Controversy aside, Gary Heavin is sitting pretty these days, smack-dab in the middle of the business spotlight. Heavin, founder of the extraordinarily popular Curves fitness chain, has just been named Ernst & Young's "Entrepreneur of the Year" in the service industry category.
Starting with a $10,000 investment and a single gym in 1995, Heavin now lays claim to what is (according to the Guinness Book of World Records) the fastest-growing franchise in history. Today, there are more than 8,000 Curves facilities in 25 countries, accounting for more than 80% of the women's fitness market.
From Day One, Heavin's mission was simple and has never wavered: just get women to step inside a gym.
In promoting fitness and wellness, Heavin saw that women often feel uncomfortable exercising in the presence of men. He also noticed that women’s social tendencies, even while exercising, are to talk and benefit from each other’s company - leading to the circular layout of his small gyms so ladies can chat while exercising. Heavin recognized early on that women are time-challenged, so he devised a workout that lasts a mere 30 minutes.
Part of the Curves appeal is in its use of real women as models and the creation of a very inviting website - the intimidation factor has been reduced to zero. It's easy for women to see themselves in the marketing reflection that Curves creates.
What are some of the simple ways you can set yourself apart from what everyone else in your industry does? Have you taken a long, hard look at what might be intimidating to your customers? Is it your location, the store/office atmosphere, or even (God forbid) the staff? Being different might simply mean good old-fashioned customer service where none exists.
Sometimes, it's good to have a few curve balls thrown your way to get you thinking...