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Planet Fitness gives Salesforce Community Cloud a workout

The fitness franchise had far-flung processes and a growing business. Here's how it used Salesforce Community Cloud to get franchisees on the same page.

Planet Fitness knows how to attract new members. But getting new franchisees aboard proved difficult without having technology in step with the chain's vision.

The fitness club chain reduces hurdles for members. With low member fees and numerous locations, the Planet Fitness mantra is "Home of the judgment free zone." Members can join for as little as $10 a month, so it's low-risk and non-intimidating.

Part of the low-cost structure is due to the franchise model, in which individual locations manage operations under Planet Fitness Inc.'s brand. But as the company expanded to 1,100 locations, standardizing, creating consistency in the brand and speaking in a unified voice became unwieldy.

"The [franchisee] experience was more fragmented and more complicated than it needed to be," said Corey Benish, CIO at Planet Fitness.

Corey BenishCorey Benish

Fragmentation stemmed from Planet Fitness' hodgepodge of systems used to communicate with franchisees.

"Before we started, all these were separate processes," said Chris Lavoie, director of information systems at the company. "We were primarily supporting interactions with franchisees with spreadsheets, email and file systems. We realized it wouldn't scale at the rate at which we are growing."

To help franchisees speak with one voice, Lavoie and Benish needed to update technology and use collaboration software to centralize communication and documents between its Newington, N.H-based headquarters and its franchisees.

Lavoie and Benish turned to Salesforce Community Cloud, an enterprise collaboration tool that enables companies to centralize internal communications. It also helps third parties, such as suppliers and other partners, exchange documents and communicate on a secure connection and in real time.

Muscling community under one roof

Planet Fitness' problems aren't unique; it's common for a franchisor to run numerous locations with technology which isn't exactly cutting edge. Opening new locations can also be costly -- around $15,000, according to some estimates -- so franchisors want to make operations more efficient.

Chris LavoieChris Lavoie

With Salesforce Community Cloud, franchisees have a one-stop-shop portal to learn about opening a club, for example. The process involves several stages, from buying equipment, to marketing, to hiring staff and building codes.

"That's a fairly sophisticated process," Lavoie said.

With these Salesforce communities, franchisees have access to documentation, branded materials, contracts and other legal forms that they need. Headquarters can also better support its franchisees in distributing information and streamlining the process of opening clubs.

Another benefit was simply institutionalizing processes and getting all parties in step. That meant Planet Fitness had to map out its processes and figure out the most efficient procedures -- but it didn't necessarily mean eliminating steps.

"We were careful not to create a fictitious goal about number of steps reduced," Benish said. "It was about finding the right process."

Measuring success with KPIs

Yet another area that was critical for Planet Fitness was to standardize on its key performance indicators (KPIs). The fitness clubs vary in their operations, so they also vary in their measures of success.

"We want to [speak] the same language and the way we look at our stores -- club performance, club operations and demand planning ... so that franchisees can look at the business the way we do internally," Benish said.

We want to [speak] the same language and the way we look at our stores.
Corey BenishCIO, Planet Fitness

By establishing common metrics, franchisees can also compare themselves with other clubs.

"We're trying to have that common language of KPIs. Whether it's one club or 50, we want it to be the same," Lavoie said.

Promoting success among new franchisees comes not only through centralization and standardization of metrics but also a knowledge base that they can access, Lavoie said. The resource, which is part of Community Cloud, includes best practices to which the franchisees can refer.

Creating collaboration success

Collaboration tools are often brought in to an organization with great fanfare, but sometimes languish after the allure wears off. Planet Fitness tried to ensure success with a change management strategy. According to a 2014 survey by research firm Altimeter Group, only 36% of employees at organizations with collaboration platforms, such as Jive or SharePoint, used these tools frequently. That's why Planet Fitness instituted a change management strategy from the beginning.

"We had to educate people about the vision of the platform," Lavoie said.

But Planet Fitness also enlists its franchisees to educate the uninitiated. A core team of franchisees that participated in the pilot provided feedback on the platform. This team also helps bring new franchisees on board with training. "It creates an adoption path," Benish said.

What's lacking: Permissions management

There is one important item on Lavoie's wish list, though: for franchisees to manage roles and permissions in a self-service way. Today, Lavoie's team at headquarters needs to adjust permissions -- individual stores aren't able to.

"It would be great for them to manage who has access to their systems -- they know their teams better than we do," Lavoie said. "It would also share the administrative burden between us and reduce risks. We want to de-provision accounts when someone leaves as soon as possible."

Planet Fitness will customize this functionality, but there is no out-of-the-box feature to grant access and permissions control to franchisees, he said.

Of course, Salesforce Community Cloud can accommodate traditional communities, such as a member portal for the fitness club chain. But Planet Fitness has no plans to shift its member community, known as the Planet of Triumphs, to Salesforce.

Planet Fitness doesn't need to fix something that isn't broken, Benish said.

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