, many businesses hunkered down, halted growth and waited for the economy to take an up turn.
“In 2008 and 2009, the business world changed,” recalled Peter Taunton, the CEO and founder of Lift Brands. “Suddenly franchisees didn’t have access to capital. The banking institutions all but eliminated financing for start-up businesses, so 2009 it was very challenging.”
However, instead of viewing these challenges as insurmountable, Taunton saw opportunity. “We realized that in order for us to continue to grow our system, we had to become more vertically integrated,” he said. “So that’s when we set off.”
At the time, Taunton was the CEO of Snap Fitness, the 24/7 fitness franchise he founded in 2003. In order to become vertically integrated as planned, Taunton began building a sound infrastructure for Snap Fitness’ franchisees, which included forming a captive insurance plan.
“We wanted to make sure our franchisees were insulated from the volatility of insurance premiums,” said Taunton. “So we provided better coverage than was ever being offered before, at a lower price, and our price is consistent. We’ve had our captive plan in place now for about six years, and I don’t think the premium has gone up more than $5 over that period. So it’s a very affordable captive plan.”
The company also created its own in-house club management software, Fitware, in addition to establishing divisions spanning real estate, marketing, franchise sales and more.
“It wasn’t too long after that we realized we had created an amazing infrastructure [for Snap Fitness], and there was no reason why we couldn’t leverage that infrastructure across other brands,” recalled Taunton. “So that’s essentially what led to Lift Brands.”
Founded in February 2014 under the tagline “elevated wellness companies,” Lift Brands was Taunton’s solution to a changing economy. In addition to Snap Fitness, the company added five other brands under its belt, including 9Round, Steele Fitness, Kosama, Fitness on Demand and YogaFit.
“We’re very organized, we’ve got unbelievable infrastructure across every front, and we’re positioned well for any kind of health and wellness brand,” said Taunton.
“When we bought into 9Round, they were a small company and had very little infrastructure,” recalled Taunton. “The network of franchisees was [made of] predominately friends and family. So we came in and we put our infrastructure in place. We went back to all the franchisees and had them sign new agreements, because the agreement that was in place didn’t provide enough protection for them.”
In addition, Lift Brands overhauled 9Round’s franchise sales process and changed the logo and branding of the product. “We gave the whole brand a complete overhaul,” said Taunton.
As a result, 9Round saw substantial growth, expanding from 30 locations to over 100 in just one year. “We’ve been involved in that concept for two years now and we have about 200 locations open,” said Taunton. “So, we continue to grow it.”
According to Taunton, there are other benefits to having a sound infrastructure in place. “Here’s the beautiful part — now we’re able to step away from that brand,” he said. Although Lift Brands owns 40 percent of 9Round and still makes key decisions, the infrastructure has allowed the company to take a hands-off approach to its management.
Recently, Lift Brands also brought its infrastructure to YogaFit, a yoga certification company it acquired in 2013, which was founded by Beth Shaw in 1997. Lift Brands plans to bring the concept to the masses under the name YogaFit Studios.
“The yoga industry grows by about 30 percent year over year, so it’s a very hot segment right now,” said Taunton. “We took the YogaFit name and the brand, and we put a brick-and-mortar face on it. This year we should open close to 20 to 25 locations.”
Using YogaFit and 9Round as examples, Taunton explained that when it comes to acquiring brands, they must be in line with Lift Brands’ vision. “We’re not in the food business. We’re not in the rental or building business. We’re in the health and wellness space,” he said. “So we’ve been very disciplined in our vision as far as that goes.”
Taunton stressed the company is actively looking to expand its brand portfolio with that in mind. “We always have our eyes on the street looking at what’s available and what we think is interesting and innovative,” he said. “We get calls fairly often from people who have a concept, and we look at each and every one of them.”
According to Taunton, Lift Brands has a lot going for it when it comes to being a parent company. “We’re very organized and we’re well positioned for any kind of health and wellness [company],” he said. “From soup to nuts, we have the ability and the infrastructure to give trajectory to a brand.”
None of that would have been possible without the first brand’s ultimate success. “Clearly, the biggest milestone was the Snap Fitness concept,” he said. “We have about 2,000 locations of that brand either open or under development, and I think any time that you can do that, that’s a huge accomplishment.”
A lot has changed since Taunton founded Snap Fitness 12 years ago. Now that he has invested interest in six companies, he explained his goals have expanded. “My goals right now are to continue to grow Lift Brands, to continue to grow each one of the brands within Lift Brands, and look for other opportunities within the health and wellness space,” he said.
And he couldn’t be happier with how things have turned out. “I do a lot of speaking at schools and always say, ‘Find something that you can love and be passionate about, because it will never feel like going to work.’ I’m one of those guys that can honestly say that. I got in the industry when I was about 21 and I never left.”
Not all entrepreneurs, especially those facing a down-turning economy, can make that statement.
Story by Rachel Zabonick
Photos by Chad Richardson