Inside Franchise Business presents the fourth in a series showcasing franchisees, with the spotlight this time on those who have made a tree or sea change, or moved interstate, in order to buy a franchise, and the challenges they have overcome.
Spotlight on franchisees taking on a sea or tree change to buy a franchise.
Aaron Petterson has packed a lot into his 34 years: representing South Australia in volleyball, playing high-level AFL, four years in the military, working as a personal trainer, working in construction, travelling the world. And now he’s a franchisee.
“I was in London, Scotland, doing stints in the US, trying to find out what I wanted to do. I fell into construction and surveying, and when I arrived back here I was one of the last people able to do surveying without a degree. Then I started studying spacial science in uni.”
It was during a two-year project in north Queensland that he had a change of heart. “One day I was in with the engineering team. Many of them were depressed and not making their mark. I saw that 12 hours construction and full-time uni was too much for me. That wasn’t the life I wanted.”
The one constant in his varied life had been fitness, with personal training a regular part-time career.
It was obvious: his future needed to embrace the fitness world. So Petterson moved to Sydney about four years ago, becoming involved in F45 with his friend Dan.
“We opened up the Double Bay studio in Sydney, but then I realised the model wasn’t for me, I wanted to get back into the gym, and had the opportunity to manage Anytime Fitness Rose Bay.” This was one of highestyielding clubs in the network, he says, yet still he added 300 members in a single year.
He loved the combination of business strategy and management with a hands-on role, helping members with their technique. It did not take him long to see that it made sense to invest in his own club and recoup the rewards.
“Six months in and I started looking for the site with the most potential. The search took him interstate and to Noosa on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
Not only is it, in Petterson’s words, “a stunning spot” attracting people to make their own sea-change from Sydney, but it had an underperforming store he believed he could re-energise.
He took the next step in partnership with his best friend from Adelaide, a sales and leasing expert who has stayed in South Australia. “We did a lot more research into the brand through head office. My business partner and I have a couple of friends who have multi-units with Anytime, and we spoke to them about the challenges they faced.
“We contacted a few brokers to gain a feel for what the market was charging at different membership points. We did our due diligence before paying a deposit. We had a look at the competitors (Jetts and Snap) at location and proximity, and spoke to locals.”
Once they had paid a deposit to the broker, the pair undertook more due diligence. And then it was real.
“I moved up from Sydney. As usual, I put the word out through social media that I was moving up there. I have a lot of good friends through Sydney and Queensland, and was able to meet a couple of restaurateurs who were friends of friends. They had moved up for opportunity themselves. That has been the first step in building the business, doing marketing through them. We’ve stepped up the standard.”
Now, just eight weeks into the business, Petterson has already made an impact. “It’s really early days, but the club had not had any growth in four years, and I’ve achieved member growth now in two months. “I think sometimes, in the more regional centres people are not necessarily accustomed to the energy we see in Sydney day to day, but members are giving me good feedback and are becoming more involved.”
There is the challenge of trying to change the locals’ mentality. Noosa’s mature demographic is slightly different from the Rose Bay population, and Petterson is being creative about developing the business.
“I need to get out and make sure people know they need to move, to keep joints mobile and enjoy the rest of their life. When we did our business plan, one of our starting processes was trying to involve GPs. The older demographic has more of a relationship with GPs. We’re creating a program for over-50s that is more of low impact, but still scientifically proven to improve bone density.”
He is seeking backing to have a paper published on the topic. “I want to break the stigma of the gym, give people some more knowledge of equipment and the health benefits of exercise.”
Of course, there have been personal challenges as well. While cashflow is tight, Petterson has taken the option to rent accommodation at Sunshine Beach. And he has left behind his girlfriend, completing her masters in theatre nursing at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney.
“I had a pretty great life down there, I moved because I want to move forward in business. We are definitely looking for more opportunity to build this up to a solid membership base, and get enough cashflow in the business.”
He says he is enjoying the lifestyle for now, but it will not be home for ever. “I will look for the best opportunities to get more stores in time, but I want to make my way back to Sydney.”