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Tips From The Tip: One On One With Lou DeFrancisco

I spoke to Lou DeFrancisco, President of StretchLab, about his journey and best advice

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?

Lou: Being in the health and wellness industry for almost my entire working career, when I tell people that I was a Physics major in college, most are a bit surprised. The first question is typically, “why on earth would you do that to yourself?” I’ve always tried to follow my interests and passions, and from a very young age, I’ve always wanted to challenge myself. While early in my college career, I had no idea what I wanted to do for work, but I had an interest in science in general and math came pretty easy to me. I also had fantastic physics professors that made the topic come alive in discussions and labs. It was very challenging, but I definitely enjoyed the experience and know it helped to shape who I am today.

Adam: How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Lou: My path to my current position as President of StretchLab is an interesting one. After I graduated with that degree in physics, I took a job in IT consulting. After five years in that career, I realized I was not passionate about IT, but found myself drawn to the world of business, and started taking MBA classes at night. While taking these classes and seeking out new career opportunities, one of my friends offered me a sales/marketing job at a boutique health club, Train Boston Sports Center. At first, I felt like the offer was a step down from my corporate job, but my friend convinced me it would be worth it. The biggest challenge I faced when entering the world of boutique fitness was that I had absolutely no background in health and fitness. Like I mentioned before, I was a physics guy; I was an IT guy. While I had played soccer for years and enjoyed sports, I didn’t know the ropes of the fitness and health industry. I fell in love with the job and worked my way up to be General Manager at this club, and enjoyed five years there. Those experiences led to a new position as Director of Franchise Support at Get in Shape for Women, a boutique fitness franchise. That was when I discovered a love for the franchising industry. With hard work and a great team at Get in Shape For Women, we grew to over 100 locations nationwide. By the end of my nine years there, I was able to become the President of the franchise company. This combination of experiences led me to where I am today, President of StretchLab, the first boutique assisted stretching franchise. Some might see all my career changes as setbacks, but in hindsight, they were the best decisions I could have made for myself. If you asked me twenty years ago where I would be today, I never would have guessed leading a boutique fitness franchise into a new niche in the wellness industry.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Lou: A few qualities that come to mind when I think of effective leaders are ambition, humility, open-mindedness and hardworking. Of course, someone who wants to be a leader must dream big and work extremely hard to achieve their goals, but another important piece is staying grounded and keeping an open mind. I think leaders can take their skills to the next level by listening and learning from their peers and their employees. It’s important to have open conversations and open doors for team members. No one knows or can do everything.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Lou: 1. Jump in with both feet- Sometimes the best way to tackle a project is to go all in, even if you’re not totally sure what you’re doing. Don’t hesitate; just take the leap and you’ll be amazed at what you are capable of. This will help you develop as a leader or entrepreneur because you have to learn to think on your feet, be creative and come up with solutions. I experienced this “jumping in” to a huge degree twice during my career journey. The first time when I left IT for a job in health and fitness, the second time when I entered the world of franchising.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions- Even the best leaders don’t know everything. I was so fortunate to be given chances in areas that I was inexperienced. There was no way I could march into the headquarters of Get in Shape for Women and pretend I knew everything about how to grow a franchise. I had to ask a lot of questions at first. It can be tough to ask for help, but it’s good to always be coachable and teachable.

3. Be a team player- No matter how hard you work, you can’t do everything by yourself. Build relationships with those around you, because you can push each other to be better and move forward. Every day at StretchLab, I am facilitating, coordinating and building relationships because when they are happy and motivated, I am motivated to work harder and be better. Sharing ups and downs with your teammates makes you stronger and prepares you to tackle any obstacle.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Lou: It’s actually a Bible verse that I live by – Phillippians 4:13. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. I have to remember I’m not in this alone and I can do anything I put my mind to. There’s no way I would have made it to the positions I have without believing in something greater than myself.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Lou: To pay it forward, I think everyone should be kind and open doors for others when possible. Always lift others up and encourage them to pursue their dreams and goals. For example, as a CEO you have to realize that a lot of people are not going to be at your company for life. This job could just be a pit stop for them. Empower them to do a good job where they are now and help them develop the skills to get them to where they want to go. Many of the personal trainers that worked under me at Train Boston now own their own training businesses. Several trainers and general managers at Get In Shape For Women have gone on to become franchise owners themselves. We were able to give them the tools and the skills to evolve and thrive, and realize their own goals and dreams. They are now able to give back because they were lifted up and empowered by someone else.

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Lou: My interests and hobbies in sports and living a healthy lifestyle have turned into a very successful professional career in this industry. My favorite sport is soccer – there is an obvious physical challenge in playing a game of soccer, you have to be in “soccer” shape to play well. I love the challenge of training my body throughout the week in preparation for a weekend game, and what I have learned over the years through working with so many fantastic trainers and therapists has shaped the way I train my own body. But my favorite part of playing soccer is the team aspect – you cannot win a soccer game unless all teammates on the field know the game plan, or strategy of how to win the game, and they play well together. This translates so well into the business world – at StretchLab, if we want to “win the game” of being the leader in this new category of assisted stretching, I need to make sure I have a team of people that have different strengths for different positions or areas of the business. Then I need to make sure each position knows how we all have to work together by setting clear goals and directions, and helping each area execute at a high level.

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