By Joe O’Donnell
Photography by Chuck St. John
Scott Lyons is surrounded by purple and yellow, and he loves the color scheme. Truth be told, he loves everything about the planet he finds himself on, Planet Fitness. “I have been in the fitness industry for almost 30 years now,” Lyons explains. “I have owned clubs, managed clubs. I worked for a fitness equipment manufacturer for almost 10 years. I have been in and around the fitness business my whole life. That is really all I have known.”
However, it’s his experience as a franchise owner with Planet Fitness that has been the most rewarding of his career thus far, Lyons says. “About five or six years ago, I got with a friend of mine who had some clubs in Mississippi and we saw the opportunity with Planet Fitness,” he remembers. “We bought the rights to develop the whole Birmingham metro with up to 11 clubs. Crestline is our sixth location and we plan on doing a few more. I am not sure we will get to 11, but we will be doing more.”
At first blush his experience with Planet Fitness was a bit of a puzzle. “I didn’t understand how you made money selling $10 a month memberships. But then I studied the business model and realized that Planet Fitness attracts the 80 percent of the population that is not a member of a gym. That is going to be your occasional gym users, your first time gym users,” he explains. “The judgment-free zone is by far the most important thing we do. We want people to come in work at their own pace and feel comfortable working out, not feel judged in any way.”
The Planet Fitness philosophy is tailor-made for the market it attracts. “We focus on the regular person who wants to get healthier and feel better,” Lyons says. “There are other fantastic gyms and health clubs around, but ours is focused on what people are looking for in a gym: brand-name, high-quality equipment, immaculately clean facility, and friendly, well-trained staff members. That is what we provide. We don’t have the juice bars or group exercise and childcare. Those things add overhead to the typical gym. I understand that some people need those things, and that is great. Group exercise is great. But what we provide is fitness only and tons of it. That is one of the reasons we are able to do a $10 price point.”
The other innovation at Planet Fitness is the lack of a long-term financial commitment. “A person who has never been a member of a gym before is not going to want to pay $40 or $50 a month and commit for 12 months. There is a barrier there that keeps a lot of people from going into a gym,” Lyons says. The breaking down of barriers is a big part of what Planet Fitness is all about, Lyons says. “We have a non-intimidating model. Even with the joining process we want to make it non intimidating. There is no pressure to join. If you are comfortable, great, if not, we understand. Come back when you are ready.”
That level of calm hasn’t always been the case in the fitness industry. “There have been a lot of changes in the business. In the old days, it was a hard sell, a 24-month commitment at $40 or $50 a month. It was very, very sales driven,” Lyons says.
“At Planet Fitness, we don’t have commission salespeople here,” he continues. “It is a very soft sell. It is easy to cancel the membership—literally just come to the front desk and cancel with a seven-day notice. It is simple to join and simple to cancel. The price is simple, too: $10 a month, annual fee of $29. It is one dollar to get going, though—that sometimes changes with various promotions.”
The business model has been working well for Lyons. The chain has experienced substantial growth. “When we opened Inverness, our first club, that was 404th Planet Fitness. Crestline is No. 1,206. That is in four and a half years. We will hit 2,000 in the next couple of years. Canada is about to come online and there are plenty of opportunities internationally, but even here in the States there is opportunity for tons of growth for Planet Fitness, particularly in smaller markets,” Lyons says.
Lyons has opened Planet Fitness locations in Inverness, Crestline, Vestavia, Homewood, Roebuck, and Hoover. Each of the facilities requires about a $2 million investment in build-out costs and equipment. The six facilities have been growing well, Lyons says, and are located in such a way that they are serving different communities. “Each of the locations has its own submarket they are serving, so they are not cannibalizing one another, and it is great for those communities,” he says. “We also have the black card membership, which allows people to use other locations in the city and around the country. That membership is $19.99 a month.”
The clubs are all over the board demographically, from age to income. The customer base is about 55 percent female. “With our price point, we attract people without loads of disposable income, but at the same time, people with plenty of money realize what a great value it is. We have the same equipment as the place down the street that charges $50, but we charge $10, so people recognize the value,” Lyons says.
The no-pressure, no-judgment environment really appeals to Lyons and, he says, to his customer base. “It is a very positive environment. No pressure. Just regular people who want to shape up and feel better.”