Fitness Together franchisee Rick Coe explains how a passion for serving his country helped fuel his success as an entrepreneur.
1851: Why did you decide to join the military?
Rick Coe, Fitness Together Franchisee and U.S. Army Veteran: When I was 13, I decided that I wanted to serve my country and join the Army. So, I set up my middle and high school years to get into West Point. That was my goal when I was a kid, and I made it happen. I served in the Army for six years as an Armor Officer before serving in the reserves. After leaving the Army as a Major, I opened my first franchise location.
1851: What was the most valuable thing your military experience taught you?
Coe: One of the reasons why I joined the Army is that I’m people focused. In the Army, I enjoyed working with teams and groups of people. And now, I’m a coach and mentor to the people who work for me. It was natural for me to join Fitness Together as a franchisee because it continued on that same path. I did things between being in the Army and joining the Fitness Together team, but I found my final home with Fitness Together. And what I learned in the Army about enjoying working with people — that’s why I’ve stuck with fitness for so long.
1851: How did your military service prepare you for franchising?
Coe: I think a lot of people who haven’t spent time in the military and only have exposure through films or stories from family members or friends think that the military is a lockstep organization. But it really isn’t — the Army especially has a lot of decentralized authority, and it expects a lot of maturity and decision making on lower levels. That’s critical for being an entrepreneur in general, whether you’re a franchise owner or you break own to start your own company. You need to be a critical thinker and problem solver, and have a belief in yourself. All of those things, I took out of my Army experience. I also had a lot of responsibility at a young age, which I also took into business ownership.
1851: What is it about Fitness Together that attracted you to the brand?
Coe: I was in my third corporate job post leaving the Army, and people usually say that it takes you three to four jobs once you leave the Army to find a place to settle down. I worked for a couple of tech companies, and I worked for a home improvement company in a corporate leadership role. But I was really dissatisfied. The corporate world didn’t have a clear career path laid out in front of me like I was used to in the Army. I had an idea of what my career could look like, and it was light years ahead of what you’d find in a corporate setting.
Really, since college, I had told my family that one of these days I would own my own gym. I’ve had that entrepreneurial bug for a long time. One day in Louisville, I was at the airport coming back from a job interview and my father mentioned to me that a family friend had a son working in the gym business. But he told me it wasn’t like a regular gym, it was different and he was having fun doing it. So, I decided to check it out. I landed back at Reagan National Airport, picked up the phone and visited a studio on the way home. In fact, I met with another owner in Bethesda, Maryland which is a gym that I now own. I stayed there for about two hours, and I walked out of there having talked to the owner and manager, and I got a sense for what it means to be a trainer as a profession as well as how to run a business for yourself, personally. That’s the moment where I said, “Yeah, I think I can do this.” I explored the opportunity more thoroughly, and then six to eight weeks later in 2006 I signed my franchise agreement.
I’ve been with Fitness Together for 12 years now. After I opened my first location in 2007, I bought the Bethesda location in 2008 and ran two territories for the first couple years of the recession. Then, I opened a third one. At one point, I decided to cut back down to two, and I recently sold one location leaving me with one. However, my now wife owns another location in Rhode Island, and I just committed with the franchise to own three Elements Therapeutic Massage Studios. I’m going to continue to grow with our family business with the wellness brands. There are ups and downs, but there are more positives than negatives. It’s a great company with great franchisees to work with. In two years, I’ll have four franchise locations.
1851: What advice would you give to veterans who are looking to get into franchising?
Coe: I think for me, franchising was really a no-brainer. First and foremost, when I relocated to Maryland, it wasn’t my natural networking hub. I didn’t grow up here. So, even though I decided that I was really passionate about fitness and that I wanted to open up a gym, going it alone sounded like it would be a dying process. No one knows who Rick is — I didn’t have any credibility to open my own gym. But buying into a franchise — a solid brand with a name behind it — makes it a value proposition to consumers right off the bat. And, I could invest in Fitness Together at an affordable rate.
Franchise systems also have a greater likelihood of success than a personal brand. At the time I invested, I was married with three young kids, and I didn’t have time to wait and see what happened. I needed positive cash flow in a quicker manner. Fitness Together allowed that to happen. By leveraging their system and years of experience, I knew I could be profitable more quickly.
But with all of that being said, the thing that really got me to sign the dotted line and commit with Fitness Together over other concepts was the people. I knew from being in the Army that I like to coach, mentor and train clients — it’s a good thing for me. Even though I’m a part of a franchise system, my own success is dependent on how much work I put in. I get a direct return back, which is the benefit of working for yourself. But at the same time, I’m not on an island. Peers reach out to ask for advice, and we all share trade secrets and best practices.