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Franchise Players: A Fitness Franchisee Who Persevered Through Cancer Instead of giving up when he was diagnosed with cancer, Woody Bedell doubled down and opened his first Exercise Coach studio.

By Kate Taylor

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Woody Bedell
Woody Bedell

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 ktaylor@entrepreneur.com.

Woody Bedell has been fit his entire life. Competitively running and swimming, competing in the Hawaii Triathlon twice in his thirties and working with health and wellness for thirty years, he had plenty of experience when he decided to open an Exercise Coach franchise. However, even he couldn't have prepared for being diagnosed with aggressive Non-Hodgkins lymphoma a week after signing the lease to his fitness studio. When he was terminated from his employer after his second chemo treatment, his franchise became even more important in his life. Today, Bedell has been cancer free for a year and ready to keep growing the Exercise Gym. Here's what he's learned.

Name: Woody Bedell

Franchise owned: The Exercise Coach in Bannockburn. Our location is located on the North Shore of Chicago about 30 miles from the city.

How long have you owned the franchise?

We started in September 2012 as the sixth Exercise Coach in Chicagoland and in the nation.

Related: Franchise Players: From Making Minimum Wage to Running the Show as a CiCi's Pizza Franchisee

Why franchising?

With the market crash in 2008 and doldrums that followed I thought there must be a better way to make money. Joyce, my wife, and I started looking around for franchise opportunities. Thank goodness she is more hesitant than me or I might be in the lawn care business mowing lawns. Not that anything is wrong with that business but I just had no affinity to it.

Then a franchise broker introduced me to The Exercise Coach. It was a perfect match. I started working out at a location in my hometown and was "hooked" and besides, Joyce thought it was a good idea. The Exercise Coach was a great fit because I have always been interested in exercise and fitness both as an advocate and as a profession.

What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?

For 30 years I have been, one way or another, involved in wellness or health related activities. I was a managing consultant with Mercer and Aon helping employers design and implement benefit programs. As a director with two major denominations, I developed pension and health programs for over 40,000 participants and a sales representative for two major wellness companies I helped sell and design wellness programs and initiatives for many. Throughout all of these transitions my main interest was to help participants maintain or gain health and avoid disease.

Why did you choose this particular franchise?

It represented a strong, viable business model and it aligned with my interests in exercise and fitness. I had spent most of my adult life engaged in competitive sports such as running and swimming. I used that experience to run the Hawaii Triathlon twice in my thirties. It was a great experience but I wish I knew what I know now. The strength that I developed from The Exercise Coach would have made that experience an even better one. This is a long way of saying that The Exercise Coach "fit" what I was looking for. The other great advantage was meeting the corporate staff -- which was not hard given that there were only three of them. Their expertise and character sold me.

How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?

I spent roughly $180,000 total opening the studio.

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

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

I did almost all on my own and since the franchise was very new, I did not have much to go on. The Exercise Coach was a very new franchise and I had to depend on my own gut or intuition. I talked with the owner at the studio where I was working out, got a good feel from him and develop a per-participant model that I thought was very feasible. I liked the concept, "Two Twenty Minute Workouts Twice a Week" and I like the potential income it could generate. I have not been disappointed but have also learned some things along the way.

What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?

A week after signing the lease to our studio I was diagnosed with aggressive Non-Hodgkins lymphoma in my bones. The chemo was extensive and after my second treatment I was terminated by my employer. What was going to be a great opportunity and legacy for my two boys became an absolute necessity. Given the circumstance it would have been easy to give up but with the help of my family and The Exercise Coach corporate team, we opened as if it was a miracle… and I suspect it probably was. I have been cancer free for a year now and still look back on that time and wonder how it all came about.

What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?

Enjoy the type of business you are in. I'm not sure if I would do for just the money. Once you decide, have the guts to do it. Estimate conservatively. Make sure you have a few friends or your family that are behind you and working and acting in your best interest.

What's next for you and your business?

Continue to grow our original site (from about 110 to 150 members) and to expand to one or two more locations for 2014.

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

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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