Franchising is a vital, dynamic business model, so it’s no surprise that retired pro-athletes are getting increasingly involved. The franchisors profiled here have found gold-medal success in fitness and food franchise systems.
The co-founder of Eat the Frog Fitness, Bryan Clay, is an Olympic Decathlon Gold and Silver Medalist with nothing short of Olympic-sized ambition for his thriving fitness franchise. “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning,” shares Clay, noting that this famous quote is what inspired the fitness franchise whose model is as unique as its motto. “We know that fitness is hard. We understand that. What we want for our members is for them to take the chance of adopting this lifestyle of attacking the hard things in life, not backing away from them. That’s what we did as pro athletes,” Clay explains.
After an incredibly successful career as a pro track and field athlete, Clay wondered what would come next for him. He was interested in fitness, but knew he didn’t want to spend 80 hours a week at the track coaching or get involved in a fitness model that he didn’t believe in completely. He wasn’t sure if his finely honed skills as a pro athlete would translate to the business world until a friend reminded him that the things that become so natural for a pro athlete – commitment, discipline, perseverance, tenacity – are exactly what you need to succeed in running your own business.
Fast forward two years and Eat the Frog Fitness has 17 regions sold, 26 in discovery, 24 franchises sold, 218 licences awarded, and 13 studios in development.
With renewed confidence, Clay started searching for the right next step. “I called my buddy, Joe Culver [co-founder of Eat the Frog], and said that I had this idea.” At first, Clay shares, Culver said no – go back to the drawing board. “But about two weeks later, I got a phone call, and he said that with a few tweaks, he thinks we could have something here, and he wants to do this together. I said, ‘Absolutely!’” And Eat the Frog was born.
With their new fitness program, Clay and Culver wanted to combine the best things about group fitness with the best things about personal training. “When you first come in, we give you a fitness assessment,” shares Clay. “Based on that, we curate and customize a workout plan just for you. No one else out there does that for their members.” With this highly personalized and researched methodology, Clay explains, “your success rate is higher, people feel better, and there is less risk involved.”
“I love this business, I love franchising – it was something new, and I had to jump in with both feet,” he continues. Clay’s advice to other pro-athletes considering franchising? Know that they already have the skillset that’s perfect for it and it might just be exactly the lifestyle and business model of their dreams.
A combination of quick-service and fast-casual, created with fresh ingredients made daily in-house, the M4 Burritos franchise is full of energy and zest. It’s no surprise, then, that a pro athlete would be drawn to the business. Former NHL player Matthew Lombardi is a partner in the Mexi-Californian restaurant franchise, along with Director of Operations, Carl Michaelson. Having started a hockey school business together in 2004, Lombardi and Michaelson are no strangers to getting into business for themselves. “Carl and I have always talked about getting into the franchise world,” shares Lombardi, who spent the bulk of his NHL career with the Calgary Flames. “The banner was poised to do great things,” he continues, “all it needed was the love and attention any great franchise model requires.”
“I had the experience of learning a lot about the franchise world through teammates who had gotten into this space and had a lot of success at it,” Lombardi says. “After hockey, I never had the intention to put my feet up and relax, so after enough research Carl and I believed that this would be an exciting avenue to pursue.” And the pair have hit the ground running ever since. The extremely competitive world of professional hockey certainly prepared Lombardi for the franchise world as well. “Being a part of a team, in the greatest league in the world, competing with 19 teammates for a common goal,” Lombardi explains, “creates an extremely competitive environment. These are great qualities to possess for many industries” – and certainly for franchising.
“The best teams win because everyone embraces their role and fulfills it to the best of their ability,” Lombardi continues. “Beyond the low cost of becoming an M4 Burritos franchisee, the simplicity of operations and profitability opportunity, we want our franchisees to choose us because they realize we share the same goals and are excited to work very hard with them to achieve them.”
“Strong work ethic, character, being able to push through adversity – these are great qualities to possess for many industries, including owning a strong franchise brand that has a great destiny ahead,” Lombardi shares. And what advice would the M4 Burritos team give to others looking to get into the business? “Ask questions and build a strong team.” With those guiding principles in your playbook, it’s game-time for potential franchisees.
Blake MacDonald, President of OrangeTheory Fitness Canada, is a former professional curler who has long had a keen interest in business. “From 1997 to 2011, I was a professional athlete and during that time I was actually working with Franvest Capital. The opportunity with OrangeTheory came up about the same time I was going into retirement,” MacDonald shares. “My experience as a pro athlete really translates into this business in a few different areas. One is that many of the concepts of building a successful curling team apply to building both a corporate team and selecting franchisees who will work collectively to raise the profile of the brand,” he explains.
Franchising, much like pro sports, is a 24/7 commitment, and this dedication is certainly something that the entire OrangeTheory team embraces because of their passion for what they do. “We live to make our franchisees successful,” MacDonald says. “And that same commitment is something we try to pass on to all our franchisees in terms of running their own locations. It’s not a nine-to-five gig – it’s something you’ve really got to commit to.”
And commitment is one of the evergreen traits of pro athletes that has stood MacDonald in good stead as OrangeTheory flourishes and continues to grow incredibly quickly. “We’ve had two big challenges: one is taking a brand that initially started in the U.S. and making it uniquely Canadian; the other challenge has been supporting the rapid growth we’ve undergone in Canada. It’s been a huge challenge to both formulate and then execute the infrastructure we need to support our growth,” MacDonald says.
The OrangeTheory team has been successfully navigating these challenges, though, and for MacDonald, there’s no better way to remain engaged and excited by a business. “At the end of the day, you do well at anything you’re passionate about, and we’re really passionate about that here,” he says. The OrangeTheory brand motto is also a very personal one for MacDonald: “Giving the gift of more life. It’s something I’m proud to tell my kids I’m a part of,” he concludes.
By Jessica Burgess