This is the transcript for podcast episode 219 – Walter Vendel – How to Build a Successful fit20 Franchise
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Lawrence Neal: Lawrence Neal here, and welcome back to highintensitybusiness.com. Today’s guest is Walter Vendel. Have I pronounced your last name correctly?
Walter Vendel: Yes, Vendel.
Lawrence Neal: Vendel. Okay, I meant to ask you that before we went live. So I’m glad I got that right. Walter is the CEO of the fit20 group overseeing the expansion in the Netherlands and abroad, and directing innovation. The first fit20 studio opened in 2009. Today, they have more than 120 studios in the Netherlands, and continue to grow fast, internationally. Walter, welcome to the show.
Walter Vendel: Thank you, Lawrence, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Lawrence Neal: Likewise, thank you for taking the time to come on. I’ve been really excited to talk to you for a number of reasons, really keen to learn more about fit20, the history, the genesis, what the kind of roadmap is, the opportunity for prospective business owners, that kind of thing and franchisees.
Lawrence Neal: But in doing my research for this, I was looking at your background, and I didn’t realize that we have a very similar background, you and I. I don’t know if you know this.
Walter Vendel: I didn’t know that.
Lawrence Neal: You have a vast background in IT sales, you’ve obviously spent a lot of time with IBM, and that. I also have a background in IT sales. So I worked in kind of managed services, data center services in London for the best part of 10 years. So that was quite interesting for me to see that in your CV. So you’ve obviously a very strong sales background. How did you get into all that? How did you get into sales?
Walter Vendel: Into sales? Right. Well, as a young man, I wasn’t particularly ambitious, I didn’t have a plan. And when I came from university, one of the growth markets was of course IT at the time. So I started with an Apple dealer. And from there onwards, I moved on to an American multinational and started selling computer equipment.
Walter Vendel: And then, times moved on towards computer networks. It all went from the mainframes to the networks, and then you got the revolution with the PCs and then the laptops. I was in that for over 20 years, and it was a great time.
Lawrence Neal: Yeah, it’s funny, isn’t it? Everyone falls into sales by accident.
Walter Vendel: Yeah. I had to do something, when I came from university, and I thought, how can I make some money with something I’m good at? I can chat, so my first job interview, which I never had before, my sales manager, for which I ended up working, gave me a pencil, and I had to sell it to him. So I thought, hell, what happens, I’m going to sell this pen to this guy.
Walter Vendel: I got all kinds of advantages and benefits about that particular pencil, that kind of impressed him apparently enough to say, let’s give this guy a chance. Maybe he can sell something. And I ended up being a pretty good salesman.
Lawrence Neal: Yeah, I have no doubt you were a very good salesman. And it’s just really funny to me, because I fell into sales by accident as well. I went for a telemarketing job, thinking it was a marketing job, when obviously telemarketing is basically telesales. And it was quite funny, because I think back to the interview, and I was in the interview trying to understand, okay, is this a marketing role? How much marketing do I get to do?
Lawrence Neal: And looking back now, I realize that the interviewer, because he could see that I had sales capability, he decided that he would almost use smoke and mirrors to sell the opportunity to me, even though I didn’t really understand what it was. And then obviously, because he could see that I’d be a good fit for sales. So it kind of worked out in the end, but it was a little bit unethical, I suppose.
Lawrence Neal: So you had this like a long career in sales, a successful career, and then somewhere along the line, you became a studio owner for fit20, or maybe you had a separate business name, and then it became fit20. Do you just want to talk about how that happened?
Walter Vendel: It happened, as they say, when life is full of crossroads. So after 20 years, I was ready for something new, something different. And the first thing I tried didn’t work out for me, it was a very well running company into equipment for handicapped people. So obviously, improved the quality of life when people get better chairs and wheelchairs and lifts to help them move around better.
Walter Vendel: But my affinity has always been with sports, and I’ve been doing Aikido for a long time. I’ve been running and fitness training. So I like that, I’m kind of a physical guy. Then, I came across this book of Adam, of about the power of 10, and that inspired me. Of course, I didn’t believe it, because I was kind of conventional.
Walter Vendel: A friend of mine was a physiotherapist and so I showed this to him. I said, this has got to be bullshit, right? He said, it’s a bit like sprinting, you can jog for a long time, but if you start sprinting, you don’t keep on for so long. So then the high intensity principle became clearer to me. And through contact with Adam, we took off in 2005.
Lawrence Neal: And what was that studio called at first?
Walter Vendel: We called that New Vitality, it was in a part of Holland, where no one spoke English, a rural area. So we kind of give ourselves a challenge. But the thinking was, because it was not in the Amsterdam area, it was really sort of a large village with 25,000 people, my thinking at the time was, if we can make it work here, there is a market for it.
Walter Vendel: So I gave myself a kind of challenge. And we got it up and running within a year. And actually, we started to see the results we got with our first clients, which were pretty much amazing. All the things we know from resistance training, the benefits people get. They lose a bit of weight, their metabolism changes, their energy levels go up, back injuries disappear more rapidly and better. People recover faster, after illness or operations.
