Lynne and Victor Brick cut their teeth in the fitness industry through group exercise.
In 1982, the husband-and-wife team launched a part-time aerobic dance business, and just three years later entered the industry full-time through the purchase of the Padonia Fitness Center in Timonium, Maryland. The club was subsequently rebranded to Brick Bodies, now a four-location chain in Greater Baltimore.
Over the years, Brick Bodies has become synonymous with group fitness, recognized worldwide for its dynamic fitness programming and rock-star instructors. Lynne is considered one of the leading group exercise instructors in the fitness industry, appearing in dozens of exercise videos and earning the accolades of 1990 IDEA Instructor of the Year and 1994 BodyLife Germany International Presenter of the Year.
So, how did a couple whose identity surrounds all things Group X, ultimately become the poster childs of success for a business model with no group classes?
It all started with a window of opportunity.
“We’ve always said we’re going to be in fitness our entire life,” said Victor. “The only question is, in what form? We started as an aerobic-only company, so we caught that wave. Then we caught the wave of the emergence of multisport fitness centers. But we were always looking for the next great thing — something that was a little more scalable than a full-service model.”
The “next great thing” came in mid 2000, in the form of the high-volume, low-cost fitness model. Sensing an opportunity to get in early, Lynne and Victor began looking for the perfect concept to invest in — one that was simple, sustainable and scalable — and decided on Planet Fitness.
At first, the couple’s interest in the brand was seen as wildly off-brand.
“A lot of our peers thought we were crazy,” recalled Lynne. “We built a brand surrounding the trend of aerobics and fitness classes. I trained instructors and trainers all over the world. I was really blessed and honored to be able to do that. And then to embrace this model that had no Group X, no childcare and no personal training — it seemed really against the grain at the time.”
However, Victor and Lynne saw something in Planet Fitness that many others didn’t, recognizing the brand’s “Judgement Free” philosophy as a true unique selling proposition.
“We spent a day at a Planet Fitness location and were shocked at the number of women that were in that club — more women than men,” explained Victor. “You go to any other model in the world, especially any of the budget models, and it’s heavily male. We realized we were one of the few people at the time, and even today, who recognize the ‘Judgement Free’ concept matters. It is the differentiator for the brand.”
Fueled by this realization, the couple formed Planet Fitness Growth Partners LLC (PFGP) with long-time friends Earl Ihle and Terry Woods, and Brick Bodies’ partners Glenn Norris and Chuck Cavolo. They kicked off the partnership with a 32-club area development agreement spanning the entire state of Maryland. The group’s first location opened in Frederick, Maryland, in 2008.
The decision to become Planet Fitness franchisees has far exceeded Lynne and Victor’s expectations.
This is, in part, due to the strong relationships the couple has formed with other franchisees. “This group of 1,600 clubs and 200 franchisees truly believes the good of the many outweighs the good of the few,” said Victor. “We constantly work together so everyone benefits.”
This positive relationship extends to corporate, said Lynne, explaining the organization goes above and beyond to support its franchisees. “The franchisee-to-HQ relationship is amazing as well,” she added. “Victor and I could call up the CEO, Chris Rondeau, and he might be in a meeting, but he’d call us back the same day. He is so supportive of everything we do.”
Since opening its first location in 2008, PFGP has grown to 61 clubs in Maryland, Tennessee, Florida, California, Washington State and Washington D.C. In 2014, the company received its first institutional financing of $93.75 million — made up of senior debt led, at the time, by GE Capital’s Franchise Finance group and preferred equity from Alaris Royalty Corp. In 2018, the company completed a $150 million senior debt refinancing with a bank syndicate, led by Fifth Third Bank.
In 2013, Lynne and Victor were named the inaugural Planet Fitness Franchisees of the Year, and have since been named Planet Fitness Developers of the Year — three times and counting. In addition, their clubs are Planet Fitness Brand Excellence Review (BER) award winners — given to the highest-rated clubs determined by Planet Fitness Corporate BER club inspections.
Another distinction the couple is proud of is opening Planet Fitness’ 1,000th location at their New York Avenue club in D.C. Victor grew up on the outskirts of D.C., and said it was an honor to celebrate the milestone in a place that holds so many fond childhood memories.
“At one of our clubs in D.C., you can look out the door and see the spot where a young Victor Brick used to stop with his basketball buddies for soft ice cream on his way home from the Rock Creek Park basketball courts,” said Victor. “It’s great. There’s nothing like going home.”
Key to the Bricks’ success in the Planet Fitness system are a number of core ideologies the couple has cultivated over the years — beginning with “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
According to Lynne, the culture they have infused into PFGP emphasizes leadership development, which has fueled the fast growth the group has experienced over the past decade.
“We believe very strongly in our corporate culture,” said Lynne. “We do extensive trainings on how to be a great leader, how to embrace the culture and pass it on. Everyone is involved in the cultural training from every level up. It’s really important for us in terms of assuring success.”
A second philosophy the Bricks stand by is Simon Sinek’s advice to “hire people who believe what you believe.” With this in mind, the couple strives to employ individuals who are customer service oriented at heart — a quality they look for during the interview process.
“You smile with your eyes and teeth, so during an interview we actually count how many times a person makes eye contact and how many times they smile,” explained Victor.
Victor also credited the Planet Fitness model for being a tremendous advantage to success — but noted that ultimately, it’s up to the franchisee to ensure standard operating procedures are executed properly by each and every employee.
“Planet Fitness does the basics well as a franchise, but they’re not going to manage our people for us,” added Victor. “You have to run your business.”
As Lynne and Victor look out ahead, their vision is to grow the PFGP business from 61 to 200 clubs throughout the U.S.
In addition, their daughter — Vicki Brick — is breathing new life into Brick Bodies as CEO, instituting organizational change that’s goal is to position the company for lasting success.
“We feel Brick Bodies’ future is brighter than ever thanks to Vicki,” said Victor. “She’s brought back the edginess and is forging her own way. We couldn’t be prouder.”
However, there’s a third entity the couple is also pouring time, energy and resources into: the John W. Brick Mental Health Foundation.
Founded in honor of Victor’s late brother, John, the organization’s mission is to fund, conduct and promote evidence-based research on how different forms of holistic treatments — such as exercise, nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices — can benefit mental health.
Just last year, the John W. Brick Mental Health Foundation received enough funding to support a two-year, $1.2 million, gold-standard study in partnership with the University of California San Francisco, focusing on how positive stress, in the form of three different types of exercise, benefit mental health.
“We truly believe that at the end of the day we will be remembered not for Planet Fitness or Brick Bodies, but for the John W. Brick Mental Health Foundation,” said Victor. “We’ve been looking for a world-class study that could make a difference, and we found it.”
Ultimately, the foundation’s mission perfectly aligns with why Lynne and Victor entered the fitness industry in the first place: to help people.
“We’ve always been in the helping people business,” said Lynne. “We believe ultimately you will be judged by what you give back to society. It’s so awe-inspiring for us to be able to do that, and we’re so grateful for being in this industry that we love and cherish so much.”