German fitness franchise extraordinaire Emma Lehner charted how she and husband transformed an outdated bodybuilding studio in Munich into an innovative boutique fitness concept with 300 locations in seven countries.
Lehner and her husband Matthias co-founded Bodystreet, now the world’s largest muscular stimulation fitness brand. But when they bought the old bodybuilding studio in 2007, they were competing against a boom of wellness clubs in Germany.
“We didn’t have any chance to survive, but we had to,” Lehner said during her visit Wednesday with Titus Center for Franchising students.
To thrive in the competitive environment, they offered a unique service and focused on people. Bodystreet workouts combine expert personal training with electro muscle stimulation technology to target hard-to-reach muscle groups. A 20-minute workout per week is enough to achieve results, Lehner said.
The Lehners opened an academy where doctors, physical therapists and nutritionists taught their associates how to better help clients. The brand’s focus on ecological, economic and social responsibility has been rewarded: the company received its fifth consecutive German Fairness Award in 2018.
Bodystreet Studios look more like an Apple Store or a living room than a gym. There is one studio in the U.S. in Phoenix, Arizona, with plans to expand to South Florida, said Dr. John P. Hayes, director of the Titus Center for Franchising.
Viewers from BodyStreet franchise locations around the world tuned into Lehner’s talk at the University via livestream. People from Germany, the United Kingdom, Tanzania, Kenya and Austria watched her dynamic presentation.
Lehner opened her talk with some good news and bad news for students.
“The good news is everything is achievable,” she said. “The bad news is you have to go outside of your comfort zone before you reach outstanding results.”
Contrary to popular belief, the comfort zone isn’t the problem, Lehner said. It’s necessary for survival. The problem is the fear zone — also known as the trial and error zone, or the place where catastrophe can occur. The human inclination is to think fear is bad and go back to the comfort zone.
“How can we get over this fear zone? We cannot just jump,” Lehner said. “You need extraordinary vision and very huge imaginations to do that.”
Lehner was a member of the National Athletic Team for Tanzania in the 1980s and won a silver medal in javelin. She won several national competitions. She moved to Germany in 1986 to study physical therapy.
Working as a physical therapist in a government hospital, she discovered a passion to help people stay healthy as they age. She went from gym to gym offering to be a personal trainer. It required persuasion; personal trainers weren’t popular then, and she had to explain why people should pay her extra on top of their gym memberships.
Since she and Matthias opened their first Bodystreet studio, the company has created more than 1,000 jobs and given more than 160,000 personal trainings per month — all while pioneering a new concept in the physical fitness field.
Lehner gave students a homework assignment. Using a whiteboard on stage to demonstrate, she told them to map the names and attributes of four of their greatest role models and then work on acquiring the attributes they don’t yet possess. Hers are discipline, perseverance, assertiveness, social competence, teamwork, self-reflection, flexibility, willingness to learn and competitiveness, which have served her well, she said.