Walter Vendel: So we started to build our own evidence and then I got gradually throughout the first year and a half convinced that it works. So there’s many roads to run. But I think this is kind of a highway. There isn’t anything more efficient, time efficient for a client. How to get fit fast and make it possible to comply with it, over longer periods of time.
Walter Vendel: So retention is one of the hot potatoes in the fitness industry, how do you keep your clients? And I think there’s two factors, hugely important. One of them is the personal attention that you actually get from the personal trainer. And the second one is, people are busy, and they want to get results fast, in little time, in fact, in as little time as possible.
Walter Vendel: So that’s how we arrived finally, at the name fit20 because, fit in 20 minutes per week, that was our pay line, the tag line. And I think that still is pretty much provoking, raised eyebrows, people don’t believe it. They think it’s all bullshit, like I used to think. And then we say, how about a free trial, and you experience it in your own body and then you tell us what you think about it, and maybe give it a try?
Walter Vendel: That’s where we’re at.
Lawrence Neal: So just to make sure I understand this, you proved the business model with the original business, you could see that there was huge potential. And then you thought, well, if we’re going to grow this, franchising sounds like probably the best path. Where did kind of, because obviously, Bram as well, your colleague, how did he come into the picture, then?
Walter Vendel: I used to know him already, because he was also a sports guy himself. He’d been working in America for over 20 years as a physiotherapist. So he was well aware of the HIT. And then when I got this book and we started talking, he was already into being a physio for over 20 years, a little bit like me in the IT industry. We were both kind of, shall we do something else?
Walter Vendel: And for both of us, which was an interesting thing, it was a complete jump out of our own background, professions. And ever since, I’ve come to think about fit20 as a game changer. And usually, game changers don’t come from the industry themselves, they come from outside of the industry.
Walter Vendel: So I don’t come from the fitness industry at all and neither does Bram. And my brother-in-law joined because he’s been doing economy studies. So he had some idea of figures and how to make the figures go right. So that’s how we started with the three of us, a completely unknown territory for us.
Walter Vendel: But I had a gut feeling that this held a huge potential and that feeling has only grown over the years. And there was this funny moment when some people said a couple of months ago to me, they said, Walter, you should look to this movie called The Founder, from the McDonald’s story. I don’t know if you have happened to see it.
Lawrence Neal: I’ve heard of it. I haven’t seen it yet.
Walter Vendel: You should see it. He is not all good guy, but the thing is, McDonald’s was created by two brothers. And then there’s a third guy, a sales guy, joins. And actually, he has a vision of the potential, when he sees the yellow arches. And those yellow arches of the M of McDonald’s, he suddenly saw many, many, many McDonald’s.
Walter Vendel: Now, when I started doing this in 2005 and gradually seeing in this little village in Holland, the potential of this worldwide, I had my moment of sensing this could be really beneficial for many, many people. So eventually, it led me to kind of what we call BHAG, big, hairy, audacious goal, to put for yourself a goal, which is totally unrealistic, that you put it far away enough to not get sort of daily stressed out on it, and neither your team.
Walter Vendel: So I decided, by the end of 2028, we will be training 1 million people every week in our studios worldwide.
Lawrence Neal: That’s incredible.
Walter Vendel: We actually can impact that many people towards a better and healthier way of living their lives.
Lawrence Neal: That’s so cool. So okay, so just to try and understand the genesis a little bit better, you decided to transition to being fit20, and then kind of bought into the idea of franchising it. I’d love to know just what happened after that. So when you started opening more locations.
Walter Vendel: Yes. Well, the first thing is that once we only had the one location, the test studio, which went well, I started thinking if we’re going to make this bigger, how to do that. What is the business model that fits?
Walter Vendel: And one of the things I came to think early on, I think I’m really right on that point is, unless there is a business owner perspective in the local studio, it’s very hard to have the kind of motivation to put up with the ups and downs that go with a people business. You have good months, you’ve got bad months, hardships with economic downturns and so on.
Walter Vendel: And the more I looked into the franchising as a business format, the more enthusiastic I got. Because you have split responsibilities, and you’ve got split investments. So a franchise owner will invest into their local studio, and it’s actually their own studio. And when you have a studio manager who’s employed, he’s employed for a certain task.
Walter Vendel: So when I had my first studio, and there was a driveway, there were actually, when I came in the morning sometimes, there were like cigarette butts on the driveway. And I thought that’s not possible. This is called New Vitality, but it’s actually clients that smoke, that put on their cigarettes when they entered their training. Can you imagine? This is 2005, there was more people smoking than these days.
Walter Vendel: So when I came on the driveway, I see the cigarette butt, I immediately picked it up and put it in the bin, because I think that’s not done. But when my employees would come, they would just not even see the cigarette butt, or even if they would see it, they wouldn’t pick it up and remove it. Because they say, that’s nowhere in my job description.
