Fran Poloni and his wife Jayde realized their shared passion for working with individuals with adaptive needs nearly a decade ago and found a like-minded community when they were introduced to Special Strong. They’re excited to bring the first Special Strong location to Arizona’s West Valley.
Tell me a bit about yourself – what does your background look like?
I had been working for about a decade with individuals with adaptive needs. I got involved while doing some ministry and volunteer work. I was asked to help out for a week at a summer camp for adults with special needs.
I didn’t know anyone with special needs so was kind of intimidating, but as I was starting my walk of faith my leaders in the ministry group encouraged me to serve in this capacity. That week ended up being a really rewarding experience. I was asked to come back the following year, which I did, and also had a great time. Each time I was asked to return they’d give me more responsibilities. They realized I was enjoying it and able to work well with some of the more challenging campers that they were serving.
I started working with a camper named Ryan who had cerebral palsy. He was non-verbal and non-ambulatory. That year, I really connected with him as we were going through the summer camp experience. I realized that because he wasn’t able to jump into activities independently he was pretty sad and clearly wanted to be more involved. We got him playing soccer, getting involved in obstacle courses, and dancing around with his peers. By the end of the week, he was having a blast and the joy that he was experiencing, I was also feeling. When I left that camp, I just knew that I was going to continue serving individuals with special needs.
About a year later, someone from the volunteer ministry group approached me and invited me to work at a day program that she managed. I had no intention of doing something like that, but after experiencing this type of work for a week at a time over the past three summers, I realized that this really was work I’d like to do on a daily basis.
I eventually moved up to managing employment services for that day program, where I got to help a lot of adults with special needs find employment opportunities in the community, which is very rewarding.
How did you end up here? Why did you pick Special Strong?
I met my wife working at that day program. Our passion for serving was mutual. When we got married we were looking at ways to get our family started and how to provide for our family moving forward. Someone brought Special Strong to our attention and asked if it was something we’d be interested in bringing to Arizona so we started looking into it.
When we were approached with Special Strong, we had already gone through a lot of other ideas of careers and things that I could get involved in. I had been cleaning cars on the side, so our investor partner had suggested something like a car washing business, Little Caesar’s, things of that nature. While I considered the ideas, none of these were things that I was passionate about.
I knew it could be successful and I’d be able to provide for my family, but I also knew that these wouldn’t be jobs I’d be excited to wake up for. Even though fitness wasn’t necessarily in my background, I do like to be active and I understand the health benefits of fitness and focusing on wellness and health. When I was first introduced to Daniel and Special Strong, I knew that I could see myself doing something like that to continue serving our special needs community here.
From start to finish, what was the process like of becoming a franchisee?
I completed a form on the Special Strong website and Daniel reached out saying he’d love to do a video chat with my wife and me. We really enjoyed chatting with Daniel. We felt a mutual passion to serve and felt from Daniel that he was genuinely wanting to support the special needs community and help them become more independent and have abundant life. We really connected in that sense.
The discovery day in Texas allowed us a closer look at what the reality of this opportunity looked like, and made us more confident in our decision to move forward.
During the process, what did you learn from talking with other franchisees?
We spoke to Manju, whose story reminded us a little of our own. She was very excited about all the support Special Strong was giving her. She had also not been a business owner before starting this, so they helped her with training to set up finances, marketing and PR, and other steps to really set her up for success. They basically taught her how to run a successful business without having any experience. That was definitely attractive to us because we were in a similar situation.
What would you tell someone else who is considering becoming a franchisee?
Reach out to Daniel. If you’re considering it, you want to make sure before you get involved in a long-term investment that it’s something you want to do every day and a business you’re excited to run.
When you franchise, you’re still a business owner but you have a support team and that’s who you look up to. If things get rough, you don’t have to figure it out on your own. If you’re going to franchise, you want to be sure that you trust the people you’re reaching out to for help. If you don’t, you might as well just start your own business and not franchise. With any franchise, if you don’t feel comfortable with the owner, that’s probably an immediate red flag that it’s not someone you want to do business with.
Share your fears and concerns – Daniel is very understanding. He shared his own fears and concerns. It was a very level conversation where he let us know he was our peer, and that we were on the same page. He was very clear that we all succeed together.
What were some of the most attractive components of the business model?
There are two tiers that we saw when first looking into Special Strong. We liked the fact that we could start with partnering with gyms and getting the community to understand the benefits of health and fitness for individuals with adaptive needs and then be able to progress and move into having our own facility.
With a lot of other options that we were looking at, the investments were more expensive because you’d have to purchase or rent a facility and all the equipment you’d need to run it. This was an opportunity to start off on the lower end to build up to that. Because my wife and I are fairly young and just starting out our family, we didn’t have the capital to invest in something like that to begin with. The fact that it was affordable and doable was really attractive to us.
What made Special Strong different from other opportunities you were looking into?
Aside from being able to continue serving the population that we were passionate about serving, we liked that we’d be able to work with people with adaptive needs in a way that helps them become more independent. We’d be able to help them be stronger, more confident, and lead a better life.
Daniel explained that we would be essentially partnering with community gyms to provide our services. Having worked at the day program for a long time, we started noticing that there are certain things that this community is just used to – they go to specific day programs or specific places to do their work. There are specific areas that are set aside for people with special needs. We saw the videos of Daniel’s clients working out at the community gym with their friends or neighbors and thought that it was a really cool way to integrate something we’d been exposed to and have a passion for. We loved that this wasn’t something being done in a closed-off area or away from the community.
What was your biggest fear about saying YES to Special Strong?
With any of the opportunities that we considered, it’s intimidating to spend the money and step into something that’s long-term like this. One of the initial fears is whether it will be worth it.
Of course, with the recent closures, that was on our mind as well. Could things close down again? You can’t really be six feet away from your clients in this type of work.
Another fear was whether families would be interested in spending the money on fitness. It can sometimes be overlooked. People don’t always realize the benefits of health and have the willingness to invest in it. Personal fitness is hard for the general population to invest in – is the special needs community going to be into this?
What made you overcome your fears and say YES to Special Strong?
What made us feel peaceful about it was meeting Daniel, which was a really welcoming and warm experience. When we went to Texas and did our discovery day we got to meet the team and some of Daniel’s athletes and their families. That helped us overcome a lot of those fears.
People really are interested in the support that needs to be given when working with individuals that need to have someone there assisting. We also realized the whole community is involved. Other gym-goers were walking by, high-fiving Daniel’s athletes and encouraging them. We weren’t going to an area that was closed off. Everybody was in it and excited about it. It was a really eye-opening experience. It made us realize that this really was something that we wanted to bring to Arizona so it could be a reality in our own community.
What did you think about the start-up costs and fees with Special Strong?
We’re young, so we knew we’d need to pay this back to investors that we’d be borrowing money from. We felt comfortable knowing that we’d be able to pay the amount back in a timely manner as opposed to having to spend many years paying back lenders with a more expensive option.
If you would like to learn more about owning a rewarding Special Strong franchise, we encourage you to reach out to us today for more information.