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Shapes for Women: Greg Ivins & Barry Owen

Pioneering South Africa’s first franchised chain of women-only gyms

Juliet Pitman

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Greg Ivins & Barry Owen of Shapes for Women

Anyone looking back on the history of gymchains in South Africa, or indeed anyone assessing the current stiff competitionin the market might have laughed at Greg Ivins and Barry Owen when they saidthey were launching a new chain of fitness centres. In fact, many people did.“People told us we were mad to open another gym chain, that we’d be bust withinthe first couple of months,” remembers Ivins. But if anyone’s laughing now,it’s these co-founders of Shapes for Women, a ladies-only chain of fitnesscentres that boasts 32 franchises around the country.

According to the partners, the reason thecompany has been so successful in such a short space of time is because theydidn’t take on big name chains like Virgin Active and Planet Fitness. “What wesaw was a need that those chains weren’t meeting – a need for an unpretentious,unpressurised environment, tailor-made to suit the workout needs of women. Whatexisted was a gym environment that was not everyone’s cup of tea,” says Owen.The women-only gym industry is booming in the United States and after somecareful research, he and Ivins decided there was no reason why the same conceptcouldn’t work in South Africa. They both left comfortable corporate jobs,scratched together funding and opened up the first two gyms, without anyprevious experience in the industry. The customised equipment, tailor-made tosuit women, was imported from the United States. “I’m sure that every person who startstheir own business experiences the same anxiety about whether they’ve done theright thing,” says Owen, “But although it was a new concept, it was somethingwe believed very strongly would work.” It still required hard work, however.One of their key challenges was educating the market which, given the historyof gym chains in South Africa, was sceptical to say the least. Ahands-on marketing approach is what worked in the end, as Ivins relates. “Wewould do very simple things like run up and down rows of cars at trafficlights, handing out flyers, and hand out leaflets at events. We even got thrownout of one or two shopping centres for distributing flyers without permission.We tried to get as much free press exposure as we could.”

Owen adds that they were always certainthat if they focused on customer satisfaction, word-of-mouth marketing wouldsoon take over, and they were right. The company tracks where new referralscome from and word-of-mouth accounts for the largest portion. “It’s become ourstrongest marketing tool,” he adds. Right from the start, the partners plannedto franchise the Shapes for Women concept but even they were surprised by howquickly the franchise system progressed. “I remember in the beginning we’d sayto each other , ‘Imagine if we can sell five franchises in the first year –that would be fantastic!’ We ended up selling 21,” recalls Ivins, continuing,“Within seven months of opening, we sold our first two gyms and startedfranchising. We thought we’d have to wait to prove the model but we had so manyrequests and competitors were moving into the market, so we just went for it.”To date, Shapes for Women has never had to close a franchise. The partners attributethis success to a great product that meets a previously unmet need and a soundfranchisee selection process.

Such rapid growth always brings challenges,and Ivins and Owen say they have had to adjust their mindset from one of gymowner to franchisor. “Our role is to become solutions providers for ourfranchisees. If we can solve their problems, we’re 90% of the way there,” saysIvins. Owen adds that cash flow is something that has to be continuallymanaged, but the business is now generating extra revenue streams from brandedShapes For Women nutritional shakes, supplements and training gear. Heconcludes: “We have a captive and very brand-loyal market in our members. Ouraim is to become the biggest gym chain in terms of outlets in the country and weare pursuing all options to achieve this goal.” They know there’s bound to becompetition on the horizon, but with a firm foothold in the market, they havegood reason to feel secure. 

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25 Of The Most Successful Business Ideas In South Africa

Find out who’s making waves in numerous industries and how they managed to differentiate themselves in local and international industries.

Nicole Crampton

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“Disruption is all about risk-taking, trusting your intuition, and rejecting the way things are supposed to be. Disruption goes way beyond advertising, it forces you to think about where you want your brand to go and how to get there,” says Richard Branson.