Walter Vendel: And I think that’s still the big advantage in the service industry for the franchise model, is business owners are responsible, and they will see the cigarette butt and they will think that’s not a good idea. Because my client is going to walk past it, is going to see that. That’s not compatible with the kind of vision that you want to radiate of what you’re doing there. You’re trying to make people’s lives healthier.
Walter Vendel: So it was kind of a gut feeling on starting the franchise. And when we opened up the first one in 2009, it was really sort of, I had wet hands, nervous and all. It proved to be good choice. And since, we’ve grown really rapidly.
Lawrence Neal: So before you opened the first franchise, how many of your own facilities did you have at that point? Did you have around, was it 20?
Walter Vendel: No, one.
Lawrence Neal: Just the one was it? Okay.
Walter Vendel: There was one. So we wanted to immediately… because we had that one for four years, so we had it really well established. We had the procedures in place, how to train trainers. So we had a manual, for franchising, you have to write a handbook, manual. So we did all that.
Walter Vendel: And gradually over the years, we grew to seven owned locations. But actually, we’ve sold all of them. So currently, we don’t own one studio at all.
Lawrence Neal: You sold them to franchisees, basically.
Walter Vendel: Yes, yes, yes, because we made the choice to keep our fit20 group team small, relatively small with as few employees as possible, to have a very strong team, entirely focused on growing the franchise on one hand, both in Holland and these days internationally, and focusing on innovation. Because we want to become an international world brand, the focus has to be on innovation and strategy.
Walter Vendel: And running your own centers is a choice. And for the coming few years, we’ve chosen not to pursue that. It’s a very good profit center, if you run it well. But our interest is to change really as many lives as possible. So that’s our mission, and from the mission, then owning our own studios is not so relevant. So that’s why we changed.
Lawrence Neal: I love that. I love how you just totally changed your focus. You would have had a split focus, if you were also running a few studios, and the leverage you can create in being innovators and supporting the franchisees is obviously far greater than owning single studios, from your perspective.
Walter Vendel: That’s right. That’s right. And there’s a different capital investment required with owning more studios of your own. And we prefer to invest the capital totally into the innovation.
Lawrence Neal: Awesome. Okay. So I want to obviously get into more details around the operation, the franchisee opportunity. But just to give people an understanding, what does fit20 look like at the moment, in terms of number of franchisees around the world, that kind of thing? Just to give people perspective.
Walter Vendel: Quick update. We’ve got 140 studios opened in eight countries. Holland is still of course, the stronghold with 118 studios. When we started in 2009, we were of course, primarily in Holland, active. In 2012, we started in Holland also with what we call in house studios, at multinationals, at headquarters. So those are the studios completely dedicated to the employees of one company.
Walter Vendel: And the beauty is that in 50 square meters, you can train a few hundred employees per week and they don’t need to get changed. They don’t sweat, they don’t need sport bags. It’s in the paid time of their boss, so it’s a wonderful system. And many companies endorse more and more the idea of vitality as a primary labor condition, so they want to have healthy and fit employees, that enjoy working for their company.
Walter Vendel: So that’s one avenue we opened up, and then in 2015, we opened up the international growth, starting in Belgium. And then we expanded to UK, and then Qatar. I think after that, New Zealand or US, and now last two with Germany and France. And coming weeks are exciting. We are going to train a crew from Sweden, which will be the next country in which fit20 will start.
Lawrence Neal: Great. So, obviously, people listen to this podcast from all over the world, but the majority are listening from the US. So how many franchise owners do you have in the US at the moment?
Walter Vendel: In the US, we just have our own master. And the master started with owning three studios, for unit economics, to find out, and also show evidence of the US market of the perspective for franchisees. We’ve got two in Virginia and one in Michigan.
Lawrence Neal: Awesome. So I want to talk a little bit about the business model, a bit about the operation. So I guess, franchisees have developed an understanding of the type of opportunity that we’re talking about here. So talk to me about just the fit20 operation, how does it work was the client experience, like that kind of thing.
Walter Vendel: Okay, so the client experience, actually very simple. The client comes in once a week, and does his or her training and always under supervision. And we train solo and duo. So we had the idea that people sometimes like to come together with either their partner or their colleague, friend, or don’t mind hooking up with another stranger. So they train as a duo.
Walter Vendel: That allows you, for pricing range, for the clients, because not everyone can afford a solo membership, but they can afford a duo. So that is one thing, but we found out that people like the social aspect of, essentially in the 20 minutes, it’s like six times dying, if you train to muscle failure. And dying together is kind of, less bad.
Walter Vendel: And afterwards, there’s really this kind of buddy feeling and they like doing it together as an element of competition. Actually, we found it works very well. So these days, we prefer to train people together, in teams of two. We literally have six slots per hour. So that’s a Dutch quality, a bit like the Japanese, we are focused on efficiency. So we actually have three slots per hour and we can train per trainer, six clients.
Walter Vendel: Those clients also get their progress on an app, which we developed, so they can actually see their own progress. And we’ve got educational sessions slotted in. Because one of the things I’ve found which makes high intensity training not always easy for clients to adhere to, is it’s just not fun. Most people don’t find it fun. Apart from maybe you, or people that like the idea of your muscles are burning and it hurts like hell and then you hear, do another rep. That’s the one that counts. Most people don’t naturally find that a good idea.
