Members spearhead campaign to keep Curves franchise open
Ann Arbor’s only Curves Weight Loss Program franchise has grown into more than a place to drop a few pounds and get in shape: It’s become a close-knit community of women.
Baby showers have been held there. Members send each other get well cards. “Exercise, essentially, is boring,” said member Annette Fisch. “But you have friends here. It’s my social club as well as my exercise club, and it’s never boring.”
So it wasn’t a complete surprise that when franchise owner Robin Black Long announced she would close the doors after she couldn’t find a buyer, members came together to try and find a way to keep it afloat. It is the first time in corporate history that members have joined forces to fundraise to keep a Curves open, Long said.
Janet Miler | For AnnArbor.com
After 11 years of owning the Ann Arbor's Curves, located in a narrow, 2,000-square-foot storefront in the Westgate Shopping Center, Long wants to change course. After a number of months on the market without a nibble, Long decided she would close her franchise when her corporate agreement expires on Sept. 4.
Two weeks ago, she sent her 300 members the news, and by 8 a.m. the following day, members of the club began talking about ways to raise the $55,000 to keep it open. By Tuesday, they decided to hold a series of three community meetings to discuss strategy. More than 100 members have attended the meetings. Along the way, they offered to donate what they could — some offered $1,000, while others had to offer something less.
Employee Jeri Shumate and her partner Mary Whitehouse Barber will each chip in $1,000 and a silent partner will front $10,000. Combined with other commitments already made, a total of $25,000 has been raised, leaving about $30,000 to go, Long said. If $55,000 is raised, Shumate and the silent partner would own the five-year franchise agreement.
They turned to crowd funding when they launched a GoFundMe account July 7, while area businesses also are chipping in. Happy House Hallmark, Curves’ Westgate neighbor, offered to hold a fundraiser later this month. Curves and Happy House share a similar customer base, Long said. Shumate and Long are hoping other businesses in the mall also will pitch in.
Members are pledging donations with no string attached, Shumate said. Other than the silent partner, donors are making gifts and not buying a piece of the franchise and it won’t go toward fees or dues (monthly dues ranges from $35 to $65). Long gets choked-up when she talks about how her members are willing to trust and support her.
“It’s so heartfelt to see how Curves has touched people’s lives,” she tells a group of women gathered Monday afternoon to brainstorm the fundraising drive. “We help each other.”
While the 300 members financially makes the Ann Arbor Curves sustainable, a strong marketing campaign is needed for growth, Long said. At its peak, the Ann Arbor Curves had almost 1,000 members. Tapping into the University of Michigan (where there is a Curves discount) and reaching out to local physicians along with using some Curves corporate strategies should help, said Barber, who will be in charge of marketing.
Women at the meeting agreed. “You can have rows and rows of machines across the street and I won’t go there,” one woman said. “At some clubs, you have to have just the right outfits. And others, you have to have just the right thighs. Not here.”