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How to Find the Right Franchisees, According to D1 Training's COO Dan Murphy is an Army vet and a former NCAA athlete who knows the power of community. Now, as COO of the gym franchise D1 Training, his business is only as strong as its weakest link.

By Stephanie Schomer

This story appears in the October 2020 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Courtesy of D1 Training

As an NCAA Division 1 athlete at the United States Military Academy, Dan Murphy quickly learned the value of a strong team — for success, and for his own sanity: "West Point can be stressful, and the soccer team became my respite." After graduating and serving in the Army, he was craving that community when he discovered D1 Training, at the time a small gym in Nashville focusing on group training programs and coaching, started by fellow former D1 athlete Will Bartholomew. Murphy jumped at the chance to join the brand, and 15 years later, he is COO of the fast-growing franchise with nearly 50 locations and 150 more in development. That early lesson from his military days still holds true as D1 scales: There's strength in numbers.

Was the plan always to franchise D1?

No, the model was joint venture partnerships with professional athletes and physicians — and from 2005 to 2017, we grew with that model, though it was slower growth. We had also grown a physical therapy business, and we sold that in 2017 to focus on the training side, where we'd started to franchise the year prior. To make it a national brand, we'd need community leaders. Pro athletes and physicians have day jobs; they can't be active in the day-to-day of D1. We needed folks who would be passionate.

Related: Smart Tips for Successfully Navigating the Initial Franchisor-Franchisee Interview

That sounds like a challenging shift.

It was. Our product is delivered by one single coach on the training floor. We can have the absolute best programs, but if that coach isn't motivated, the business will not be successful. So we worked with broker networks and various organizations to help us identify those franchisees and coaches. We're not looking for people who are interested in buying 15 gas stations or 25 Wendy's; we want people who are interested in creating life change for customers.

Prior to D1, you served in the Army. How has that translated to the business world?

I learned process and system. If you don't have that down, you can't scale. Every soldier gets the same training so that if something breaks down, you can easily identify it at the highest level. Now, from how we identify sites, to hiring staff, to getting clients in the door—it's all about keeping those systems dialed in so we can see where we're successful and where we're missing opportunities.

Related: Military Veterans Joining the Ranks of Franchise Ownership

As you grow, how do you make an increasing number of franchisees part of that system?

It's easy to get wrapped up in what we think is right, or what we see at our corporate location in Nashville. We have a franchise advisory council that gives us intel and meets with leaders in the system to learn where there are holes, or where people might be struggling. And we recently formalized an internal consulting system where some franchisees can develop a structured relationship with newer franchisees in the system and help them out, like a booster program.

So that focus on community isn't just about the towns and cities you serve.

When I think back to my time as an athlete at West Point, you get there and realize, yep, everyone was the captain of their high school team. That false belief that your effort and your goals will make you successful goes out the window. You have to level up to fit the team, and you have to build the right team. A lot of our franchisees come from corporate America, and they are eager to be their own boss. That's great — but we quickly make them understand that they're part of a system and they're here to make the system better.

Stephanie Schomer

Entrepreneur Staff

Deputy Editor

Stephanie Schomer is Entrepreneur magazine's deputy editor. She previously worked at Entertainment WeeklyArchitectural Digest and Fast Company. Follow her on Twitter @stephschomer.

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