CREATING A “LIFE ENHANCEMENT” INDUSTRY
After 10 years in Vietnam, Randy Dobson, Chairman of CMG.Asia, is leading the fitness industry through innovation with the creation of the “Life Enhancement Ecosystem Platform,” a brand new industry meeting health, beauty and fitness needs.
In his interview with Forbes in 2008, being 33 and Managing Director at the time, his plan was to open 6 clubs in Ho Chi Minh City and 2 to 3 in Hanoi. Randy has not only turned his vision into reality but the results have far exceeded his expectations. CMG.Asia now boasts 30 fitness locations around Vietnam however, they are a small part of the lifestyle conglomerate he created.
Under Randy’s guidance, CMG.Asia quickly developed and launched 18 different brands, forming his Life Enhancement Ecosystem Platform, serving health, fitness and beauty needs; from fitness clubs to international beauty clinics to media and entertainment, all with the goal of “Making Life Better.” In 2016, CMG.Asia Holdings made $75 million USD in revenue, a leap from $48 million USD in 2015, and is expected to generate $110 million USD in 2017.
“I think the Vietnamese middle class is growing faster than my ability to build clubs and this trend will continue,” says Randy. “When I was looking at Vietnam 10 years ago I saw a market with stable politics and a young, well-educated population, a market in which we could make a big impact.”
Randy, now at age 41, barely looks any different than he did almost a decade ago; athletic, fit and toned. We met Randy at Thao Dien Pearl, District 2, where CMG.Asia has opened what can only be described as a health and fitness lifestyle playground. The space includes the high end Yoga Plus club, a paradise for yoga enthusiasts, and UFC Gym, the first from the infamous franchise to appear in Asia. Next door is CaliKids Academy, a fitness club for children that exercises the body and mind, and Eri International, a beauty clinic practicing internal medicine and dermatology, focusing on non-invasive beauty treatments using state-of-the-art technology. People can also purchase the latest fitness equipment and apparel, such as sport shoes, yoga mats and boxing gloves at most locations. All of CMG.Asia’s clubs are modern, luxurious and bring the entertainment factor; however, they aren’t just for working out and having beauty treatments done, they are places built to cater to your relaxation and entertainment needs.
“Our vision is to create an ecosystem linking all aspects of a healthy and active lifestyle,” Randy shares about his passion. “This is a journey and we want to meet your needs, from the day you’re born until the day you die!”
California Fitness and Yoga now has over 150,000 members, many of whom have bought long term memberships, however the influence and reach of CMG.Asia runs much deeper. Mizuho, a Japanese investment firm, invested $15 million USD in exchange for 10% of the shares in 2013 and the CFYC brand has since been evaluated at $150 million USD. Randy expands his management group by investing into companies that will help build his Life Enhancement Ecosystem. Aside from 30 California Fitness and Yoga clubs, he now has 4 other groups. The fitness group has 5 brands for people of all ages, a medical group with 2 brands, a retail group with 27 outlets and a media group which includes online channels, a talent management company and a production house which specializes in creating health-conscious messages.
“In this ecosystem the core of the business is the fitness clubs, they not only provide healthy lifestyle services but also beauty, longevity and entertainment services,“ Randy explains. “Once you become a client and enter our ecosystem, why should you have to leave us when you enter a different stage of your life? We developed Yoga Plus, a place for working women and busy mothers. UFC Gym is not just a club for MMA enthusiasts but a place where anyone who wants to train has the opportunity to do so. We also have Centuryon, a high end club for business owners and elite individuals. We want to keep our clients in our ecosystem, a place where everything is developed around the fitness clubs.”
Leading entrepreneurs in the international health and fitness industry have praised Randy for pioneering the business model he created in Vietnam. Mark Mastrov, founder and Chairman of New Evolution Ventures (the UFC franchise owner) and based in California, considers Randy’s model to be an outstanding idea. When interviewed by Forbes Vietnam, Mastrov was filled with praise, “no one has ever thought to combine everything together into one business model like Randy has done. He travels the world, observes the best in everywhere he goes and then combines it into one company.”
