Global business advisor and entrepreneur Bryan O’Rourke believes the best in the fitness business is yet to come.
“The greatest products and services in the health and fitness space have not been invented yet.”
That kind of statement coming from some inexperienced hopeful would likely inspire skepticism. However, issuing from the mouth of a highly educated and broadly experienced business advisor and successful tech- and trend-savvy entrepreneur like Bryan O’Rourke, those words become the real and relevant motivation for fit-biz owners everywhere.
Bryan is a CEO, advisor, and globally recognized speaker with investments in a dozen operating companies who helps steer the ships of fitness (and other) organizations. With his southern lilt and ingratiating exuberance, he switches easily between megatrend statistics and anecdotal evidence of client struggles and successes, and he is both realistic and optimistic about this transformational moment in business and human history.
Born in Valdosta, Georgia on Moody Air Force Base, Bryan played sports like baseball and football in school and today trains 5 or 6 days a week but would hardly describe himself as “the poster child for fitness”. In fact, he followed a more cerebral track, studying at the University of New Orleans, Southeastern Louisiana University, Harvard, and elsewhere, and acting as Executive Vice President of the American Students Association, putting in considerable time on the Hill. From graduation onward, his business achievements came not as a result of a master plan, but from hard work and an adaptable mindset.
“My entering the commercial workforce in the early 80s coincided with the advent of the IBM PC,” he recalls. “When you learn to use those tools before everyone else does it gives you a certain advantage. I mean, back then you still had accountants doing ledgers by hand!” As an early adopter of technology, he leveraged his position with New Orleans’s Al Copeland, “a robust entrepreneur who gave me the tremendous opportunity [and became] a key financial and business executive by 26.”
The food and beverage industry launched his trajectory – Popeyes, Smoothie King, Moe’s Southwest Grill, PJ’s Coffee, and Tea. Bryan had an ownership stake in numerous enterprises, and worked in all areas of business, maintaining his particular affinity for technology. From restaurant and retail to Planet Fitness, Bryan’s strategic heavy lifting has made him a hot commodity with global fitness organizations as well as small boutique outfits. He has overseen 16 M&A transactions in the past 6 years alone, and his advice is to help companies of all shapes and sizes survive and thrive with strategic analysis, capital, revitalized offerings, and tech implementation.
For Bryan, being an early adopter is simply part of the open-mindedness that anchors his methodology. Individuals with agile mindsets are more likely to succeed if they think creatively yet stay grounded in reality. “There’s always a balance between the cutting edge and real-world delivery,” cautions Bryan. “It’s hard to just have your head in the clouds without your hands in the dirt. It’s a balance.” Nevertheless, now is the time for agile minds to capitalize on opportunities that have resulted from the pandemic.
Bryan is careful not to minimize the real pain of those who have undergone tremendous financial burden because of Covid’s sweeping changes. He also recognizes that growing and profiting from turbulence is, in fact, a recurring theme in history.
“There are lots of examples of transitional periods that are more profound than others and I think this is one of those,” says Bryan, referencing post-World War 1, the Spanish Flu, and the Roaring Twenties, as well as the transformational times when radio became a mainstream platform for communication and direct mail order emerged. “Even in those times, there was a lot of change that pained a lot of people. Some folks suffered from the changes and others took advantage of those changes. A lot of it is unpredictable.
“The difference between failure and success is the difference between being married to the past” and cultivating a nimbler mentality, Bryan advises. Forward thinkers stay “ahead of the curve in adopting certain things that other people don’t” and create solutions to new challenges.
Bryan points to Gold’s Gym, an iconic brand that, once acquired by a private equity firm, was mismanaged into bankruptcy. “Their ownership couldn’t figure out what they were. Culturally, it was a bodybuilding brand and the new ownership wanted to change that. They didn’t have continuity of experience: they ran a licensing model, so what you would experience in Poughkeepsie vs. what you’d experience in Texas varied a great deal. They suffered from legacy operational thinking and when COVID hit went bankrupt. They were sold to a great organization out of Germany, RSG,” who is turning it around by hitting the golden balance between being grounded and strategic.
While the pandemic may have accelerated an organization’s underlying weaknesses, the situation becomes critical only if that organization doesn’t have the wherewithal to reimagine and invest in the evolving consumer experience. Adaptable mindsets yield success stories, like Bryan’s colleague Rick Mayo of Alloy Personal Training.
“Before the pandemic, [Rick] launched a franchised model, wound down his licensing model, and did a lot around mobile app adoption and remote coaching, so he had an omnichannel experience. He had one club that he did that in, launched his franchise, and now there are 40 units under development!”
“We are in a time of great transformation,” Bryan declares. “Even outside of what the global pandemic accelerated on multiple levels – social justice, economic inequality, countries working collaboratively – there’s yet another whole wave of things that will transform so much of what we do in our lives. That’s why there’s never been a better time to be in business – if you have the right mindset.”
Don’t miss Bryan’s 4-part series on how to adapt to new realities with M.U.N.E. (pronounced ‘money’): Mindset; User Experience; New Economics; and Execution. Learn about these four key drivers to bolster your confidence, inform your decisions, and lead you towards a profitable and sustainable future. Watch for Part 1 in our next issue!
Bryan O’Rourke is an experienced CEO, strategist, investor, board member, and advisor. With a track record of growing brands large and small, his network of associates and partners have served a wide range of organizations in a cross-section of various industries. His present focus is on healthy lifestyle, fitness, wellness, technology, innovation, finance, marketing, and business development, but his expertise and consultancy extend to a number of other disciplines and industries. As an executive and owner of multiple companies, he is also President of the non-profit Fitness Industry Technology Council, driving innovation and collaboration in the fitness space.