BUTTERFLY LIFE: Interview With Franchisee Matt Wilson
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After attending a well-orchestrated sales seminar, Atlanta-area franchise owner Matt Wilson and his wife joined Butterfly Life with the dream of being their own boss, helping women improve their health, and getting a good return on their investment. Once they opened their club, they claim they received no help or support in overcoming their branding and marketing challenges. Their club closed in less than a year.
UnhappyFranchisee.com asked Matt to share the lessons of his experience, and his advice for prospective franchise owners.
UF: Matt, what was your background prior to joining Butterfly Life? Did you have industry experience?
MATT: My wife, who owned and operated our BFL franchise, has in excess of 20 years experience in a variety of customer service positions including 10 years with a major cellular communications company. For several years prior to our investment in a BFL franchise she was the office manager for a successful salon. For myself, I have 20 years experience working in a variety of sales, marketing, educational, technical and business management roles. Neither of us had experience in the women’s fitness industry, however, my wife has been a patron of competing club’s and national diet programs having lost 40 lbs as a result.
UF: When did you decide to join Butterfly Life? Describe the process.
MATT: After attending a franchise seminar in August 2006 in Atlanta, GA, conducted by Taylor Golob, Cheryl Hoke and via video conference, Mark Golob. Around the time of the seminar we were actively investigating a Curves franchise and saw a BFL seminar commercial on television. That led us to check out the company web site and sign up for the seminar. Taylor and Cheryl put on a first class, well rehearsed and choreographed sales seminar. Towards the end they incorporated connecting to Mark Golob via video conference, who delivered a rehearsed speech underscoring the points made by Taylor and Cheryl. When all was said and done it appeared the investment was a low risk, high return venture. Especially given that Atlanta was a burgeoning market for the brand and BFL appeared committed to developing the market for the long run.
The appeal for us and we believe with many investors, was with the prospect of being able to help women improve their health while being your own boss. The bonus was there was what seemed to be a good return on the investment. Reality was much different.
UF: How was the company’s training and pre-opening support? Was it a positive experience?
MATT: The short answer is it served its purpose. That is it did a good job to reinforce the sales pitch we had bought into. It did little to prepare the new franchisee for what was in store. Training focused on sales and marketing your club and ways to increase membership, particularly prior to opening. Overall it was a positive experience and left us with the impression that corporate was there to help us in any way all we had to do was ask. That changed very shortly after our first royalty payment.
UF: What marketing and promotional guidance, programs & support were provided? Were they effective? Why or why not?
MATT: Beyond the training conducted at corporate there was a regular direct mail piece published to all clubs and little else. The materials provided by BFL were ineffective at best. Given my background with sales and marketing I conducted a detailed review of our marketplace, competitors, ads, programs and promotions. In one particular case, BFL ran a promotion of “no enrollment fee” and another with three months free. Competing clubs in the area had no enrollment fees, ever and were offering lower monthly rates and more months free. Maybe these were “new” concepts in California, but they were tired ones in Atlanta. As a result we developed marketing pieces that would fit our area better and attempted to have these approved by BFL corporate.
During University training at BFL they had told us getting our own marketing materials approved was not difficult as long as it maintained the brand image. Again reality was much different. BFL consistently stated their materials and programs were working everywhere, except for us, so we must be doing something wrong. They consequently never approved our materials so we were stuck with their tired pieces.
UF: How was your grand opening and your first year as a franchisee?
MATT: Grand opening and that month were great. Signed up 30 members and it looked like we were on our way. Member sales went down from there and the club didn’t last the year.
UF: Was the ongoing support what you expected?
MATT: No. We submitted reports to BFL corporate on a monthly basis reporting on our progress. Marketing efforts, promotions and more importantly new member sales. BFL receives this from all clubs. The fact our membership number were plummeting was in black and white. BFL informed us the clubs around us were doing great and they didn’t know what our problem was. Their district sales manager came to our club on two occasions in our early days of opening to fulfill the obligation of BFL to provide on site support for three days. While she talked a good game, we signed zero new members as a result of her “support”. Ten months after we closed our club, all Georgia clubs (6-8 at peak) are now closed.
UF: Have you tried to resolve your issues with the franchisor? What was the outcome?
MATT: Corporate was unresponsive to input regarding regional marketing programs or materials. Otherwise the “issue” with Butterfly Life was their complete failure to effectively build the brand and ensure the success of the franchise network. Resolving this seemed unlikely.
UF: How has your franchise investment decision affected your life? What is your current situation?
MATT: Strained marriage, emotional distress, depression and financial ruin to name a few. This single decision and the year and a half we were a part of it will take tenfold to recover from. Currently we are pursuing compensation from BFL through our support of the AAFD Butterfly Life Chapter and their arbitration case.
UF: Do you think that the franchise concept is viable? Under what conditions?