Walter Vendel: So how do you get someone who doesn’t have any sports orientation to do something that everything in their brain says, this is insane, I shouldn’t be doing this, I should quit? It’s understanding why it’s necessary. And people need to hear that on a weekly basis, in bits, small bites of information. We do information sessions periodically for clients. We have brochure material, so they actually can read at home a bit more, why on earth do I have to do this? Can this really be healthy? Yes, this is the healthiest thing you could do for yourself.
Walter Vendel: And we found, we’ve got many business people as clients. It’s no different to business. If you want to grow your business, you’re going to be in serious uncomfortability, because if you stay within your control span, that’s comfortable, but you’ll never grow. If you want to grow, you’re going to hurt in all kinds of ways, because you are entering territories which you haven’t been in before, which is unfamiliar. Unfamiliar causes stress.
Walter Vendel: It’s exactly the same thing a client goes through, so we can easily make the analogy to the business growth, to what they experience in the workout. And to elder people, which I think is really by far the biggest market. And so our typical clients is 40 plus years old, and has their career, or a busy job, has kids at home. So time is scarcer than money.
Walter Vendel: And these people love it when they get a very good personal attention and personal coaching, who keeps in mind what kind of chronic condition they may be suffering from, which one in two in Holland has, by the way, above 40. So people are just not very healthy. We get older, but we get older with all kinds of ailments.
Walter Vendel: And I think the great thing of fit20, just raises the bar of the people’s quality of living. If they have a bit more energy and a bit more strength, everything gets easier. So they can achieve their particular passions, which very often have nothing to do with sports.
Lawrence Neal: Yeah, that was great. And I was just thinking, also, if you’re tuning into this and you’re like, what the hell are you guys talking about? I don’t know what high intensity training is, then you might want to listen to some of the other episodes I’ve done as well.
Lawrence Neal: But very kind of broadly speaking, we’re talking about resistance training. So using machines for the most part, and training with a single set to muscular failure, which is basically where you can’t move the load any more. And done with one machine after the other. I’m assuming Walter, probably around kind of five to eight exercises, something like that? Is that accurate?
Walter Vendel: We standardize at six. So we take the those machines with the biggest impact on the muscle groups. Of course, the leg press is king. Because sheer volume of muscles involved and the stimulus it causes, and the hormonal effects you get from that, apart from the pure muscular effects. So there’s so many cascades of benefits from that.
Walter Vendel: So we can do it with six exercises. I experimented with seven, eight, but particularly when people train together, you can still slot in five or six exercises where two people train together with one trainer, within 20 minutes. So the effect is already strong on five or Doug McGuff would say maybe even on three exercises. If you do three to muscle failure, you may already be there.
Walter Vendel: So we just do five or six, just to be sure that we get the stimulus going. And that’s 10 or 12 minutes, net exercise. So we can easily slot it into the 20 minute slot, and that’s necessary for economics. So from a franchisee perspective, there has to be a very good business model, earning model in the setup. And this is how we can guarantee it, and it doesn’t compromise the results for the clients.
Lawrence Neal: Yeah, and it’s obviously efficient for the client as well. So it’s a very kind of win-win setup, which is really important.
Walter Vendel: Yeah.
Lawrence Neal: Now, I guess just to elaborate a little bit further, in terms of the studio operation, and to educate those who might be interested, I noticed you have the Nautilus brand on the machines, but they look quite different. So it looks like you’ve got some kind of new design or you’ve struck a deal with Nautilus or something like that. Do you want to just talk about the machine design for a moment?
Walter Vendel: Yeah, we have a good relationship with the manufacturer of the Nautilus core. And so we want to see our logo colors, of course, on the machines, and we want to see fit20 on the machines. Because in the US, Nautilus is very well known, but in Europe, it’s kind of disappearing, unfortunately. Technogym and Live have really taken up the space and now Matrix has become big, Precor.
Walter Vendel: So unfortunately, Nautilus is not that big anymore. So we rather have that people associate the machines with fit20 rather Nautilus. But we did choose Nautilus because of the cam technology and how obviously it works pretty good. There might be machines that are better, but they’re definitely more expensive and we’ve figured out that with the Nautilus, we get good results and all the further, customizing this now software.
Walter Vendel: So we use it as, say, the hardware, and it does the job. Core a very reliable, good manufacturer and partner from us and they’re very excited about our future plans.
Lawrence Neal: Yeah, I’ve used Matrix machines. How do you think they compare to the Nautilus ones that you have? It doesn’t seem like they’re even in the same ballpark, really.
Walter Vendel: That’s right. That’s right. I think if people don’t train to muscle failure and they move at higher speeds, you can pain on almost any machines, whether it’s Matrix or Technogym. But if it goes into slow motion to muscle failure, I still find the machines make a difference. Maybe not as much of a difference as some of the purists amongst the high intensity training community prefer.
