From humble single-store beginnings in 1935 to more than 7,900 retail locations across the U.S. and 58 international markets, GNC has done nothing if not practiced what it’s preached. And for nearly 80 years, living well has been the best medicine.
GNC’s U.S. store base is more than 12 times larger than that of its nearest competitor and its scope makes it the world’s largest specialty retailer of health and wellness products.
But what sets GNC apart is more than longevity, number of stores or even superior financial results, according to Darryl Green, the company’s president of international and domestic franchising.
It’s the power of a strong brand. “GNC has a brand recognition rate of more than 80 percent, which is exceptional,” Green said. “That’s right up there with some of the largest and most successful companies in the U.S., and it demonstrates the strength of our relationship with consumers.”
GNC has developed a reputation for both producing quality products and providing superior customer service. The introduction of innovative, high-quality, clinically proven and superior-performing products is a key driver for the business and the company maintains excellent quality by adhering to strict FDA and international standards. Every product undergoes numerous quality tests, and every lot of raw materials that enters a GNC manufacturing facility is tested.
This process ensures that a GNC-branded product can be a trusted product.
GNC franchisees and employees are dedicated to creating a positive shopping experience as well, assisting customers in finding products to help them meet goals and maximize results.
“When someone comes in looking for a diet product, for example, we don’t just offer them a weight loss product,” Green said. “We ask them about their lifestyle and their goals to help them build a program specific to their needs.
”The GNC in-store experience includes access to knowledgeable associates, and one-third of shelf space is dedicated to education and product information, as well as targeted and effective promotions and in-store programs that drive add-on sales.
“The whole idea is to create a shopping experience that is very different than that of our competitors,” Green said. “We don’t just sell product, we tailor the shopping experience to the customer. If we’ve done our job right, each customer should leave feeling like they just hit the first step to achieving their goals.
”A critical component of the unique shopping experience is first-to-market products.
Because GNC understands the health and wellness industry and the consumer trends that drive it, and because GNC has its own product development and manufacturing capabilities, it stays ahead of the product development curve. This is true of GNC brands like Pro Performance, and major third-party product launches because of its strong vendor relationships and ability to leverage a national footprint.
Strong product development and branding go hand in hand. In sports nutrition, proprietary flagship brands support the development of a wide range of sub-brands that build and sustain GNC’s category growth. In sports nutrition, for example, the strength of the Pro Performance brand drove GNC’s share of the fitness/sports category to more than 25 percent.
Prospective franchisees are drawn to GNC thanks to the strong brand and a low-starting capital investment that runs between $165,000 and $200,000 for domestic locations. The investment includes a fully stocked store, as well as complete training in all facets of the business. The franchise is No. 28 on Entrepreneur magazine’s “Franchise 500” for 2014, following rankings of 60, 40, 33 and 33 from 2010 through 2013, respectively.
“One of the reasons we’re so successful is because it’s an affordable investment to get into a GNC franchise store and own your own business,” Green said. “This is a customer service business, and outstanding customer service drives the franchisee’s success. Our goal is to coach our franchisees on a consistent basis, so that they can maximize their return on investment.”
Franchisees are supported with a multi-phase training program that includes time at a GNC corporate store to learn the business, as well as attending a week of classroom training at GNC headquarters in Pittsburgh to learn about business operations. Additionally, a GNC representative spends time on-site at franchise locations to help launch new stores. After opening, support arrives for product launches and through education on new products and ingredients.
In terms of corporate growth, the international market is fertile ground.
“The growth machine of GNC store development is international franchising,” Green said. “We are setting a record pace with sales and store openings, which proves that GNC is a great place to be a franchisee. This is a company that is incredibly committed to the best products and the highest levels of customer satisfaction. Franchising is an important component in our ability to deliver on that commitment.”
AT A GLANCE WHO: GNC (General Nutrition Centers Inc.)
WHAT: Retailer of health- and nutrition-related products, including vitamins, supplements, minerals, herbs, sports nutrition, diet and energy products.
WHERE: Corporate headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pa.