From massage to senior care and fitness to diet-conscious snacks, franchised health and beauty businesses enjoy strong consumer patronage almost without regard for economic cycles. The number of personal franchise locations has also been growing, and that, according to franchise consultant John Hayes, is because of the perception that these businesses are both enjoyable and financially rewarding. "Fun is a big attraction," he says. In the fun category, Hayes includes businesses offering massages, facials, and haircuts.
More strictly health-related businesses, such as fitness, nutrition and in-home senior care, also often attract franchisees for non-businesses reasons. "Fun is just one reason," Hayes says. "They want to do something that has a redeeming value, an opportunity to do good."
This confluence is epitomized by Snap Fitness Inc. The Chanhassen, Minn., franchise does good by helping consumer achieve weight-loss and fitness goals. That helps Snap Fitness do well despite economic downturns. "Fitness is something people aren't necessarily viewing as a luxury as much as a necessity," says Snap Communications Manager Patrick Strait. "People understand that you have to eat healthy and you have to move your feet."
Snap Fitness offers consumers convenient and affordable exercise 24 hours a day. The modest-sized facilities fit into neighborhood strip malls but are equipped with a full range of cardio and resistance equipment. Financial flexibility is also a hallmark. "We have no contracts," says Strait. "Everything is month-to-month, and the average single membership starts at about $34.95 a month."
Franchises also are easy to own. Strait says many owners are semi-absentee and the model suits those who want to continue working at their regular jobs. The turn key franchise is appropriate for a wide range of backgrounds. "Even though you're not somebody who's worked in the health industry for 25 years or aren't a fitness fanatic, you can still be a successful Snap Fitness franchisee," he says. Snap Fitness has 1,100 locations and plans call for another 250 to 300 in the next 12 months, including domestic franchises as well as country master franchisees.
Most people don't associate delicious snacks with good health, and that's what makes Tasti D-Lite stand out. "The essence of our brand and our concept is that we're a celebration of life and health, and we have a continuous nutritional and health message with everything that we do," says Bill Zinke, chief marketing officer for the Franklin, Tenn.-based chain of frozen treat stores.
Tasti D-Lite offers more than 100 flavors, most containing no more than 80 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, 13 grams of carbohydrates and 5 grams of sugar per 4 fl. oz. serving. They also provide 5 grams of protein and 10 percent of the recommended daily allowance of calcium. "It is a guilt-free 'small indulgence,' which is particularly important in these economic times and a healthier alternative at a time when obesity has doubled over the last 30 years," observes Chairman and CEO Jim Amos. Tasti D-Lite has 50 locations in seven states and three countries, and plans to nearly double its number of locations in the next 12 months.
Coping with age and infirmity may not be fun, but the challenge gives franchisees of Seniors Helping Seniors a chance at a uniquely appealing opportunity: to do well while doing good. The Reading, Penn., franchiser has doubled its number of locations every year since beginning in 2005, as consumers and franchisers are drawn to its model of providing non-medical in-home care for senior citizens. Yet Chairwoman Kiran Yocom says growth isn't their first priority.
"What is most important to us is that we don't want to compromise," she says. "Our goal is to bring partners on board who want to do good and make money simultaneously. We don't want to grow too big too fast."
Growing with only the right franchisees is a basic plank in their strategy, says CEO Philip Yocom. "From the very beginning, we said we're creating a community of loving caring passionate people who first wanted to help, then make money," he says. This year, the company expects to add as many as 100 locations across the United States; Yocom says international growth will come later.
Many seniors taking part in the trend toward staying home as they age need, in addition to human help, products that help them cope with the obstacles to mobility that exist in their homes. 101 Mobility of Wilmington, N.C., is designed to address that need. President and CEO Dave Pazgan says the fledgling franchiser aims to become the first national participant in the fragmented business of supplying ramps, lifts, and other accessibility and mobility aides to homeowners.
The franchiser is offering the opportunity in 35 states and plans to open its first 12 franchise locations this year. "We have an opportunity to bring a level of consistency to the customer experience," Pazgan says. "And people tend to like to deal with franchise systems as a consumer because they know what to expect."
