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Back in 1989, a stay-at-home mum had an idea to open a gym for women to focus on their health and fitness. Fast-forward 30 years and that idea now has 70 clubs and 73,000 members!

Fernwood Fitness CEO and founder Diana Williams talks about her journey over the past three decades, as well as what's to come next.

Why did you launch Fernwood? 

I was into weight training and powerlifting, and was amazed by the physical changes it had on me, so I wanted to share that with other women. Back then, men did weights and women did aerobics. I thought it’d be nice to have a space for women to come together and have fun working out with weights.

Was your first club in Bendigo an instant success?

It was a great success. With no marketing budget, I sent letters to all the hairdressers in Bendigo to tell them I was opening a women’s gym and that did the trick. Word of mouth did the rest!

What was your biggest challenge getting set up?

My first club wasn’t a challenge, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The challenges came later when I decided to expand. Being a woman with no business experience starting a franchised fitness business was challenging! They were all hurdles I overcame, more like achievements and lessons learned.

"It’s not just me anymore. Promoting women in business in our franchises around Australia is also a great achievement."

What’s Fernwood’s biggest achievement?

The fact we’ve been in business for 30 years – that’s huge! When I started Fernwood, I was a stay-at-home mum with little to no business experience, let alone franchising. There were a lot of reasons why it should have failed, but through persistence and a total belief in the product, we’re now a very successful national company. And it’s not just me anymore. Promoting women in business in our franchises around Australia is also a great achievement.

How has Fernwood changed over the years?

The Fernwood woman has changed so much. She prefers to work out in a female-only space, not because she’s uncomfortable, not because she’s intimidated, but because she doesn’t want to work out with the guys. It’s a different market and I think the changes we’ve made at Fernwood reflect that.

What is it like working with Deakin University?

We’ve been working with their Food and Mood Centre for two and a half years. We’re funding a professor who’s doing research into how food is directly related to improving mental health using the Mediterranean diet. So, we’ve adopted that as part of our diet plans. They’ve provided us with a lot of recipes that are great for not just mental health, but also making people feel better overall.

What’s next for Fernwood?

We’re moving more into the wellness space. Some new clubs with a smaller footprint will focus on the yoga, Pilates, meditation and wellness aspect to health. They’ll still have the intense functional training like FIIT30, but no more rows of treadmills. They’ll have programs where our members get really great results. They can choose whether they do a full-on workout or take time out for themselves and work on their headspace. We'll still have our full-service clubs, but this will run alongside that.

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