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Keene (centre) weighed almost 20 stone when she joined Curves. She has lost, and kept off, almost eight stone

cultural and a legislative reasons, slight variations in the model might be required and local knowledge is therefore an advantage. So is there any such thing as growing

too fast? “There’s a risk of diluting the brand and the quality,” agrees Keene. “In the early days of Curves in the US the growth rate was phenomenal, but that brought with it its own challenges in terms of managing the expansion. We learnt what worked well and what to avoid, and some of those clubs have since closed. Nowadays we have a different approach to potential franchisees: they all come from different backgrounds, but they all have the same objectives, the same passion, the same understanding. “It doesn’t matter if they don’t have

much business experience, though, because we have a great franchisee support structure, all of which is included in the fee they pay us. We offer ongoing training but, for example, we also we have mentors – particularly successful club owners – who, if a particular site is struggling, can go in to help them for a few days. And we have opening specialists who go to new sites and make sure the opening goes as smoothly as possible, with everyone revved up and all the relevant marketing material in place.”

a common language

Keene, who joined Curves in January 2009, is responsible for all markets outside the US where no master franchise licence is in place. However, her main focus is the UK and Australia – and specifically developing partnerships and programmes, similar to the

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co-operative approaches with health insurance companies one sees in the US, that might result in more women having access to Curves. “There are discussions going on in the UK, but the big companies haven’t moved into reimbursement-type programmes on a broad scale here yet,” she explains. “However, my biggest challenge – and

my strategic direction – is looking at referral and at exercise as medicine. The cost saving to the NHS for somebody getting fi tter and healthier is huge, but at the moment the NHS isn’t willing to pay for it: they still invest heavily in treatment. We need to push the role of prevention, encouraging the NHS to reach out to commercial organisations that can help deliver that agenda. “The problem at the moment is that

the fi tness industry doesn’t speak the right language. We have to have shared outcomes. We have to build the language of measurement and clinical indicators and outcomes into the fi tness industry. We have to know what measurements are of value to ensure we can demonstrate value for money.” The industry also needs to appeal

to a broader base, she says: “With my FIA hat on, we need to make fi tness accessible to everybody, and I think that’s where the industry has struggled

so far. There are some fantastic clubs and leisure centres out there, but the sort of people we attract to Curves for example – the ladies from ethnic minority groups, obese ladies, perhaps ladies with mental health issues – simply won’t go to a traditional gym. “I’ve been into Curves clubs where

ladies who’ve just come back from chemotherapy are comfortable enough to take their wigs off while they’re working out. You just wouldn’t see that anywhere else and it’s encapsulated in our current campaign, ‘Stronger Together’. The campaign is all about making as many women as mentally and physically strong as we can, with women looking after and supporting other women. “And I feel I’m part of that because,

with this job, I feel I’ve come full circle. I went into nursing because I wanted to look after people, to make sure they were comforted, had a good service and got better. I’m not doing that in a hands-on way now but, both by giving women access to Curves clubs and by working at an industry level, I’m giving them the opportunity to feel better, making sure people who come into our sector are well looked after.”

kate cracknell

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