Free Form Fitness owner sells Ottawa firm to flex entrepreneurial muscle

Two years ago, Free Form Fitness founder Jean-Luc Boissonneault told OBJ he’d “love to start a whole bunch of businesses.”

A tireless entrepreneur with a passion for startups, Mr. Boissonneault has decided to step away from the fitness chain he founded a decade ago and pursue new ventures.

The 33-year-old announced last week he has sold Free Form Fitness, which has four Ottawa locations, to New York-based gym owner Jim Smith. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Free Form Fitness specializes in personal training. Its growth and focus on selling a premium service came as competitors such as GoodLife pursued the lower end of the gym market by opening discount locations through its Fit4Less brand.

Mr. Boissonneault, who had already turned the company’s day-to-day operations over to president Ashley Lawrie and general manager Lindsay Blue, said he felt the chain was in good hands under their leadership and decided the time was right to embark on a new challenge.

“I thought it would be better to have somebody at this point that is coming in fresh and excited,” the 2014 OBJ Forty Under 40 recipient explained. “I’m more of a creative type. My creativity wasn’t being utilized as well as it could be in, let’s say, another startup. I’m good at painting the picture.”

A client introduced him to Mr. Smith about six months ago, he said. Mr. Boissonneault said he and Mr. Smith, who owns a number of fitness centres in the Syracuse, N.Y., area, hit it off right away, and the sale was finalized last Wednesday.

“He had the same outlook on life that I did,” the Ottawa native said. “I got the impression from him that he wasn’t the corporate type. With Jim, it was all about values. We care about people; we lead the same way in that we listen a lot to what everyone has to say. It’s not dictating leadership – it’s more of an inspirational leadership. That was really attractive to me.”

Mr. Boissonneault said members won’t notice much of a change in operations under Mr. Smith’s ownership. Ms. Lawrie and Ms. Blue will continue to manage the clubs and their customer-first approach will remain the same, he told OBJ.

“I have 100 per cent faith in Ashley to deliver,” he said. “With Ashley leading, I have no doubt that (Free Form) is going to continue to grow and get better.”

Mr. Boissonneault said he and his wife Chelsea plan to take some time off and relax before they make any firm decisions about their next endeavour.

The couple already owns an event management company and has developed software to help gym-goers manage their personal training regimens. But Mr. Boissonneault suggested there will be plenty of other projects on the horizon as well.  

“I need to think about the big picture,” he said. “We love starting businesses, so anything that’s going to be something that we’re going to enjoy, we’ll do it.”