Graham Cooley is the multi-unit franchise owner of énergie Fitness Drimnaugh and Dundalk in Ireland. In this interview, Graham tells us about his journey with énergie Fitness so far, his plans for the future, the factors he feels set énergie apart in the marketplace, and his advice to anyone looking to go into business with a franchise.
Tell us a bit about your background, what has been your primary career or business focus prior to joining énergie Fitness?
In the early days of my career, I worked primarily in hospitality, in particular the hotel sector. This began when I was 17 and I subsequently worked my way up through various roles within the hotel business.
During that time, I also attended college and studied hotel and restaurant management, and this dovetailed with the management programme I was going through within the hotel business that I worked in.
I was with that company for 15 years and worked my way up to general manager at quite a young age. At that stage, I looked at my options and the only way to move forwards within Ireland was to go to a bigger hotel etc.
I wasn't in a position to move out of the country as I had young children and a family, so I decided that I wanted to work for myself. I started a few small businesses, one of which really took off. I then grew and offloaded that business at a good stage.
How did you hear about énergie Fitness?
I was looking at further opportunities and a friend of mine had just got involved with énergie Fitness as a business opportunity. This was a new business venture for him that was in addition to his serviced offices business.
Obviously, he knew about my experience in the hospitality and leisure sector, so he asked if I would get involved with the running of the gym. This then progressed into me buying into the business and eventually buying my friend out and becoming the owner of énergie Fitness Drimnaugh.
Why did you decide to go into business with a franchise in the health and fitness industry?
It seemed like a logical step when starting my own business. It can be daunting taking the leap from being an employee to becoming your own boss, so a franchise gives you that confidence with the support and experience that they provide.
I was also able to talk to other franchisees, see existing gyms and talk to the team that was there. If you were going into business in a non-franchise environment, you wouldn't be able to go into a competitor’s business and get an insider view as to what takes place and how the business operates. With a franchise business you’re able to go in and have really good conversations with the people who are in the business running it, it’s a great advantage. You don't really get that opportunity if you're not going into franchising.
On top of everything else, the franchise model also provides existing relationships with lenders, suppliers, and in the case of énergie in Ireland, generally a really good support network.
Why did you choose énergie Fitness specifically?
I liked the business model; it was a proven “recession proof” business which gives you a level of comfort. The énergie Fitness model and brand is also continually evolving with the times and striving to improve.
In terms of the consumer offer, what do you think sets énergie Fitness apart in the marketplace?
As a model, énergie is very inclusive and truly a gym for everyone in comparison to other gyms that are out there. Generally speaking, you have your large intimidating gyms which provide for the avid gym goer. You then have the smaller Personal Training studios who target the average person that is trying to look and feel good or lose a bit of weight for an upcoming holiday.
I think énergie Fitness sits somewhere in the middle, with great quality and variety of equipment to suit the more experienced gym user, while having the friendly atmosphere that wouldn’t put off a new gym user. That aside, we have a fantastic level of service from our team that sets us apart, especially with our competitors here in Ireland
How do you structure the running of your énergie Fitness business? E.g., are you an owner - operator or have the business under management?
I wouldn't describe myself as an owner / operator, I wouldn't be able to help with personal training or advice on the fitness side. Given my background in hotel management, I am good at managing people, so I have a team in place and good managers in each gym which is fantastic - I wouldn't be able to do it without them.
I'm definitely involved in the business in terms of keeping my finger on the pulse on a daily basis. I also spend a minimum of one full day per week in each club. That's usually dependant on what the needs of the business are and what time of the month or year it is.
What would you highlight as the key successes that you have experienced in your franchising journey so far?
Coming through the covid pandemic is probably the most obvious one considering it was such a tough time for all businesses. Obviously, it was unprecedented, and decisions had to be made with no real certainty on what the outcome might be.
During this time, rather than dictate what we had to do, énergie Head Office advised but ultimately let us make our decisions. Being able to share best practice within the network and how people were managing the situation was a big help. This really showed what a strong franchise community we have here at énergie in Ireland.
We managed to retain a good level of revenue while closed through online classes and other offerings. And each time we re-opened we recovered very strongly.
As it happens, I was actually in the process of opening my second club in Dundalk during the period of the pandemic. Being able to talk to one of the other franchisees who was also going through the same process, allowed us to share some really useful pieces of information and insights which helped us whilst we were both setting up and launching our gyms.
What are your plans for the future?
I am always looking for sites and my plan is to open another site in the next 12-18 months.
What words of wisdom do you have for anyone who is looking to go into business with a franchise?
I would recommend that they speak to the team, speak to the franchisees, visit the gyms, and just make the leap.
It sounds simple, although making the leap is the biggest part and you see it all the time when people are scared to make that leap. I know of people who have money to invest but have always been hesitant when an idea is put in front of them. That's where I think a franchise model provides a huge advantage, as it does have some sort of proven track record and you can get access to all the key information.