Hitsona’s investment support enabled Gav Cunningham to take his first step into franchising, opening up a Hitsona studio in Bangor, Northern Ireland.
Gav Cunningham was already working as a general manager at Hitsona studio, when he realised the franchise was worth pursuing. Although he’d aspired to become business owner, he felt the goal was financially out of reach until discovering Hitsona’s investment support.
As a result, Cunningham was able to work out a 24-month business loan deal between Hitsona HQ and the previous owner, with a smaller initial investment and a three month hold on payments such as franchise fees and machine rentals. It was the breathing space Cunningham needed to set things up for success and the studio owner is now planning to open more locations having reached full capacity.
Why did you decide to open a Hitsona in Northern Ireland?
I took over as the General Manager for Hitsona Bangor when it opened and immediately felt at home with the members and general message of the brand. Helping people who wanted to be healthy and happy with themselves but hated the gym really resonated with me.
As an overweight teenager, I started researching nutrition and exercise to try and get in better shape and this led me to a Bachelor of Science in sports and exercise. After completing my degree, I entered the fitness industry only to leave a year later completely disenfranchised with the entire thing.
In the general fitness industry there’s a huge emphasis on being super lean and having visible abs. My idea of fitness and health didn’t mesh well with that. Seeing Hitsona as a place where all people could get in shape was like a breath of fresh air.
Why did you decide Hitsona was the right franchise for you?
For me it was the initial working capital needed. Other fitness franchises require astronomical amounts of money in order to begin your business. This was a huge barrier of entry for me and why there was only one clear choice in Hitsona.
Hitsona offers a full onboarding training course in order to get up to speed in how to run a studio. This includes how to market, how to train members, how to set up software, how to run sessions – everything. I’m not very social media savvy so having a social media expert on board to walk me through marketing through Facebook and Instagram was also vital.
What sets Hitsona apart from other fitness studios in Bangor?
We have about 10 fitness facilities in a five-mile radius of our studio. Three of these are on the same street we are but it hasn’t hindered us at all. We repel usual gym goers and attract people who hate normal gyms. I believe this is due to our “no posers” attitude and no mirrors in the studio. We view health differently for everyone and never advertise six packs or bulging muscles.
We have the highest rated fitness facility in our city on Google with nearly 100 five-star reviews. All of our members are mini ambassadors for our brand. The most common feedback we see and hear is that we’re a ‘gym that’s not a gym’ and that our staff are friendly and welcoming with a warm community of like-minded people.
What challenges did you encounter and how did you overcome them?
By identifying where our bottlenecks were we have been able to adapt and overcome them. One month we gained 29 members but there were enough leads for another 15 to 20. I simply couldn’t meet with everyone who wanted to join and that left a lot of revenue lost.
The Hitsona support team recognised the lead to new members numbers weren’t adding up and asked me to identify what was causing this. Using their guidance I was able to see the problem was staffing and we simply needed more staff to cope with the extra demand.
We took on a full-time General Manager in March 2023 because there was simply too much work for one person to do, especially with 140 members. Luckily for us the head coach at our studio was delighted to move into a full-time role.
I’ve now learned that identifying these bottlenecks before they occur is huge and looking at leading indicators is vital.
How would you define the main factors that are contributing to Hitsona Bangor’s success?
I feel like authenticity is one of the main contributing factors to the success of Hitsona Bangor. People are great at feeling out intentions and knowing that myself and my manager only want to sign up people we can genuinely help gives an authentic vibe to the studio I don’t think can be faked. If you care about helping people, not just generating revenue, I believe you’ll be successful in this business.
The other point that was made clear to me early on in Hitsona training is that the brand isn’t in the fitness industry, it’s in the relationship industry. New members come for fitness results but stay for the community and the ties they build within studios with coaches, owners and other members.
What are your future goals and aspirations with Hitsona?
We’re nearing what I’d call full capacity at our studio (170-200 members) so my goal is to open a second and third location in the coming years. Having three studios operating at a good capacity would be life changing for me.
I definitely want another location in Northern Ireland, probably only 10 miles or so away from the current studio. I’d also love to open one in my hometown of Dublin, Ireland eventually.