Maybe you haven’t heard of FIT4MOM. But if you have, you probably know us for Stroller Strides exercise classes and for being the first national fitness program designed specifically for moms. Perhaps you’ve seen a group of FIT4MOM devotees running through your neighborhood with their strollers and kiddos in tow.
FIT4MOM is a 16-year-old fitness franchise with more than 300 franchisees and 1,200 instructors across the United States. While our story is one of those feel good, make the world a better place tales of the American dream, the road to get to where we are today was bumpy and full of unexpected turns. Building a business from scratch isn’t easy, and is an entrepreneurial journey filled with unique challenges. Below are six key learnings I discovered in building a business from the ground up.
1.Tune into your lightbulb moment
Stroller Strides was an “a-ha” moment for me. I was on a stroller walk with my new baby and was struggling with the idea of going back to work full time as a general manager at a large health club. I wanted to be a mom first and foremost but we needed my income. During that particular stroller walk, a light bulb went off. I could help other moms get back into shape after having a baby. And they could help me with all the things I needed to know about motherhood. I didn’t think it could be a business at this point; just something I could do to meet other new moms, help them get back in shape, and help me with motherhood.
2. Seize every opportunity to tell your story
My first class started when my son Jacob was just three months old. Four moms showed up. Hardly a booming success. But we connected and loved the workout together. That same week I got a call from a local TV station where I had previously contributed to fitness stories. Flash goes the light bulb again. I had a new story for them. I was going to talk about Stroller Strides.
So the next morning I showed up with my baby in his BOB stroller and went on the air. I promoted the grand opening of a class which I had no plans for. When I got home from the station, there were 70 emails. I was blown away. In all of my time doing fitness segments, I didn’t get 70 emails combined. I realized I was on to something. I was not the only mom looking for connection, for support, for a community. I launched that grand opening class and had 40 moms show up (and two news crews). I opened 12 locations in that first year.
3. ALWAYS Get a Second Opinion
I went to an attorney and told her I had created this great class and had a turn key way to offer a business in a box for moms like me. She loved the idea and suggested creating a license agreement, saying that I definitely did NOT want to franchise –because my fees were too low, there was no storefront, and I didn’t collect a royalty.
I sold six “beta” licenses in my first year and learned how to adapt the business model to fit different regions of the country. After a year, we opened up the license to all.
Then we got a call from the Today Show. They wanted to come to my house to film how we created this business. We received 3,000 emails before the segment even aired on the West Coast.
After the airing on Today, we got a letter from the Federal Trade Commission. Someone reported us, believing we should be a franchise instead of a license. I went to a franchise attorney who told me I was in big trouble. We could make a case for why we were a license and not a franchise, but it would cost me so much to defend myself the attorney said we might as well convert. At this point, we had 128 licensees in 40+ states.
4. Don’t Think Too Small
Becoming a franchisor changed everything. Luckily, year after year our revenue and franchises grew. We launched a licensing deal with BOB strollers. I wrote a book and we got more media exposure. But our profits really didn’t grow and we had to keep reinvesting back into the company. When the business needed money (and it often did), we would dip into our personal credit cards. I considered finding investors, but it seemed I was going to have to give up too much control. What we created in our classes was changing lives and I wasn’t interested in bringing on investors who only cared about the money.
5. Ask for Help Sooner
There were many times I wanted to throw in the towel. The business took off so fast and was complicated. I also was not showing up as the mom, wife, person who I know myself to be. Things wouldn’t get better until I created my own lines in the sand to protect myself, my marriage and my kids. I finally started to delegate and staff up.
I also knew I needed executive level leadership, and despite that I had no idea how I would pay for it, I went on the search for a CEO.
I connected with Ash Robinson at a business retreat for women and had another flash of the light bulb. As the former COO of Kidville, Inc., and as an entrepreneur and mom herself, she knew about franchising and about marketing to moms. And she felt that FIT4MOM should be a $10 million business.
Ash officially became the CEO of FIT4MOM in 2016. We have had our best year by far financially. And she made me realize that we needed money to make money. My holding this business too tight has also been why it’s been so hard.
6. Be Passionate about your Why
In building your own business or franchise, you will experience obstacles and many sleepless nights. But if failure is not an option, you will find a way under, over or around them. If you are so passionate about your why for your business that success becomes a necessity, you will make it to the other side. I would do a lot of things differently if I had to do it over again. But one thing that has never changed has been my commitment to my mission to empower all the moms.