Franco’s Athletic Club is built on the ideas of family and community. Founders Ron and Sandy Franco met at a gym in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Both had aspirations of opening their own gym that could allow the entire family to enjoy the perks of fitness.
“We heard of this town called Mandeville, which is a suburb of New Orleans, and thought it would be a great place to raise a family and have a family club,” explained Sandy. “Because back in the ‘80s, all the clubs were all about leg-warmers, thongs and all that other stuff. We wanted to do something a little bit more wholesome, where the whole family could come. So we like to think we had a little part in frontiering the family fitness era of the club [industry].”
Franco’s Athletic Club continued to grow until it reached the size it is today, just shy of 100,000 square feet. That square footage includes two racquetball facilities, 11 tennis courts, a day spa and an aquatics center boasting four pools and a waterslide.
Communities hold a lot of weight in determining the longevity of a gym. So at the beginning of the gym’s lifespan, the Francos focused on connecting with local residents. For example, they held a “Say No to Drugs” race for the local school that saw nearly 3,000 parents and students participate.
This was only the beginning of their relationship with their community, with that relationship being one of the main building blocks of their success over the years.
“About six months after that race, our second child was diagnosed with leukemia and we were in the hospital a lot,” said Sandy. “All those schools that participated in the race were the ones who wrote us letters. The community made a huge impact. We knew from then on we wanted to stay active with them. Whenever a school, or a church, or any organization would come and ask for support, our philosophy was to never say no. Whether it was to promote it, write a check, or host the fundraiser, we just tried to make sure we did something.”
Many clubs focus on the experience of those exercising, but at Franco’s Athletic Club, they understand the importance of making sure the entire family has a reason to come into the gym.
“One thing we are most proud of is our childcare center,” said Ron. “We have a total of about 10,000 square feet for children’s activities, including a learning room and multiple outdoor play areas. It’s offered to our members for free. That’s a huge deal for us.”
“Being a mom with four kids, I know how valuable it is just to have some time to yourself,” Sandy added. “That was a breakthrough by not building a gym, but building a family facility that accommodated more than just fitness. It was the ability to have time to spend with your family in all the recreational ways.”
In terms of the future, CEO Wayne Morris has dreams very similar to other clubs of expanding further.
“We would love to be able to take what we do in Mandeville to the southeast region on the same scale, whether it be Baton Rouge, New Orleans, or somewhere in the 3-hour radius,” said Morris. “[We’d like to] model what we do in our main site throughout the region.”