For­mer naval of­fi­cer Ja­son Dolan moved on from his mil­i­tary life with a mis­sion, to help peo­ple get fit and healthy.

Inside Franchise Business - - Contents - By Sarah Stowe

For­mer naval of­fi­cer moves on from his mil­i­tary life with a mis­sion to help peo­ple get fit and healthy.

Core9 is a fit­ness fran­chise with a dif­fer­ence, and it all started when Ja­son Dolan got to­gether with a mate to de­velop a busi­ness.

“We sat down with a white­board, and wrote down ev­ery ex­cuse for not to go the gym, and how to coun­ter­act it.”

Part­ner­ing him in this project is Craig Arnold, a pro­fes­sional ath­lete whose two broth­ers had served along­side Dolan in the de­fence force.

As highly mo­ti­vated in­di­vid­u­als them­selves, the pair are ad­dress­ing what pre­vents the great ma­jor­ity of Aus­tralians from go­ing to a gym.

“The most fa­mous, most pop­u­lar, class is a spin class be­cause they don’t have to think. They walk out feel­ing sweaty and that they’ve achieved some­thing,” says Dolan. “Peo­ple need to be taken through their paces. Ev­ery­one needs a coach.”

Arnold, who has worked as a con­sul­tant to elite sport­ing teams and train­ing con­sul­tant and fit­ness ad­vi­sor for the de­fence force, says, “We wanted to cre­ate some­thing that was go­ing to mo­ti­vate peo­ple to ex­er­cise and stay healthy. Cur­rently, 60–70 per cent of gym mem­ber­ships are not be­ing used.

“This can of­ten be at­trib­uted to time re­straints and lack of knowl­edge. At Core9 we have taken that out of the equa­tion. It is short and ef­fec­tive and we make ev­ery minute count. If it doesn’t chal­lenge you, it doesn’t change you.”

The con­cept that moved off the white­board and on to a gym floor was based around a personal trainer not just on hand through­out the day keep­ing gym-go­ers ac­count­able but driv­ing the fit­ness ses­sions – with­out the ac­com­pa­ny­ing high price.

An­other ma­jor point of dif­fer­ence was the idea of a rolling class with a set work­out, that takes just 31 min­utes. Gym mem­bers start on one of four lanes in which sit a se­ries of nine fit­ness sta­tions.

“We can run 36 peo­ple at any one time, it starts ev­ery 3 min­utes,” says Dolan.

Per­fect for the time-poor, the classes in­cor­po­rate gym­nas­tics, kick­box­ing and mil­i­tary fit­ness tech­niques tai­lored to all fit­ness lev­els.

The clean and clear struc­ture of the class is a by-prod­uct of mil­i­tary train­ing. “If you look at a class and it looks all over

the place, it is. I can’t train all over the shop. Peo­ple don’t know where they’re go­ing.

“As the client, you see the next ex­er­cise in front of you. It’s a metaphor for life. There are lots of lit­tle steps and an end goal in sight.”

Mem­ber­ship of the Core9 pro­gram is based on $49 a week for un­lim­ited ses­sions and the gyms can typ­i­cally ac­com­mo­date up to 400 in­di­vid­u­als.


Core9 serves a sec­ondary pur­pose: to pro­vide a ca­reer op­tion for ex-mil­i­tary, for­mer ath­letes and ex-emer­gency ser­vices per­son­nel. There is a 30.2 per cent vet­eran un­em­ploy­ment rate de­spite their spe­cial­ist train­ing.

Dolan ex­plains. “When I was in the mil­i­tary I was in­volved in the Spe­cial Forces, which we re­ceived a sig­nif­i­cant amount of spe­cialty train­ing for. How­ever, once we leave, there are limited job op­por­tu­ni­ties for us as there is a lack of un­der­stand­ing about vet­eran skills.

“Each ADF mem­ber has about $2.5 mil­lion of train­ing in­vested in them over seven years, but it of­ten fails to trans­late into skills for jobs back in civil­ian so­ci­ety.”

Help­ing ex-de­fence per­son­nel was a key in­spi­ra­tion for the pair to cre­ate Core9 and so when they ap­pointed their first fran­chisee, it made sense to bring in a for­mer navy re­cruit.

“I know Ja­son through work, I worked along­side him,” says Dan Swingler.

Six years in the Aus­tralian Navy gave him a sense of ur­gency, a will­ing­ness to learn and a strong work ethic.

“The rea­son I joined the navy was that ev­ery­thing was based around fit­ness. I’m so pas­sion­ate about health and fit­ness so this is nat­u­ral to me.”

Swingler says the life­style is far from glam­orous, work­ing early morn­ings and late nights, but there’s flex­i­bil­ity dur­ing the day to work on ad­min, and work­ing Mon­day through to a half day on Satur­day.

He was ready to take on some­thing fresh af­ter work­ing as a personal trainer for a while, and set up in busi­ness with a part­ner who he knew from the gym.

“The busi­ness it­self was lu­cra­tive, it was a new con­cept in the fit­ness mar­ket that is con­stantly de­vel­op­ing and I could see has some longevity in it.”

It is the con­ve­nience and brevity of ses­sions that ap­peal to typ­i­cal mem­bers, he be­lieves. “They are ev­ery­day Joes, not ath­letes or weightlifters. They feel like they have to move for health.”

But it helps to have su­per­fit fig­ures such as emer­gency ser­vices work­ers tak­ing on the man­tle of lo­cal hero to in­spire and en­cour­age gym mem­bers, says Dolan.

“They have to train at their peak and know what it’s like to be fit; if we can in­stil this in the sub­urbs as fit­ness lead­ers …”

Fran­chisors of­ten cite ex-mil­i­tary and emer­gency ser­vices per­son­nel as ideal fran­chisees be­cause they can re­late to the rules and regulations but still show ini­tia­tive.

“What you find is you can adapt and over­come, and make things hap­pen, work out how to fix things,” says Dolan.

He’s had to do that plenty of times in the past five years of busi­ness, he says.

“I’ve learned ev­ery­thing not to do. I opened up with­out a sin­gle mem­ber, didn’t know about pre-sales.”

To­day Core9 has a new GM on board, a growth mode to take it from its seven op­er­at­ing gyms, and in­ter­est from over­seas.

“The last club broke even within three months. We’re a start-up fran­chise and the brand is get­ting stronger,” Dolan says.

We sat down with a white­board, and wrote down ev­ery ex­cuse for not to go the gym, and how to coun­ter­act it.

Craig Arnold, left, and Ja­son Dolan.

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