Brick by Brick: Workout Anytime’s Franchise Success Story
In many ways, creating a successful franchise is like building a home from scratch. In both cases you start by building a foundation and go from there, brick by brick.
Workout Anytime’s foundation began in Douglasville, Georgia, in 1999. At the time, co-founders Steve Strickland and John Quattrocchi had a dream of building a value-priced franchise with low overhead that could be easily replicated throughout the U.S.
When the opportunity to take ownership of a women’s-only gym presented itself, the duo saw a path to have their dream realized. Jumping at the opportunity, they converted the gym to a co-ed facility, and marketed it as a place where members could “workout anytime” 24 hours a day for $24 per month.
“The success of that club far exceeded our wildest expectations, and we had high expectations,” said Strickland. “After 10 months that 3,200-square-foot club had $800,000 worth of receivables, and we knew we had something special.”
The first club’s success can be attributed to Strickland and Quattrocchi’s varied and vast experiences in the fitness industry, which they leaned on when developing the concept for Workout Anytime — one that emphasizes simplicity and low overhead.
Strickland began his career in the fitness industry in 1976 as a trainer and salesman in Anderson, South Carolina, while attending Clemson University. Quickly proving himself to be a top performer, he was promoted to general manager, despite being just 20 years old at the time.
At 24, Strickland had earned enough experience and capital to buy his first health club, Nationwide Fitness Center, right outside of Knoxville, Tennessee — and soon afterwards purchased a second club in the state.
The success of these two clubs attracted the attention of Health & Tennis Corporation of America, later known as Bally Total Fitness, which recruited Strickland to develop the Richard Simmons Anatomy Asylum club concept in Atlanta, and later Chicago.
For 10 years, Strickland retained ownership of his clubs while working with Bally Total Fitness, before taking a role with Nautilus as the brand’s southeastern regional sales manager. This role would prove to be a pivotal turning point for the ambitious entrepreneur.
“That’s really where I learned to design and layout clubs,” recalled Strickland. “It put me on the other side of the fence of operations.”
After five years with Nautilus, Strickland left to launch Commercial Fitness Products Inc., an Atlanta-based distributor of commercial fitness equipment and flooring.
In 1997, Quattrocchi joined forces with Strickland at Commercial Fitness Products, bringing with him years of experience in the Air Force and as manager of numerous franchised health clubs throughout the U.S. “We made a really good team,” said Strickland.
Encouraged by the success of the first Workout Anytime club, the partners went on to open eight additional locations in Georgia. In 2005, they felt confident enough in the concept to begin franchising and brought on Randy Trotter, a franchising professional with a successful track record at Quiznos, to lead their franchising efforts.
“In 2006 we sold our first franchise and it started to grow from there,” said Strickland.
And then the U.S. recession hit. In 2009, the company sold just one franchise, which Strickland admitted was disheartening, considering how much momentum the company had created up to that point.
“That was the one time I was really tested,” recalled Strickland. “But if I could give one piece of advice it would be, if you really believe in something don’t give up. I spent a lot of sleepless nights thinking about what we were doing wrong, and we made the decision shortly thereafter to expand outside of Georgia and open our first club in Tennessee. We just kept stepping up to the plate every day, things started to happen again and we started to grow.”
The next turning point for Workout Anytime came in 2015. The chain had grown to 85 locations, and knowing there was potential for more, Strickland realized it was time to bring on a chief operating officer. In fact, he already had someone in mind: Mark de Gorter, whom Strickland had met at Bally Total Fitness and maintained a 35-year friendship with.
“I was at a point where I was looking for my next big challenge,” recalled de Gorter. “The opportunity was really too good to be true. So I did what I thought I’d never do, which was move from California to Georgia to take on the role of COO at Workout Anytime — and I’ve never looked back.”
Similar to Workout Anytime’s other key players, de Gorter’s varied experiences have proved to be an asset to the growing brand. While still in college, de Gorter kick-started a career in advertising at J. Walter Thompson, which at the time was one of the largest ad companies in the world. A year in, he was asked to be an account manager for Health & Tennis Corporation of America, and stayed on board as the brand transitioned to Bally Total Fitness.
“After five years I was asked to join Bally as the director of advertising, and later moved into the role of director of marketing,” explained de Gorter. “That was a really exciting time to be in the health club industry, at least from our standpoint. [Bally] went from about 100 clubs to 320 over that period of time, and we were doing some really great marketing with the likes of Cher, Heather Locklear and Raquel Welch.”
De Gorter’s prior experience also includes serving as COO of Velocity Sports Performance Franchise Systems, president of Power Plate, and executive vice president of strategy and development for Performance Health Systems.
“Mark brings a whole other skill set of management and development to our company,” said Strickland. “And that’s been key — surrounding ourselves with a bunch of really terrific people who are experts in their fields and work well together.”
Supported by a strong foundation, Workout Anytime now boasts more than 150 clubs in 19 states, with over 200 expected to be operating by the end of 2018.
Each club’s set-up is similar to how Strickland and Quattrocchi first envisioned the concept in 1999. Today, the average club sits at between 5,000 and 8,000 square feet and takes a “no frills” approach, boasting rows of cardio, strength and free weight equipment, 24-hour access and locker rooms. Many clubs also offer personal and small group training, in addition to premium amenities such as HydroMassage and tanning.
According to de Gorter, Workout Anytime’s current success wouldn’t have been possible without the company’s passionate group of franchisees, who not only believe in the model, but also strive to make a positive impact on their local communities. In fact, 73 percent of the brand’s franchise partners have more than one location.
Workout Anytime supports its franchisees in a variety of ways. When a franchisee first comes onboard they receive help with site selection and lease negotiation, and attend an intensive, week-long training at corporate headquarters. In addition, a pre-sale program is emphasized, which encourages and helps franchisees to open their doors with a minimum of 1,000 members.
“With our model, historically if you can open your club with 1,000 or more members, a year later you’re going to be doing really well,” said de Gorter. “So we really push for that.”
Once the club is up and running, franchisees can expect to receive ongoing education, technology and marketing support. “We like to say, when you become a Workout Anytime franchise partner you’re in business for yourself, but not by yourself,” added de Gorter.
Another unique aspect of Workout Anytime is the fact the company is corporate-owned and 100-percent debt free. According to de Gorter, this allows the brand to maintain the entrepreneurial spirit that got it off the ground in the first place.
“We’re not owned in any way by an investor group,” said de Gorter. “That’s not to say we won’t be looking for capital at some point down the line, but that has allowed us to make decisions we think are right for the business on behalf of both the company and our franchise partners. We don’t have a different agenda.”
The current agenda for Workout Anytime’s leadership team involves growth. According to de Gorter, they plan to grow in both existing markets and new ones, and see great potential in a variety of territories throughout the U.S.
However, the company doesn’t wish to grow blindly. As Strickland explained, “We’re not in business to sell franchises. We’re in business to sell successful franchises. The number of units is not important if they’re not successful. If we can build to 1,000 clubs and they’re all doing well, then that’s our focus.”
And with a solid foundation supporting its growth goals, Strickland believes anything is possible. “We built our franchise model from the ground up, one brick at a time,” he said. “If you believe in something then keep fighting for it. You’ll get there.”