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Any business owner will tell you that starting a new business isn’t easy, which is why franchising has become so popular — you can own and operate your own business, one that aligns with your tastes and ideals, but with the added benefit of having an established brand and a support network of other franchise owners to lean on.
It’s certainly been a successful formula for Andy Gundlach, owner of 30 Anytime Fitness locations all within one hour of Madison.
Gundlach began his professional career with another franchise — Pizza Hut of Southern Wisconsin, the local Pizza Hut franchise based in Madison. He says his 13 years with Pizza Hut, during which he worked his way up the ladder to director of operations, was one of the best educational experiences of his life.
“Pizza Hut taught me how to run a business and really laid the groundwork for the success I’ve had with Anytime Fitness,” Gundlach notes. “After 13 years, I began to get the entrepreneurial itch to own my own company, and I knew I wanted to combine my experience with a franchise with my passion for fitness.”
After doing some research, Gundlach found Anytime Fitness and decided to drive up to Minnesota to visit the company’s corporate office. The company had only been franchising for a couple of years at that point, but after spending a little time with the company’s founders and corporate team, Gundlach knew the relationship would be something special.
In fact, “something special” might actually be an understatement. While Anytime Fitness was rated the No. 1 Global Franchise in both 2015 and 2016 by Entrepreneur magazine, it’s been Gundlach who’s stood out among the company’s other franchisees.
Gundlach is the only Anytime Fitness franchisee to win the company’s “Club Operator of the Year” award more than once (he's won it a total of three times), though he says it’s been a team effort.
“My employees are my number one asset, and they work incredibly hard day in and day out to change our members’ lives,” Gundlach states. “To me this award is validation for all of the phenomenal work they do and results they get. To be rated the No. 1 Anytime Fitness Club Operator shows that our team is really the best of the best and we are truly doing something special.”
Building a franchise empire
Gundlach opened his first Anytime Fitness franchise in October 2006 on Cottage Grove Road on the east side of Madison. He saw quickly that the area was ripe for expansion.
“Once we opened I had many of our new members inquiring about what it takes to open an Anytime Fitness club,” Gundlach explains. “I knew if I didn’t secure the rights to all of Dane County it would quickly be bought, so I locked it up. We are now at 30 locations all within an hour of Madison, so we are pretty saturated and have very strong market share.”
Even still, Gundlach expects to open another four club locations in the area during the next three years. “The newest segment of our business that has been exploding is our personal training, which is allowing us to continue to grow inside this market.”
Perhaps surprisingly, considering his 30 franchise locations, Gundlach isn’t the only Anytime Fitness owners in the area. He notes there is one other Anytime Fitness franchisee in the Greater Madison market who owns three clubs. The relationship between the two franchisees is a productive one.
“We work great together,” Gundlach says. “We typically meet monthly with him and his team, collaborating on marketing and best practices. We are one brand and definitely stronger together.”
That sense of teamwork is a large part of what drove Gundlach to Anytime Fitness in the first place, as was working with an established brand.
“I absolutely loved my experience working at Pizza Hut, and I didn’t want to spend my time re-creating the wheel,” Gundlach says, “I wanted to operate excellent health clubs and help people get fit. I also love having a built in network of other owners and the franchise itself to get best practices.”
Gundlach says another benefit that comes from working with an established company to open a franchise is the parent company typically supplies its franchisees with preferred vendors for its products, including financing.
Gundlach says he doesn't use Anytime Fitness’ vendors for financing anymore due to local relationships he’s built, but “they definitely helped me get started with the capital I needed.”