62 territories and counting; Anytime Fitness superstar shines

By Sarah Stowe | 08 Aug 2019 View comments

From western Sydney to the Philippines, Anytime Fitness and Xtend Barre franchisee Luke Guanlao is living proof that you can have it all.

“I knew early on the business was good; we sold 424 memberships and broke even on the first day.”

Luke Guanlao is a franchisee powerhouse. Today he is not just the proud owner of four Anytime Fitness gyms in western Sydney and the newly minted owner of Xtend Barre’s Lane Cove studio with four more in the pipeline. Luke is co-owner of an astonishing 62 Anytime Fitness territories with 30 clubs opened across the Philippines, Malaysia and Australia.

So how did this corporate lawyer shift his career focus to international small business ownership in the fitness field?

“At the time I was investing in property and had sold one with a big profit. I was looking for a passive investment that would give me an income while maintaining a full-time job.

“I first used a gym at law school. I loved everything about fitness. That passion continued on but I didn’t have a chance to blend it with my career.”

Getting started with Anytime Fitness

He came across Anytime Fitness and liked what he saw – the brand colour schemes and fitout, good quality equipment, a favourable franchise fee and a global reach.

Luke signed up to a brand new territory in Glendenning, western Sydney. It’s an area he knows well having spent his youth there and has family and friends in the local Filipino community.

“When I saw the first site, I knew the area. I understood the demographics and behaviours, which is particularly important if the business is a community focused model.”

The business got off to a blistering start, breaking even on day one. And Luke had showed his business smarts early on. Even though the business had been purchased as a passive investment, he wasn’t prepared to let someone else run it.

“I would finish my law work at 6.30pm and drive from the CBD to the gym and get involved. It felt like a six month MBA!” he joked.

Expanding the business

Luke bought a brand new site in Westfield Mount Druitt. Despite its poor socio-economic profile, the suburb has proved a good location: the outlet was last year ranked as 17th best performer in the Australian Anytime Fitness network; Glendenning came in the top 10.

It wasn’t long before Luke took stock of his business and realised he needed to step out of his full-time lawyer’s role if he was to drive the gym business to the next level.

“I was on a good salary as a lawyer, but this was crazy, it was producing five times that amount. I was hungry.”

Luke wanted to test his business mettle in a new market and the familiar territory of the Philippines made sense. Through Anytime Fitness head office he got in contact with the master franchisee who holds the rights to Asia.

“I just wanted to talk about purchasing a territory but he thought there were some collaboration opportunities.”

One dinner later and Luke had partnered with the Anytime Fitness master franchisee in Asia to take on franchise development and support.

“I joined the equivalent of CWG [Australian master franchisor with multiple fitness brands] in the Philippines,” he said.

The business snowballed. Luke attracted investors from among his friends, and spent 18 months with his young family in the Philippines running the clubs. With his partners he structured the model as a managed services business. They would invest cash to acquire a franchise and Luke would earn a sweat equity stake – his managed services company would be paid a management fee for running the club.

“That model with one investor now has 25 investors in my group. We collectively, co-own rights to 60 clubs, with 31 built, operational and fully under our management.”

The next move was to set up an identical model in Malaysia.

Diversifying brands

Back in Australia the ballet and Pilates-inspired Xtend Barre at Lane Cove is the latest business in Luke’s portfolio and there are another four to build.

“My understanding of the low-impact boutique space is it is a good place to be at the moment. I think it’s something up and coming in Australia; in the US, there are thousands of barre studios. CWG offer it as a franchise and I want to give this a go. I need to diversify into the next wave and do something fresh and new.”

This Australian multi-unit, multi-brand franchisee and CEO has his own in house lawyers, marketers, graphic designers, accountants, area business managers and and other back office staff. There are 60 staff across his Sydney, and Manila and Kuala Lumpur offices, and over 300 staff at club level (he has since bought Rooty Hill and Minchinbury territories).

Luke manages his businesses remotely and every four weeks travels to Asia.

And he somehow manages to fit in three children, aged five years, two years and nine months.

“They make everything I do a lot easier,” says Luke. “Being an entrepreneur is great – I can go to lunch, hang out with my kids, and when I travel I can I take them with me.”

Want to follow in Luke’s footsteps? Take a look at these great fitness franchise opportunities.