Mastrov is a big name in the fitness industry in the US as the founder of 24h Fitness and co-owner of an NBA team, the Sacramento Kings. He was initially Randy’s partner in Vietnam when they first opened but after 18 months Randy bought back all the shares and re-branded the company into California Fitness and Yoga. Randy began his career at a young age and has always considered Mastrov to be his mentor. At 18, he went through a difficult period; he was divorced and the first industry he tried to enter into, travel, was disrupted. He began working out at a gym to try and cope and eventually decided to move into the fitness industry. Randy recalls, “I was in the industry for a few years and later realized that it too could be disrupted if it doesn’t evolve. This was in the 90’s when many fitness clubs were being closed down.”
Randy began working for Mastrov, the “godfather of the fitness industry,” after Mastrov’s 24h Fitness group acquired the club where Randy worked as a junior staff member. Randy rose quickly through the ranks, by 23 he was regional manager and at 25 he was sent to Hong Kong to oversee sales and marketing. “Randy was one of the best people we had in Asia,” Mastrov commended.
The idea of building a company focusing on lifestyle came to Randy quite early, after only 5 or 6 years of working in the fitness industry, “I remember a conversation I had with Dane Fort when he worked with me in Seattle when I was 19. I told him that the fitness industry won’t be as it is today and I believe we are entering a golden era of health and lifestyle, as people earn more money they will prioritize health and longevity. We could start to build it now; no one understands this better than we do.”
When 24h Fitness sold in 2005 Randy decided to build his own company and Mastrov agreed to be his partner, telling Randy, “why not? Find a market we have never entered and I will invest with you.” Randy traveled Asia to study individual markets and search for opportunities before finally choosing Vietnam. In 2008, Randy opened his first club in Vietnam with Mastrov and Eric Levine, one of Mastrov’s other partners, who operates the California Wow clubs in Hong Kong. After 18 months, Randy was given the chance to buy out his partners and independently develop the brand in Vietnam under his own vision.
We are a sales and marketing company selling not only fitness memberships but, ultimately, a better life. Although our focus is on sales and marketing, fitness is different from other products. We sell a dream and that is why we have to be very passionate when presenting the dream lifestyle – Dane Fort
California Fitness and Yoga started building the best team in the industry, many of whom were trained at 24h Fitness. CEO of CMG.Asia, Dane Fort, who worked with Randy in the U.S, joined him when he transferred to Hong Kong and then Vietnam. Dane says their strategy is simple: focus on sales and marketing. With their initial $5 million USD investment they opened their first mega fitness center, the first of its kind in Vietnam, in Hung Vuong, District 5, focused on sales and utilized a large sales team to enroll members. “This strategy works, we sold many new memberships and our numbers grew rapidly,” recalls Dane. “We are a sales and marketing company selling not only fitness memberships but, ultimately, a better life. Although our focus is on sales and marketing, fitness is different from other products. We sell a dream and that is why we have to be very passionate when presenting the dream lifestyle.”
The first venture was not an easy one for California Fitness. The rental cost of the location in 2008 was high and posed a serious challenge, “a crazy price,” according to Dane. During the economic downturn from 2009 to 2012 it became difficult for investors to enter the Vietnam market but this proved to be a golden opportunity for CMG.Asia, thanks to low hiring prices and more locations becoming available. Seizing their chance, they opened 10 more locations using their own revenue. The Mizuho deal, which came later, and more opportunities to receive bank loans in the past 3 years was a golden chance for Randy to turn his Life Enhancement Ecosystem Platform into a reality. The Mizuho connections led him to Dr. Eri Katagiri, one of the top anti-aging experts in Japan, and after cultivating a relationship for 2 years they opened Eri International, a clinic which offers cutting edge internal medicine and dermatological treatments. After being in operation for only a year there are now 5 clinics in Vietnam. During this time, CMG.Asia has demonstrated that their leadership, management and business development skills are among the best in the fitness business.
Over the years CMG has made substantial investments, an estimated $800,000, into sales training and systems for their employees, including seminars with Tony Robbins, a master in business and personal development, and creating online training courses for their staff to combine the best business knowledge with Vietnamese culture. CMG.Asia now has approximately 3,000 staff members, out of which there are 1,000 personal trainers and 600 fitness consultants. 95% of their team is Vietnamese and many go on to become an executive.
The executive team at CMG.Asia has built a special culture that is full of excitement and energy, from how they treat each other to the way they treat their customers, and Dane believes this is the reason why their members love going to the clubs. On average, the number of days a person will visit the gym a month is 3, but at California Fitness and Yoga the average is 10 and this shows that Vietnamese people are now beginning to prioritize health.
