Filipino-Aussie fitness entrepreneur Luke Guanlao, who despite a global pandemic, has just acquired the master Anytime Fitness franchise license across all of Asia including Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Macau.
37 year old Guanlao, based in Sydney, is the Chief Operating Officer of Anytime Fitness Asia and Co-founder of Inspire Brands Asia, the company which acquired it.
In the last 10 years, Luke went from owning one Anytime Fitness Australia franchise in Western Sydney to owning over 260 gyms across Asia and Australia amidst a global pandemic.
As the master franchisee for Anytime Fitness Asia, Guanlao is now responsible for navigating how over 250+ gyms will operate post-COVID-19.
For the 2019 financial year, Anytime Fitness Asia’s system wide revenue across the eight regions it operates in (Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Macau) was $437M AUD.
Doing business in an international market, Guanlao believes Asia is a prime market for Australians looking to diversify their investment portfolios.
Destination: Success in the international fitness industry
The Philippine Times interviewed Luke Guanlao, the new COO of Anytime Fitness Asia, on his journey and growth as an entrepreneur.
What were some of the things you did to demonstrate your entrepreneurial spirit when you were younger?
We spent a lot of our Sydney summers in the Philippines. At around age 6 or 7, I discovered this toy – the plastic balloon. You blow into it and you create a balloon that looks like a big detergent bubble. I convinced my mum to buy me several boxes to bring back to Sydney. It occurred to me: This was a highly desirable product for my peers. So I decided to sell my plastic balloons. Each box had 20-25 little sachets containing a straw and a tube of gelatin, which I sold to my friends for 20 cents each.
When I was in high school, I used to raise money by selling my personal items (CDs, my stereo, my discman, my walkmans etc.) to pawn shops, specifically Cash Converters. I would invest this money in baseball and basketball cards and made sure to negotiate a pretty decent price. I would sit on those cards for 2-3 months, then sell them to either a collector or to the market.
When I finished high school, I was an early adopter of Ebay. I would purchase certain items, such as trinkets, gadgets, technology, devices at a decent price. I would relist them at a small profit, baking in my shipping and my overall base costs. I was usually comfortably making between 15-20 percent based on my initial buy price.
Did you have a different career path in mind while you were at university, what changed for you?
I wanted to be a lawyer. Like most law students, I wanted to change the world. When I was in law school, I could not shake this inherent need to be in business and to do business. Because of this, after finishing my daily work in the law firms I was employed in, I was always on the look-out for some form of a deal. At that time, these deals were by no means sophisticated. I also traded in the stock market, even with very minimal capital. I was always looking for the next opportunity to earn money by investing, buying and selling, importing/exporting, or trading stocks.
The legal career that I envisaged for myself was always going to be my bread and butter. My intention was to add on to that by way of passive or active investments. The opportunity to invest in a gym arose in 2011, which has translated into co-owning 80 gyms within the Asia network with Anytime Fitness.
My venture into fitness entrepreneurship was not by design. My intention was to be a lawyer but God had other plans and I am very grateful for His plans.
What inspired you to get into business and investment?
I read a book when I was in law school called Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki. The book talked about the difference between being an employee and being a business owner. It really motivated me and gave me an understanding very different from what I was taught growing up. I was always taught about the importance of getting a job and that being financially stable is paramount.
We should be taught in life, or at least in university, how to sell, to communicate, to interact with each other better, and to have a better understanding of investing – to create financial freedom. The key takeaway was to be a business owner and not an employee.
I strongly believe in education, but I also think that we should have more people out there being groomed and taught on how to run their own business, particularly if they are in a financial position to give it a go.
What were some of the strategies that enabled the success of your first two Anytime Fitness franchises?
Being hands-on and knowing the day-to-day operations at the start gave me insight on expanding this from the ground up. I am extremely passionate about health, wellness, and fitness, which gave me an advantage in providing services to our members. This in turn translated into managed services for investors – allowing us to manage their gyms for them using our experience and knowledge, as well as our economies of scale across Asia.
What are some of the hurdles you faced with investment in the Philippines?
The biggest initial hurdle was just the physical distance – negotiating the deal while being based out of Australia. However, the pandemic has shown that technology has made physical distance moot, allowing us to accomplish even the most complex deals from afar. Beyond that, my experience and my heritage have been a great advantage to me during this acquisition. My familiarity with Anytime Fitness as a brand began in Australia – where I still own a number of gyms. I had since expanded this into the Philippines and Malaysia before acquiring the Master Franchisee rights for Asia.
How confident were you about investing in the Philippines?
Extremely confident. This stems from two factors: My confidence in the Anytime Fitness brand and the industry as a whole, as well as the experience I had gained in owning and operating my own gyms in Australia. The brand has consistently held the top spot as the number one gym franchise in the world due to its unique model as well as its vision of providing access to health and fitness to real people.
Knowledge of the culture (in the Philippines) and business dealings have been a tremendous help in building a team I could trust to help me run our businesses – both owned gyms and managed services – even from afar.
What message do you have for Filipino-Australians who have a desire to invest or start a business?
Opportunities are out there, even – and especially during – this pandemic. People are now shifting their mindsets into taking care of their health, planning more carefully for the future, and finding ways to connect with others even from afar. Investments or businesses that address these needs will become necessary even as this crisis fades. Also, perseverance pays off. It took me a decade from my first Anytime Fitness gym to where I am right now, the Master Franchisee of Anytime Fitness Asia. It was difficult but inspiring. It was challenging but in the end, it is worth it.
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