As with many franchise brands over the past two years, there’s been a cultural shift recognizing the importance of more representation of people of color in ownership. Self Esteem Brands is no exception to the rule.
You may not be familiar with the name Self Esteem Brands, but you’re sure to know Anytime Fitness, its first brand and one of the largest fitness brands in the world. Self Esteem Brands has four brands in its development portfolio, including Waxing the City, Basecamp Fitness, and The Bar Method.
BLACK ENTERPRISE spoke with Tony Nicholson, vice president of Sales at Self Esteem Brands, to learn more about what the company has done and is planning to do to make this important change.
What was your path to becoming a vice president at Self Esteem Brands?
My wife and I purchased our first Anytime Fitness franchise 18 years ago. The brand grew rapidly, then Roark Capital took a stake in the company, and we created Self Esteem Brands. I joined the corporate team 13 years ago as a director of technology and transitioned into sales and leadership a few years later.
Why did Self Esteem Brands decide to implement diversity, equity, and inclusion programs?
Self Esteem Brands is headquartered in Woodbury, Minnesota. After the killing of George Floyd in our backyard, it was a watershed moment for the company. We knew we had to identify opportunities to get more involved. We decided to focus on the areas we felt we could make a real impact—community, marketing, and increasing the diversity of our owners. While all of that sounded good, we didn’t really have a clear idea of what that meant. Rather than reinvent the wheel, we decided to tap into what other franchise brands were doing as our baseline. With those learnings, we made the decision to focus on increasing African American, Hispanic, and Native American ownership. After defining our focus, we gathered information on our current position. We surveyed and spoke with over 80% of our franchisees and learned that only 5%-6% identified as BIPOC.
Our goal is to increase those numbers. We haven’t yet defined what the right number should be, but we certainly know there is room for improvement. As I mentioned, we started down this path two years ago, creating this new diversity council in reaction to George Floyd. There have been challenges and growing pains, and we needed time to put people in place to get things going. Recently, we’ve partnered with The J3 Collaboration Project, which has the sole mission of increasing diversity in franchising.
While I understand that these initiatives are still being decided, can you elaborate more on where you’re headed?
Sure. Partnering with J3 will help us with two of our goals — connecting with diverse groups and community engagement. They are going to be helping us recruit BIPOC franchise candidates and help carve out a platform for exposure to diverse groups. This includes HBCUs, funding resources, real estate, and trade shows. This is a good start, and we want to do it the right way. It can’t be just about discounting franchise fees; we want to create a program that is intentional and purposeful. The last thing we want is for this to ‘die on the vine.’ This will become part of the fabric of Self Esteem Brands long term. We are currently exploring pilot programs with some funding partners that will allow us to raise funds to bridge the known gap that BIPOC communities have when it comes to franchise ownership. We want to lean on our partners to get involved financially. Some ideas are to discount franchise fees for the diversity list we established and possibly offer “path to ownership” programs for candidates that fit the criteria and would be a good cultural fit with our brand. This will help connect the dots for potential owners.
Why is Self Esteem Brands a good fit for Black entrepreneurs looking to enter franchising?
Our brands are very much about creating a legacy through business ownership, passing the business and finances on to the next generation. This is an excellent opportunity for BIPOC entrepreneurs to create this legacy. Self Esteem Brands is a good fit for everyone because it has such a successful track record. Our shift now is to start actively recruiting diverse owners. We want them to feel welcome and excited. Our mission statement is to improve the self-esteem of the world. We approach the business with people, purpose, profits, play. All of those “p’s” need to be more represented in BIPOC communities. We like to have fun, and our business is extremely turn-key, which is great for our owners because we help them plan out how to be successful.
Our brand positioning, particularly for Anytime Fitness, is that we’re not the lowest fitness membership brand, nor the highest. We are affordable for 85% of the population. We cast a wide net but have learned that we need to do a better job on our marketing to attract BIPOC communities. Going forward, we will be creating content to attract more BIPOC, women, people with disabilities, etc.
Anytime Fitness is your most highly recognized brand for Self Esteem Brands. Can you share a little more about your emerging brands?
Yes! Basecamp is one of our newer brands in the Self Esteem Brands portfolio. It’s one of the fastest-growing brands competing in the group fitness space. It has an urban play, and we’ve recruited professional football players to help develop the brand in the West.
Our brand Waxing the City, is also growing rapidly. Since COVID, personal care services have been in high demand. Waxing the City has historically catered to women from suburban and urban markets with higher-than-average annual incomes. However, we are looking to recruit more men and BIPOC. We have developed a process for sensitive skin that works extremely well for black and brown skin.