When Dave Long founded Orangetheory in 2010 with his two co-founders, Ellen Latham and Jerome Kern, one of his first thoughts was: How can we transfer this concept to franchises?
“Because the product was such a hit with customers in its early stages, there was a lot of energy and confidence – maybe even overconfidence – that if we could figure out the operating model [would have] “A really high chance of success in franchising,” says Long.
All three founders wanted to create something special for franchise owners – something to be proud of.
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“We took it very personally,” says Long. “Someone signed up and put their money, their time and their life into a brand, so we really wanted to prioritize their success.”
Now, 13 years later, Long reflects on some of the key factors that helped him and his partners grow Orangetheory into a billion-dollar brand. From leveraging data and creating a culture of optimization and collaboration, to building a strong team and nurturing the community, here’s what Long had to say in his own words.
Long’s answers below have been condensed for length and clarity.
Leverage data and create a culture of optimization and collaboration
It’s about running the business and then optimizing it. I think what we did really well was create a culture of optimization and collaboration. [In other words,] There’s a lot more communication. From the early days, we had Slack channels, phone calls, and face-to-face meetings, so feedback is constantly flowing. We spent a lot of time observing, discussing and identifying key areas for improvement.
There will be a lot of ideas, but what is really beneficial for the company? What is scalable? I think if you are a franchisee you should be comfortable [with] Be vocal, especially if you’re part of a previous brand. When I think of mid- or late-stage franchises, it’s about having a process and framework to take in new ideas to test and learn from.
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We use our own in-house facilities for testing and learning, but often we do this concurrently with franchise partners who are willing to conduct the testing in a sufficiently controlled manner for us to validate the data.
[But there comes] A point where you can’t constantly optimize and change. It’s like, ‘Okay, now we need more of a funnel for how the ideas come in.’ For a lot of that we use a Franchise Advisory Council now.
We receive input directly from franchisees, but a large portion of it goes to the Franchise Advisory Board and subcommittees for various business units. [That’s] where there are people who are willing and able to dedicate extra time to talk [ideas]debate and then test and learn what will ultimately make it or not.
Build a strong team
We’ve been investing for 13 years now in finding the best coaches in the world, providing them with a really great place to work and then developing them better and better.
It’s one of the most difficult products to direct and implement at a really good level – [so we put more emphasis on recruiting and sharpening what makes an amazing coach].
Because we have this foundation, we are able to drive innovation and bring variety to the brand. But the way workouts change every day doesn’t deviate from the science — you’ll still get results even if you’re not doing exactly the same thing.
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Focus on the community
Each studio has its own community where members are supported and trainers support members. The greatest challenge for the people [making] Pursuing a lifestyle means maintaining your habit.
So when they travel and stop exercising, [they may stop altogether]. This is one of the main reasons people break off their exercise routine. So as we continue to grow and expand, the goal is fair [to help] People stay consistent.
When I think of orange theory or [other] service company I guess [the] Community is very important to all of them – especially to us.
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The majority of people who come to Orangetheory and try it for the first time are through a recommendation. You love Orangetheory, you always talk about it and finally you make me leave. But I’ve already learned a lot about it from you and you’re trying to make me feel more comfortable. I’m probably still intimidated, but it’s like a turning point. Then the trainer will greet you and show you how all the equipment works. And if it’s your first workout, this trainer will spend most of their time with someone brand new – and that’s where the community aspect comes into play.
They love the brand, they love being a part of it and they naturally want to help other people succeed because everyone started from there. I think community is such a big part of this for us because it’s a natural part of every studio.
It [has] This really positive flywheel of happy members has sent a ton of positive feedback to employees and franchisees – creating a lot of motivation for the brand to keep thriving.
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