In the Zone: Building her portfolio while helping fellow franchisees
Name: Helen Martin
Title: Multi-unit franchisee
Brand: Stretch Zone
Units: 19, with 4 more being purchased
Years in franchising: Started as a licensee in 2014 and converted to a franchisee in 2016 when the franchise model was developed
Years in current position: 8
Helen Martin spent enough time working in corporate settings doing marketing, sales, and operations to come to a definite conclusion—especially in one job, where one of her tasks was to hand out severance packages. “From that point on, I wanted to control my own destiny,” she says, and franchising was “a great stepping-stone to go out on one’s own.”
Martin, a former athlete, discovered Stretch Zone in 2014. The brand fits well with her awareness of the quality of life resulting from improved physical health. When she became involved, first as a licensee, then as a franchisee, Stretch Zone was not well known. But helping people was an idea that appealed to her. She also liked the idea of franchising a business model that “gives you a blueprint but doesn’t tell you how to decorate—it allows you to be creative,” she says.
Today, Martin is fully engaged in Stretch Zone. She has 19 locations, is buying 4 more, and helps other franchisees manage an additional 15. She also heads the brand’s Franchise Advisory Council and is a member of its corporate board.
“I have so much Stretch Zone in my blood it would be hard to do another concept,” she says. She also is determined to help others succeed with the brand, as others did for her. “Nothing makes me happier than to help someone open and learn they are number-one in sales the next month.”
First job: Worked at a local sporting goods store when I was 15.
Formative influences/events: I had some amazing mentors and bosses in my previous corporate life who shaped my professional self! My biggest takeaway: Always know your numbers.
Key accomplishments: Created a management company during Covid to keep my regionals working, and helping other absentee franchisees.
Biggest current challenge: Hiring.
Next big goal: Looking at 40 to 50 locations in 3 years.
First turning point in your career: Became the youngest buyer at Sports Authority, a company that Dick’s Sporting Goods bought several years ago.
Best business decision: Taking a chance with Stretch Zone very early on—even before we had a website. I had demo cards and a Rolodex!
Hardest lesson learned: Never doubt your gut.
Exercise/workout: Seven days a week: 2 days with a personal trainer, 4 days of running, and 1 day of Peloton.
What’s your passion in business? Developing and growing a team!
How do you balance life and work? I’m a yes person, so I need to do better at creating more of a work/life balance. Currently, I’m putting in more infrastructure in place to help with this because I don’t say no very often!
Guilty pleasure: Gummy Bears.
Favorite book: by Edwin Lefèvre.
Favorite movie: “Fried Green Tomatoes.”
What did you want to be when you grew up? Attorney.
Person I’d most like to have lunch with: Any of the titans of industry—J.P. Morgan, Rockefeller, Carnegie, or Walt Disney. The ability to create an industry is remarkable, and I would love to pick their brains.
Business philosophy: When there is an opportunity knocking, you have to answer!
Management method or style: Set the strategy and let my team implement. Trust, but verify!
Greatest challenge: Understanding Millennial workforce priorities.
How do others describe you? Driven, quick-witted, persuasive, loyal, and fair.
One thing I’m looking to do better: Work/life balance.
How I give my team room to innovate and experiment: We have very open dialogue about opportunities and current situations. I always try to pose things as a question to solicit their feedback.
How close are you to operations? Heavily involved day-to-day.
What are the two most important things you rely on from your franchisor? Innovation and brand name growth.
What I need from vendors: Communication and timelines.
Have you changed your marketing strategy in response to the economy? How? No, our first stretch has always been free, and we will continue that. However, during Covid self-care became very prevalent, so we have woven that into our messaging a bit more.
How is social media affecting your business? It is the largest producer of leads for us.
How do you hire and fire? I have invested in quite a few software options for hiring. When it comes to firing, I am of the three-strikes rule mindset. We warn, coach, counsel, and terminate on the third strike.
How do you train and retain? Create a great culture and a growth path for upward mobility.
How do you deal with problem employees? I always try to speak with them and find out where the breakdown is. I ask a lot of questions to find out if it can be fixed or how they want to fix it.
Fastest way into my doghouse: Not reading emails and not following directions!
How did Covid-19 affect your business? Rocked my world as it did for many. Some of my locations were closed for 4 weeks, some were closed from 6 to 8 eight weeks, depending on the municipality.
How have you responded? I definitely review leases differently and read the fine print about national disasters. I was very lucky—most of my landlords were great.
Annual revenue: $6 million to $7 million (est’d).
2023 goals: Increase profitability.
Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? Comp growth year over year for each location. I am always looking for double-digit growth.
Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years? My goal is 40 to 50 studios within the next 3 years.
Do you have brands in different segments? Why/why not? Not at this time. I am so homed in with Stretch Zone as an ambassador of the brand that I haven’t really thought about others.
How is the economy in your region(s) affecting you, your employees, your customers? Employees need to make more. Rents and wages are not keeping up with the price increases on my side.
Are you experiencing economic growth in your market? I have studios located mostly in Florida, with some in Texas and North Carolina. Those states are growing because they are very pro-business.
How do changes in the economy affect the way you do business? It makes me more conservative with cash.
How do you forecast for your business? Historical sales, marketing activities, and staffing are all part of the equation each month.
What are the best sources for capital expansion? I have been self-funded for a significant time, but recently started with Apple Pay to help me acquire more stores.
Experience with private equity, local banks, national banks, other institutions? Why/why not? Our model is not asset-intensive, so traditional banks are difficult. Traditional lending institutions want freezers, machines, pizza ovens, etc.
What are you doing to take care of your employees? Try to do fun team-building activities, recognition, and cover 75% of their health care.
How are you handling rising employee costs (payroll, minimum wage, healthcare, etc.)? I am changing my pay model to a higher salary and less commission-based. If I don’t make this change, I will not be able to attract top talent. Maintaining the quality of our service is crucial.
What laws and regulations are affecting your business, and how are you dealing with them? None at the moment.
How do you reward/recognize top-performing employees? Appreciation, brand swag, and money.
What kind of exit strategy do you have in place? I have built my management company to run each of my studios, so my goal is to sell all my studios with the management company in place. This turns it into a turnkey operation for an equity group later on. Also, my vision is to allow my regional team to take over the management company once I am no longer in a day-to-day role.
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