Bringing a celebrity into your franchise is not always an instant winner.
By Chef Robert Irvine
Where does an iconic fitness brand find a celebrity chef who wants to become a franchise partner? It’s no big secret. They find each other… at the gym. That’s how it happened in my case, anyway.
As an avid fitness enthusiast, and a regular at Gold’s Gym for many years, I felt right at home at my local gym. But I’m also an active traveler with business obligations around the world. That means I’ve seen firsthand the power of the brand at location after location. In short, I’ve seen the power of a global franchise. So, when it came time for me to seek new investment opportunities, it made sense to align my personal passion with a brand I knew so well.
“The franchisor-celebrity partnership is not an instant recipe for success.”
Watching Gold’s Gym grow exponentially over 50-plus years (now with more than 700 locations in 28 countries) presented an attractive opportunity to invest in becoming a franchisee. As I began studying the franchise business model and the company’s overall commitment to help people achieve their potential through fitness, it made it easy to move forward.
A winning recipe
Of course, it’s an old business story:the customer liked the business so much, he opened one. A good franchisor wants devoted franchisees. But in the case of celebrities, they often have the financial ability to make an investment in a franchise that not all existing customers can bring to the table. In addition, they can bring an uncharacteristically large built-in audience to the equation. That creates an outstanding opportunity to take that relationship to the next level when a natural connection has already been made.
From the outside, the addition of such a celebrity would seem to be a win for both the franchisee and franchisor. That hasn’t always been the case, however. The franchisor-celebrity partnership is not an instant recipe for success.
“It’s important that a celebrity understands the business and is not just a face to lend to a business.”
Franchisors must carefully evaluate these prospects with that fame factor in mind. Based on my experience, here are four ingredients that I believe are critical for such a relationship to work.
1). They must know the business. It’s important that a celebrity understands the business and is not just a face to lend to a business he doesn’t even frequent. That transparency is immediate in what the person says and does for a brand. And it makes the decision to invest in a franchise opportunity, for lack of a better word, believable. Hypothetically speaking, an international fitness franchise wouldn’t have a lot to gain with a celebrity franchisee who didn’t value exercise, no matter the person’s popularity. If he’s a fan of fitness and nutrition, however, the connection makes real sense.
2). They should be involved. If the celebrity wants to do the talking with his wallet and live completely behind the scenes, consider if the association with the name alone provides enough value. The real benefit comes when the celebrity wants to be a true ambassador for the brand and live and breathe the business, not just for the local community of his or her locations, but even for the brand at-large.
3). Understand the potential impact of the celebrity’s social media platforms. Celebrities most likely will bring a wider audience to a brand and its message. In fact, celebrities could have more social media followers than the franchise itself. While there is a responsibility to the franchise agreement signed, the celebrity also is promoting his personal brand and what is said or done for a franchise can have massive implications. That is true for any franchisee, famous or not, of course, but it’s magnified if a high-profile franchise owner has thousands or even millions of people watching. It is important to set guidelines from the start on how both parties will promote their relationship.
4). Respect the limits of celebrity involvement. Having the financial ability to invest in a franchise, and even the passion for the product or service that a franchise offers, does not mean a celebrity has the expertise to operate it alone. Plus, many celebrities don’t live the “nine-to-five” life in one city year-round. That creates the need to involve the right business partners to fulfill the objectives of one or more franchise locations. While the attraction to welcoming a well-known persona to a brand has its benefits, franchisors still need to know, “Who’s going to mind the store while you are off being a celebrity?”
I have put these ingredients to work in my own recipe as a franchise owner. Today, my passion for franchising is stronger than ever. I have an experienced franchise business partner who shares my goals. And I now support an iconic brand as more than a customer that makes great sense for the community, my personal lifestyle and the global network I have joined.
Robert Irvine is a celebrity chef, restauranteur, author and national TV personality who has appeared on and hosted several shows on Food Network. He is co-owner of the Gold’s Gym franchise in Largo, Fla. Find out more about Gold’s Gym at www.franchise.org/golds-gym-franchise.