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Emma Lehner, co-founder and CEO of EMS-focused concept Bodystreet, discusses her background as a pro athlete, finding franchising and what’s next for the brand.
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You were an athlete before founding Bodystreet. What did this teach you?
EL: I was a professional athlete for the country of Tanzania. So I was already in charge at a very young age and had to prepare for the competitions with hard training sessions in a very self-disciplined way. The competitions were connected with long journeys. At that time it wasn’t so easy to travel by plane, so it was all done by bus. Sometimes it took days of traveling via non-existing roads. I was young and these adventures required a lot of courage.
“Bodystreet has so far managed the coronavirus crisis very well”
In most African countries more people are self-employed than typically employed. If there are very few jobs, you automatically become very creative and inventive. My father was a tax official and had a secure job. My mother, on the other hand, wanted to achieve more and successfully set up two private schools of her own in Dar es Salaam. I think this is how entrepreneurship was born in me.
How did you discover the franchise business model?
EL: For an athlete, franchising is nothing new. Every league is actually a franchise. There is a motto: there are rules of the game and there is vertical division of labor. When my husband and I founded the EMS boutique studio chain Bodystreet 13 years ago, we wanted to make something big out of it. My husband is a marketing expert and I am a product developer; that was the ideal combination for a fitness franchise.
What has been your biggest challenge?
EL: I’m sure most readers will expect me to say the color of my skin or to assert myself as a woman. But actually, the biggest challenge was our rapid growth. After a two-year pilot phase, we passed the 100 studio mark in the third year after we started franchising. One year later, it even doubled to 200. It was damn hard to manage and organize that. After all, we had a clear brand message and didn’t want to disappoint any of our customers.
What has been your biggest success?
EL: I had many successes as a sportswoman and as an entrepreneur. Unfortunately, my body did not allow me to participate in the Olympic Games at that time. That might have been the biggest success of my life. But in return, I was able to receive the German Fairness Award five times in a row for Bodystreet. And I was especially honored by the appointment as senator in the senate of economy last year. Immediately afterwards, I was awarded the Climate Protection Award in Berlin. And just a few weeks later, my husband and I were honored with the Global Franchise Award Best Fitness Franchise in Orlando. Thinking about all these awards, I still get goosebumps today.
What’s it like running an international franchise with your husband?
EL: It is so nice to be able to share the roles of “good guy and bad guy”. As a woman, I, fortunately, have more of the soft characteristics, the good soul, so to speak. And you can feel that, too. The Bodystreet corporate culture is simply extraordinary. It’s not just about business, but also about shared values and above all about fun and joie de vivre.
Where do you see your system in the next five years?
EL: Bodystreet has so far managed the coronavirus crisis very well. Our business model allows the highest hygiene standards, seems crisis-proof, and is certainly one of the winners in the post-corona period. We are currently experiencing a hell of a speed when it comes to our digital transformation. The digital customer journey, automation, and new worlds of experience are really exciting.
I am glad that my husband is such an innovative, lateral thinker and can play out his strengths when it comes to this. Bodystreet’s EMS (electrical muscle stimulation) training is a niche. And with over 300 studios, we are the world market leader. In fact, we’re the only German fitness franchise system that became a world market leader. And we will successively expand this position over the next five years. We see the markets in the U.K., U.S.A., and Australia in particular, where we want to achieve market leadership with strong masters and investors.
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