Breaking the Mold

A Hard-Body Hard Drive

A Hard-Body Hard Drive
Who: Koko FitClub LLC
Where: 300 Ledgewood Pl.
Rockland, MA 02370
How much: $25,000 franchise fee; total cost $87,000 to $179,000
What makes it different: A personal trainer with more bytes than bark

According to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, there are more than 30,000 health clubs in the U.S.--a good number of which belong to one of the 19 fitness franchises listed in the 2009 Franchise 500. But all that muscle doesn't intimidate Mary Obana, president of Koko FitClub. Instead, she points out that even with all of the choices out there, only 16 percent of the population belongs to a gym.

"It's not because that other 84 percent doesn't want to be healthy," she says. "It's just that those same old solutions don't work for them." She believes that she and husband Michael Lannon have come up with something that will.

Koko's proprietary Smartraining System offers the benefits of a personal training experience without the steep cost. Each time a club member visits Koko, they insert a flash drive (called a "key") into the computer. The system keeps track of what they've done before, and how well they've done it, then guides them through a 30-minute workout customized to their current fitness level and specific goals. All the constraints of a traditional personal trainer--scheduling, expense, inconsistency and, of course, intimidation--are removed when a computer's your coach, so it's easier for members to succeed.

And when members succeed, they keep coming back for more. In fact, since the company began offering free two-week trial memberships, 100 percent of the people who've tried Koko have stayed on, Obana says.

Just as Koko FitClub's unique system draws in members, Obana hopes it will attract aspiring entrepreneurs to the franchise.

"Being different is essential," she says. "Imagine the ability to introduce something that's game-changing to the market."

The Smartraining System not only makes Koko stand out from its competitors, it also makes it easier to operate a business.

"The system is doing all of the work," she says, so each club can be staffed with just one person to sign up members and answer questions. Without the staffing costs and quality-control issues that other gyms battle, franchisees can concentrate on growing their business, and many are even opting to open multiple locations.

After a year of franchising, Obana and Lannon have sold 40 units, but Obana says that's just the beginning. "We have a $10 million investment in our technology," she says, "and we want to use that investment to build the largest fitness brand globally in seven to 10 years."

Tracy Stapp Herold is the special projects editor at Entrepreneur magazine. She works on franchise and business opportunity stories and listings, including the annual Franchise 500.

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This article was originally published in the September 2009 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Breaking the Mold.

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