Laura Carroll opened Body Fit Training (BFT) Leichhardt with her partner John in October 2020, in the middle of a pandemic. Four months on, Laura talks to Dynamic Business about her experience of working in the fitness industry, her perceptions on gender imbalances, and the support that a franchise network can provide for women.
Why did you decide to work in the fitness industry?
“I was drawn to a career in the fitness industry because playing sport was such an enormous part of my life growing up. But for years, I didn’t have a positive outlook on the industry. It seemed like a ‘boys’ club’. However, after I underwent rehab for a knee reconstruction, I worked alongside two exercise physiologists who completely reshaped my perception of the industry, and I subsequently changed my studies from a degree in Business to Sports Exercise Science.
“The incredible thing about working in the fitness industry is the impact I can have on my clients’ day. We may only make up five per cent of their day, but in that short amount of time, we can change someone’s entire mindset for the rest of the day.”
What are the biggest challenges your business has faced?
“One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced while growing my business is learning to work ON the business, not IN the business. I’ve had to quickly learn that it’s not efficient to be bogged down in every minute detail, but rather focusing my time on empowering others around me to achieve the same results as I could have.
“COVID-19 was a whole new challenge in itself. I’ve been in this industry for ten years and nothing could have prepared me for operating (and launching) a business during a pandemic. Everything changed in an instant, and success was instead measured by how well you could adapt. Dealing with even more intense cleaning procedures, having to run classes at a reduced capacity, and the ever-changing government regulations have been an added stress to running a business. Fortunately, being agile and working to these standards has meant that with our studio maintaining great hygiene and tracing practices, we can now focus on some of the other things we still need to adapt and grow in.
“If we can open right after the peak of the pandemic and still grow our strong community, I feel like I can do anything!”
Why did you choose a franchise over establishing your own business?
“My partner and I were both members of BFT prior to signing on as a franchisee, so we were already genuinely passionate about the brand. We decided to open a gym with a franchise rather than establishing our own start-up as we strongly believed the networking opportunities that being a part of a franchise like BFT offered would be critical to our success. You also get the security of buying into a proven business model.
“Being a part of a franchise does afford you more flexibility, and peace of mind to drive higher standards in all aspects of business. This is all attributed to the support offered by Head Office and the number of other franchisees within the network.”
Is gender imbalance an issue in the franchise industry?
“The gender imbalance in the fitness industry is completely different now compared to ten years ago. Looking at the current fitness boards, it’s fantastic to see so many women holding positions. We have amazing, highly-capable and inspirational women in our industry that have earned their seats due to their talent and not because of their gender.
“At BFT, while our two CEOs are men, our head of programming and education, Sarah Nehme, is female. Plus, there’s 85 out of 200 BFT territories that have women owning and operating their BFT franchise, just like me. Whether it’s at that top-level, or simply the team of trainers on the studio floor, there’s a genuine commitment from everybody involved that you recruit whoever is best for the job, regardless of their gender.
‘Franchising is a great option for women looking to start their own business. Being a part of the BFT network, I find myself surrounded by so many like-minded, independent women, driven for success.”
What advice do you have for women thinking about becoming entrepreneurs?
“It may seem cliché, but the one piece of advice I would give to other women who want to become entrepreneurs is to go hard or go home. If you’re going to give something a go, you have to give it your all. Even if you fail, you should take comfort in knowing you’ve left everything out there.”