Balancing busy careers and fitness 

In 2005 Huenu Solsona, owner of the very successful Adventure Boot Camp brand, recognised that many South African women were in the throes of balancing busy careers with demanding families and having little time for themselves to relax, socialise with friends and exercise. She saw a gap in the market to launch her outdoor fitness programme targeted at women only. Boot camp offered them the chance to meet three to five days a week for one hour either before or after work at an outdoor location in the immediate suburb and train with a qualified personal trainer.

Little did she know that two years later the world would plummet into a financial crisis affecting businesses all over the globe, especially small start-ups like hers? Fortunately for her, this was when business began to boom. Huenu says: “We experienced the most growth during the economic crisis. UCT (University of Cape Town) did a study on us and found that people are forced to cut many corners when things get rough, but they are not willing to compromise on their health. And when things get stressful, exercise becomes even more important.”

From humble beginnings at her first boot camp in Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town with just 30 women, the Adventure Boot Camp brand has spread at a rapid pace growing in popularity and today boasts more than 90 camps nationwide including Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Somerset West, George, Johannesburg, Nelspruit, Pretoria, Centurion, Paarl, Durban, Polokwane and Potchefstroom.

Says Solsona: “Originally, I just wanted to have one full camp at Kirstenbosch and to run it successfully. I was the personal trainer, the marketer, the accountant and the administrator. I thought that’s where things would end and if I could have a full camp, I would make a sufficient income. When I was overflowing with clients, I opened a second camp and after I saw that worked too, my whole focus shifted. At that point, which was five months into starting ABC; I decided I would take it nationally and have a camp in every major city of South Africa within 5 years.”

And so from 2005 – 2007, Huenu focused on growing the brand in her hometown of Cape Town. This was when the most learning occurred. Her main aim was to systemise everything. She systemised what trainers needed to do, how each day should be handled, how to receive phone calls and answer emails, she did templates for all sorts of replies, started a customised client database that would work for ABC’s specific 4-week programme and put budgets in place. She also focused on getting the best locations possible (surrounded by upmarket neighbourhoods, good facilities and that were beautiful). The system had to be fool-proof before she could launch the franchise. She says: “No matter who worked at ABC, if they followed the system, we would be assured that we’d be providing a good service.”

In 2008, she franchised the brand and offered qualified and experienced personal trainers, firstly in Gauteng and then the rest of the country, the opportunity to own their own Adventure Boot Camp franchise, while keeping Cape Town under her monopoly. Franchise owners are offered training and given extensive support by the administration department and marketing team based at the head office in Cape Town.

 

Marketing is an essential part of Adventure Boot Camp’s success. And according to Huenu, her best marketing tool is ‘word of mouth’. ABC offers women the chance to belong to a ‘club’ which allows them to socialise, relax and exercise in a safe space away from the pressures of their lives for one hour a day. It’s the type of environment many women crave and want to belong to. This is why she thinks the word spreads so quickly.  

Competition has been the brand’s biggest challenge having had a few unfortunate events take place where personal trainers in the Cape Town region left after gaining much insight into how the business model worked, to start their own boot camps. Legal action was taken resulting in these independent boot camps having to close down. “Legal matters are always a very negative energy to deal with. We now keep a close eye on it and by always striving to be the best in the industry,” says Huenu.  

To succeed in the business of fitness, it’s important to know that because you are service-oriented you must listen to your clients and put their needs first. What makes Adventure Boot Camp successful is to also know how to plan, be strategic and deliver on promises. “I believe that your reputation is everything. I try to live both my personal and professional lives with passion, honesty and integrity.”

Any future plans for Adventure Boot Camp and Huenu Solsona?

“We plan to continue growing and bettering ourselves, like we have been since we started and continue to expand into new areas of South Africa.”

Huenu recently launched a new business called The Galileo Open Air Cinema, currently based in Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town, and has plans to grow that brand over the next two years.  

Huenu’s advice to other budding entrepreneurs is to not focus on money, but rather focus on helping people and doing it well. Not only will monetary success come to you then, but you’ll also get a wonderful sense of personal fulfilment. You will have made the world a better place, one person at a time. And read. “I’ve read lots of business, marketing and HR books. Some of my favourite authors are Richard Branson, Brian Tracy, Seth Godin and Anthony Robbins. I’m also part of Entrepreneurs’ Organisation with whom I meet for a very intense, fulfilling and enlightening afternoon once a month.”

 

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