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Anytime Fitness opens international HQ in Woodbury

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Self Esteem Brands consists of Anytime Fitness and Waxing The City. The parent company opened a $20 million building this spring, and is looking for additional brands to take on. (Staff photo by Mathias Baden)2 / 24
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Woodbury City Administrator Clint Gridley, left, and others take a tour of CEO Chuck Runyon's corner office at the international headquarters of Self Esteem Brands in Woodbury. (Staff photo by Mathias Baden)4 / 24
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This is Training Room C at Self Esteem Brands' international headquarters in Woodbury. But other rooms are named for the three floors of the building -- called Body, Mind and Soul. (Staff photo by Mathias Baden)9 / 24
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Anytime Fitness co-founders Dave Mortensen, left, and Chuck Runyon joke with Woodbury Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens at a recent celebration of the new corporate headquarters. Relationships are key to business development in Woodbury, city officials said. (Staff photo by Mathias Baden)11 / 24
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A 1-mile loop of hiking, biking and walking trails traverses a stream and runs alongside wetlands on the site of the corporate headquarters of Self Esteem Brands, parent company of Anytime Fitness. (Staff photo by Mathias Baden)13 / 24
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A corporate headquarters for Anytime Fitness wouldn't be complete without a typical gym that employees can use anytime they wish. This one has a virtual trainer in its studio, too. (Staff photo by Mathias Baden)20 / 24
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It was 1980s night when Self Esteem Brands, parent company of Anytime Fitness and Waxing The City, had engaged Hairball for its annual conference.

The conferences are exciting, Chuck Runyon said, and franchisees and employees get dressed up for the occasion.

The Anytime Fitness CEO and co-founder was decked out in purple, the signature color of the business and Prince.

"I'm from Minnesota, so I had to bring a little Minnesota," Runyon said. "Plus, it's Prince and it's purple."

When Prince's "Let's Go Crazy" began to blare, Runyon found himself compelled to climb on stage and dance in front of 2,000 people.

The moment is one of many good times memorialized on a history wall in the Self Esteem Brands' newly opened $20 million international headquarters in Woodbury.

Building a positive work culture starts at the top, Runyon said, and the culture of Self Esteem Brands and its two franchises is aided by its new 80,000-square-foot building along Weir Drive.

"We've always had a strong culture, whether our office is in West St. Paul, Hastings or Woodbury," Runyon said. "In this case, the building makes us better."

One hundred eighty-eight employees made the transition from Hastings to Woodbury this spring, and there's room for the staff to expand to 300. At least 50 of the corporate staffers have tattoos of the Anytime Fitness logo, the "Runningman," because, national media director Mark Daly said, "we are helping people get to a healthier place" and those who are tattooed are grateful.

At the Woodbury corporate office, the employee fitness center mirrors a standard Anytime Fitness gym, except the studio, which features a technological upgrade: on-demand classes led by a virtual instructor.

On the premises, there is a Bleed Purpose tattoo room (Anytime Fitness logos are free of charge during conferences and other corporate events), Waxing The City salon, about a mile of walking, biking and hiking trails, two smoothie/cocktail bars depending on time of day, a Genius Bar staffed by the information technology department, and stand-up desks and conference room tables. Employees can get away for a private run on a treadmill down the hall, and also have lunch with each other in two healthy kitchens near the workspaces. There are learning opportunities on site, collaborative and connection spaces throughout the building, and an amphitheater and bonfire pit a wetland away.

Coming soon: a 1,200-foot-long zip line, cargo rope wall, and a 60-foot-tall climbing wall.

Runyon said he wants employees to "leave here feeling challenged but also with energy to go tackle the rest of your day—a great workplace culture."

Runyon and Dave Mortensen, Anytime Fitness president and co-founder, publicly admit that they selfishlessly want a fun place to work. Runyon said he hopes the new corporate campus helps employees be not only great at their jobs but also helps people be their best every day.

"When you get to know people, you get to know their strengths and you get to know their weaknesses," Runyon said. "I'm an optimist. We see the possibilities vs. the problems."

And if the company is going to continue to grow franchises with a positive culture, Runyon said, "we better get it right."

Anytime Fitness is the fastest-growing gym franchise in the world, with more than 3,000 gyms and 3 million members on five continents.

Woodbury is home to the company's first franchisee, Eric Keller, who 14 years ago opened the Cambridge, Minn., Anytime Fitness.

