In recent weeks, I’ve been doing talks about questioning at various companies ranging across different industries— from high-tech startups to more established, traditional companies. It’s interesting to see how these different businesses view the issue of questioning as it relates to their particular challenges and circumstances. Case in point: Anytime Fitness, a rapidly-growing franchise of 24-hour fitness clubs.
I must admit, I was a little surprised when the health club chain invited me to speak at their annual convention in September (along with a lineup of great speakers, including business consultant/author Michael Port, alternative medicine guru Dr. Low Dog, and motivation expert Dr. Brian Little). I don’t necessarily associate health clubs with questioning—or with innovation, for that matter.
But of course, the reality is that any category of business can be reinvented if someone is willing to question the conventions of that business. That’s what Anytime Fitness co-founders Chuck Runyon (@ChuckRunyon) and Dave Mortensen (@) did back in 2002, when they started their business by opening a new club in Cambridge, Minnesota. Runyon and Mortensen had worked in the fitness club business for years, and observed that the industry seemed focused on creating expensive mega-clubs—whereas many consumers were much more interested in convenience and affordability than in large, flashy facilities.
As they set out to create a different kind of health club, Runyon and Mortensen zeroed in on a key question involving convenience:
Why can’t people work out anytime they want?
For busy working people, limited health club hours can make it harder to work out. Runyon and Mortensen envisioned a club that would solve that problem by remaining open 7 days a week/24 hours a day.
But that raised the question of, How do you make a 24/7 club workable and cost-efficient? Rather than paying for staff to be there ’round the clock, Runyon and Mortensen employed state-of-the-art security and surveillance technology so that the clubs could, in effect, run themselves at times. If you come to an Anytime Fitness club in the middle of the night, your pass key gets you in—but you might be the only person there. You can also use that same pass key to get into any of the chain’s clubs; there are now more than 2,500 of them, worldwide. Anytime Fitness has been growing so fast that it was recently ranked #1 on Entrepreneur magazine’s “Franchise 500” list.
As Runyon told the crowd of 2,000 at one point, “If all of us can ask the right questions, it can help lead our company to a better place.”
At the company’s September conference, one of the themes was that even with all of its recent success, the business and its franchisees must find ways to keep questioning and innovating, so as to maintain that growth and improve in areas that still need strengthening (e.g., building deeper customer relationships with club users). As Runyon told the crowd of 2,000 at one point, “If all of us can ask the right questions, it can help lead our company to a better place.”
In my talk to the group, one of the points I focused on was the role questioning can play in helping health club owners figure out what customers’ health challenges are and how best to address them. For example, I talked about using the “5 Whys” to drill down into finding out why someone may be having difficulty meeting their fitness goals. And for fun, I used myself as an example. I belong to an Anytime Fitness club myself, but I’m not exercising as much as I should. So let’s see what happened when I asked myself the 5 Whys about this problem.
I’m half-joking about the “money-grubbing” thing, but it is true that I’m very focused on work and productivity right now.
So, how might a fitness club manager/coach address that? What if they made a strong case to me that being healthy and in-shape might actually help me be more productive in my work (by giving me more energy)? Or, here’s another crazy “What if” question: What if the health club created an incentive to get me to go to the club more? What if they gave me and other new members a small monthly discount every time we hit a goal of coming to the club, say, 12 times in that month? That might help strengthen and reinforce my workout habit—which would probably keep me around as a club member longer. I have no idea if that proposal represents a viable, cost-effective answer—I’m just putting it out there as an interesting question.
Now that I’ve seen firsthand how interested Anytime Fitness is in using questioning in their business planning, I’ll be watching their trajectory with interest.