1 Step Forward…

Posted: May 18, 2016    |   Cathy Wetherell

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a national franchise conference hosted by one of my clients – a growing fitness franchise with locations nationwide. As one would expect, topics on the agenda ranged from a look back on a successful 2015 to detailed growth strategies and 2016 initiatives. And, of course, no franchise conference would be complete without a pointed discussion about branding.  For fitness operators, member safety and risk management is as much a part of their brand as their tag line and their logo.

The old adage about taking 1 step forward and 2 steps back comes to mind. For all the success in moving your business and brand forward, there is a potential vulnerability that can undermine your efforts and do reputational damage.  You see, Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is the single leading cause of death in the US, and physically fit people are not immune.  Many states and municipalities require fitness clubs to have AEDs onsite – ostensibly due to perceptions of higher SCA risk during exercise – and the common law patterns install a “defacto mandate” in the remaining jurisdictions.  Obviously, these create legal risk for gym operators who do not have a well-run AED program.  However, the bigger risk for fitness facilities may be to their brand.

Creating a national brand takes years.  Whether company owned or franchise owned, the ability to consistently meet brand standards drives member demand and growth.  From the color, size and placement of the company logo to facility design and employee uniforms, your brand sends a message to your members.  Your brand becomes your signature.

The power of the brand, however, can have negative implications. Take the recent Erin Andrews lawsuit against a Marriott hotel franchisee for example. Despite the fact that the incident occurred at a Marriott franchise in TN and that the hotel was operated independently, the Marriott name and brand dominated the headlines.

Google Trends shows the interest of a topic over time, and searching “Erin Andrews” and “Marriot Hotel” results in the chart below.  The numbers in the chart represent search interest relative to the highest point on the chart.


As you can see, there has been periodic interest re-surfacing since the scandal first hit the news in mid-2009, culminating in the heightened interest surrounding the recent jury award of $55M (7 years later!) and subsequent settlement.  Because of the tremendous media coverage of the trial, the Marriott brand was marred, and due to the permanence of the internet, this damage is ongoing.

Similarly, when a member dies from SCA at a fitness club/studio (whether corporately owned or franchised) due to the lack of an AED or an inferior AED program, the results can be devastating – not only for the family of the victim, but also for the club’s brand.  Given the power of brand identity in the fitness sector, franchisors and franchisees can both benefit from implementing a best practice approach to their AED programs as part of their brand standards.  So, when franchisors have the choice to require franchisees to adhere to certain brand standards, doesn’t it make sense to require an AED at every location, regardless of a “legal” requirement?  Certainly, in so doing, you improve your chances for continued growth of your business and your brand without fear of losing costly ground.

Moreover, AEDs are affordable – some under $1,000 – and there are program management companies that make implementation easy; ensuring compliance and, ultimately, improving life safety – and that is good for the brand.

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