Walter Vendel: But I think there is always a compromise between the most excellent machines, but if they come out two or three times as expensive as a Nautilus machine, there is a very decreased benefit for the customer. Then, you have to wonder, maybe to drop the purest idea and go for realism. So we still get good results on the Nautilus One series, and so we’re happy to go forward with that.
Lawrence Neal: Yeah, no, I agree. So, okay, let’s talk a little bit about the opportunity then for potential franchisees here. So, do you want to talk about, I guess, starting off kind of the prerequisites from your point of view? It makes sense to obviously educate the listeners, in terms of what they should expect, what’s required from them, whether they’re a good fit for you as well.
Walter Vendel: Yes, yes. I’ve come to recognize that in terms of franchisees, there’s two kinds of franchisees, I think. Single owner, single studio owners and multiple studio owners. And there are two different categories. So there are some people would just look for one studio, and these people might be more, say, personal trainers, that really have strong affinity with the training itself and actually love to give the trainings themselves. And they can do that perfectly well in one studio, up to 300 clients.
Walter Vendel: They will use a few employees gradually, but it’s a very limited business with a very good earning model, once you hit 200 members. And that’s totally fine. So you only have to bring in say $20,000, and the rest goes with the bank and you can fund your own studio.
Walter Vendel: The second type of studio owner is actually a different category. I prefer people coming from outside of the fitness industry, like myself, or like you, people who actually have a natural affinity with training and sports, but have never made money out of it. They’ve done all their life, but they’ve held different jobs. And they’re in their mid 30s or early 40s and they kind of hit a dead wall, and they think, what about the rest of my life? What will I do?
Walter Vendel: And then you get sort of creepy questions like, I always wanted to start a business myself, but I didn’t find anything so far that sort of compelled me. And then they see fit20 opportunity and they say, well, I can grow more units, I can grow more studios, I can grow a hugely successful business out of that. And it’s all pre-formatted, so they can immediately focus on the business execution.
Walter Vendel: And I think that’s the strength for franchising. We are a full franchise, so we offer complete support, with the marketing, with the administration, with the recruitment of future employees, with the general communication, how we keep things up to date, and the academy. So we have an online academy in which all the theory is already covered, to save them time from not having to explain to every future employee, the same story 1,000 times.
Walter Vendel: So that’s the advantage, I think of franchising for people who actually want to do something which they feel passionate about. There’s a fantastic message. And I always find when I talk in businesses networks, or the handicapped setting, people always love to hear something about health and fitness. It’s something that appeals to all human beings, because we all live in a body. And if that body is happier and healthier and stronger, your life just really improves tremendously. If you are not in chronic pain, your life improves.
Walter Vendel: So the proposition for our franchisees is how about earning a good deal of money with something that improves the lives of people around you? How great would that be? And I think that’s fantastic message. And we’re connected to our vision and our vision is strength changes everything. So it’s literally true, if you get stronger, your whole life changes. The things that you found difficult or hard, are easier.
Walter Vendel: And, yeah, so I’m still inspired every day when I read our client testimonies, their stories of how their quality of life has improved. How about making money with that? It’s better than producing more plastic in the world, or more pollution in the world. So I think we’re doing something which adds value to this planet, is good for human beings.
Walter Vendel: And we also look for people who are kind of people, people. You need to have the twinkle in the eye, when you have your client tell you how their back pains have become less, how they can do stuff again with their grandchildren, that they couldn’t. They can lift them up again, a or woman can lift heavy shopping bags without effort, and so on. People run and improve their personal records. All of these things are great things. And then how about earning money with it? I think that’s great news for potential franchisees.
Lawrence Neal: So you talk there about one of the key things you mentioned, which I think is really important and a big kind of selling point, regarding why it might be ideal to become a franchise owner for fit20, is that you have proven processes and systems. Things that have been replicated many, many times that have proven to be successful for every area of the business. Whether it’s generating leads, converting sales, recruiting trainers, running the operation, all of that good stuff, which is so important. And if you’ve got a playbook, which already shows you how to do that, then you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time.
Lawrence Neal: Do you want to elaborate on some of those systems, some of the key ones that you provide franchisees to help them run the business?
Walter Vendel: Yes. So one of the things that really helps, because when a franchise owner starts, it’s very often a stressful period in their life. Because if they’ve only been employed so far in their lives, it’s really a radical step to become your own business owner.
Walter Vendel: And one of the things that gives people a sense of comfortability with us is our academy process, is how we prepare people towards becoming the franchise owner. So they will have to be present for 40 hours in studios that are operational, so they get sort of on the job training.
Walter Vendel: They come for six days, spend time with us, where we take them through all the systems. And then there are follow-up sessions during the whole first year and also in the second year. So they really feel it’s a process of learning. That’s one of our core values, learning is everything. So we introduce them to continuous learning.
Walter Vendel: Then, the hazard of actually starting your first studio is limited very much because we have a full script, in which all the actions that they have to undertake to set up the studio are described. We do that in G Suite, so we can online, real time, always look together to where they’re at, and whether they need to do something or whether we as the franchise giver needs to do something. So that keeps the process on track with maximum efficiency.
