Trying to improve the way people exercise was no walk on the treadmill for Rick Sikorski. The Canada native initially moved to the U.S. to pursue his master's in counseling psychology. But when the fitness enthusiast began noticing the flaws in public gyms--the impersonality, the crowds, the high turnover--he dropped out of his program. "The business opportunity I saw was this displaced group of people who were frustrated with the public gym model and weren't getting results," says Sikorski, 48.
In 1983, Sikorski opened a small training studio in Phoenix called Fitness For Life. He wanted to create a nonthreatening gym where customers could be comfortable and have trainers focused on them at all times. People were keen on the new approach, and the business grew to four locations. But 12 years after launch, work still hadn't slowed down for Sikorski. With few other businesses like his, he relied on trial and error and worked long hours, making it difficult to balance business and family. After considering several options, Sikorski decided to start franchising in 1996 and renamed the company Fitness Together.
At first, people were reluctant to buy into a franchise with no proven track record. But today, Fitness Together has sold more than 600 locations in five countries with 2008 sales exceeding $100 million. Each facility offers a simple and efficient approach, allowing clients to work out with a personal trainer in private suites without distractions. The Denver-based company operates under Fitness Together Holdings Inc., which also added Elements Therapeutic Massage as its second franchise model in 2006. Elements, which had sales of $10 million last year, now has more than 100 locations in the U.S.
The franchises continue to grow quickly--the numbers change every week--because they offer an alternative that's hard to find in an increasingly impersonal world. "The psychology behind the customer hasn't changed over the years," Sikorski says. "Our model is better now than ever because of the privacy and the smallness [we offer]."