It all started a decade ago with contemplation about a new model for women’s empowerment via affordable and easy access to sports, entrepreneurship and socializing.
Turkish entrepreneur Bedriye Hulya, named “Social Entrepreneur of the Year” in 2013 by the World Economic Forum’s Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, found the answer by launching B-fit, Turkey’s first national chain of women-only gyms.
She began her project in 2006, based on a franchising model in a middle-class neighborhood of Turkey’s western city of Izmir.
In her business model, franchisees are managed, co-owned and used only by women. There is a franchise agreement and an initial fee paid by the franchisee, who also pays a monthly fee to B-fit, which sells fitness products to franchisees.
In Turkey, the fitness market generally comprises expensive salons, but B-fit membership is affordable for middle-income people, with standardized quality and decoration in all branches.
There is also the advantage for veiled ladies of not needing permission from their male guardians, and of not feeling uncomfortable in mixed-gender gyms.
B-fit provides 30-minute exercise sessions, which is helpful for working women who have little free time.
This business model not only empowers the end users, but also the franchisees by providing them with an opportunity to establish their own business without huge investments.
Each franchisee is regularly audited by the B-fit central management office on the basis of client satisfaction and turnover.
The headquarters act like their back office and support via training, marketing, IT, and helping set credible monthly targets.
Franchisees have to provide gym members with social events such as dinners, outdoor activities and community social responsibility projects.
The company wants to expand to the Balkans, the Gulf, Central Asia and the Middle East.
“In the Middle East, women face similar obstacles and have similar socio-economic needs, so we want to meet this demand in those countries where we share a similar culture,” Hulya told Arab News.
Songul Uludag, 53, was a B-fit member in Ankara in 2013. She suffered from pain due to overweight.
“I weighed about 106 kilograms, and I couldn’t go to mixed gyms because I’m a covered lady. When my daughter heard about B-fit, we quickly subscribed to it,” Uludag told Arab News.
After 15 months, the B-fit gym she went to was about to be transferred to a new owner, so she seized the opportunity to open her first B-fit branch, followed by a second.
Uludag now has some 400 clients, including some from the Gulf states, and says she knows each one by name to greet them every day.
“Instead of birthday cake, we offer a golden apple to each member for celebrating birthdays. We ask our members to sell their handiworks in our branches during special days like Mother’s Day,” she said.
Emel Onal became a B-fit member last year as a way to relieve stress due to insulin resistance and the responsibilities of caring for her mother, who has dementia.
“With an intensive B-fit sport program that I’m following six days per week, I regained my energy and joy of life, while my health indicators improve each day. Even my mother, who is bedridden now, can feel my positive energy thanks to sport,” Onal told Arab News. “I feel at home here.”
B-fit is about to launch a project in collaboration with JP Morgan to open a women’s center where participants will be assessed in three tracks: volunteering, employment and entrepreneurship.
“Each woman will be trained by mentors in the track where she has assets, and at the end of the process she’ll either launch her own business, start working in a sector that suits her qualifications, or be a volunteer in an area that interests her,” Hulya said. “Women who exercise are happier, and we see that reflected in the family.”