Curves franchises | 50% off 2005

I read an article in the Wall Street Journal (I know, the WSJ again!) about Curves. I was disappointed, not by the journalist but by what I read. I became a big fan of Curves’ founder, Gary Heavin, after reading a story about his awesome comeback. Briefly: He owned  2-3 gyms that went under in Texas (Houston metro, area I believe, but don’t quote me), engaged in some fraud trying to save them, went to prison/jail for ~2 years, got religion, got married, founded Curves’ to capitalize on what he’d learned from his mistakes and the new idea that came to him while in the big house where he had lots of time to think. We always here about people’s great tales of success. I find it much more inspiring to hear about someone who had some success, lost it, and came back bigger and better. It helps me stay motivated and know that I’m not alone.

Curves website

Anyway, according to this article, the number of Curves’ franchises is down 50% from its height in 2005. Yes, you read that right, 50%!!!! Good Lawd! (I did that on purpose, lest someone write to me about taking a name in vain!) And you know what the founder and CEO’s response is, “Not every independent business owner is willing to do the hard work that owning a business requires”!!! What kind of sh_tty response is that? You lose 50% of your franchises and it’s someone else’s fault? Now is that denial or what? Hint: It’s denial!

I’ve talked to business owners who constantly complain about their sales are horrible because they can’t find good sales people. They say the sales people don’t know how to put in the work. But those sales people are successful elsewhere! And, I’m sorry, but if it happens more than once, it’s you! And when it happens repeatedly, it’s definitely you! Sales people need support. You can’t just say, “Here, go bring in some sales.” They need marketing support, marketing collateral, a niche to pursue, contacts within that niche, messaging, sales goals, etc. If you abdicate and don’t give them that and work with them to make them better, they….will….fail….over…and…over…and…over….again. Am I clear?

Gary Heavin is doing the same thing here. He’s arrogant. Arrogance can bring a company down and do so quickly. I worked at Enron (& left ~16 months before their demise) and I saw first hand what arrogance can do. It didn’t start that way. I initially loved working for Enron. But as things didn’t pan out, territorial disputes began and then turf wars. But I digress. The point is arrogance is not good. As a business owner you may be richer than all who report to you but your business does best when you hire people who are as smart or smarter than you, especially in their areas of expertise, and you let them know that. Want to motivate people to do a great job and stay on board? Tell them how stupid they are! Yes, that does it. Hmmm. Is that working for Gary and Curves? I’d say, NOT!

In six years they’ve lost ~4,000 franchise locations. Whew! Perhaps, as suggested in the article, Curves’ business  model needs to change. Perhaps Curves’ needs to identify the characteristics of the successful Curves’ franchise owners and find and/or cultivate those characteristics in other currently struggling Curves’ franchise owners.  I say this with all due respect, if your franchise owners are struggling as a group, it’s your fault. You should have a better selection system. Or you should have a better training and support system. Or…whatever…but there is something there. It’s a problem that can be fixed. It has a solution or solutions. But DENIAL will not fix it.

Ok, now that I’ve ranted and raved a bit, Gary Heavin has admitted that Curves did not properly screen and select franchisees primarily due to rapid growth. When you grow so fast, it’s hard for the internal operational infrastructure to keep pace. In addition, he says that the big problems occurred when the initial franchisees sold to others. I can understand that but many franchisors place strict controls on who their franchises can be resold to. That, again, is Curves’ problem. If they wish to stop the hemorrhaging, Curves’ needs to take full responsibility for what’s happening and put systems in place. One good thing: Curves appears to be taking at least some of this to heart (finally!!) because they only plan to “open fewer than 90 franchises in the U.S. this year.”

Thank goodness for small favors. Curves’ franchisees, hang in there! If you are struggling and Curves isn’t giving you sufficient support, check out SBDCs, SCORE, WBCs, and other small business entities in your area. Help does exist.

And note: I still admire Gary but I’ve seen what happens when success goes to your head. I’ve had it happen to friends and clients alike and to me personally. I’ve been arrogant and ignored warning signs as a result. The consequences, like the ones here, were not pretty. So Gary, clear the success fog out your head and pull the plugs out your nose, realize your stuff can and does stink, make some changes and climb back up onto that pedestal I put you on.