The nature of this business is selling long term memberships in advance and this requires intelligence and a well thought out financial management strategy. The evolution of Randy’s company from CFYC to CMG.Asia is proof that they use their money effectively and Mastrov has said that the essential element of CMG.Asia’s healthy growth is that Randy and his team run the business carefully and efficiently.
There are many other competitors in the fitness industry who are opening modern fitness clubs and clinics, such as Elite Fitness by Doan Quoc, the son of the BIM Group owner; however, there is no other company with a Life Enhancement Ecosystem Platform like CMG.Asia’s. Dane is confident that no other business could do as good a job as CMG.Asia in this particular industry. An imposing figure at almost 2 meters tall and with a charming personality, Dane is a man who was born to operate a fitness club. He manages the sales and numbers not only through his team but also utilizes reports and daily data to ensure efficiency. “California is my company, I will fight and win, no one can take our share, as this is all I know,” he stated.
Randy is also confident about his system and does not see competition in this field. “I can always see myself being in the life enhancement industry and fitness is just one part of it. I haven’t seen anyone, any other gym operator, doing what we are doing. People can argue that they prefer working out at other gyms and I personally think that’s great but I can still add value to your life. You don’t need to be a member at our gyms but I bet you’ll come and be part of our ecosystem at some point.”
At CMG.Asia, aside from opening new brands, Randy also invests into start ups which will become part of his ecosystem, such as HelloBacsi, an online health information site, Yeah1CMG, a movie production and distribution house, CA360, a multimedia advertising agency and RED2, a digital performance marketing agency.
Randy and his team take part in what they sell to their clients; they work out, use the clinic services regularly, and look healthy, energized and optimistic. Randy is a strong believer in the laws of attraction and he feels that working in Vietnam, or anywhere else in the world, will always have challenges but he chooses to focus on the optimistic side of things. “There is no other place in the world I want to live, right here, right now, than in Vietnam. No other place has a 31% growth of the middle class like Vietnam does. I think the timing for us now is fantastic.” Randy and his wife, Mabel Mak, a Canadian national living in Hong Kong, control 90% of CMG.Asia through their family trust.
Randy firmly believes that, “with 100 million people in Vietnam there is no one as excited about Vietnam’s future as I am!”
The Art of Being a Leader by Randy Dobson
Randy Dobson shares his secret to building a leading fitness company with over 3,600 employees.
FORBES VIETNAM: What was the biggest challenge you faced when operating in a country that was completely new to you?
RANDY DOBSON: I have to say, operating in a new country is huge for me. Had I come here straight from the US there is no way this could have happened. Vietnam is the 7th country I’ve lived in and so I’m familiar with multicultural challenges. I realise that I can’t come here and change thousands of years of culture, you have to understand, respect and appreciate it first. What I do is cultivate a culture within the company as we have over 30 different nationalities working for us.
We love and respect the Vietnamese culture and so the biggest challenge is to understand that you have to create your own really strong internal culture and not fight the existing external one. It’s about planting a seed, cultivating it and growing it.
I have an amazing local team that I would die for (and I know they would die for me too.) I could never have built the company I have without them. I’m proud of my ability as a leader that I can identify people for who they can be and not for who they are today, to be able to draw that out of them and for that I have been shown tremendous loyalty. They are my eyes, my ears, my everything.
FORBES VIETNAM: In the past 10 years have you ever felt defeated, like you wanted to give up?
RANDY DOBSON: Never. I thrive on being blocked or challenged. Of course there have been frustrations but I never give up.
FORBES VIETNAM: What has caused you the most frustration in the past?
RANDY DOBSON: You know, regular things such as people not keeping their commitments, not doing what was promised. Just normal stuff. At the end of the day, I believe 90% of success in life, especially in business, is psychological. Of course, you need a strategy, a skill, I’m not saying those aren’t important but even if you have the best strategy and skill but the wrong psychology, you’ll fail. However, if you have the right psychology then you’ll get there eventually, even if your skill and strategy aren’t great. When I first started 10 years ago I didn’t have the perfect strategy. We have an business accelerator now and when I train the new guys I’m like, “ you give me a business model that you worked on and think is perfect and I can prove to you it’s wrong,“ and that’s okay, you just need to know that it’s wrong. Businesses solve problems. I have to look at my resources: my time, the people I work with, money, and how do I maximise all that? If I have any skill that’s good, other than being able to recognise human talent, it’s taking complex things and making them simple. Leadership is maximizing resources and solving problems.