Planet Fitness founder Marc Grondahl ’88 brings industry-changing strategies to class

Marc Grondahl ’88 wasn’t a bodybuilder, or even a serious fitness enthusiast, when he and his brother Michael co-founded Planet Fitness in 1992. He was a businessman instead, and that perspective turned out to make all the difference in the fitness chain’s ultimate success, despite their lack of experience in the industry or in franchise businesses.

With strategic positioning that catered to the over-40 crowd and even mocked the intimidating culture often found at bodybuilding gyms, Planet Fitness established itself as a “judgment-free zone” where middle-aged novices could work out at the intensity that suited them best. In a notoriously competitive industry, the strategy was enormously successful and propelled Planet Fitness to become one of the world’s largest health club chains, with thousands of franchised locations.

Learning through case studies helps us develop skills that we will remember and use in the workplace.

Grondahl, who served as CFO and Chairman of the Board at Planet Fitness, recently shared his real-world experience and perspectives with Bryant students in the Business Policy class of Trustee Professor Michael Roberto, DBA. The capstone course for all seniors in business explores strategic management.

According to John Hagenow ’21, “What we are learning with the case method is not necessarily a set of equations or how to solve a preset problem, but how to develop a critical mindset, which allows us to approach a variety of potential business situations and prior ‘experience’ with how successful business leaders have handled similar situations in the past.”

Katie Perkins ’21 explains, “To sum up everything we have learned so far in this course, it is to never settle for just good enough. Professor Roberto teaches us this through real-life examples about companies and personal experience. He teaches us about successful strategies in the business world, while encouraging us to succeed as well. Learning through case studies helps us develop skills that we will remember and use in the workplace.”  

Among the key strategies Grondahl shared with students were experimentation and iteration – prototyping new ideas at select locations to see if they would work and learning how they would scale. Professor Roberto pointed out that approach aligns with the skills taught in Bryant’s first-year IDEA (Innovation and Design Experience for All) program.

Grondahl’s advice to the assembled students: “Find something you really like to do. Be persistent about it – if you believe in something, keep doing it,” he said.  “And don’t be afraid, especially if you’re an entrepreneur, to do something different,” he added. “You’re going to make mistakes. You can’t avoid that. Keep trying!”

Grondahl moved on from Planet Fitness in 2012, and has since embarked on another venture, Bluebird Self Storage – a business that benefits from much of his past experience, where he learned that customers appreciate a clean environment, a high-touch approach to service, and a fee structure that makes payments easy and affordable.

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