Walter Vendel: Then, we have a marketing planner, so that when they get one month from opening up the studio, we will go with the big bang preparation. And after that, the continuous marketing efforts, how to grow their business towards, say, 120 members in the first year. So all that is already laid out, and they just have to actually execute and learn on the move, how to execute. And then there is continuous feedback in the first year with our business developers.
Walter Vendel: So our business developers will sort of have continuous dialogue once a week with our franchisees, how they’re doing, what they’ve run into, where they’re struggling with, how to do it better. And once a week, I share all the learnings in an email with all my franchisees.
Walter Vendel: So the great thing about franchise, you don’t have to be brilliant. But if you have 75 franchisees, like I have in Holland, there’s always one with a brilliant idea this week. And we share that, so the other 74 can benefit off the great idea someone else had. And that’s a huge relief for everyone, me included. I don’t have to be brilliant, as long as someone is. And that can be anyone, so it’s not ego driven. But it’s actually franchise driven, it is about the business.
Lawrence Neal: Yeah, that’s excellent and that’s a huge selling point, I think. It’s makes things a lot easier if you’ve got a system like that. The fact that you’re seeing all these ideas working at scale, and you can see common themes, as to what’s the most successful way to run the business.
Lawrence Neal: I’d just be curious, obviously we won’t dive into every single kind of SOP or standard operating procedure that you might recommend. But in terms of marketing, what have you found to be important for new studio owners to do, for driving people through the door and into the studio?
Walter Vendel: A couple of things that work really well. One of the things is that we really advise strongly that they join the local business clubs. And so you get absorbed into the local community of business owners. And BNI is one of the networks where we have good experience with, they’re worldwide. And they are organized as chapters, where you have at least 20, 30 other entrepreneurs with whom you weekly meet.
Walter Vendel: Because you’re all there as different entrepreneurs, you’re not competing with each other, you’re collaborating. And so we see a huge amount of growth through networking efforts. So that puts one qualification on our franchisees is they have to be outgoing and love to put the message out. So the better you communicate it, the easier you make your life.
Walter Vendel: And the second thing, which is really, of course, with the modern times is what you do online. And we’ve become pretty good at, apart from our website, with the whole social around it. Whether it’s Facebook, Insta or LinkedIn. All these things you have to do. So actually, there isn’t one silver bullet, you just have to do at least five or six things consistently. And you figure out quickly enough what those five or six things are, and then you just need to repeat them 1,000 times.
Lawrence Neal: That’s it. Not 1,000 things 100 times, five things 1,000 times.
Walter Vendel: Exactly.
Lawrence Neal: That sounds like it’s straight out of the Ultimate Sales Machine. Have you ever heard of that book by Chet Holmes? Is that where that’s been inspired by?
Walter Vendel: No, I got that actually from a guy who founded BNI, but I think more people have come to this insight. Because one of the traps is that if something is not working, that you drop it too quickly, instead of tweaking it. But it’s better to persist in something for long enough to actually really know whether it’s working or not, and not to give up too quickly.
Walter Vendel: And because we’ve done this for the last 10 years, we actually pretty much know what those things are. And so there’s some tweaks, whether you’re in a large city, or whether you’re in a midtown sized community, there are some differences there, but these are minor changes. So the major points, we’ve actually found out the hard way by making lots of mistakes.
Lawrence Neal: Yeah, it’s really uncanny that you mentioned that, just because I was literally reading or flicking through the Ultimate Sales Machine the other day, and I read that exact passage. And then you said that, it was just a bit spooky.
Lawrence Neal: And I just want to also mention, you talked about BNI there and networking groups in general. That’s, again, one of these common themes I hear in HIT business, is just how valuable and effective networking is. One example is Live Oak Strength, which is run by Owen Dockham and his team. And also, EverStrongSF, which he’s a co-founder of alongside Abe Williams. They’ve generated tons of clients through BNI.
Lawrence Neal: And I think at one stage, in the early days, for Live Oak Strength, BNI was responsible for something like 75% of the revenue the business was generating. So, if you could just do BNI and a handful of other things, it can be a great way to drive clients into your business in the beginning, especially.
Walter Vendel: Yes, yes, that’s true. The thing is, however, you have to keep doing it and the BNI starts at seven o’clock in the morning, or sometimes earlier, every week, for an hour and a half. And you have to slot it in, week after week, month after month, year after year.
Walter Vendel: And that’s the kind of discipline that businesses are built on. And it’s one of the five things that we have, so there’s more. And it even allows for the fact that not every person, not every franchisee has to the same inclination and the same skillsets. So there’s just some people who love networking a great deal, and there’s some people who don’t love it that much. So there’s hope for them too, but you have to be willing to adopt it to some extent.
Lawrence Neal: Yeah, absolutely. I remember, just going back to the IT sales stuff, Walter, when I worked for a company called Claranet in London, I was part of BNI in Holborn. So Holborn is a place in Central London on the Central line. And I remember having to get there for 7:00 a.m. every Tuesday. I had a half hour commute. So, actually, I think at that point it was 45 minutes, around that. So I was getting up at 5:00, 5:30 to get there on time.
