Don’t be afraid to ask questions- The best leaders can admit that they 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 leaned on my friend and mentor Brian Cook a lot when I began my journey in fitness franchising. It was tough sometimes to ask questions and ask for help. I made sure to always be coachable and teachable. Grow your arsenal of knowledge, and you’ll grow your Grit.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Lou DeFrancisco. He is the President of StretchLab, a boutique wellness franchise that offers one-on-one assisted stretches and group stretch sessions. With a passionate team of certified Flexologists™, StretchLab is transforming the lives of clients from all ages, fitness levels, genders and sizes –increasing mobility and flexibility, helping to reduce pain, decreasing muscle aches, improving posture, shortening recovery time and enhancing quality of life.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path?
I was not really involved in health and fitness immediately after college. I actually graduated with a degree in physics, and then 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. The owner of the IT company used open-book management, meaning he shared all the financials of the company to help teach employees about business so they would ultimately make better business decisions. I was fascinated by the business side and started taking MBA classes at night. While taking these classes and seeking out new career opportunities, one of my friends offered me a 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. I took on a position in sales and marketing and knew right away I had found the perfect combination of my passions for business and athletics. I worked my way up to be General Manager at this club and enjoyed my 5 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. I was able to become the President of the franchise company, and worked there for 9 years. The combination of experiences led me to where I am today, President of StretchLab, the first boutique assisted stretching franchise. 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 booming wellness industry.
Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
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 ins and outs of the fitness and health industry. Even with an entry-level job, I had to work incredibly hard to prove I deserved it. I soaked up as much as I could at the health club and dove in headfirst. I would have the personal trainers take me through their routines, let the masseuses and acupuncturists practice on me, and asked lots of questions to totally immerse myself in the wellness space. While it sounds like fun, and many parts definitely were, it was also setting the foundation of what would become a career through early mornings and late nights and grinding every day to help a small business make payroll. Over the years, I have looked back at this time as a critical stage in my current success.
I experienced a similar challenge when I got involved with Get in Shape for Women. At that point, I had familiarized myself with the health and wellness industry but was a complete novice when it came to the franchising space. Again, I jumped in with both feet and took on any and all job responsibilities I could. I showed up earlier and worked later than everyone else to prove that I was the man for the job, and eventually became the President of the company.
In both circumstances, I was not just changing jobs and moving up to a new position in a new company, but rather changing industries completely, which meant taking pay cuts. They were tough decisions because they didn’t just affect me…I was married, and when I took the position at Get In Shape For Women, we had two babies at home. But I was confident in making these decisions because I had this belief that if you follow your passion, and work hard to be the best, you will be successful.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I am a Christian and my faith is what personally gets me through tough times. I also have an internal drive, or as you might say Grit, to always be the best I can be. What I learned through hard times and times of growth, is that when you can help make the people around you successful, then you can truly achieve success. You’re only as good as your team. I learned this at a young age playing a lot of team sports, and I’ve continued to see this theme play out in the business world as well.
So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?
When you have Grit, what I think of as a drive to out-work anyone else, it naturally leads to a positive mental attitude — one where you know you will be successful in accomplishing your goals. At Train Boston, the hard work and teamwork led to increased revenue from $1.5M annually to over $2.5M annually in a 3-year window. At Get in Shape for Women, the hard work and teamwork led us to open over 100 locations nationwide. A big part of these successes was always making sure my team was happy and engaged because their success contributed to my success.
So, how are things going today? 🙂
Things are going really well. Being the President of StretchLab has been an enormous undertaking. I work long hours and have to take my creativity to a whole new level. With StretchLab, we are growing an entirely new vertical in the boutique fitness space from the ground up. While stretching has been around forever, it’s finally being given the attention it deserves and we are leading the charge in the concept’s continued growth and success. In my personal life, things are going well too. I am blessed to have a beautiful wife and three children that I come home to every night. Along with my faith, they give me the strength to tackle the bigger obstacles that come with my job and life in general.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)
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. This will help you develop Grit 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- The best leaders can admit that they 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 leaned on my friend and mentor Brian Cook a lot when I began my journey in fitness franchising. It was tough sometimes to ask questions and ask for help. I made sure to always be coachable and teachable. Grow your arsenal of knowledge, and you’ll grow your Grit.
3. Find your passion- By the end of my stint at the IT company, I was pretty unhappy. The only thing that excited me was looking at monthly financial reports and talking about company growth strategy. I was at this crossroads of doing what I knew for so long and wanting to find something that I love. That’s why I started taking business courses at night. Then the fitness job offer came about. I had always loved athletics, particularly soccer, so I knew I would be passionate about a career in business and fitness. Even though I was total rookie in both of these fields, because I had passion, I developed the Grit to find success.
4. Be a team player- No matter how hard you work, you can’t do it all alone. Build relationships with those around you, because you can push each other to be better and move forward, fostering that sense of Grit. 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 weathers you to become “Grittier.”
5. Have faith- I couldn’t have made it to the positions I have, nor would I have developed this internal drive, without believing in something greater than myself. One of my favorite verses is Philippians 4:13 — “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?
Someone who was instrumental in my success and setting me on the right path was my friend Tim Brewster, the owner of Train Boston Sports Club. He gave me a fresh opportunity and opened the door to this health and fitness world. Most importantly, while it might sounds clichéd, he showed me that it is possible to work at something you’re passionate about and make money at the same time.
His unique view of the health and fitness world also shifted my perspective on things. He was a trained, educated physical therapist but despised the current model of insurance-based physical therapy. He was a classic entrepreneur — he came from nothing, worked really hard, and took a different approach to his practice and health and fitness. In turn, he loved what he did! He was always happy and ready to take on the day. That had a big impact on me and helped me choose a positive attitude when going through daunting career and life changes.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Naturally, the health and wellness industry is setup to give back to people, so I’m fortunate to work for a company that helps people every day. For some people, the boutique fitness industry has become more about glamour and sexiness, and they forget the “why” behind their job and the role they can play in helping all types of people. Yes, I like meeting cool people in sports and fitness and being on the cutting edge of the next big thing, but at the end of the day, I know this job is about the people who walk through the doors of our facilities day in and day out. StretchLab is about inclusivity and truly creating a healthier world. Maybe someone has an injured back or they’re overweight — this could be their chance to make a positive choice and start that journey to being their best selves. Our testimonials show how impactful StretchLab is for so many people already.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Mostly focusing my attention on growing the StretchLab brand and spreading this wellness movement across America, and eventually to the world. We plan to open several hundred locations over the next few years.
What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Find a way to create a win-win situation with all of your employees. They have goals and dreams, and your business has goals and dreams. You have to find a way to get those two aligned. When that happens, there is synergy, and people are excited to come to work and work hard.
I’ve had some great mentors over my career, so I know how important it is to have open conversation and open doors for team members. 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.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Forgive the pun, but I would love to inspire a movement of stretching. Of course through my current job, I mean stretching literally, because no one stretches enough and there are so many physical benefits. But I also want this to happen figuratively, within individuals and our society. Stretching our potential, stretching boundaries, stretching dreams. I want my three children to feel like they can do anything. I know that may sound cheesy, but too often, we stick to a blueprint and let bosses, teachers, whoever it may be, tell us what we can and can’t do.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I come back to Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” These words have been a through-line in my life, personally, professionally and spiritually.
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