Chris Paris worked in direct mail for more than two decades before he opened his first Anytime Fitness club. Now, just six years after leaving his old career, Paris owns three of the top performing clubs in the entire Anytime Fitness system, which includes more than 4,000 gyms across the globe.
Paris started in direct mail right after college, joining the business when the industry was still at the center of many business’ marketing strategies. Two decades later, the industry was shrinking, but Paris had reached a high-level position at a company that was still mailing roughly 6 million ads per day.
It was stressful. Paris says his phone never stopped ringing, his relationships at home were suffering and even his body was feeling rundown. In 2010, as the Great Recession continued to take a particularly heavy toll on the direct mail industry Paris suffered a shoulder injury and had to leave work for surgery. When he returned, he was told he was no longer needed and was offered a less-than-generous severance package.
“After 25 years, that was it,” he said. “They laid me off with a minuscule severance package.”
Despite that bitter experience, Paris set out looking for another job in direct mail. After six months without any luck, he decided to rethink his career.
“The industry was shrinking, so rather than try to get back into the same thing I’d been doing, I decided to look at my situation as an opportunity to do something for myself; I decided it was time to create my own job,” he said.
Paris started by looking at what he knew. The only job outside of direct mail he’d had in the past two decades was as a martial arts teacher. So, he considered getting back into that, but the prospect of working with children full-time was daunting.
“In martial arts, you have to teach kids if you want to make a living, and I don’t think I have the patience for that,” he said.
While Paris was considering other options, he went down to Florida to visit a friend. It was there that the operational benefits of a 24-hour gym first occurred to him.
“I needed to get to a gym, so my friend gave me his keys to a small 24-hour gym in the area,” he said. “I went down there, and I was looking around at the space. I realized it couldn’t be too difficult to run, and I knew that they must make some money.”
Paris began looking into all of the major gym brands. As he weighed the pros and cons of each, one hurdle consistently appeared.
“For most of the brands, the cost of entry was a major downside,” he said. “But Anytime Fitness had a much more reasonable cost of entry.”
There were other things he liked about the brand on first blush as well, including an operational flexibility that allowed owners more freedom to select and arrange their equipment than he saw with other gym brands.
Paris says he had a good feeling about Anytime Fitness, so he spoke to the brand’s development team, who put him in touch with some existing franchisees so he could learn more about the experience of ownership.
“I liked everything I heard from the existing owners,” he said. “They confirmed everything I thought about the business, and they had great operations going. After talking to them, I was in.”
Paris purchased his first Anytime Fitness gym in 2011 and opened in 2012. Six years later, that gym is within the top three percent of the brand’s entire franchise system. Paris’s second club that opened just three years ago is within the top 10 percent.
Last year, Paris purchased his third club, taking over an existing location that had been around for nine years. In less than a year, Paris increased membership for that club by roughly 150 members, and he’s building a new facility that the club will move to within the coming months.
Paris attributes his continuing success with the brand to a close following of the operational model.
“I’m a pretty driven guy, but it mostly comes down to the playbook,” he said. If you run the playbook, I don’t know how you could not be successful. The clubs I’ve seen that aren’t growing like mine typically have owners who aren’t personally involved; they just own the gym and let a manager run it. I’m in at least one of my clubs every day.”
Paris’s clubs also benefit from strong staffing, something he prioritizes explicitly in his operations.
“The way I think of my staff is like, for lack of a better term, bartenders,” he said. “People return time and again to the bar they like because the bartender is friendly and reliable. We want our staff to be outgoing and personal, and we want them to build relationships with our clients. We’ll even have our trainers reach out to folks who haven’t been around in a while, and that really does bring people back. You’ve got to hire the right people if you want to be successful, and I think we’ve done a very good job of that.”
Paris has also been well assisted by Anytime Fitness’s support team, which he says has been crucial to the health and growth of his business.
“The support staff has been great,” he said. “I had never owned my business before joining Anytime Fitness, but they have business coaches who make sure I know everything I need to know. Any issue I run into, or anything I need, there’s always someone I can get in touch with. I’ve never felt like I’m running this thing on my own.”
As Paris scales up his third Anytime Fitness club, he says he doesn’t have any plans to slow the growth of his business anytime soon.
“Part of our success has been focusing on where we’re excelling,” he said. “With any business, there are going to be frustrations that pop up from day to day, but we never dwell on those things, we’re always looking forward. This has been a great experience, and I’m excited to keep moving forward."