From Military Pilot to Engineer to Personal Trainer
Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aaron Anthonsen is used to getting strange looks when he tells people about his career path. However, it was no fluke that the former military pilot and engineer became a GYMGUYZ franchisee. In fact, he had been searching for some time for the best way to fill the needs of an underserved market: athletic people who aren’t interested in the typical gym environment. Here’s how he decided GYMGUYZ was the perfect fit.
Name: Aaron Anthonsen
Franchise owned: GYMGUYZ in Fayetteville/Peachtree City, Ga.
How long have you owned a franchise?
We’re open for business this month! I signed the franchise agreement roughly three months ago, and there is some ramp-up time after that because of lead time on the van, training with the franchisor, setting up various systems like POS, etc. Overall you can expect roughly a 60 to 90 day startup time.
I didn’t set out to open a franchise specifically, but it turned out to be the best way to go after the underserved market segment I had in mind. I had a business idea for a service specializing in outdoor fitness classes. Clients that are into Tough Mudder races, triathlons, marathons, etc. and people that just don’t like the gym environment were the target market. I came across GYMGUYZ while researching that idea, and the business model really resonated with me.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
I was an engineer and project manager at SRI International, a Silicon Valley nonprofit applied research institute. Before that, I was a naval aviator (pilot) flying H-60 SEAHAWK helicopters. Going from being a military pilot to engineer to personal trainer gets me some strange looks when I tell people what I do. However, I don’t believe you should ever limit yourself to someone else’s expectations. The fundamental principles of innovation are the same whether you’re talking about technology, fitness services or anything else. You’ve got to create value for your customer.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
As I mentioned, this franchise was the perfect fit for what I was looking to accomplish. I wanted to create something that was not your regular gym atmosphere, and I wanted to offer clients the option to workout outside and have fun with their exercise routine. So when I found GYMGUYZ, I knew I wouldn’t have to start from scratch to create a successful business model. Some people like to be active but don’t like the thought of going to the gym, and that’s where GYMGUYZ fits in.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
Here’s the approximate breakdown. A lot of this was based on my individual circumstances – it varies a bit for each franchisee.
$30,000 (note 1)
Down Payment for Van Lease
$6,700 (note 2)
Certifications and Licenses
Registering an LLC (State + Local)
$200 (note 3)
Grand Opening Marketing
$600 (note 4)
Technology (VOIP system, computers, SEO, etc.)
- Franchise fees vary – GYMGUYZ gave me a really nice discount because I’m a veteran and they participate in VETFRAN.
- Part of the equipment package is a standard package through the franchisor's supplier, and there is some equipment you’ll need to get on your own, so prices vary.
- Varies by state – this is the approximate cost of registering a business (state and local) in the state of Georgia.
- Your annual insurance will likely be $3,000 to $5,000 per year, including general and professional liability and commercial vehicle insurance. This was the approximate cost of getting the policies turned on. This does not include workman’s compensation, which is a significant expense when you hire your first employee.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
The first thing I did was test market the idea, because I had no idea if there was really a market for it. I spent several months asking people if they’d be interested in a service like this, and looking at local market demographics and things like that. While it’s not perfect data, it’s a good starting point for evaluating risk and profitability. As far as researching the technical aspects of the business, I did all the normal due diligence things like speaking with the other franchise operator, getting an attorney to review the franchise agreement, talking to an accountant, writing a business plan, etc.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
I didn’t expect how critical a support network of mentors and business peers would be. Saying you’re an entrepreneur is trendy these days, but it’s a big risk. Some friends and relatives may act like you’ve lost your mind when they realize you’re actually doing it. You’ve got to build a network of fellow entrepreneurs that understands why you’re doing it. Joining your local Chamber of Commerce and building that professional network should be one of the first things you do.
The other problem I wasn’t expecting had to do with the Small Business Administration (SBA) loan process. The process is the same whether you’re borrowing $30,000 or $5 million. An SBA guaranty is good because it gets interest rates down, but there are a lot of things beyond your control that can go wrong at the last minute. You have to be aware that there’s some schedule risk there.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
Take your time doing the research, but that’s hardly new advice. One observation I’ve had is that there is a temptation to cut corners with marketing when you’re just starting out and budgets are tight. Huge mistake. You’ve got to get your brand in front of people, so make sure you have the capital set aside and a strategy to do it.
What’s next for you and your business?
My near-term goal is to extend our market reach by engaging with the community and expanding offerings to meet the unique needs of our local market. I think the real innovation of GYMGUYZ is that we’re not competing with traditional gyms, but instead reaching out to market segments that are underserved. Of course, we have all the growth projections you’d expect (sales, more vans, more territory, and so on) but I would rather grow the business slowly and give customers a truly superb experience than grow quickly at the expense of quality or innovation.