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Brendon Levenson, Jetts founder, headshot

Whipping the fitness industry into shape

Your Friday Entrepreneur Fix this week features Jetts founder Brendon Levenson. Read on to find out how this switched-on entrepreneur took on the giants of the fitness industry, and won.

In true entrepreneurial style, Brendon Levenson took a risk when he and wife Cristy established Jetts in 2007, debuting a new fitness club model into a mature market controlled by international giants like Fitness First. But he’d found a niche and the move paid off – many times over.

With just $150,000 in capital to kick things off, Levenson first introduced the 24/7, no contract fitness concept in Queensland – and it was a hit. Just five years on, Jetts has been named one of the fastest growing franchise systems in Australia by BRW and its footprint has grown to 155 clubs with 90,000 members, and Levenson wants to expand by another hundred clubs by 2013.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, the 31-year-old entrepreneur has his sights set on international growth, with expansion into Asia planned for 2012.

Levenson took on a Goliath of the fitness industry and won, and he shares the secret to building a thriving business with Dynamic Business and reveals the three traits every entrepreneur must have.

1.    What drove you to establish Jetts, when it meant you’d come up against major competitors like Fitness First?

Ironically it was the success of chains such as Fitness First that opened a gap in the market for the Jetts model and led to the quick success of our brand.

The big box chains that were dominating the space pre-Jetts were not entirely focused on the customer – lock-in contracts, high fees, pushy sales staff and low value propositions. Our research was clearly indicating that the Australian public were dissatisfied with the traditional gym approach, so we decided to look at what the big players were doing and do the exact opposite. We challenged the conventional thinking of the sector with a “less is more” approach and started our planning by putting the customer in the centre of the page and building our functions around that.

The focus was simply on providing outstanding value to our customers around the concept of freedom of choice, and the brand and model has blossomed from that point on.

2.    You kicked things off right around the GFC took hold – what lessons did you learn from this?

Richard Goyder from Wesfarmers was quoted in an annual pre-GFC address to shareholders on the concept of “logical incrementalisation” which was corporate speak for baby steps. Our approach at Jetts has always been to walk before we run and the GFC was testament to that philosophy and one we carry with us today.

The real lesson was that consumer sentiment can shift on a dime, so it’s important to always put your customers first and maintain an outstanding value proposition regardless of what your competitors or the rest of the market is doing.

3.    You’ve enjoyed some pretty rapid growth since 2007, what would you say your formula for success is?

Good growth is a consequence of focusing first on good quality. Too many organisations grow for growth’s sake and we have seen that mentality embraced with other fitness franchise systems both now and in the past. Our goal from day one was always to be the best operator in our space and as a consequence we have had significant year on year growth.

When you have great performance and a great team, you attract like-minded people and that foundation drives good quality, sustainable growth.

4.    Running a business means you’re often lacking sleep and having to make tough decisions – what gets you through the hard times?

Having a strong professional team that’s supported each other through what has been a monumental five years has really helped in the tough times.

Ironically, it’s the endless task and project list, 300 emails and phone calls per day that keep you going through the early stages of a start-up – you have no choice! Fortunately we have a structured head office team now that caters for most of the day to day and those relentless 20-hour days are now a beauty of the past.

Cristy my wife and co-founder has been my support rock by dishing out quick reality checks at home – regardless of what is going on at work the kids still need bathing and the bins still need to go out! Balancing home life with the world of a fast growing business is critical as it allows you to maintain a perspective of what is important at the end of the day.

5.    Can you give us a clue about what’s next for Jetts?

Right now, we’re focused on delivering world class standards across our network and building the foundations for a great company – that will keep us busy for a while.

Our goal is to expand on our existing network of 155 clubs to 250 by mid to late 2013 through organic growth in Australia and NZ, and further International expansion beyond NZ is also part of our mid-term strategy with a particular focus on the Asia-Pacific region.

We’re riding the innovation path with two exciting new projects that will add more value to our network over the next 18 months and expand our brand and customer reach. Our overriding strategy is simply to give more customers the freedom of choice to workout on their terms and we believe our brand is positioned perfectly to drive our cause.

6.    What three traits do you think an entrepreneur must have to be successful?

1.     The talent to wear many hats, particularly in the do or die start-up phase. The ability to self-educate whilst being willing and guided by others who have more experience is critical when tackling the endless list of first time tasks.

2.     The ability to take people on the ride. Finding good people is one thing, but opening the door wide enough so they can be part of the journey and have ownership, share in the emotions, successes and failures is what is going to develop them into outstanding achievers, regardless of their past experience.

3.     The desire and ability to listen. Entrepreneurs should be great at innovating and challenging the norm, and then even greater at surrounding themselves with better people and listening to their thoughts, ideas and feedback.