Have you considered franchise ownership, but aren’t sure you want to go at it alone? Then you have to hear this story from Michele Lewis and Sara Mooser, co-owners of FIT4MOM SF Peninsula.
In this week’s episode of the Franchise Rising Podcast, Michele and Sara share their experience buying the franchise and then growing their community and business as a whole. Listen above or continue reading for their story.
Sara and Michele come from wildly different backgrounds (Sara with a career as an English as a Second Language teacher and coach, and Michele with a career in finance), but shared one key trait - both were mothers of young children, trying to get back in shape post-pregnancy. Their children were in the same playgroup, and one day all of the mothers and children were invited to attend a FIT4MOM class.
At the class, the women learned that the owner was ready to sell her franchise to move on to something new. Sara thought it could be a fun opportunity, especially given her fitness background. Michele felt the same, and was excited about the opportunity because she didn’t want to go back into finance full time after the birth of her daughter. Plus, her father was an entrepreneur who had run franchises in the past, so she felt like she’d be able to do it.
Sara and Michele spoke with the current owner to express interest, and the sales process began. At first, the FIT4MOM brand wasn’t sure about the idea of co-ownership since they didn’t have any franchisees doing that in the past, but they were able convince them that they could do it. They signed the contract 8 years ago this November.
Sara and Michele entered the business together with the confidence they’d do well, especially given their differing skill sets and backgrounds. The one thing they lacked, though, was experience running a business. Sara didn’t look at herself as someone who would ever have been an entrepreneur, and Michele had some doubts, too, which made the “cookie cutter” aspect of a franchise all the more enticing.
Despite their enthusiasm, growth was slow at the beginning. The first three years were very difficult, and they didn’t have a lot of support from the franchisor at the time (things have since improved), so they had to figure out a lot of the small details on their own.
In some ways, this was great - they worked together well and were really supportive of each other - but it also perhaps held them back, since their dependence on each other kept them from reaching out more to their built-in community of FIT4MOM franchisees.
They struggled along, trying to figure out the best classes and locations to appeal to their client base. They saw other FIT4MOM franchisees crushing it, particularly in San Diego, but weren’t sure how to replicate their success. What did they need do to grow and really become profitable?
There were three main changes that affected their growth:
First, the franchise itself has gone through a lot of changes since they first bought their business, and now offers far more support than it did at first. Today, they have a great connection and an open dialogue with the franchisor, which has led to a a huge change in terms of support.
There also are additional training opportunities available to them now, particularly in sales. They hadn’t had any sales training from their franchisor before, which was a huge missing piece. After participating in the sales training, they doubled sales in just 2-3 months. It’s made a huge difference and changed their entire business.
Aside from these additional training opportunities, the brand now offers conferences and networking opportunities that are a great way to connect with and learn from other franchisees
They also built a community of other FIT4MOM franchisees in their area. Sara served on the brand’s Franchise Advisory Council mentor committee, working to help bring in franchisee voices on topics other franchisees may not be knowledgeable about. For example, if one franchisee really nailed a marketing campaign, she could share her experience with the others so they could learn from her success.
Another important factor that led to their major growth is the community they built. After the first few years, they realized they were running more than a fitness program for mothers and expecting mothers - they’d actually created a bigger community of women. Michele believes building this community is the most important thing they’ve done.
It’s essential the women feel welcomed and invited in, so their FIT4MOM experience is designed to last longer than the 60 minutes of class, with instructors arriving early to greet each client individually, and staying until the very end.
They’ve continued fostering that community through offering opportunities to get together outside of their classes, like playgroups and moms’ nights out. They both are also very active in their communities, connecting with local businesses, and making sure to recognize clients when they’re spotted out in town.
When they entered the business, Sara and Michele both thought that it was just something fun to do. They did not think it would be a “real” business. So, for the first couple of years they didn’t really work to make it one. But, over time they say other franchisees doing very well, and realized that they could turn their small franchise into a profitable business.
This was a conscious change in terms of mindset - from trying to have fun, to trying to build a business.
They both decided to go all in, realizing that growing the business would require more time and energy than they’d put in before. Sara decided to hire a nanny so she could work full time to grow the franchise, and Michele spent hours a day working within their CRM to convert sales opportunities.
The extra energy and effort paid off - their territory has now expanded to cover ten zip codes, and their team has expanded from three employees to twenty.
The lessons Sara and Michele have learned throughout their franchise journey ring true no matter which brand you’re interested in buying or investing in. The keys to a thriving franchise are strong systems and processes in place by the franchisor, working with your community of franchisees, building your own community of clients, and having a growth-focused mindset. With these qualities, anything is possible.