Back in the hot seat

By Sarah Stowe | 29 Oct 2015 View comments

The founder of Fernwood Women's Health Clubs, Diana Williams, is once again taking a full-time leadership role at the women's-only franchise, and is leading the company through a number of changes including a high energy revamp of the Clubs' weight loss program and a more relaxed approach to compliance.

Happy to take back the reins after a more absent role in which she explored other business avenues, Williams, who started the first Fernwood club in rural Victoria more than 20 years ago, is now managing director of the health club franchise.

She has witnessed an ongoing rebrand to a 'foxy' theme, which was ramped up over the autumn/winter season, and will see it continue across the business with areas such as the weight loss program still needing a revamp.

"The fresh new foxy branding has really reinvigorated our brand and has been well received by not only the public, but all staff and partners," she said.

And adding to the refocus, a new buzz word is zinging about the franchise: energy. It's typified by the zumba dance class. "It's a great class, freestyle dance to Latin American music; it's high energy and thoroughly enjoyable. It's really taken off."

The arena has been highly competitive, she admits. "Every brand needs to be invigorated. You can't just operate the same way for 20 years. This is the most dramatic change we've undergone, across so many areas. Changing the position of the brand is huge; the terminology, colours, look and feel.

"It's also the culture, this has an impact. It's a different mindset. We've always had a mindset totally focused on compliance and now we're focused on building the brand. In 12 months we probably will swing the pendulum but it can be stifling. We've had to relax compliance to get where we're going," Williams explains.

This has resulted in franchisees having a more influential role in building the future of the network, and has seen the creation of several franchisee panels that focus on developing areas of the business such as marketing and web strategy.

"Fernwood has always been about providing women with a comfortable and supportive environment in which to achieve their health and fitness goals, and in order to stay true to our company values, I felt it was important that our franchisees have an active role in continuing to drive the success of Fernwood into the future."