Inside Roger Wittenberns’ master plan to redefine the fitness franchising industry
Ft. Lauderdale – The past 25 years has been a roller coaster ride of club expansions, market segmenting, acquisitions and branding. Should it come as no surprise that the next 25 years may be defined by a company called Diversified Health and Fitness?
Diversified Health and Fitness is the brainchild of Roger Wittenberns. Since Roger’s first introduction to club management with the Jack LaLanne chain, he’s been a man with vision, always looking outside the box. He was one of the first to recognize that women would frequent a coed club, if there were special hours, areas and childcare to accommodate them. That idea led to his creation of the Lady of America franchise chain.
Selling LOA—the second largest women’s only franchise chain—in 2006 gave Roger a well earned break to enjoy his sprawling Miami manse and teenage children. The years in between have seen a major shift in women’s only health clubs and a surge in non-traditional health club offerings including Botox treatments and manicures to fight an overcrowded market.
It’s also seen hundreds of women’s franchise clubs fail either because of the competition, the lack of corporate sales support, the down-turned economy or a combination of all. Roger is betting that when the dust settles the competition will have thinned and creates the opportunity for a new franchise super-giant with a mix of brands: Diversified Health and Fitness.
Defining the Change
“The landscape will continue to change,” says Roger from his Ft. Lauderdale corporate offices. “Right now the recession is reality, and franchise sales have slowed because credit is hard to get and a lot of equity has evaporated. Real estate has taken a big turn. Back in the 80s during the savings and loan crisis they were offering a year free rent and free build outs. In just the last six months we’re starting to see some of those deals return to the negotiation tables, but it’s too early to say.
“Right now we know new sales are flat and by the time you fly someone in, go through the presentation, negotiate a lease and set up financing it just doesn’t make sense,” says Roger. “So we’re approaching it differently. We’re buying up existing locations that are already open and operating, but need to increase membership sales.”
As of this writing, Diversified Health and Fitness has purchased 12 brands that represent nearly 300 locations, mostly in the U.S. Negotiations are under way for the acquisition of two more brands. Fit Zone, Rejuvenate, and the Zoo Co-ed clubs are presently all under the umbrella of Diversified.
With his 35 years experience as a franchisor, and having developed one of the best sales support team in the business, Roger is confident he can increase those memberships, and capitalize on the clubs’ strengths while minimizing their weaknesses.
Does that mean there franchisees will be bought out and replaced?
“Not at all,” says Roger, “I’ve learned not to prejudge people. I had some of the best-looking, well-educated people who turn out to be the most difficult to educate of day-to-day operations, and I’ve met other folks that are all ears and eyes, not well capitalized, but willing to roll up their sleeves and do all that it takes.”
Will he eventually bring all his clubs under one brand name? “Not likely,” says the franchise leader. “Like our company name reflects, clubs will remain diversified. We have no problem juggling a variety of brands. It’s like Auto Nation, that company purchased 100s of different cars from Toyotas, to Lexus to Hummers and at the end of the day they’re still selling cars.
No matter what the club brand, it’s still the same business. Getting memberships and selling health. Helping people feel better and look better. If we can teach the franchisees to do that, they’ll all be successful.