For Curves pioneer, everything’s different at EnVie
He may be back in the fitness business, but former Curves President Gary Findley’s latest brand is operating in a brave new world. Can he make EnVie (pronounced on-VEE) into the next big thing?
FT: Your involvement with EnVie Fitness for Women brings you full circle.
Gary Findley: I’ve been in fitness franchising for 20 years, between Curves and Snap. I like the fitness industry. I think there are still women out there who want to work out in a women’s-only environment.
Today’s woman is not the same woman she was in the ‘90s when we started Curves. They’re looking for something more today.
FT: Why EnVie, the new brand out of Australia?
Findley: I got connected with a group in Australia. They understood the Curves market because they had a master license to Contours, which is similar to Curves. But they understood the same thing: The woman has changed and the model has to change with it.
FT: What did you change at Curves?
Findley: We doubled the size, we added strength training, we added personal training, nutrition and group exercise. So now it’s all encompassed in one facility. I saw in a posting EnVie was planning on coming to the U.S. I just picked up the phone and called them and asked what their plans were. We hit it off.
They had about a dozen locations in Australia, and I liked the model and the team. They were well funded. They seemed to have the systems and processes down. I thought it was a good match for me. I’m too young to retire, so I might as well be involved in something I have a 20-plus year history in.
FT: What’s it like selling franchises now, compared with your time at Curves?
Findley: It’s completely, completely different. The biggest thing is how you go about getting leads, and then who is the consumer today. When we started in the ‘90s, yeah we had the Internet but that’s not how we got our leads. We launched this in towns with 10,000 to 15,000 people, and we ran newspaper ads. Internet leads were non-existent.
So how to go about getting those things today? You go through the Internet: web portals, pay-per-click campaigns. On the consumer side, you’ve got a different member. When I started in the industry in 1991, my club was men only. It was laundry service, indoor swimming service. Those went away. Then it was co-ed, and then I watched the phase of aerobics, step aerobics and kick-boxing.
FT: I’ve done all of those, plus Jazzercise. Did you ever do Jazzercise?
Findley: No, no, not Jazzercise [laughs]. But do you remember the Reebok slide, where you put the socks on and go back and forth? I had a Reebok slide one time and they had me try it out. Every year something else comes out. I’ve seen it all. You have to evolve.
FT: Tell me about your history at Curves.
Findley: When I started there were two units; when I left there were 8,000. In 1996 I started, and I left in 2004. It was the right place, right time. I had an incredible staff. I had 13 sales reps. I started off just as a salesman. Gary Heavin, the founder, and I were friends.
I had fitness experience and franchise experience. After we sold 50 locations, or maybe 100, I became the president, and really did everything. Gary and Diane Heavin didn’t really have offices at the company for several years. The headquarters is in Waco today because that’s my home. We worked out of our homes for the longest time.
FT: When did the numbers really start soaring?
Findley: Probably year three, year four is when we started to almost get out of hand. I think 2000 was the year we sold 3,000 locations. When I left in ‘04, I felt like I’d done what I needed to do. I think everything, even people, have shelf lives in their jobs and what they can provide.
FT: The Curves brand has lost its luster. Did it grow too fast?
Findley: The biggest thing would be not changing with the times and the market. You can’t stick your head in the sand and say, we’re down to 3,000 locations and say it just happens, because it doesn’t just happen.
FT: So are you going to do it all over again?
Findley: No, no, no, no. I’ve grown a lot wiser. This is post-2008. I launched another four or five franchises after I left Curves. We’re in a different time. With Curves it was an incredibly low investment. You could almost open a Curves for the price of a used car.
If I learned anything it was that franchisors needed to be well funded. A lot of the ones we watched start up, didn’t have the capital.
FT: Does the current reputation of Curves help you or hurt you?
Findley: I think it’s helped me. At the last two trade shows, 99 percent of people ask: Is this like Curves? Unless you’ve lived in a cave you know Curves. I say no, but I was the president of Curves, and we’ve changed the model. One in 10 of those people will say, we had one in our town and it closed, but they’ll say there’s still a market there.
—Interview by Beth Ewen