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Case Study: Hugh Mullen, Glasgow
Glasgow-based Hugh Mullan shares the secrets of his success after quitting the corporate rat race to run his own Anytime Fitness club.
During his time as a chartered accountant, Hugh Mullan forged a successful career crunching numbers for companies around the world. The Scot’s skills earned him appointments as far afield as the Middle East and United States before he returned to the UK as a group finance director and managing director. But with the exertions of climbing the corporate ladder taking up increasing amounts of his time, Hugh decided to launch a new career focusing on helping others achieve physical rather than financial fitness.
He explained: “I had held senior positions, but as I got older I wanted to take control and have time for other things rather than being continually concerned with work. I wanted to get out of the corporate rat race and the pressures that came with it, so I started to look at running a business of my own. I was browsing the internet looking at businesses for sale when I came across Anytime Fitness almost by accident.”
The virtual introduction to running his own gym piqued Hugh’s interest and further research left him in no doubt that it was an avenue he would like to explore. Aside from the potential to offer a much more manageable work/life balance, the franchise’s all-important financial forecast and the strength of the fitness sector appealed to numbers man Hugh.
“The more I looked at it, the more it appealed," said Hugh, "I liked the industry because it was growing and you are contributing to the welfare of society. I realised that it allowed you to be as hands-on or off as you want. It was an opportunity that would afford the lifestyle I wanted for myself and my wife Cathy.”
Although he was one of the UK’s first Anytime Fitness franchisees – there were just three clubs open when he made his first enquiry – Hugh was able to examine the business’s global footprint during his re-investment research.
This revealed the low failure rate of individual clubs as well as the franchise’s resilience to the ups-and-downs of the wider economy. Hugh explained: “The very low failure rate was important, but key for us was seeing the growth of the fitness industry even in times of recession. I started looking at this four or five years ago when we were in the depths of the recession, but despite that Anytime Fitness was still growing.”
"We have found that the biggest benefit is the flexibility around your lifestyle that it provides whilst still earning a good income." Hugh Mullan
Hugh’s first dealings with Anytime Fitness in the UK were extremely positive and the “friendly, approachable and supportive” head office team convinced him to commit to opening a club in Glasgow. With the decision to become a franchisee made, his next priority was finding the perfect location in which to open. As is the case for companies across the UK, this required Hugh to find somewhere which would both benefit his new business and meet strict planning criteria. Managing this fine balance was a learning process for Hugh, but he believes the care taken in locating the perfect position for his club has benefited him in the long term. “Location is critical and it was one of the major challenges,” he explained. “I spent about 18 months from first showing an interest to opening a club. Cathy and I would go out and walk the streets – we found that to be the best way to identify premises.”
Just like 95 per cent of fellow franchisees, the Mullans were moving into an industry they were largely unfamiliar with and decided to learn more about it by managing the pre-sale process of their new club themselves. Their hands-on approach allowed them to pass on their enthusiasm to potential users and resulted in around 170 members signing up during the pre-sale period. While he was happy with the early interest, Hugh admits that a failure to use social media and the choice to open in December stopped the club from achieving even better figures.
Anytime Fitness now offers social media training and integration, guidance for promotions and even a content library to help owners make the most of their online presence.
Once the club was open, the quality and convenience of the facility soon inspired rapid growth and the Mullans reached profit by their seventh month. Hugh said: “Building a buzz was something new to me and we probably lost out because of that and because we opened in December when people have other things on their mind.
“Once we were open, things moved fairly quickly and January was a terrific month. The people of Glasgow have been receptive to Anytime Fitness and our location means we have a lot of hospital workers, people in the restaurant and pub trade and students who value the flexibility a 24-hour club provides. Reaching break-even within seven months of trading was very satisfying. I was expecting that any start-up business would take quite a bit longer to break-even, so I was very pleasantly surprised."
With the financial side of things going to plan, the Mullans have also been able to realise their initial intention to provide Hugh with a less-frantic working life. Aside from carrying out administrative tasks such as paying the bills from home, Hugh and Cathy are able to restrict their time on-site to weekly meetings with the club’s manager. The change in lifestyle has afforded the couple more time to themselves – although that may be diminished in the future as the success of their Anytime Fitness experience has convinced the Mullans to consider opening further clubs.
Hugh said: “In the last three months my wife and I have been on a two-week holiday, walked 96 miles of the West Highland Way and I have had the flexibility to visit my elderly mother in Ireland. It has absolutely worked out the way we had hoped. You can do as little or as much as you want – the day-to-day pressures are no longer there. What I’m keen to do is get a second and ideally a third club."
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