Young, motivated and a gym fanatic, Diana Williams saw a great niche for women’s gyms in the mid 80s. She pursued her entrepreneurial idea and today, Fernwood Fitness is a household brand name that boasts 70 clubs across Australia with 68,000 members. Diana was aware of the benefits of strength training but knew many women steered away from the weights area in a male-dominated environment. Fernwood Fitness provides women with an alternative to working out in a mixed-gym environment.
“I came up with the idea of setting up a gym specifically for women, where women could go and enjoy other women’s company, where they could get great results from weight training and not just group fitness and cardio workouts, and where they could get a great sense of community.” “Initially it was not intended to become a major national brand, but just a small business that I could enjoy running.”
From the first club in 1989, Diana took a strong position on emphasising and focusing on member service, staff satisfaction, quality, and cleanliness. This is constantly reflected in the running of the business. She recognises these aspects as the reasons behind Fernwood Fitness’ overall success.
“Understanding the needs of the women of today and making changes to our product and market position to cater for these needs is behind the longevity of the brand. By providing those special little touches that women enjoy together, with a focus on achieving real results for our members in their aspirations for a healthier lifestyle, Fernwood continues to prosper in an increasingly competitive environment.”
Fernwood Fitness has been recognised by numerous awards over the years because of its adaptability.
The vision of staying in front of the general market trends, and more specifically, the trends within the fitness industry, have played major factors in the business’ success.
“I kept on adding improvements, training my staff, and improving the brand awareness and member services, and it continued to grow in popularity to the point that expansion was a real option that had appeal.”
Diana has a few favourite aspects about running her business. One of these is the positive feedback from members. “I get a constant stream of letters, emails and ‘thank you’ cards from members telling me about their journey and how they have been able to re-kick-start their lives after the changes they have experienced through Fernwood.” Another enjoyable aspect is watching her employees undertake a journey; seeing them advance, develop and progress their careers is very satisfying for a business owner. Diana recommends familiarising yourself with some business skills and expertise before you start up your own business. She recommends having a good understanding of commercial management, as well as finance. She also suggests getting the help of a business coach. Diana wishes she knew a few things before she started Fernwood Fitness.
“Hire the best people from Day 1. That way, your business is well reflected in hardworking, happy employees. It’s okay to make mistakes because that’s how you learn. And, watch every cent. It might be a long time before you’re not in a cash flow crisis.”
Diana Williams’ advice for starting a business:
- Understand that hard work and stress are natural. Learn to embrace them.
- Make sure you have the support of your family and friends – it’s tough on your own.
- Don’t expect it to be an overnight success. Success could take some time to happen.
Diana Williams is a Businesswomen’s Hall of Fame inductee.