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A new frontier in fitness

Aug 02 2018 09:57
Glenneis Kriel

Bertus Albertse, founder and CEO of Body20. (Image supplied.)

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Holistic fitness company Body20 started out in Bertus Albertse’s braaikamer in 2013. 

Since then it has spiralled into a major franchising business with almost 40 outlets in South Africa, three outlets in Namibia and three – soon to be four – in the US.

In 2017, the company won the Newcomer of the Year, and in 2018, the Franchisee of the Year Award in the Franchise Association of South Africa’s Awards for Excellence in Franchising. 

Albertse talked to finweek about his journey to success.

When did you start Body20?

I started Body20 in 2013 after being exposed to training technology at a fitness expo. 

As a competitive body builder, who had won the SA junior title and competed internationally, I had heard about the technology before but failed to take action because it sounded too good to be true. 

Doing my first full-body trial session at the expo, however, was a real lightbulb moment. I realised the technology had the potential to disrupt the future of fitness as we know it. 

Ten to 20 years from now, technological advancements like this will make it hard to believe that there was a time when people used to spend hours doing (sometimes) extremely damaging and ineffective conventional exercises in an attempt to stay in shape.  

Body20 electro muscle stimulus (EMS) training is revolutionising the fitness industry by making it easier for people who were previously too busy or lazy to get into shape and by allowing athletes, such as cyclists, mountain bikers, trail runners, rugby players, tennis players etc., to spend more time enjoying their physical activities, instead of spending hours on strengthening and conditioning exercises in a gym.   

How does your technology differ from electro muscle stimulation belts already available, and the technology people rented out from their homes that supposedly helped to reduce cellulite and improve muscle tone?

The EMS technology principle is not a new concept. It was discovered in the 18th century by Italian physician Luigi Galvani, when he noticed a frog reacting with a muscle spasm after being exposed to an electric charge. 

Like all other technologies, EMS has been greatly advanced over the past decade, resulting in much greater fitness results than was previously imaginable. 

The new generation EMS technology was developed in Germany in 2007 and drove the development of many eastern European manufacturers, turning the EMS training industry into the fastest-growing fitness movement globally.

How do you use the device?

The EMS training device is attached to an electrode jacket, which participants wear while taking part in a 20-minute strenuous training session. 

The device triggers eight major skeletal muscle groups by simultaneously generating action potentials through the electrode pads in the suit.

This means the device creates contractions that are no different from those produced during resistance training, such as weight lifting or doing press-ups.

However, instead of targeting and isolating only some muscles, while doing these exercises you are getting a full-body workout.  

What did you do before you started Body20?

I grew up in a relatively poor household. We sometimes had to sleep in cars and at times moved between friends’ and families’ houses for shelter, until my mother married my stepfather. 

At school, I excelled in academics and sport, but didn’t really know what I wanted to do after school. 

My mother encouraged me to study medicine, so I enrolled in a bachelors of science at Stellenbosch University. 

I thrived in the course, but everything came to a standstill during my third year when my then girlfriend fell pregnant. 

While at university, I used to work part-time in sales, selling supplements in the university’s local pharmacy, but because of my new instant family I had to find something more lucrative. 

The problem was that I wouldn’t have had great career prospects with only a bachelor’s in science, and the prospects were even worse being a dropout.

I realised the best thing I could do was to start my own business. 

Tell us about your other business ventures?

While selling supplements at the pharmacy, two of my friends were doing the same. 

In 2009, we started our own supplement company, Stellenbosch Nutrition. 

Our backgrounds in science and medicine, passion for people and the huge network we developed while working at the local pharmacy, allowed us to supply a value-added service where we could give customer-tailored advice. 

We each invested about R20 000 in the start-up. 

The company at one point had 11 outlets in different parts of the country. We even developed our own in-house supplement range. 

The market, however, became very saturated around 2012 when big-box pharmacies like Dis-Chem started selling supplements at highly competitive prices, which hurt independent retailers. 

We offered a better service than these companies, but couldn’t compete with their prices due to their economies of scale.  

I left the company when I realised I would forever only be self-employed there. I wanted to be a business owner, where I would generate scale and profits from the value I created. 

One of the mistakes we made was that the other outlets were not run as a proper franchise system, so I basically left with little more than nothing.

Where did you get funding to start Body20?

While at varsity, the father of one of my friends suggested I save money each month in an investment fund, so I used that money to buy the first generation EMS training device. 