Consumers who think they know what to expect from a vitamin store are often surprised when they enter a Complete Nutrition franchise. The 6-year-old Omaha, Neb., nutritional supplement chain features an upscale environment with knowledgeable staff, gender-neutral ambiance, and a careful selection of top products. President Ryan Zink says the number of locations has more than doubled in the last year to more than 35 and will likely do so again in the next 12 months. "And it's all in a down economy," he notes.
While customers respond to the stores, Complete Nutrition's franchisees like the marketing support. "We understand that you don't have a business without customers, and we do a great job getting customers through the door," Zink says. Radio, TV, direct mail, billboards, and newspaper ads pull traffic in local markets. Once inside customers are greeted by a refined sales process that emphasizes providing complete solutions to weight-loss, muscle-gain, and other health and wellness goals while also meeting franchisees' sales goals.
Making health care compatible with business was the first obstacle confronting Doctors Express, an urgent-care medical franchise based in Towson, Md. CEO Peter Ross said the company paid close to six figures in legal fees to two law firms for help modeling a two-part structure with licensed medical doctors working with a business owned by a non-medical franchisee. "What we've done is create a model that allows non-medical successful entrepreneurs to get into the healthcare industry," Ross says.
The company has seven units open and hopes to have 50 open in the next year. Franchisees bear responsibility only for staffing and marketing. The system processes insurance claims; doctors and other medical staff handle health care. Patients can expect quality care at a fraction of the cost of an emergency room visit and with a lot less hassle. "You can walk in with anything short of a life-threatening condition and walk out an hour later feeling much better," Ross says.
Customers of Fitness Together can walk in with all kinds of negative preconceptions about gyms, but walk out with a more positive outlook about an hour later after receiving a private, non-intimidating, one-on-one training session with a certified personal trainer. That's the primary appeal of this 27-year-old franchise based in Highlands Ranch, Colo., according to Jeff Jervik, president and CEO.
Jervik himself was surprised by the effectiveness of its recently launched nutritional program, Nutrition Together. Although he considered himself in good shape, he lost inches and weight, gained muscle, and was able to reduce his blood pressure medication after a few months on the plan. "I've always believed what it can do. But now I'm a client I can see what it does," Jervik says. The company, which looks for experienced trainers to open franchises, has 357 locations now and plans to open 20 more this year in domestic and international markets.
Happy clients are also the benchmark for Massage Heights, a San Antonio-based chain of massage therapy retreats that specialize in professional massage therapy services at an affordable price. Unlike most spas, which require advance appointments and emphasize luxury over affordability, Massage Heights franchises cater to walk-ins and charge just $39.99 for a one-hour massage, says CEO Glenn Franson.
Like other personal-care franchisers, Franson says franchisees are drawn by the opportunity to work in a pleasant environment, where customers leave happier than they arrived. "A life in the day of a franchisee is providing a service that allows people to feel their best, "he says. "That's one of the great things that sets us apart. "Massage Heights has 60 locations, including one international franchise in Calgary, and will open 25 more across the United States in the next year, in addition to rolling out a Heights at Home product line, Franson says.
At franchiser Regis Corporation of Minneapolis, Supercuts is the most recognizable hair salon name and Regis' primary franchise growth vehicle. But the beauty care giant is also looking for additional growth from the Cost Cutters and Procuts concepts. The company is testing a retargeting of the 170-unit Procuts chain to a sport-themed business catering to men and boys. "We think what's next is male-oriented, value-priced concepts, and we're going to join that fray with Procuts," says Mark Kartarik, president of the Regis franchise division.
About 825 Cost Cutters stores compete in the world of family-oriented, value-priced hair care, including perms, hair straightening, and others services that other budget salons stay away from. Kartarik once considered the store's name a problem because it was too long to easily fit on signs. "With the recession, it couldn't be better named," he now says. Regis has been upgrading the image and testing a frequent-buyer card discount to further boost demand.
While consumer demand for personal-care services and products remains strong, that doesn't mean the market is immune to over saturation. Excess competition could be developing in some personal-care niches, Hayes says. But for those who develop the necessary business skills and execute competently, personal care looks like a good long-term bet.
"It will continue to be a booming niche for franchisers who understand that it's about marketing and it's not about the service, just as McDonald's understands it's about marketing, it's not about the food," says Hayes. "Personal care is not about the personal care, it's about the marketing. Franchisers who figure that out and create programs that franchisees can implement--those are going to be the winners in the category."