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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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