MATT: Yes, clearly there are some franchise concepts that are successful. The key is to have a franchisor that is genuinely committed to the success of the concept and franchise network. That requires more that a fancy web site and polished sales pitch. It requires focus on controlled growth and not losing sight of what got the brand to that point.
UF: What mistakes did you make? Looking back, what would you have done differently?
MATT: Not adequate research and due diligence investigating the company, executives and industry. We performed what we felt was a thorough look into the company and employed various business consultants to help guide us along the way, but that did not turn up anything overly alarming.
UF: What advice would you give to prospective franchise owners?
MATT: Do your due diligence on the franchisor and their management, if you see any red flags, dig deeper. Hire an attorney and use him/her on every decision, signature, document, contract and aspect of your start in the franchise world. Don’t give into the hype. If the opportunity really is as good as it sounds, it will still be there next week, month and year. If it isn’t, do you really want to get into it now? Some signs to look for: too fast growth, rapid expansion of area representative network and lots of new staff at corporate.
UF: Was there a positive aspect of your experience?
MATT: To be completely honest, I can’t think of one.
UF: Thanks for sharing your story, Matt.
MATT: Thank you.
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7 thoughts on “BUTTERFLY LIFE: Interview With Franchisee Matt Wilson”
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Matt – Your story sounds like the rest of us. You’re right, with monthly stats that we were all required to provide BFL, you would think that Mark Golob would have been aware of the problems. After all, he is the CEO! He should have taken the time and made the effort to assist the troubled clubs (most of them) as he “sincerely” promised in his seminars and at the university training. The concept is a good one, but I always believed that Golob would be the one, ironically, to bring it down. If people have the patience (it can be difficult to navigate) they can look at BFL’s history (google “CALEASI” and search Butterfly Fitness and read all their UFOC’s and Franchise Renewals) and do their own due diligence. I’m sure most people were never informed about the caleasi website. See the closure lists since 2003, but unfortunately, they don’t disclose the attrition rate of EACH club. ALL the clubs that closed, as far as our Butterfly Life Chapter of the AAFD can determine, are due to FAILURES……..but you won’t read that in BFL’s UFOC/FDD. We have asked the Federal Trade Commission to make this disclosure a regulation for all franchisors to provide in their UFOC/FDD. It would definitely protect potential franchisees and change the view of franchising. Their have been numerous closures since their last UFOC filing with the California Department of Corporations in Jan. 2008. What does that tell you?
It is difficult for anyone to keep up with the Club Closures within Butterfly Life
I counted 6 in a 30 day span in August 10-Sept 9. (1 Arkansas, 1 Calif, 1 Okla.
1 Texas & 2 Minn.)
I’ll be doing another count tonite. We keep promising a new closure list but they all need researched & just when we think we are done, more close. We are working on it this weekend & have a goal of publishing it here & Franchise Pick probably next week. Wish us luck!!
Matt, I’m sorry for your troubles. Hang in there
I really need some help. I have been sitting on the fence trying to see which way to go.
Well, now that my Equity Line of Credit is frozen, I can’t keep pouring $$$ into my club. (Maybe this is a good thing).
But I could make it, if I did not have to pay out the royalty fee every month.
I would appreciate some insight from someone.
Hello to all my fellow risk takers,
Matt, I can totally relate to your strained marriage, emotional distress and financial stress. We bought into the hype of a Denver based make-12-meals-in 2-hours type of business and it was such a mistake. Thank God we are young enough to recover from it.
On our Grand Opening day, we were told by our “supportive home office” that we had 120 days to change the flooring we had just paid for. They sent in auditors monthly who were like 16 year olds who had just been trained for their first job-rediculously looking for all “infractions”. They wouldn’t let us play the radio station we wanted to……every corporate meeting involved telling us about more money we had to spend or we’d be out of compliance…..and they made sure to reiterate that “they can take over the business if you are out of compliance 3 times”. The micro-management was painful.
When researching your franchise, be sure to ask franchisees “What do you hate about this business?” (Don’t just act all excited and only look for the fun aspects of the business.) You might get real answers from them-also, look for the ZOMBIE-LOOK in their eyes-I ignored this obvious clue from the other store owners I talked to and later, was told, “I didn’t tell you because you didn’t ask….you just seemed so excited, I didn’t want to ruin it for you…..” (Gee-thanks for helping me lose my life savings plus much more. on the second mortgage…)
In short, the experience was a nightmare of epic proportions. Keep your day job or buy an existing business with real numbers to back it up (as in tax returns). There is always someone willing to sell an exsisting business and always something new coming down the pike-We are usually looking to reinforce what we already think we know, instead of looking for real answers to real questions. Sadly, that is why there are so many unhappy franchisees.
You were in my BL University class. My advice is to dump the club or stop paying royalties and rebrand. Didn’t Aimee sell the club to you before she went to work at corporate? Was it a stinker when you bought it or did it begin to die sometime after?