It cost around R220 000 – at the time my wife joked that it was one of the most expensive fitness toys I’ve ever bought. It turned into one of my greatest investments yet.

How have you been marketing the company?

I’ve focused on developing a brand with a story that everyone can relate to. People prefer buying from someone who is passionate about his products and services, and who lives the benefits of using them. 

I am ideal for this because of my background and the fact that I am passionate about serving people. 

These days, you are not going to get very far by merely selling the benefits of a product or by using sales and discounts to gain a market advantage. 

What was Body20’s biggest break?

My initial idea was to simply share the training experience with others. So I cleared out my braaikamer and had one client at a time using the EMS training device while working out. 

After a month’s worth of training, towards the end of 2013, one client suggested I use his unoccupied office space in Brackenfell to add scale to the business. 

This was the birth of the very first Body20 Studio, which still stands proudly today.

Within a few months some of the clients were so impressed with the results they achieved with the workouts that they asked me to turn the business into a franchise – something I never considered before, but it made business sense. 

The majority of our franchise owners used to be members of one of our studios at some point. 

How has the business changed since turning it into a franchise?

Developing a franchise is much more than a mere extension of your initial business. Where you previously had to focus on running a studio, you now have to focus on the unique challenges faced by all the franchise owners. 

For the business to succeed, you as a business owner have to give direction and support and they have to stick to rules and standards to the advantage of the whole group. 

This was all new territory to me, but I have been reading various books to empower me, such as Robert Kyosaki’s Rich dad, Poor dad, Simon Sinek’s Start with Why and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. 

I have also been fortunate to learn a lot from some of my network partners.

As the owner of the franchise, you become something of a juggler. 

You need to identify which balls are heavy and potentially destructive; which balls are important and should never be dropped; and which balls are not that important so it won’t have such a decimating impact on your business when they fall. 

There will be times when you will drop some of these balls, so make sure you keep the right ones in the air. 

Prioritisation and strategy is extremely important in this game.

How does the Body20 franchise setup work?

Your own Body20 Studio can start from R750?000 upwards to R1.4m, depending on the specific area demographics and the owner’s financial and operational capacity. 

We receive about three franchise interests each day, but we only qualify an average of one to two per month, which we thoroughly screen before approving ownership. 

I would rather work with a few franchise owners who own many outlets than many franchise owners with each only having one outlet. 

The success of the partnerships is extremely important for the business as a whole, so we have developed criteria to judge the suitability of a potential network partner. 

We help them draw up a business plan and also offer ongoing support during the franchise period. 

It’s important that the prospective owner shares the culture and vision of the group as a whole to prevent people from pulling into different directions, which could damage the brand.

The contract is valid for five years, after which it can be renewed for another five years. 

We might decline the second extension of the franchise agreement if the studio owner failed to meet certain obligations or underperformed in the business, but the likelihood of this is low since we would first try and address the issues at hand. 

What do you do to ensure the sustainability of the company?

Constant business development is needed to remain ahead of the game. 

So far, we have done this by offering a holistic and technology driven service; members are not only taking part in a workout, we also do ongoing body assessments using advanced technology to identify their problem areas and adjust the workout accordingly to improve on these areas. 

In addition, clients have access to nutritionists. 

The business is not about fitness technology, but rather about serving people. 

As a business owner you need to focus on the right things that help you grow your business, that is why I believe that sales is the majority shareholder of your business. If you get this wrong, you will fail.

What are your plans for the next five years?

I’d like to expand our footprint in Southern Africa and the US, preferably by empowering existing franchise owners to develop multiple outlets. 

Growing the company is not that difficult as the product sells itself. Raising capital for expansions is, though, because of our rigid banking systems.

Besides that, I have acquired small stakes in other business ventures, such as the Footy’s Future Drinks, Organized Pixels, FranchiseMe and Rabbit and Fox. 

Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? 

I believe in the saying that the rabbit will always outrun the fox, because while the fox runs for its lunch, the rabbit runs for its life. 

The same with entrepreneurs; like a rabbit, they are forced to come up with creative solutions and continuously reinvent themselves to survive, whereas salary drawers, like a fox, merely have to do the same thing each day to get their wage. 

The hardships, set-backs and failures I have endured during my life have made me who I am today and provided me with valuable experience that empowers me to make better decisions and, in effect, makes me a more successful entrepreneur. 
 
This article originally appeared in the 2 August edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here or subscribe to our newsletter here.

fitness  |  health  |  entrepreneur
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