King of the Gym
Brendon Levenson grew up through disadvantage with a hunger to do something better. The founder of Australia’s first 24/7 fitness club model powered through five years of business growth to set up his gym franchise empire for his family and future.
In a gym, it’s those who quietly push themselves, defying the odds, demonstrating mental strength and applying new approaches to their training who are the ones that succeed in their goals and muscle in on the competition. And for this Sunshine Coast ‘rags to riches’ tale, in the business of gyms, Jetts founder and Managing Director Brendon Levenson is the epitome of the power of grit and determination. Oh, and the numbers surrounding the multi-million dollar gym empire are pretty healthy too. The Jetts gym franchise had an estimated annual revenue of $128.5 million in the 2013-14 financial year, with growth of 13 per cent, a market share of 9.8 per cent, and the inclusion of 25 new clubs in its chain; but chatting in his sleek Mooloolaba head office, Brendon’s casual manner belies the fact that he is the fitness industry’s multi-million-dollar man, effectively shaking up the conventional fitness club by pioneering the launch of a 24/7 gym model in 2007. “I was a personal trainer first and I love being on the gym floor, dropping into the gym and having a chat to club and team members is what I get a kick out of, more so than sitting around a boardroom table, that’s for sure,” he says. It’s candid words from the 2012 Ernst & Young Australian Young Entrepreneur of the Year, who heads up a company that’s placed on numerous BRW Fast 100 lists.
Growing up the son of a single mum in the western suburbs of Sydney, the pair bounced between housing commission flats and spent time in a women’s refuge. It was these early years that Brendon credits as the source of his hunger and determination. “My mother just kept trying, regardless of the situation she was in. She taught me a lot about being resilient and no matter how tough things are, to just get up each day and keep on going.” The pair moved to Mooloolaba when Brendon was 11 years old, with his now step-father who Brendon credits as being an instrumental part of both his and his mother’s lives. It didn’t take long for Brendon to find his feet on the Coast; a year after moving up, he started excelling at school and in sports. “As soon as we moved to the Coast it all started falling into place,” he reflects.
“Having a father figure and seeing my mother happy along with some stability really helped me find my way.”
But it wasn’t until he was 22 that Brendon really found his calling.
“I always had that entrepreneurial mindset. When I started in fitness I realised I could combine two passions of business and fitness and it all went from there,” says Brendon, who dropped out of a business degree at university in his early 20s. “I’d grown up playing sport and training in the gym but I didn’t know you could make a career out of it. I was flicking through the paper and I saw an ad for a personal trainer. “I got involved in the course at TAFE and that’s when that spark was lit.”
After working for a local gym, and running a personal training studio, Brendon, with now-wife Cristy purchased a gym in Marcoola.
That gym was Brendon’s former training ground as a teenager, and with $1000 in the bank and that nostalgic purchase, the catalyst of his fitness empire began.
The couple ran the gym for two years in their early 20s, before selling it at the same time the idea of Jetts 24/7 gym came about. The couple sold the gym and moved in with Cristy’s parents in New South Wales, before shifting to the Gold Coast to test the concept. The pair opened the first Jetts club in 2007; 18 months later they relocated back to Mooloolaba following the launch of their fifth club, the ‘showcase’ club, on Brisbane Road. Their franchise model quickly rolled out, with the red and white clubs opening doors across Queensland, then Western Australia.
The move paid off – the Australian fitness industry is booming, with SmartCompany reporting in 2013-14, a collective revenue of $1.31 billion, with over 2800 businesses nationwide, mainly franchises.
“A lot of the bigger gyms and chains weren’t really looking after their members. Gyms were locking people into long-term contracts, using pushy sales tactics and charging people for things they didn’t use. We simply said, ‘let’s do the opposite’.”
Today, Jetts is reaching for 300 successful clubs in Australasia by the end of 2015, has a strong presence in Australia and New Zealand, and boasts more than 1000 team members and business owners.
And, after testing the brand in the Netherlands for 18 months, Brendon is now moving into a rollout phase for Jetts throughout Europe, after securing partners for the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK. He has also just announced the first entry into Asia with a club in Thailand opening in December this year.
With wife Cristy still acting as Brendon’s ‘sounding board’, and her hands full with raising their three children aged nine, seven and eleven months old from their Peregian home, Brendon recognises the importance of family and these values form a big part of the DNA of the business. In fact, the Jetts empire’s namesake is the couple’s eldest son, Jett. “Work/life balance is critically important to me and I wouldn’t sacrifice that for the sake of opening another 250 gyms,” he says. “I’m pretty good at that balance now, I probably jammed in 15 years worth of work into five years in building this and that’s not sustainable. “I recognise the importance of work/life balance, particularly with three kids, and simply being a dad. I know what a difference it made to me as a kid so I make sure I spend as much time with our kids as I can.”
Brendon is also an advisor/mentor to a select few young entrepreneurs.
His advice to them? “Don’t confuse mistakes with failures. Mistakes are required to move forward and failure is to be avoided at all cost. There’s a big difference.” “And back yourself. You are much better than you think.” And that’s how you come out on top.
“I always had that entrepreneurial mindset. When I started in fitness I realised I could combine two passions of business
and fitness and it all went from there.”