Fitness Fix-It Franchises: An Entrepreneurial Problem Solved

By Diane Mastrull The Philadelphia Inquirer

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) If you have any interest in franchising, you may want to take a look at "FMT." The fitness "fix it" franchise stands for Fitness Machine Technicians. The company basically evaluates malfunctioning gym equipment and then fixes it at gyms. The current franchise-sales focus is Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, New York and Maryland, with expectations of a national presence within five years. While it was founded by a man....franchise ownership is absolutely open to women!

PHILADELPHIA

Of all the workouts Don Powers endured in a 20-plus-year career focused on exercise, the one he hated most was when members of the gym he ran in suburban Philadelphia would press him hard about a broken piece of equipment.

"I couldn't stand being the owner-manager and a customer coming up to me and saying, 'Don, when is that treadmill going to be fixed?' and me trying to get a service manager on the phone."

Finding someone to evaluate a malfunctioning treadmill or elliptical machine and fix it quickly often was as sweat-inducing and tortuous as a 10-mile run uphill.

The landscape was, and still is, dominated by do-it-all mom-and-pop service providers, who not only took jobs to repair exercise machines, but washers and dryers, refrigerators and lawn mowers, too.

An undergraduate health and physical-education major at West Chester University who earned his master's degree in exercise physiology at Temple University at night while selling exercise equipment during the day, Powers saw opportunity, despite a serious lack of experience.

"I didn't know anything about fixing equipment," said the 56-year-old. "I just threw the tool bag on my shoulder and hit the pavement and went to health clubs and different companies."

That was 2002, the year he formed what is now known as Fitness Machine Technicians, or FMT.

Until then, his involvement in the fitness industry was sales-centric, including a chain of five exercise-equipment stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware that Powers sold in 1997, after five years, to Omni Fitness. Then he and a couple of partners opened Aero Centre gym in suburban Philly, where he first experienced the agony of repair unreliability.

On his cold calls for FMT, Powers found plenty of fellow sufferers, which he took as validation to press on with his business idea.

Headquartered in the suburbs with eight full-time employees, FMT has a range of institutional and corporate clients, including Temple, Peco Energy Co. and Clemens Foods Group, as well as sporting clubs, residential complexes and individuals.

With more than $1 million in annual revenue and a classroom-based, hands-on training program, Powers, FMT's president and CEO, has a business model he thinks has national potential. To accomplish that reach, he has begun selling franchises for $30,000 per territory, which must include a minimum of 500,000 residents.

So far, there are three, including one that is company-owned and covers the greater Philadelphia region.

Powers said he learned some what-not-to-do lessons with the first franchise he sold, to a service-oriented owner who needs more sales skills and whose territory is too scattered.

In December, Andrew Lawrie, 30, who owns Supreme Power Fitness, an athletic-training facility in suburban Philly, bought the FMT franchise rights to two counties.

You could say franchising is in Lawrie's blood. The 2009 Drexel graduate with a degree in entrepreneurship is the great-grandson of William Rosenberg, founder of Dunkin' Donuts. Lawrie and his father, Gregg, are Philadelphia Pretzel Factory franchisees. Andrew Lawrie also is cofounder of the Philadelphia Franchise Association, a networking and education group.

"The appeal to me was Don and his board of advisers wanted someone who was entrepreneurial and could help them take it to the next level," Lawrie said of his buy-in motivation.

His suggestions already have influenced the design of uniforms to be worn by all FMT service technicians, who, as part of Powers' goal to professionalize the service, also drive Priuses wrapped with company advertising.

Franchise law prohibits Powers from disclosing earnings projections for franchisees. He says only that the business "is basically recession-proof."

"When we're in a recession, people love to exercise. During a recession, they fix equipment rather than buy it."

That goes for many companies that want to offer employees access to fitness equipment but have to watch the budget, said Lisa Case, program manager at Exos MediFit Corporate Services, which manages fitness centers at 16 Peco properties.

"They really are able to meet our needs in finding us some solutions and really not trying to oversell us on things we don't need," Case said of FMT.

The current franchise-sales focus is Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, New York and Maryland, with expectations of a national presence within five years, Powers said.

"It's very exciting to see something you took from zero and watch it grow," he said.

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