It’s been said that whenever a door closes in life, a window opens. And for Mark and Suzi Balk, that window opened up into an unexpected opportunity for business ownership.
The couple’s entrepreneurial journey started in 2009, when Mark got laid off from his job in the construction industry. Unsure of his next steps, Mark – a second degree black belt in karate – took on a job as a trainer at a new gym in Greenville, South Carolina. The gym had recently been opened by his karate instructor, Shannon Hudson, who is now the founder and CEO of what has today become the rapidly expanding 9Round franchise.
The 9Round concept
Working closely with Hudson and seeing the rapid growth of his business, Mark and his wife, Suzi (also a second degree black belt) soon became interested in the 9Round business concept: a gym specialized in boxing and kickboxing, designed as a ‘9 round’, circuit training workout that changes every day and provides an effective, whole body workout in only 30 minutes.
“The uniqueness of 9Round is that there is no class time,” explained Suzi. “You can start the workout at any time and get a high intensity interval workout in 30 minutes. And there’s always a trainer to teach you, coach you and motivate you…so it’s fast, fun and effective.”
Although the Balk’s had never even thought about owning a business before, the 9Round franchise felt like the right fit and the couple was soon empowered by the idea of opening their own location.
“As the head of the household, it was tough when Mark lost his job,” said Suzi. “We saw how somebody else had the power to take away his job, and he couldn’t do anything about it. And that’s scary. So we said that if we started our own 9Round gym, we would finally be in control of our own destiny.”
Nine months after Mark started working as a trainer at the gym, the couple opened their own 9Round franchise in Charlotte, North Carolina.
A little encouragement (and competition) goes a long way
With no prior experience running a business, the couple’s transition into business ownership was relatively painless due to the training and support they received from Hudson, who mentored and guided them through every stage of the process.
“At times it was a little overwhelming because we never were business owners before,” explained Mark. “But it was a pretty smooth running deal because of Shannon’s support. He saw us through everything, from negotiating the lease to decorating the gym. He even drove around with us during those early days, so he was literally with us every step of the way.”
Suzi also recalled a moment that set-up some healthy competition between the 9Round founder and new business owners.
“Shannon was always so encouraging and confident that we would succeed. He once told us, ‘You’re gonna kill it,’ and Mark joked back, ‘We’re coming after you.’”
The couple went on to beat Hudson’s sales records in their first year of operation.
Record-breaking sales and fast growth
The Balk’s continued to break 9Round sales records for four consecutive years and earned the Franchise of the Year award in 2012 and 2013.
After successfully growing the Charlotte market – now the strongest market in the franchise – the couple has recently opened their second gym in Mark and Suzi‘s native town of Buffalo, NY.
The Balk’s are excited to be players in the quickly expanding 9Round franchise, which has grown into a total of 274 gyms in operation across six countries, and over 100 new locations currently in development.
“This growth and expansion shows you that people are really excited about this concept,” suggested Mark.
Training and Support
Although the couple had a close working relationship with Hudson and were lucky enough to receive hands-on, personal support from the founder and CEO of the franchise, 9Round has since developed a structured, comprehensive franchisee training program.
Training is designed as an intensive 4-day training camp held in Greenville, South Carolina, where new owners are flown out for classroom training on running the software and managing the franchise system, as well as on-the-mat training in the workout techniques. New franchisees are then put to work in the gym, where they learn about all aspects of operating the facility, from working the front office to staff management.
“The training is comprehensive,” said Mark. “You learn how to run the software and manage the franchise system, and then you go into the gym and implement what you’ve learned in the classroom. So you’re in the trenches, immersed in all things 9Round for 4 full days.”
Franchisees also have access to an online training system – referred to as “The Locker Room” – which includes videos, webinars, and other resources designed to provide continued support.
An annual 3-day convention is also held in Greenville at no cost to franchisees. The yearly event includes training, guest speakers, and provides opportunities for franchisees to speak to and hear from the franchisor, as well as mingle with other franchisees.
“The networking among owners is such a huge support,” stated Suzi. “9Round is really like one big family; people are so willing to share and help each other.”
Bringing home success
With two daughters, aged 12 and 15, owning a successful business has allowed the couple to provide a comfortable life for their family and start a college fund for their daughters.
The ability to handle some business matters from home also allows for more quality time with family.
“I’m able to see my kids off to school every morning, and I’m there when they get home,” explained Suzi. “So running the business still lets me be a good mom.”
Driven by passion
The couple’s passion for fitness and for helping others take control of their health has also motivated their business success.
“Mark and I love what we do. We truly change people’s lives,” explained Suzi. “We have people getting healthy again…they’re getting off of blood pressure medicine, and they’re coming back to us so grateful for the help. It’s very rewarding.”
According to the Balk’s, it’s this kind of passion for helping people will go further than any fitness experience in the 9Round franchise system.
“You don’t need a fitness background,” said Suzi. “Almost everyone who walks into the gym has no prior kickboxing experience. It’s our job to teach them. And 9Round will teach you everything you need to know to succeed in this business…As long as you truly love what you do, that’s going to come across and success will follow.”
“We’re in the business of helping people,” Mark added. “So if you’re looking to help people, be your own boss and make a pretty good living, you’re in the right business.”
For more information on the 9Round franchise, visit https://www.9round.com/fitness-franchises
Article written by: Diana Cikes, Franchising USA