Lawrence Neal: And it was always quite challenging. But I always felt when I came out of the meeting, and then headed to the office, I always felt like I was ahead of everyone. I always felt like I this competitive advantage, it’s quite inspiring.
Lawrence Neal: And to your point, you said something really critical there, which is you can’t just go once or twice and expect to get a return. Like the primary philosophy of BNI is givers gain. You have to participate week after week, you have to bring value, and then you will get a return. I hear so many people, people even in high intensity business, who said, oh, I tried BNI or tried fill in the blank networking group and I got nothing from it. And it’s like, well, how many times did you go? And it’s the same old story, it’s like they hardly went, they didn’t really bring any value. It’s expected.
Walter Vendel: Well, of course, not every chapter has the same quality. So there’s a fair point there.
Lawrence Neal: That’s true.
Walter Vendel: With all things, of course, there’s not consistent quality. But it’s a fundamental that people want to get, but you first have to give and you have to give more than what you get for a long time. Then, gradually, the balances will come in, but you have to be willing to give.
Walter Vendel: So I think the whole idea of givers gain is very compatible with fit20. If you build up any business, you have to give first a lot, to get a little. And if you keep going, you can give less and get out more, but that’s a result of accomplishment, and not from the first two years. You have to really be willing to work your ass off to get somewhere.
Lawrence Neal: Yeah, and I always thought, personal training is such a wonderful way to generate referrals for people in your networking group. Because you’re having these conversations with new people all the time, you’re learning about what they do and you generate these, or develop these quite close relationships where they might ask you for help with random things. Services they need or what have you.
Lawrence Neal: So it can be quite almost a natural development to generate referrals through your personal training clientele for your group. Whereas, a lot of other professions, it seems like it’s a little bit more challenging to find referrals just to be more proactive. Have you noticed that among your franchisees?
Walter Vendel: Yes, definitely. Because the fact is, everybody has a body. And so there is already the first point of connection. Whereas, certain businesses, if you already have an accountant, and you’re happy with your accountant, there may be in the BNI chapter another accountant, but in principle, you don’t switch unless you’re not satisfied. Or, unless there’s a huge price difference. But otherwise, you just stick with your partners.
Walter Vendel: So with us, of course, some people already train, are fit but everybody has a body. So there’s always an easy point of communication.
Lawrence Neal: And typically, in something like BNI, you have a group of people there, who are all your prospects. Especially if you join the right group, where it’s already busy. I tell you, Walter, I would be a great franchisee for you, I promise.
Walter Vendel: We can discuss that.
Lawrence Neal: I’m tempted to have a separate discussion with you.
Lawrence Neal: So talk to me just quickly about the goals for the organization. So I mean, you mentioned already about 1 million workouts per week by 2020.
Walter Vendel: No. 2028.
Lawrence Neal: Sorry, 2028.
Walter Vendel: Yeah.
Lawrence Neal: Okay, cool. All right, so I suppose that kind of answers the question. But are you looking to achieve over metrics, number of studios, or is it really just focused on that one metric?
Walter Vendel: I think the metric of clients is more important than, for instance, how many studios there will be. Definitely for people who are not familiar with fit20, if we say we want to have so many studios, it doesn’t say anything to them. But changing the lives of 1 million people directly and indirectly, through their families, but also the franchisees who will be owning all those studios. Because roughly, it will be 5,000 studios we will be running.
Walter Vendel: So we intend to make a splash in the world. And we think we have everything in place to do that. We have a very committed team, and this is the time. It really is the time for a number of reasons. If you look to society, you see an aging population, you see trends like people work longer before they retire. People still want to have an enjoyable life after retirement. So the need for being healthy and fit is only becoming more and more relevant.
Walter Vendel: And still, the fact remains that not more than 15% goes to a fitness center every week. So there’s a huge amount of people who are not yet doing this. And I’m really a believer of the blue ocean thinking. So I never look to competition. I wish everyone success in their business and I think there should be an offering for all people that serves their need.
Walter Vendel: And fit20, will fit with, I think, at least 1 million people in the world. And there’s many other concepts out there that will serve other people and altogether, it will improve the lives of people. So I think we’re in a tremendous business and it’s a super growth market. Same with businesses, if you look to the kind of global competition, that will only get worse. So you have to be really at the best of your abilities to succeed and keep succeeding, because things are not going to go back to what they were, in spite of the sentiments that people want sovereign states, it’s not going to happen.
Walter Vendel: We live in a global competition that will only get more and more intense. So your fitness levels, at all levels, physical, mental, emotional, will only become more and more important to survive and prosper in the new world.
Lawrence Neal: Absolutely, and I’m just curious, talking about competition for a moment, you’ve got a growing sector of these fitness businesses called quote-unquote, smart gyms. Leveraging technologies like ARX and motor driven resistance machines. And there is other kind of biohacking technologies, infrared saunas, Vasper, Karo bikes, and many others.
