“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you” – Core9’s mission for movement

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Inside Franchise Business: Core9 fitness founders Craig Arnold and Jason DolanFormer naval officer Jason Dolan moved on from his military life with a mission, to help people get fit and healthy.

“We sat down with a whiteboard, and wrote down every excuse for not to go the gym, and how to counteract it.”

Partnering him in this project is Craig Arnold, a professional athlete whose two brothers had served alongside Dolan in the defence force.

As highly motivated individuals themselves, the pair are addressing what prevents the great majority of Australians from going to a gym.

“The most famous, most popular, class is a spin class because they don’t have to think. They walk out feeling sweaty and that they’ve achieved something,” says Dolan. “People need to be taken through their paces. Everyone needs a coach.”

Arnold, who has worked as a consultant to elite sporting teams and training consultant and fitness advisor for the defence force, says, “We wanted to create something that was going to motivate people to exercise and stay healthy. Currently, 60–70 per cent of gym memberships are not being used.

“This can often be attributed to time restraints and lack of knowledge. At Core9 we have taken that out of the equation. It is short and effective and we make every minute count. If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”

The concept that moved off the whiteboard and on to a gym floor was based around a personal trainer not just on hand throughout the day keeping gym-goers accountable but driving the fitness sessions – without the accompanying high price.

Another major point of difference was the idea of a rolling class with a set workout, that takes just 31 minutes. Gym members start on one of four lanes in which sit a series of nine fitness stations.

“We can run 36 people at any one time, it starts every 3 minutes,” says Dolan.

Perfect for the time-poor, the classes incorporate gymnastics, kickboxing and military fitness techniques tailored to all fitness levels.

The clean and clear structure of the class is a by-product of military training. “If you look at a class and it looks all over the place, it is. I can’t train all over the shop. People don’t know where they’re going.

“As the client, you see the next exercise in front of you. It’s a metaphor for life. There are lots of little steps and an end goal in sight.”

Membership of the Core9 program is based on $49 a week for unlimited sessions and the gyms can typically accommodate up to 400 individuals.

Duty of care

Core9 serves a secondary purpose: to provide a career option for ex-military, former athletes and ex-emergency services personnel. There is a 30.2 per cent veteran unemployment rate despite their specialist training.

Dolan explains. “When I was in the military I was involved in the Special Forces, which we received a significant amount of specialty training for. However, once we leave, there are limited job opportunities for us as there is a lack of understanding about veteran skills.

“Each ADF member has about $2.5 million of training invested in them over seven years, but it often fails to translate into skills for jobs back in civilian society.”

Helping ex-defence personnel was a key inspiration for the pair to create Core9 and so when they appointed their first franchisee, it made sense to bring in a former navy recruit.

“I know Jason through work, I worked alongside him,” says Dan Swingler.

Six years in the Australian Navy gave him a sense of urgency, a willingness to learn and a strong work ethic.

“The reason I joined the navy was that everything was based around fitness. I’m so passionate about health and fitness so this is natural to me.”

Swingler says the lifestyle is far from glamorous, working early mornings and late nights, but there’s flexibility during the day to work on admin, and working Monday through to a half day on Saturday.

He was ready to take on something fresh after working as a personal trainer for a while, and set up in business with a partner who he knew from the gym.

“The business itself was lucrative, it was a new concept in the fitness market that is constantly developing and I could see has some longevity in it.”

It is the convenience and brevity of sessions that appeal to typical members, he believes. “They are everyday Joes, not athletes or weightlifters. They feel like they have to move for health.”

But it helps to have superfit figures such as emergency services workers taking on the mantle of local hero to inspire and encourage  gym members, says Dolan.

“They have to train at their peak and know what it’s like to be fit; if we can instil this in the suburbs as fitness leaders …”

Franchisors often cite ex-military and emergency services personnel as ideal franchisees because they can relate to the rules and regulations but still show initiative.

“What you find is you can adapt and overcome, and make things happen, work out how to fix things,” says Dolan.

He’s had to do that plenty of times in the past five years of business, he says.

“I’ve learned everything not to do. I opened up without a single member, didn’t know about pre-sales.”

Today Core9 has a new GM on board, a growth mode to take it from its seven operating gyms, and interest from overseas.

“The last club broke even within three months. We’re a start-up franchise and the brand is getting stronger,” Dolan says.

Sarah Stowe

Sarah Stowe heads up the editorial in the Inside Franchise Business group at Octomedia. Sarah is a hands-on editor who has worked in consumer and B2B titles in UK and Australia and she has been editor of the View More...
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