South Africa has its fair share of innovative and disruptive businesses taking both local and international industries by storm. From cutting edge space technology to reimagined logistics, and innovative business models, here are 25 of the most successful business ideas in South Africa:

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Colin Timmis Says ‘Position Yourself For Success By Starting With The Numbers’

People pay first who they feel pressure from, so people will pay you when they feel pressure from you.

CEOwise

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Entrepreneur Colin Timmis founded South Africa’s first cloud accounting practice in 2011, Real Time Accounting. Then, a few years after being appointed as South Africa’s first Xero partner Colin became Xero Country Manager South Africa. Xero is the emerging global leader of online accounting software that connects small businesses to their advisors and other services.

Related: Pat Pillai On How He’s Helped Over 5000 Entrepreneurs Using 3 Key Steps

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Two 20 Year Olds Reshape Entrepreneur Landscape With New Social Investment Platform

The Merge vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

Merge Connect

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It’s no secret that finding the right investor for your venture is a challenge that most entrepreneurs face. The current process of finding investment is one that is outdated, and limits entrepreneurs due to a lack of time, and network that is needed to find the right investor. But, this doesn’t have to be the case in today’s digital society, says Zander Matthee and Brandon Bate, co-founders of Merge.

“By making the Internet the middleman, we are able to connect with each other much simpler and faster than before” was Zander’s response. “We have taken advantage of this, and have created a digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors” added Brandon.

Merge is a social platform that connects entrepreneurs and investors. It aims to simplify, refine and accelerate the process of finding investment for entrepreneurs, and the process of finding investment opportunities for investors. From idea to developed, the platform allows entrepreneurs to present a brief outline of their venture to a network of all investor types. While doing this, entrepreneurs are able to browse through, and connect with investor profiles that suit their requirements.

Related: 8 Codes Of Success That Helped Priven Reddy of Kagiso Interactive Media Achieve A Networth Of Over R4 Billion

From Private Investors to Venture Capital, and everything in between, Merge allows all investor types to join. Investors have the opportunity to personalise their feed to suit their investment preferences, and will be able to connect with innovative businesses – that are looking for investment – at their fingertips. Only once there is a mutual interest in each other, are users able to enter a secure private chat where they can discuss further and share documents under the protection of a digital NDA.

The two boys became good friends during their time in high school at St Stithians Boys College. However, it was only in their last year, 2016, that they decided to pursue their dreams and create the platform. They didn’t know how to code, so rather ironically, they needed some form of investment to get the platform off the ground.

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“We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we believed in our vision and that we were really trying to make a difference, and if we could get others to see that, they would be onboard.” said Zander.

Related: Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Manage Your Money Like Oprah To Avoid Going Into Debt Like Nicholas Cage

Chris Peters is one of these individuals that bought into their vision, and became Merge’s first investor. As a successful entrepreneur and part time investor , Chris saw how much value the platform could bring to all entrepreneurs and investors alike. His marketing and strategic background gave him insight into how Merge could play a vital role in a lucrative space, Brand involvement.

“Entrepreneurship and SME development are two key factors that drive economic growth in developing countries like South Africa. That is why brands are currently getting involved, and looking to support entrepreneurs through various means. We have built a platform that allows these brands to successfully market, and execute on the programmes they have created to assist entrepreneurs.” said Chris

Merge was created to assist all entrepreneurs and investors in finding exactly what they are looking for, regardless of age, race, sex, financial position or social status. That is why anybody can sign-up as an entrepreneur. As long as you are determined and willing to work for your dreams. For too long has the investor space been seen as an “elite club for the select few”, and Merge is here to change that. Whether you’ve gotten your bonus at the end of the year and looking for new investment opportunities, or are an active investor, you can sign-up. Whether you’re currently working, or a retired industry leader, you can join as a mentor.

Their vision is to become the ‘go to’, digital meeting place for entrepreneurs and investors, and to truly make a difference in the world.

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