Lawrence Neal: What is your thoughts about smart gyms? Do you feel threatened by that kind of growth? Are you seeing, or are you maybe looking to integrate that into your model eventually, or how are you thinking about that?
Walter Vendel: I’ve always thought, as a core idea for fit20, what I call high tech and human touch. So HTHT. So in spite of all digital technology, I don’t think anything will be as motivating as human to human. So that’s the high touch. However, we live in a fast paced and changing world and technology is key. So if you don’t join, you lose.
Walter Vendel: And so we are fully committed to teach digitalizing aspects of the training and making it more and more a modern, future brand. So we are committed to creating that, so we fully embrace the technological challenges that we see as wonderful opportunities.
Lawrence Neal: And just before we wrap up, Walter, I’d love to hear your personal workout regime at the moment.
Walter Vendel: Okay, well, I train Aikido once a week for an hour and a half, to two hours. And most guys in the dojo are say 20 years younger than I am. So they have no mercy on this aging guy. So I can still be thrown around, and I can train with them. I don’t think I could do that if I wouldn’t be doing fit20 as I’ve been doing myself weekly since 2005.
Walter Vendel: So I just realized that I think I’ve worked out according to this method more than 750 times by now, on a weekly basis. Even if I go on holiday, I will still do it in the hotel as well as I can. So I train every week. Then, I’ve got a lovely German Shepherd, who loves walking, and I walk with her and in the winter, I run with her as well on a weekly basis. And then I have these pull up bars. So outside my house, when I pass them on a daily basis, I pull up. But that’s it.
Lawrence Neal: And why once a week? It’s interesting you say that, because obviously you’ve got, a number of HIT businesses will recommend twice a week, or in some cases three times. But why did you opt for recommending once a week training?
Walter Vendel: Well, for me personally, I wouldn’t like to do this more than once a week, because it’s so intense and demanding. And I often experimented earlier with clients, and I think young people under 30 could easily do it twice a week, they recover fast enough. But if we take the average client above 40 years old with lots of chronic stress, high cortisol levels in the blood, sleeping not enough hours every night, so they don’t recover as well as they should. Their diet is not necessarily all that healthy.
Walter Vendel: I’ll make the list longer if you like. So their recovery time is actually going up. And if you don’t talk about training to muscle failure, then it’s safe to do it simply once a week, it’s been proven enough to be results. I even had a businessman who was every other week, abroad. I trained him after a year, only once every two weeks and I could keep him on the higher level, without dropping his levels.
Walter Vendel: So once your body’s adapted, I think the high intensity workout once a week is sufficient. And we recommend, rather to do walking or running or swimming or cycling or leisure sports that you fully enjoy next to it, or gardening, regular activities. But not that same kind of high intensity, to prevent injuries and wear and tear of the body.
Walter Vendel: Because I’ve seen enough Judo people, long distance runners with wrecked bodies. It’s very simple. Our body is like a car, if you overuse it, it will wear and tear quicker. If you want to live to your 80s, a productive life, then you have to look after your body, definitely when you’ve passed 40. You can’t keep abusing your body in the same way and expect it to keep working without punishment. You get warning signs.
Lawrence Neal: Yeah, so do you want to just talk about the best… so people listening to this, obviously a majority in the US, but it’d be good to just talk about the best places for people to go, in terms of finding out more information regarding the franchise opportunities.
Walter Vendel: Yes, so if people are located in the US and they want to explore possibilities there, it’s fit20usafranchise.com. And if people are outside of the US, any part of the world, if they are interested to set up a country fit20, they can visit for fit20.com. And they will see the dots where we still have territories, countries where people can start as a master. And they can also look for many other countries we’re located to become a franchise owner. And again, they can start at fit20.com and from there, contact us, and we’ll be happy to talk to them.
Lawrence Neal: Awesome, okay, I’ll make sure that’s all listed in the show notes as well for this one. Walter, this has been a lot of fun. I’d love to hear if you’ve got any kind of parting thoughts of wisdom for the budding HIT business owner, those that are perhaps deciding to go it alone and own their own studio and do their do it their own way.
Lawrence Neal: But also, those thinking about becoming franchisees as well. What might you say to those people?
Walter Vendel: Yeah, well, if I have one parting piece of wisdom, it would be start your own business as soon as you can in life. I started late in life. So I was in my 40s, early 40s, when I started becoming an entrepreneur. That’s the one thing I would do differently. I would have started earlier, but I didn’t, so it’s okay.
Walter Vendel: But if people are listening to this and they have this itch of should I start my own business or stay employed as an employee for the next 10 years and you have this itch, my advice would be go for it and don’t wait.
Lawrence Neal: Yeah, that’s absolutely excellent advice. I completely agree. And what is the best way for people to find out more about you, Walter, and I suppose you’ve already talked about where to go find out more information about fit20. But do you want to just give them some links to you as well?
Walter Vendel: People can find me on LinkedIn. So Walter Vendel, they can find me. People can send me mail at [email protected] So I’m happy to always engage with people.