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Andrew Simmons vision for international growth

Andrew Simmons vision for international growthAssume the personal trainer would be one of the first ‘luxury’ items to be ditched when times are tough and you’d be wrong. Business has never been better for Andrew Simmons, head of growing Australian franchise Vision Personal Training. He spoke exclusively to Dynamic Business on the business’ tenth anniversary.

Andrew Simmons is one of those entrepreneurial success stories who started with the passion for what he does and learned the business side of things later. Ever since the two came together, he’s proved to be an unstoppable force in the Australian fitness industry.

These days, he is a successful author, lecturer, natural body building champion, franchise owner and businessman and Vision has been named the Franchise Council of Australia’s Emerging Franchise System of the Year. But the 37 year old came from very ordinary beginnings before realising his potential.

Big ambitions

Vision was launched in August 1999 and the first Vision PT studio opened in Caringbah NSW in 2001. Today there are 32 studios with ambitious plans to have 225 in four countries (Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the USA) by 2013.

Simmons claims Vision differs from personal training schemes offered by large gyms because of its personalised service. He wants all the studios to be places where everyone knows each other’s name. At Vision, they focus on his fundamental four Es: emotions, education, eating and exercise. “I wanted to work with a whole person to create enduring lifestyle changes as opposed to just treating a symptom of a person’s health dissatisfaction, like exercise,” he says.

The Vision difference

“Once I created the system, I wanted to give people a place that was comfortable and inviting for them to come and enjoy getting healthy. Coming to Vision is like coming home, to your fitness family.” Vision also offers its customers a results guarantee, surprisingly lacking from other fitness providers. If, after following their advice, you fail to achieve your agreed goal, you get your money back and they keep training you for free until you do.

Commenting on Fitness First, which dominates the industry, Simmons says: “I don’t see them as competition because we’re very different but you have to say good on them for achieving so much success without ever guaranteeing any of their customers anything in terms of results. All they guarantee their members are their quality facilities and the ability to use them when they want.”

Franchise or fail

When Simmons and his then business partner started Vision, they quickly began to realise that their best trainers were leaving them and starting up on their own. “We’d always thought about franchising from the start but there came a point where we realised if we didn’t franchise the business, the business was going to die.”

Since Vision became a franchise in 2004, most of its franchisees have been former Vision employees, who choose to go a step further and start their own business with an established brand behind them. Others have even been former clients.

Simmons explained that the average personal training career lasts just six months and the hours can be very antisocial. He believes he’s giving trainers an option with longevity and better financial reward. “Most trainers are extremely passionate, however they are sold on a dream of minimal hours and huge dollars that is not overly realistic,” he says. “They’re not given any business training, often causing them to become discouraged and give up. I wanted to change all that.”

Improving Australia’s PTs

He has strong views on the quality of a lot of trainers out there and the standards for Vision PTs are high. They must be minimum Certificate IV in Fitness qualified and they must live and breathe Vision’s fitness and weight loss philosophy, practicing what they preach.

“A lot of PTs start training people after a nine-week basic course with no training in the business side or experience of working with people one-on-one. This doesn’t help the reputation of PTs overall when there are people like that, not getting their clients results. They’re also not being supported by anyone.”

Vision’s trainers are also set the same kind of fitness and weightloss goals their clients are. This means they have to experience and succeed at Vision’s way of working before they’re allowed to instruct clients in it.

Focusing on the business

Simmons gave up training people himself years ago to concentrate on the business and leadership side. The Vision PT Franchise Foundation takes the best trainers from within its studios and offers them business training, marketing education, sales training and support. But franchisees also come from outside the Vision family and Simmons personally works with budding entrepreneurs on the road to successful business ownership.

“We’ve found the best thing about franchising is that people really appreciate the support and the fact that there is a system that is not only tried and tested but proven successful. It takes away the anxiety and fear of business; you simply follow the system and get results.”

Australia’s health problems

Simmons, whose successful book Fat Loss: Take Control has sold over 40,000 copies, is on a mission to impact on Australia’s obesity and diabetes epidemics. “After I had the system in place and a program that effectively produced results, I just wanted to get it out there,” he says. “There are so many Australians suffering unnecessarily from obesity, diabetes and the follow on affects such as depression and lack of self esteem. I know what works and we have seen people achieve amazing results.”

Simmons believes most of his success is down to that passion for getting people results, but he had to teach himself business skills along the way too. “I always believed that if I just focused on achieving awesome results with people than the business side would flourish.” And he was partly right but he needed more knowledge.

Business basics and coaching

Simmons had an exercise science and personal training background but no business experience or education when he started out. He started reading business books and speaking to businesspeople and he didn’t stop. These days he still has a business coach and this is something he believes has been extremely important.

“Recently, my coach asked me if I only had five more years left in this business, would I grow it any faster than I currently was doing. Of course I said yes, and that’s where our latest growth plans have come from. It used to be our aim to have 110 studios across Australia by 2012. Now it’s to have 225 across four countries by 2013!”

He now has a new business partner, Mark Capelin, who just happens to have been the very first Vision franchisee. “I always knew I didn’t want to do this on my own and having Mark on board is great because he’s as passionate about what we do as I am.”

What recession?

Some might say that now isn’t the most sensible time to make big plans for growth, but the fitness industry in Australia is not yet showing signs of being under strain. In fact, Simmons thinks the recession is working in his favour: “In the last couple of recessions the fitness industry has actually boomed. When people get retrenched they take a long hard look at themselves and want to improve themselves.

“We’ve got no shortage of people wanting a part of the franchise. Our biggest problems is that all the banks have tightened up on their lending so getting them the finance can be a problem. Finding premises has always been hard for us because you need quite a bit of space for a training studio, but with people going out of business, more premises are becoming available for lease.” He adds: “With 62 percent of the country overweight or obese, there are still a lot more people who need our services.”

No finish line yet

Simmons is proof that when you do what you love, follow your passion, learn from mentors and conduct business with integrity, you can achieve everything you want. As he says: “If you provide a great service, then you can’t fail”. And he has no plans to slow down any time soon. With such ambitious plans for growth, and going international in the face of a recession, Vision will be a very interesting franchise story to watch in the next 12 months.

So, are all personal trainers vain, buff blokes with not a lot going on in the brain department? You work it out.

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Jen Bishop

Jen Bishop

Jen was the publisher at Loyalty Media and editor of Dynamic Business, Australia's largest circulating small business magazine, from 2008 until 2012. She is now a full-time blogger at The Interiors Addict.

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