Today, sports nutrition supplements are everywhere, but this was not always the case. Twenty-five years ago, this was an industry that only existed in concepts and ideas, with sparse offerings in drug stores. In 1994, Reflex Supplements, of Surrey, B.C., was born. It was one of the first supplement stores in Canada. From the onset, the company saw positive growth, and that continues to this day, as it is the fastest growing company of its kind in Canada.
Fifteen stores have opened in the last eighteen months, and more are coming. While the main concentration lies in Western Canada, there are plans to delve into the Ontario market. Part of its success lies in its goal of ensuring that franchisees are adequately trained and educated in sports nutrition so they can provide the customer with the ultimate educational experience. We spoke with Reflex Supplements Partner Curtis Christopherson.
Derek Carey was the founder of Reflex Supplements. It was housed in the Guildford Mall in Surrey and was initially focused on the third-party reselling of products. This was before the huge trend for protein powders.
“From 1994, we grew into a corporate expansion model with multiple locations. Some ranged from one hundred percent retail to others that had juice and food bars. We realized quickly that our management team and employees saw the potential of the business model. Therefore, a lot of our competition today stems from ex-employees, managers and Reflex owners,” says Curtis.
The company recognized that many people are very passionate about this industry, see its business opportunities and want to own their stores. Eight years ago, Reflex Supplements shifted to the present franchise model. This conversion provided future opportunity and upward mobility for all of the employees – especially those interested in making it a career or owning their own business!
These opportunities for employees give businesses the ability to retain great people. However, the biggest hurdle and challenge would be expanding outside the existing territories in which the company has built a brand.
“We have a very prominent brand in the western part of Canada – B.C. and Alberta. We get a lot of franchise interest from local people that know the brand. But, in the franchise model, obviously, you want to create interest in regions that you don’t have a brand in,” says Curtis.
It is a difficult model at times because as much as it works in areas where the brand is known, there are desirable locations where people are not aware of it, making it tough to get established.
“If we enter new territory going forward, it’s going to be with multiple locations at once. That way, we can really develop the brand and marketing strength in that territory. We will be going back to Ontario in 2018 and are making our way from west to east. It will be a slow expansion, but we’ll get there,” says Curtis.
Huge chain Popeye’s Supplements started in Edmonton around the same time that Reflex began in Surrey. However, Reflex is now definitely the fastest growing company across Western Canada and Canada in general. I wondered how this was possible given the strong Popeye’s name and a slow economy. It starts with Curtis.
Curtis became involved in the company two and a half years ago but has a familiarity with the business that goes back twenty years and has a background with franchising. He grew one of the largest personal training companies across Canada – Innovative Fitness – which was mainly concentrated in the west.
The key to expansion is to enter towns and communities that have little competition from grocery stores, health food stores or other competition in the market. Reflex then can establish its name with a vested community partner, the franchise owner. Curtis is also very strategic on how he attracts that right franchisee and on boards them into the business.
“A lot of our success has been opening in small towns, with a population of approximately thirty thousand people, with very limited competition,” says Curtis.
The most popular brands definitely vary with trends. Currently items such as bone broth proteins, vegan-oriented products, soy free or plant-based proteins are getting more and more popular, while the staples in this industry have always been the pre-workouts, fat burners, recovery drinks and protein supplements.
Reflex grew from nine locations to twenty-four in a year and a half. The sales centres serve demographics with different income levels and interests, so the company has been determining which trends and staples will be popular. Currently Reflex is looking at even further options to bring in new products such as those being launched in 2018.
Customer education is key for the successful introduction of new products, but education is also essential for the business as a whole. Reflex gives its franchisees proper training when they begin as well as ongoing training in product knowledge and other relevant information through representatives of the companies with which it works.
“We are also in the process of launching a nutritional certification for all our franchise partners. Our goal is to have a lot of our franchise partners as certified nutritionists by 2018. This will enable us to educate around the nutritional and dietary needs of our clients. If we can be certified as nutritionists, that will validate and provide a lot more insight and information for them,” says Curtis.
Reflex wants franchisees who are passionate about the industry, look the part, educate themselves and want to eat healthily and live an active lifestyle. The company looks for people who want to be business owners and will work hard and dedicate their time and energy to being an advocate in the community.
“In addition, we want people that strive to continually educate themselves. This business is not just something that you can sign up for and then rest on current knowledge and information. It’s always changing,” says Curtis.
Reflex encourages partnerships as franchise owners. Teams such as husbands and wives have worked out quite well as couples seem to open new locations faster. That said, multi-unit owners are the next phase of growth for the company. Reflex wants people who want to run a business as opposed to investing in a hobby – people who are forward-thinking and looking to open more stores.