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Reflections on fitness, wellness, health and more

Network sits down with the CEO of Curves International.

Network's editor, Oliver Kitchingman, recently had the pleasure of sitting down with the CEO of Curves International, Gary Heavin. It what proved to be a very interesting interview, Oli explored some of the business practices that have led Curves to be one of the largest fitness centres in the world. Below are some excerpts from the interview.

You can download the full interview by clicking here.

Oli: Curves is the successful result of previous ‘mistakes’ that you made in the fitness industry, namely ‘too-rapid expansion’ (in your own words). What changed since the early days?
GH: It was several things, but that [overly-rapid expansion] was one of them. Several factors; for example, particularly in a women’s fitness environment, you’re creating a community, and if you have a manager of that community it’s a little tougher to maintain the quality, so franchising, which is what I’ve done this time around, was the solution to that. You empower a local owner to build that community and in my opinion she just does a better job than a manager could do. The first time around I tried to get managers to do work that owners are best suited for. They have ownership, it’s their business. Starbucks grew at about the same rate and about the same time period that we did, and Starbucks has managers. You can teach a manager to make a pretty good cup of coffee, but it takes an owner to care enough to create a community of support for these women.

Oli: At one point Curves was opening clubs at a rate of one every four or five hours, somewhere in the world. Is this still the case and if so, do you intend to maintain this rate?
GH: We’ve slowed down that pace. When we were growing in the US, where we had the economies of scale, we were opening one every three hours for a two year period. Now we’ve slowed down to a more manageable pace of one per day, worldwide.

Oli: What is the average number of clients of a Curves club?
GH: We watch the average very closely, and in Australia it’s about 300 members, but we do have clubs with a thousand members, and in some of the smaller markets a Curves can actually make money with as few as 100 members.

Oli: Do you see the current economic climate as an opportunity for further growth or a threat?
GH: The people who have tried to copy us, they’re going to have a more difficult time to weather a downturn in the economy. Curves is debt-free, we have no investors and we prepared for downturns by conserving resources and cash, and we’re going to be around a long, long time, whereas the people who have copied us, who don’t have the resources and the preparation that we have, we think that in a year they’re going to have a tough time. I think that we’re going to be the ones left standing when all this is done. At the end of the day, you gotta take care of business. I know how to take an enquiry, a phone call, and turn it into a member, and that’s a system that I developed. I’ve been doing this for 33 years
and I know how to take a guest through the sales process – we sell to 84 per cent of our guests that walk through the doors at Curves, and the industry standard is about 33 per cent – and those are systems that our franchisees have that the copycats never developed, so no matter how tough things get, we can always get a guest in and we’ll sell to the guest and we’ll keep the member because of proven systems that we’ve developed. I opened my first club myself when I was twenty, so I’ve been thinking about this stuff a long time!

To read the full interview with Gary Heavin click here.

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