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The four pillars you need to start a franchise

With the opening of KX Pilates’ 50th studio and international expansion, founder and CEO Aaron Smith shares his four tips for building a successful franchise business.

  1. Invest in branding

Have a marketing strategy, don’t just rely on a good product or service.

For a franchise, brand is everything. Of course, the quality of your product or service needs to be up there, but without a target market and a strategy to engage them, you can’t leverage your offering and capture customers.

I learnt this lesson the hard way. I spent all my efforts getting my first studio right that I’d forgotten to attract customers. Even if I were the best trainer in the world, no one would know without stepping through the door.

After working with a brand expert, I decided to create KX Pilates as a boutique fitness offering with a strong visual presence. Our dynamic Pilates-based workout was innovative and the first of its kind in Australia. I wanted to create a premium experience, with a sense of belonging for everyone that walked through the door. It’s a vision that has carried well into franchising as each studio can then support a localised community.

  1. Focus on culture

Hiring just for talent is a mistake – every team member needs to be a brand ambassador.

Identify the values of your brand and make sure the culture within your business reflects them. Having a team around you that embodies and practises these values is the key to success: it’s what will define your relationship with customers and keep them coming back.

We like that a lot of our franchisees come from our existing network, for example trainers and class participants who believe in the workout and are already brand ambassadors. It’s easier to teach ambassadors business skills than to ingrain culture into a business-minded person.

  1. Delegate to fill missing skills

Trying to do it all because you’re too arrogant to see your own shortcomings won’t get you far.

Be honest when you assess your skills and knowledge and then find the right people to bridge the gaps. A good leader is aware of their strengths and weaknesses and knows that delegating people to cover areas of weakness will help the business succeed overall. You can’t wear every hat if you want to franchise your business.

My wife Andi has embraced the business as her own and helps keep my entrepreneurial enthusiasm in check. KX Pilates as a franchise has come so far because the people in my team and my franchisees are better at the roles they perform than I could have been if I’d tried to take it all on myself. There’s no point stretching yourself thin out of pride.

  1. Grow carefully

Don’t just expand for expansion’s sake, it’s not sustainable.

Initial success can be a double-edged sword: often the momentum will pressure a franchise to expand much quicker than is healthy. Create a process to evaluate new locations and franchisees and make sure you do your homework before you open your next franchise.

For location sourcing we use a tool called GapMaps, which pulls together demographic, government and industry data, which we then match with our site selection criteria. If the location doesn’t fit, we don’t open there – no matter how good it seems.

Yes, we want to welcome more franchises into the fold, but not at the expense of the brand. There is no value in oversaturation: twice the number of studios that only half-fill doesn’t benefit our franchisees and it damages the brand overall.

These four rules have helped KX Pilates grow to 50 studios, including our first international one. Without a strong brand and culture, and a team full of people with complementary skills, we would not have been able to grow sustainably in the eight years since launch.

CEO and Founder of KX Pilates, Aaron Smith, is an award-winning fitness innovator and entrepreneur. Based on the Japanese concept of kaizen (continuous improvement), KX Pilates is a dynamic workout that has transformed both fitness participants and the business at large, which in less than a decade took Smith from $20K in the red to a 50-studio international franchise turning over $20 million. 

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Aaron Smith

Aaron Smith

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