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How a Discovery Process Characterized by Due Diligence and Expert Leadership Provided a Roadmap to a Healthy Franchise Partnership

Franchisees Sunny Dharni Jr. and André DeSá signed on with two different fitness brands, but both enjoyed major gains leading up to positive discovery days.

By Katie LaTourStaff Writer
9:09AM 08/29/19

Today’s franchise candidate needs value and insight provided from the very first touchpoint with a brand to every touchpoint thereafter. Franchise leadership and development teams are working hard to ensure that discovery day provides exceptional value to qualified candidates—but a discovery day is only one piece of the candidate journey. 

Sunny Dharni Jr. is a franchise veteran who recently signed a 10-unit franchise deal in Sacramento, California with boxing heavyweight champion Floyd Mayweather’s brand, Mayweather Boxing + Fitness. In addition to the 10 Mayweather Boxing + Fitness units—the first of which is slated to open in Roseville in 2020—Dharni Jr. also operates seven franchised ARCO gas stations and several Quiznos and Togo’s franchise locations. André DeSá is a first-time franchisee with Anytime Fitness and looks forward to opening his first location in Ossining, New York on September 7. The two shared their insight on just what made their discovery journey positive—and how they felt validated in ultimately arriving at their respective franchise buy-ins.

Thorough preparation before discovery day—both on the part of the franchisee and franchisor

Although Dharni Jr. and DeSá had different professional backgrounds and prior franchising experience before signing on with their respective fitness brands, both knew the importance of exhaustive preparation and due diligence.

Although we have attended many discovery days—so we knew generally what to expect—we did our research on the brand and we had probably a dozen or more calls with the senior executive team to talk through the FDD and discuss our territory before ever attending [Mayweather’s Discovery Day],” said Dharni Jr.

For those franchisees going through their first discovery experience, Dharni Jr. said “I would properly vet the concept you are looking into prior to discovery day—get deep into the industry, the competitors, how they are similar and different from the concept you are looking at. Be ready to ask questions about what sets this particular concept apart.”  

According to the 10-unit franchisee, in addition to his own proactivity, Dharni Jr. said that Mayweather Fitness also demonstrated a commitment to preparation.

“The Mayweather team was very thorough in getting us prepared for a productive Discovery Day,” said Dharni Jr. This included numerous detailed phone calls with members of Mayweather’s senior leadership.

“You want to make sure you understand the business model of the franchise and also know that the franchisor is committed to the process—that they are willing to put the time into you, to educate you on the business and get to know you as an operator,” explained Dharni Jr. ”This will be a big indicator of what the franchisor is like to work with once you sign up. We were particularly impressed at the depth the Mayweather team went into [regarding] the business model prior to (and during) Discovery Day, which set the Discovery Day up to be even more productive.”

DeSá’s journey to Anytime Fitness is perhaps a best-in-class example of due diligence. After earning his marketing degree from Manhattan College and working in wholesale wine, olive oil and honey sales, DeSá wanted the consistency of a proven model with a community-serving offering. DeSá took a job in a New York-based sports club and soon noticed a disparity between memberships and locality; up to 70% of the gym membership was coming in from the neighboring town of Ossining. He began looking into franchising within the fitness sector.

“I was looking at more intimate options and looking for something more boutique-y when I eventually stumbled upon Anytime Fitness,” said DeSá. “I started to meet with [Vice President] Jim Runyon and [Franchise Development Manager] Bill Barnhart. I was looking at locations and demographics and based on the assets needed, I knew I was definitely a candidate.” DeSá added that the brand’s members-first focus particularly appealed to him for the very reason that he was hoping to fill a gap in the Ossining marketplace.

DeSá drove to neighboring states to connect with current franchisees and even indulged in what he characterized as a “Facebook stalking spree.” He located multi-unit franchisees within the Workout Anytime system and reached out to see if they “walked the walk.” Several of those connections turned into opportunities for continued education; one such franchisee with whom DeSá spoke saved him “potentially nine months of learning.”

“In a year or two I hope I can do that for the next guy and save him learning. You want to hear from people who’ve done it already when you’re entering the franchise world,” DeSá shared.

And after that?

The location opened up, the market needed it. There was no turning back,” said DeSá.

Meaningful human connection at every stage of the candidate journey 

Of DeSá’s experience interacting with the team at Anytime Fitness, he said it has been “nothing but positive.”

