Why I Franchised: A Fitness Business That Looks Out for the Over-50 Crowd

These franchisors took it upon themselves to provide somewhere for older gym-goers to get fit, founding Welcyon, Fitness After 50.

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By Kate Taylor

Suzy Boerboom
Suzy Boerboom

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

With the positive response to the 'Franchise Players' series, Entrepreneur has decided to showcase the flipside: the challenges, tips and successes of franchisors. Why I Franchised is Entrepreneur's Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisors. Our first article ties into our week highlighting franchisees over 50, showing that it's never too late to enter the franchising industry, as a franchisor or franchisee. If you're a franchisor with advice and tips to share, email ktaylor@entrepreneur.com.

Suzy and Tom Boerboom had more than 40 years of experience in health care when they decided that the fitness industry was skewing way to young. The crowds, the lack of services and the domination of young clientele wasn't serving the over 50 crowd half as well as it could. So, the duo took it on themselves to change the system. Welcyon, Fitness After 50, opened in 2009 and began franchising in 2012.

Name: Suzy and Tom Boerboom

Franchise owned (with a brief description of your company):

Welcyon, Fitness After 50

Welcyon is a new kind of club for adults 50 and over, and a fresh alternative to those overcrowded, overwhelming big-box gyms. Welcyon focuses on offering a better experience and healthier results. The difference is in how we staff and equip our club and personalize programs, in a setting where boomers feel at home. Our approach to better health also includes a healthy eating program which is included in the membership that pairs members with a registered dietician who creates a customized nutrition plan.

Units franchised/company-owned?

There are currently four Welcyon locations: Edina and Bloomington, Minn., Sioux Falls S.D. and Fargo N.D. The Minnesota locations are both corporate clubs.

When was the company founded?

The company was founded in 2009, and we began franchising in 2012.

Related: Franchise Players: A Young Franchisee Brings Family's Lessons to Forever Yogurt

How did you decide to franchise your business?

As former health club owners with more than 40 years of health-care experience, Tom and I set out to redefine aging in America. The fitness industry tends to focus on the young and the fit and if you don't fall into those categories, it's tough. Let's face it, traditional gyms are often overcrowded, underserviced and overwhelming to older adults. Our vision was to create a gym for people 50 and over—a place where they could feel comfortable and get an effective workout without all of the spandex and muscle shirts. We did that by including more of what boomers want and need, like hands-on supervision, interactive user-friendly equipment, and customized workouts in a welcoming environment. We knew that our turn-key model could really be a game changer in the fitness industry.

How has the company changed since you franchised?

We've added more depth to our team by hiring key marketing, real estate and franchise sales executives who helped build Snap Fitness into an industry leader. There's also a huge emphasis on scaling our model so it can be duplicated across dozens of clubs in different markets. We are taking our experience and knowledge to formalize systems so our clubs run efficiently and are profitable. Our team is also constantly looking for ways to increase revenue streams that feed into our franchisees' financial goals.

One thing that hasn't changed is our values; Welcyon is built on honesty, integrity, teamwork, innovation, excellence and servant leadership. We are committed to active aging and the ability to be strong.

What have been the most challenging aspects of franchising?

Like many franchises, it's been a challenge to find those first 4 or 5 trailblazers who want to be on the ground floor of a new concept. It takes a lot of time and effort to find those pioneers so Welcyon can get to the tipping point. As with any new business, it's also a challenge to build brand awareness.

Related: Franchise Players: One Logistics Franchisee's 11 Keys to Franchising

What do you look for in a franchisee?

We are looking for trailblazers and forward-thinkers who appreciate this kind of cutting-edge business opportunity in a proven industry. At the same time, Tom and I want individuals who are dedicated to helping others and appreciate purpose beyond profit. That's what really matters to us—franchisees who want to make a difference.

What is the process of becoming a franchisee for your business?

The Welcyon educational journey starts with a scheduled call with Vice President of Franchise Sales, Ki McCue. She outlines the Welcyon business model and its strength in the marketplace considering today's powerful demographics and active-aging trends. Our team then schedules a second call with Vice President of Franchise Development George Henry, to discuss options for financing, management structure and ongoing operational and marketing support. Welcyon also puts you in touch with our first franchisees for further validation. After these steps are completed, prospects are invited to our corporate office in Edina, Minnesota for "Experience Welcyon Day.' This is your chance to meet our leadership team and also talk with fitness coaches and Welcyon members in our club. We really want prospects to see "a day in the life' of a franchisee and get a good feel for our business.

Where do you get most of your advice/do most of your research?

Tom is the president of Welcov Healthcare, a $200-million long-term care, assisted living and home health system that is ranked among the 40 largest by the American Healthcare Association. I am a nurse by profession and we have also had success as a previous health club franchisees. As strong leaders, we knew the benefit of surrounding ourselves with experts in the field of fitness and aging adults, franchising and marketing. Welcov Healthcare has been an incredible resource for financial management. We turned to a prominent physical therapist, known nationally for his work, for fitness programming and training. Tom and I also hired key marketing, real estate and franchise sales executives who helped catapult Snap Fitness in the fitness industry.

Our programming is based on the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines. We are also members of the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA), International Franchise Association (IFA) and International Council on Active Aging (ICAA). We keep a constant eye on research developments in fitness, active aging and work with various consultants to grow our business.

What advice do you have for franchisors and others who want to own their own business?

I'd tell others that you really have to believe in what you are doing. I have passed on several business ventures because my heart just wasn't in it. For Welcyon, we have always been fueled by our mission to redefine aging in America. Tom and I are passionate about changing lives and know Welcyon fills a huge void in the marketplace. So if you want to own your own business, you should make sure it has a noble mission, but stands on its own financially and can sustain their viability.

What's next for you and your business?

We are focusing on growth. Now that we've invested our time and efforts into making a turn-key model that works, we want to take it "off the launching pad" and create a real presence in the marketplace. Welcyon is also constantly looking for new revenue channels. We recently added a Healthy Eating Program and are also experimenting with group classes and a boomer boot camp. Our team is proud that Welcyon has a satisfaction rating that is much higher than the traditional gym average and that 94 percent of members commit to a year contract. Building membership and providing world-class customer service will always be a priority.

Related: Franchise Players: This Repair Technician Proves Any Time Can Be Right to Start Your Business

Kate Taylor


Kate Taylor is a reporter at Business Insider. She was previously a reporter at Entrepreneur. Get in touch with tips and feedback on Twitter at @Kate_H_Taylor. 

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