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As half of the husband and wife team who founded Curves, the largest fitness franchise in the world, Diane Heavin initially took some convincing to expand outside her Texas community. Once she did, the innovative, affordable, 30-minute fitness program that combines strength training with cardiovascular activity spread like wildfire, initially only by word of mouth. What took McDonald’s 25 years and Subway 26 years to do, open 7,000 locations, Curves did in under a decade. Since launching in 1992, there are now nearly 10,000 locations in over 60 countries serving over four million women. In 2008, the system-wide revenue for Curves was $1.297 billion.
According to Diane, who spent 10 years in newspaper advertising prior to becoming an entrepreneur, the concept for Curves was more of a natural evolution from years of experience than a sudden, light-bulb moment. Diane and her husband Gary both had fitness backgrounds. His came from owning gyms; hers came from a love of fitness and healthy activity that was instilled by her grandparents. After marrying, Diane and Gary wanted to open a local women-only fitness business in their community. Diane recognized that men already had lots of fitness choices, but women needed a place where they could feel comfortable and supported.
Curves was financed with $10,000 from the Heavins’ savings. Despite access to a bank loan, they didn’t want to go into debt with this club like Gary had with his past gyms. So the Heavins gave Curves just three months to be successful or they would close its doors.
In 1992, when the first location opened in Harlingen, TX, Diane knew 100 members needed to join Curves in order to turn a monthly profit. Within just three days, she reached that goal, with scores of ladies dropping off checks and promising to return to fill out their paperwork when the line thinned out. At that point, Diane knew she was on the right track.
After the first Curves was successful, Diane and Gary had a choice to make about expansion, open another club or have a baby. They first chose to grow their family, and daughter Shilah was born.
Curves’ second location was as successful as the first and the Heavins had more decisions to make. Although hesitant at first about going into debt, Diane saw that expanding Curves could help millions of women worldwide, and it became her mission. The next choice was whether to open corporate clubs or sell franchises. Diane says they decided on franchising because the only way Curves’ unique concept would work was if each club was owned and operated by someone as passionate about helping women as they were. In 1995, the first independently owned and operated Curves opened in Paris, TX.
Diane is the self-described image maker of the company, overseeing the marketing, advertising and products divisions of Curves. From award-winning national television commercials and diane, The Curves Magazine to print campaigns and The Curves Collection retail clothing line, the Curves brand continues to dominate the market.
In addition to the accolades Curves has received from fitness experts and the media, Diane is especially proud of the company’s philanthropic efforts. Curves holds an annual food drive that feeds the hungry in the franchisees’ locations. The company’s big philanthropic partnership is with the American Cancer Society where franchisees raise millions of dollars through Relay for Life and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. Diane is familiar with the devastating effects of cancer due to the experiences of her grandfather and brother-in-law.
In October, Curves locations will offer Liv® Aid, a breast self-exam aid that makes it easier for women to perform monthly home breast exams. For every Liv® Aid sold, Curves will give one to a woman who can’t afford it.
Diane was named the Texas Businesswoman of the Year in 2006. She has appeared in milk moustache ads in Shape, Fitness and Health magazines, has been featured in Woman’s Day magazine, and on the shows “Colorado Sportswomen,” “Aspiring Women” and Lifetime Television’s “The Balancing Act.”
What we learned from Diane: “First, you must be sure that you have a strong business plan and an efficient business model. Don’t even think about advertising and marketing and all that fun stuff until you do. A great ad campaign might win awards and get you kudos, but it can’t compensate for a poor idea or an inefficient business model. But if you have that and you feel led to do it, then go for it with all your heart. One last note of advice: decide ahead of time how much of your own money you’ll invest and stick to it. If your idea doesn’t work, consider something else. Don’t put your family in financial jeopardy. ”
Keeping Up with Growth
“The biggest challenge we’ve faced it keeping up with our incredible growth. The first ten years we were busy opening thousands of locations. We’re still growing strong internationally. Domestically, we’re working on refining our systems, creating an even better member experience, and researching cutting-edge programs to keep women healthy and fit.”
The Best of Both Worlds
“Gary and I both have a job that we enjoy and are passionate about. It makes us feel great every day to know that we’re helping millions of women move away from disease and regain their health and vitality. We respect each other’s experience and skills, and that really helps us stay objective. The biggest challenge we have is putting the business aside so we can enjoy time with family and friends. It’s really a consuming business because there’s so much at stake.”