Franchisee Likens Planet Fitness to Southwest Airlines

Planet Fitness

Planet Fitness began franchising in 2003, and since has become one of the largest and fastest-growing fitness franchises in the U.S., currently boasting 1,646 locations.

This growth is fueled by its franchisees, many of whom have never owned a gym prior to opening their first Planet Fitness location.

This includes Bryan Rishforth, the owner and developer of PF Chicago Holdings, who recently celebrated the opening of the group’s 31st location in the Chicago area. Prior to becoming a Planet Fitness franchisee, the operator worked as an executive at General Electric and in private equity.  

Through these roles, Rishforth was exposed to a wide range of operating models and industries, including aviation, and grew fond of one airline in particular — Southwest Airlines.

“I always had a lot of respect for Herb Kelleher, who founded Southwest Airlines and created a very disruptive business model for the aviation industry,” explained Rishforth. “I was very fond of what Southwest Airlines did to create a very high-value, low-cost model and really change the industry permanently and set the standard for low-cost airlines around the world.”

Planet Fitness struck a similar chord, said Rishforth. “Planet Fitness had many similarities and a very disruptive nature similar to that of Southwest Airlines, where you could go into a market and have a very scalable, positive impact,” he explained. “It immediately resounded with me.”

Rishforth’s first Planet Fitness location opened in 2011 in Chicago, and the operator has since dove head-first into the Planet Fitness franchise model and industry at-large. He currently serves as board secretary for Planet Fitness’ Franchise Advisory Council, and is helping to grow the brand’s international reach as the franchisor of 10 Planet Fitness locations in Canada.

“We see the same opportunity to dominate the Canadian fitness market in a very disruptive and similar way [to the U.S],” said Rishforth.

For entrepreneurs looking to invest in franchising, Rishforth said there are a variety of factors to consider — including the strength of the model and franchisor, its staying power, and if the brand has the ability to innovate.

According to Rishforth, Planet Fitness passes these criterion with flying colors.

“There are some really unique aspects of Planet Fitness that, for me, were essential for a business to partner with and invest in, such as recurring revenue streams,” explained Rishforth. “With Planet Fitness Corporate we’ve had an amazing relationship over the years where they encourage innovation and extremely open and fluid communication.”

And, Rishforth plans to cultivate this relationship into continued growth both in Chicago and internationally. “Over the next five years we’ll continue to penetrate the market in Chicago,” he said. “We also have a very ambitious game plan to expand internationally, which we’re excited to be a part of as well.”

Bryan Rishforth’s Franchising Tips:

Go all-in: “Once you decide on a franchise to invest in, make sure you’re actively involved,” he said. “If you plan to make it your career, get involved, and be a part of continuous improvement in the model.”

Understand the franchisor’s strengths: “The most important thing is to really evaluate the business model, and specifically, the franchisor,” said Rishforth. “In Planet Fitness’ case, the founders of the company are still very much involved. The vision they set is very much alive and pervasive through the culture.”

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