He worked under Mortensen and Runyon at Southview Athletic Club in West St. Paul, and they pitched to Keller their idea for the humble beginnings of a franchise called Anytime Fitness. Keller, even at a young age, had experience managing and dealing with the demands and costs of a large gym's business plan. Anytime Fitness proposed cutting out the clutter of staffing and accessibility.

Keller chuckles when he recalls that he imagined hundreds of Anytime Fitness franchises popping up all over. Now he travels globally as the head of an eight-employee international team, helping plant the seeds of new franchises.

His experience owning gyms in Cambridge, North Branch, Winona, Isanti and Ham Lake—which he has since sold—put him in a position to mentor international franchisees.

Keller has enjoyed all of the benefits of the "school of hard knocks," he said. "I tried to avoid the mistakes I made but made all new ones, which is fantastic for the learning curve."

All the while, the growth of the company has been a whirlwind. Recently he's been to New Zealand, Qatar and Rome, visiting master franchisees and larger developers. He's traveled throughout Mexico, Latin American and the Middle East. Sometimes Keller's plane lands in Japan and he experiences a "pinch-yourself moment," he said.

The office in West St. Paul was small, enough to comfortably fit seven people. It had an ice maker, and Keller's franchisees on the phone could hear popcorn popping in the background. A 40-foot-long extension cord powered a laptop on his worktable, Keller said.

"You don't need a $20 million building to have a great culture—that's crap," Runyon said. "We used to sit on milk crates if we had to, to build the brand."

Still, the move to Hastings in 2006 was a welcome advancement for the ballooning company.

"I likened it to moving into a mansion," Keller said.

Fifteen or so employees could've run the halls in the building behind John Deere, but Anytime Fitness quickly matured, going international in 2010.

Keller was not only there when Anytime Fitness became a franchise reality but also when Waxing The City made its way in front of Mortensen and Runyon.

Self Esteem Brands is seeking to acquire more brands, Mortensen and Runyon said. The right business would need to be one that seeks to actively grow its brand, it may or may not have the right people in place for the future, and any new brand must share Anytime Fitness co-founders' values.

"Improve the self-esteem of the world—that's a pretty lofty goal," Mortensen said.

Keller's sister and niece wanted to franchise their business, Waxing The City, so Keller introduced them to his bosses. A half-hour appointment lasted three hours, and a few months later Mortensen and Runyon added a second franchise.

Self Esteem Brands simply outgrew its Hastings corporate office building, located near Cottage Grove, Runyon said.

Moving closer to Interstate 94 had its obvious advantages, as well.

"A lot of us who lived in Woodbury were crossing our fingers—'please be here, please be here,'" said Keller, a resident since 1998.

Mortensen and Runyon looked at several development sites in Woodbury before deciding on the 38-acre parcel at 111 Weir Drive.

The site's 26 acres of wetlands was seen as a dealbreaker by other businesses, but not Mortensen and Runyon.

"We kind of saw the potential of it," Runyon said. "It takes a little bit of vision."

The vision consisted of the international headquarters being one of America's fittest buildings, and the open space was a piece of the puzzle.

City Administrator Clint Gridley credited Mayor Mary Giuliani Stephens for building a connection and trust with Self Esteem Brands.

"There was a relationship-building process," Gridley said. "She developed personally a great relationship with the owners. We personally use the mayor and the highest connections. Anything they asked for we turned it around as fast as we could."

Stephens showed up to the ribbon-cutting ceremony with a Runningman painted on her toenail, and Mortensen announced, "Yes, I'm taking a picture of the mayor's toes!" as he wielded his cellphone.

So are more international headquarters on the horizon for Woodbury?

"We hope more is yet to come," Gridley said.

Runyon said building the corporate headquarters proved easier than building his own home—both Anytime Fitness co-founders constructed new homes in the past year, at the same time as they developed the corporate headquarters.

"Our efforts out here are relentless," said Bruce Quam, president of D.J. Kranz Co. Inc., the developer of the building. "We had this unique site. It all came together. It's really employee friendly."

The building is energy efficient, especially in the IT department, where employees happen to like to work in the dark.

It has three stories—themed Body, Mind and Soul.

The exterior features Minnesota-sourced Kasota stone, Manganese iron spot brick and 3 tons of anodized bronze aluminum paneling. The building has balconies and a large terrace, an indoor gas fireplace, polished concrete floors, glass doors on offices, walnut treads on the front of the grand staircase to an atrium featuring a reclaimed barnwood facade, and extensive daylighting via floor-to-ceiling windows.

"Chuck and Dave drove what they wanted in the design, and then we gave them options. They wanted the building to be like no other. Really out of the box is what they wanted."