2022 marked the fifth consecutive year of falling vacancy rates on the high streets, with 13.8% of stores being free to lease by the end of the year*. Despite the demand for a prime spot being higher than ever, Bill Painter, Director of Development at Snap Fitness, refuses to settle for anything less than a 10/10 location.
“The success of a franchise business has its foundations in initially finding the right location. You want to set your franchisees up for a profitable future and one of the core foundations lies in finding the right location,” advises Bill. “We take our time to find the right location which reassures our franchisees that we care about their success – fulfilling our ethos to be ‘One Team’ at Snap Fitness.” Below, Bill discusses why franchisees with a bricks-and-mortar premises should only consider launching in a location that gets full marks.
A considered approach
Your franchisor should support you in finding the ideal location for your business launch. From initial search to completion of lease, you should make the most of expertise available to you from your franchise support team. Even though the relationship between franchisor and franchisee can be reassuring in the early stages during a location search, it is important to have an honest conversation of ‘could you open’ versus ‘should you open’.
You should be considering both your competitive edge and practical elements, such as customer parking, to give you the best chance of long-term success. Opening a franchise location should be a considered process – over the last 20 years we have learned that finding the right location involves several steps which are kept consistent by working with franchisees hand in hand.
Your franchise location selection is crucial as this will likely form a significant part of your investment portfolio for the coming years. This is why we take the property process so seriously. Your franchisor should encourage you to investigate any upcoming changes in the area to navigate both dips and rises in market demand to support your business planning process.
Location, location, location
It is vital to consider the local area of your franchise location to determine how many people have easy access to it. In the case of a 24-7 gym like Snap Fitness, retail parks with significant multi-weekly use or locations close to superstores like Tesco are ideal, as are those which have access to high street or free parking.
Although we have this view, we are always learning and have found that launching franchise locations in smaller towns usually bypassed by larger corporate chains can also work. And, our most successful club is on a big city high street with no access to parking – instead, we targeted the 110,000 people within a 7-minute walk of the club – it is all about finding an ideal location whilst tailoring your plan to what works for the specific area.
As a franchise which relies on growing a healthy membership base, we also want to ensure there is enough latent demand so local demographics and competitor analysis form part of our location review. For instance, it is important to be informed about locations that are already well served by businesses of a similar concept and their customer satisfaction levels. Are there new things you could offer to this area? Is your USP enough to help you stand out from the rest? Get a feel for the local market and customer demographic before you delve into investing in a location.
Use adaptability to your advantage
A good franchise model often takes an adaptable approach so it can utilise a variety of commercial spaces, creating opportunities in every market - from small communities of 10,000 people to larger cities. Being flexible in the specifics of your site opens up the opportunity for more unique locations for your franchise, such as in renovated churches and warehouses. We are currently looking at launching a club in an old art-deco cinema, ensuring the unit-level economics work rather than finding the cheapest way around an exciting location. Eclectic buildings can work as long as you have done your homework and working with a franchisor who has the vision to adapt to the site that still make financial sense can be a rewarding business partnership.
As adaptability can lead to opportunity, be sure to evaluate locations which are unconventional or different to anything you have seen before. Not only will this provide you with unique features not found in any other franchise in your sector, but you can get to know the ins and outs of your chosen franchise model by utilising its features to the best of your advantage. It is important that your franchisor can adapt to unusual floorplans - at Snap Fitness, we tend to prefer large, open spaces as they allow our architects and equipment partners to be creative in creating spacious gyms with distinct layouts unique to the location.
All this being said, the single limiting factor of our growth is finding that 10/10 location. It takes time, which means expansion for our franchisees, and for Snap Fitness as a brand, can be slower - but, as the saying goes, slow and steady wins the race.
*Local Data Company, 2022, Fewer vacant stores by end of 2022.