Interview with former Butterfly Life franchise owner Linda McBride
Butterfly Life is a women-only 30-minute workout franchise that claims to be a superior version of Curves (since they use weight-based, not hydraulic, equipment). In December, 2005, experienced business owner Linda McBride purchased an existing Butterfly Life franchise location in Woodland, CA. After struggling to achieve profitability for 20 months, she closed the club in August, 2007. In an interview with UnhappyFranchisee.com in August, 2008, she shared with us the lessons she learned from her experience, and offers her hard-learned due diligence tips for those considering franchise ownership.
UF: Linda, thanks for sharing your story with those who are looking to start their own businesses, and for offering advice based on the hard lessons you’ve learned. Tell me, why did you decide you decide to become a Butterfly Life franchise owner? Describe the process you went through to determine which franchise to buy.
Linda: My husband & I had run the pest company since 1990. I wanted a business that was more “me” . I Belonged to Curves loved the concept. The owner of the one I belonged to had 3 franchises and was doing well at all of them averaging 500 members each. I researched many franchises but liked the concept of classes all day that Butterfly Life offered.
UF: How did you first learn about Butterfly Life?
Linda: I saw a banner ad online. I clicked on it and filled out a form online requesting more information. Janet Lossick contacted me by phone. I have my original notes and one of the first things I wrote is Mark Mastroff as director.
UF: How did you first hear about your specific franchise? What attracted you to the company?
Linda: I researched many franchises but liked the concept of classes all day that Butterfly Life offered. I also liked the fact that they used weight based equipment. The idea of helping women get healthy was what most appealed to me.
UF: Describe the company’s sales process and your interaction prior to becoming a franchisee.
Linda: Janet invited me to meet her at a franchise closest to me. I visited the club
UF: You ended up purchasing an existing club?
Linda: Yes, I purchased a club that had been opened 12 months. I was the second owner of the club – the first claimed bankruptcy after 12 month. However, I thought with the marketing and support that was promised, this could be a successful club.
UF: What marketing and promotional guidance, programs & support were provided? Were they effective?
Linda: No. We were told to pay to have the postcards mailed out each month which cost $1500 to $1800/mo. The best return I ever received from this 8 new members.
I did not receive any of the Branding or advertising I was promised. All advertising was up to me. No other clubs were in my area. Mark Golob said “Don’t quote me on this but you aren’t going to want to miss the wave that is created when BFL is featured regularly on the Oprah timeslot and the rush of women clamoring to join your club. We will be offering the nutritional aspects on the show and your club is the exercise & motivation portion of the concept.”
Virtually nothing that was promised branding wise ever materialized.
UF: Was the ongoing support what you expected? Why or why not?
Linda: At first it seemed helpful but later it was simply the same old thing every time. When I complained about membership being a problem, I was told I was the only one having the problem. They didn’t want the franchisee’s talking to each other but eventually I did start calling other clubs only to find out my problems were their problems my complaints were their complaints.
UF: Were the positive aspects of your experience?
Linda: I had the greatest members on the planet. I had so many ladies getting healthier. It was a great place for the ladies to let their hair down, get exercise and have a good time!
UF: When did things start to go wrong?
Linda: Eventually no one at the corporate office answered the phone when you called. They just left calls go to voice mail. About half the time a call might be returned, the other half, nothing. District managers would tell me I was the only one having these problems
UF: What single factor contributed most to making you an unhappy franchisee?
Linda: Not receiving the support I was promised.
My District Managers (or D.M.) Janet was to spend full 8 hr days with me I was lucky to get her for 3-4 hrs. I got excuses – I had to go to corporate for a couple hrs first, I had to stop at another club first, I was behind an accident, traffic was at a stand still. Then after a visit she’d say I’ll put you together
A game plan and I can honestly say I never got one! The 2nd D.M. assigned to me did spend
more time and give me a game plan but it was too little too late.
UF: Have you tried to resolve your issues with the franchisor?
Linda: I told them I could not afford to stay open and I was told that if I closed I would be sued for monthly franchise fees and my landlord would sue me for the balance of my lease so I should stay open.
UF: What was the outcome?
Linda: As I mentioned, I was the second owner of the club – the first claimed bankruptcy after 12 month. I closed the doors after 20 months to save another person the pain. We’re currently in the process of filing for bankruptcy
UF: What would you like to see happen at this point?
Linda: I think BFL owes all franchisee’s restitution for the lies and misrepresentation.
UF: Do you think that the franchise concept itself is viable?
Linda: Possibly. Under different management at the top of corporate.
UF: What was the biggest mistake did you make?
Linda: Trusting Mark Golob and Tom Gergley was the biggest mistake I made. Looking back, I should have gotten all their “promises” in writing.
UF: How has your franchise investment decision affected your life?
Linda: I’m bankrupt and don’t see how I can ever recover the money before retirement.
UF: What advice would you give to prospective franchise owners?
Linda: Research research research. Call every franchisee you can find a phone number for. What questions should they ask? How far are you from profitability? Are you on on track for the goals you set? Are the people at corporate office helpful and supportive? Do they brand the name or is it up to you?
Visit similar businesses in your area or in a neighboring town ask them questions – offer to take them to lunch to talk.
UF: What warning signs should they look for?
Linda: Big promises in the presentation and meeting at corporate that aren’t in writing.
UF: Thanks very much for sharing your story and advice, Linda.