During the 1990s, Chuck Runyon and Dave Mortensen crisscrossed the U.S. selling health club memberships on behalf of owners. Then they came up with the idea of slimmed-down gyms without costly features such as pools and racquetball courts. The result is Anytime Fitness, a franchise chain that gives its 2 million members round-the-clock access to its clubs via key fobs for as little as $29.99 a month. Rather than employ a 24/7 staff, the gyms rely on surveillance cameras, panic buttons, and automated defibrillators to inspire peace of mind. That could have violated laws in some states, an issue Runyon hadn’t anticipated.
—As told to Nick Leiber
When we came up with the concept, it was a new category in the fitness industry: There was no such thing as a nonstaffed club. By using technology, we dramatically minimized overhead taxes, utilities, rent, payroll. So-called industry experts said it would never work. They felt there was no way people would join if they didn’t get hands-on service with every single visit.
I remember meeting with one lawmaker and a whole bunch of aides in Harrisburg, Pa., the state’s capital. We’re talking about our business model and how it was a great opportunity to fix the trend of our unhealthy country. I end up asking them about their fitness facility on Capitol grounds. And, ironically, he says any of the lawmakers there can go to it, and it’s not staffed. I couldn’t help but find the humor in it—and it helped me make my case.
We’ve never had any major incidents in our 12 years. I think people love getting their own key and going anytime they want. I should mention that we’re not completely unstaffed; a franchise owner will likely work 30 to 50 hours a week, depending on the time of year. In January they’re going to work longer, and in the summer months less.
When we got started, probably the biggest challenge was the eight states that had laws in place before our business model existed that said you had to have someone on staff during business hours who was CPR-certified. We had to literally meet with state lawmakers to convince them to change it. You can imagine how reluctant they were.
By 2012 we had reversed the language in all the states. California, Illinois, and Pennsylvania were the three big ones that we really had to spend some time and money on. The others were not as bad because the language was a little more ambiguous, though it still took time.