“Everyone is just amazing. I don’t know how they do it,” said DeSá. “To put it in perspective, there was a chance I would have gone in with that Dunkin’ franchisee in upstate New York. He was looking at a five-location expansion and was looking for me to be his partner. I had to ask if I really believed in the brand. I had to look at the big picture. [With Anytime Fitness], not only are we selling a service that’s needed, but I believe in this product so strongly.”

Dharni Jr. echoed DeSá’s emphasis on the importance of the people at the heart of the brand with which one signs on.

“When joining a franchise, you’re not just buying into the brand; you’re buying into the team that’s running the brand and supporting you,” said Dharni Jr. He explained that, more than at any other point in the discovery process, discovery day is the moment to “look under the hood of the business and really get a sense of what you’re buying into.”

“Nowadays, there are so many options when it comes to choosing a franchise brand,” said Dharni Jr. “With a good marketing team, many concepts can appear attractive and I think this is where some issues can happen—when people who are interested in franchising get into a business that was marketed well, but which might not have what’s needed to back it up.”

The alternative to overdressed-but-ultimately-shaky franchises? Those in which real relationships are key.

“The ones that really hit home are those that treat the prospective franchisees as humans and build meaningful connections with them, as opposed to those that look at [candidates] as just investors in their brand,” Dharni Jr. said. 

DeSá experienced that kind of franchisor care and attention for himself throughout the lead up to his Anytime Fitness Discovery Day. He worked with the executive team to find real estate and said that the team also helped him to hone in on demographics and provided market research. 

“We had a ton of phone calls and follow-ups, segmenting the market trends and looking in the future five years,” said DeSá. “It wasn’t like, ‘just go buy your place’ and that’s it; they really helped me.”

DeSá said his initial point of contact with Anytime Fitness was during the summer of 2017. It was another seven months before he signed on, but DeSá emphasized that he took the time in order to secure his ideal location.

I needed Ossining or I wasn’t going to do it. I wanted to start off strong and not forcefully open one in a location that didn’t need one,” said DeSá. “You don’t want to force one into a market that wasn’t ideal. I potentially will do another but I wanted to start in Ossining.”

And how much faith did he have that Anytime Fitness was the right fit throughout this transition phase?

“I signed my lease before I even signed the agreement,” said DeSá.

Now that’s a buy-in.

On discovery day, a transparent and knowledgeable executive team 

According to Dharni Jr., when discovery day does arrive, it’s important for franchisees to not only put their best foot forward, but to evaluate their prospective executive leadership as well.

“The Mayweather Discovery Day was one of the most thorough discovery days that we have attended,” said Dharni Jr. “Every member of the executive team was passionate and extremely knowledgeable in their respective positions. They spent the entire day going through the nuts and bolts of the business, making sure we understood exactly what it is like to be a Mayweather franchisee and being very open and transparent.”

Asked how this differed from previous discovery days held by other brands, Dharni Jr. was emphatic.

“Unlike other discovery days we’ve been to, not only did we get to visit the flagship store and meet the corporate and the studio-level team, but we also got to participate in a workout with real members and were encouraged to spend time with them afterwards to get their feedback,” Dharni Jr. said. “This was a big part in helping us understand the powerful community that is being built at Mayweather and it gave us an immediate connection to the brand.”

For Dharni Jr., there’s nothing more important than feeling validated in trusting the leadership’s acumen.

“[For the Mayweather team], it was not just about their business model, but about the fitness industry, their own experiences and case studies of what makes a gym business successful or not,” Dharni Jr. said. That passion and insight went a long way with the multi-unit franchisee—who, despite extensive franchising experience, was nevertheless new to the fitness industry. 

“Their insight was incredibly valuable to us,” said Dharni Jr. “To understand the growth in [the] fitness [industry], that a big part of it is focused around the group fitness sector and that the Mayweather team had a huge amount of experience, both building other major fitness brands and also some of them have been multi-unit franchisees themselves.”

And did Dharni Jr. feel that the summation of his discovery journey on Mayweather Boxing + Fitness’s Discovery Day was positive?

“Spending time with the team for the day—and seeing their passion and expertise—validated that this is the right franchise for us to take on as our next territory development project,” Dharni Jr. said. “[Their perspective] gave us confidence that they really know what they are talking about, that they have the right people on the team to help their franchisees succeed and that they genuinely are focused on franchisee support and success."