With Part II I hope to give you insight as to how the facility actually came to be.
So it’s December 9, 2011. I had just signed one of the biggest pieces of paper of my life, a lease to a 7,5000 square foot warehouse. How did I pick this spot? That is lesson number one. Picking the right facility. The right facility is different for each person, but I had to think who was I going to be working. I wanted to work with athletes, the more hardcore crew. What does that mean? Exercises like medicine ball slams, deadlifts, and sprints, are going to be a big part of their workout. So, when it came time to picking the right facility I had a couple of things I was looking for: concrete walls, high ceilings, wide open space, and a concrete floor. When it came to choosing location in town, in order to get those, you have to go industrial. I didn’t have a problem with that, because that meant the cost per square foot would be cheaper than your main drag retail spots. Those properties don’t allow for loud music, weight dropping, and 14lb medicine balls being slammed into the wall hundreds of times per day.
So, now I got the space. You gotta fill it right? The first day I walked into the space that STS was going to fit in, it was filled with crap. And by crap I mean a lot of candles. It use to be a candle manufacturing warehouse, and clearly they left some behind. I spent the first week picking up the junk, sweeping the floors, and just emptying the space out. Then came the paint. A sprayer and a couple of ladders, a week later the space was painted. I choose to paint the walls white because it would allow me to put anything I wanted on the walls, and change the color in the future, something that I highly recommend.
Now you have a giant white room. Great, what’s next. Flooring. Throughout this time I made a lot of mistakes, live and learn. I knew they were going to happen, and looking back on it, it was a learning experience. Flooring was one of those. In our gym, we had three types of flooring: carpet, rubber flooring, and turf. And they are all priced differently. Carpet is about $1.00 a square foot, rubber flooring is about $3.00 a square foot, and turf is about $6.00 a square foot. Now, I started off with all rubber flooring, and one strip of 25 yard long turf. A mistake that I admit today, for two reasons.
1. Within two months we had to add another 20 yards of turf because of our growing client base. A good problem. That meant ripping up the rubber flooring that was only 3 months old and selling it for 1/10 of what I bought it for.
2. The biggest mistake with flooring was not carpeting more of the gym. The lobby, front office, evaluation room, bathroom areas, and athlete lounge never see a weight. So, you don’t have to worry about weights being dropped. I should have carpeted those areas, it would have saved a good chunk of change.
So, now we got flooring and walls painted. What’s next? Equipment! The fun part. We deal with athletes, so the amount of equipment we use is actually quite minimal compared to your commercial gym. A set of dumbbells, some benches, a couple of power racks, cable pulley, some kettlebells, and a sled. We were good to go. I started off with the minimal amount needed, and as our client base grew, we added the equipment that was needed. More racks, more dumbbells, more turf, slide boards, more kettlebells, more sleds, tires, GHR, and more all came months later, after money was coming in.
Now you got a warehouse, painted, with equipment in it. Let the money counting begin!
Not so fast!
The saying “if you build it, they will come” is not true at all. Especially in the fitness industry. And, I don’t want to come off as all I did was paint some walls, put some flooring down, and throw some equipment in. A lot was going on at the same time behind the scenes including:
1. Insurance coverage for facility
2. Getting permits and remodeling done (I wanted a shower to be put in one of our bathrooms)
3. Business planning (facility layout, lead generation, marketing, staff, systems, and planning)
4. Sign permits and sign design (A much more expensive purchase then expected)
5. Sound system set up
6. Website design
8. Computers and software set up
9. Having no life outside of the gym, actually sleeping in a 1970 recliner that was left in the space a few nights
10. About 1001 trips to Wal-Mart and Home Depot. Things like office supplies, light bulbs, cleaning supplies, paper towels, toilet paper, and about 10000 other things add up quickly, very quickly.
11. Meetings with your Lawyer and Accountant (Not a cheap service, but not something you want to cheap out on)
The first 3 months were hell.
Wake up at 5am head to gym for 5:30am
Teach sessions, try to find new clients, eat, and workout.
Leave gym at 9pm, and head to bed at 9:30pm.
I was very fortunate enough to have some great help those first few months, and the month of construction and set up. I couldn’t have done it alone. Friends and family volunteered their time running errands for me, helping move flooring and equipment, and setting up shop.
I was fortunate enough to have two coaches volunteer their first 3 months to allow the business to get started. That was close to 500 hours of volunteering for each of them. Without them, the business would not be where it is today. One moved on with his career after helping us get started, and one is still here coaching, now making a very good living. I was also very fortunate to have some help from my mentor. We were up early mornings and late nights talking about the planning and implementation of Spurling Training Systems. The help came from all over, and I can’t thank anyone who helped enough.
If I had to sum in up in ten lessons, this is what I would tell future entrepreneurs and gym owners.
1. Plan: How are you going to run your sessions, how much are you going to charge? Where are you going to get your equipment, where is it going to go? You can never plan enough.
2. Don’t do it yourself: I am not saying you must have a business partner, I don’t. However, you better have some good friends and family that can help you do some of the tasks, because you won’t be able to do it on your own.
3. Start small and work up: Yes, a 15,000 square foot facility with 10 matching power racks and Keisers is a great dream. But those facilities were not built in a day. Start small. Small space, minimum equipment, and work your way up. Clients care more about the experience and the personality of the coaches, not the equipment their using.
4. Dont’ cheap out: There are certain things you can’t cheap out on. Flooring, computer, software system, and staff are things I knew not to cheap out on. Whatever you buy, you need to make sure it’s going to last. We got the most heavy-duty flooring we could because we knew kids would be beating the shit out of it. Everything today is done on the computer, so having a piece of crap computer would just cause frustration and stress. And staff, don’t cheap out on staff. We don’t have minimum wage front desk gym staff. We have strength coaches. They are the face of the company. They greet every client, know their first name, coach them through every session, and wave to them at the grocery store. They care about the company, and they are always looking to improve it. You’re not going to get that if you cheap out on staff.
5. Over deliver and under promise: This should probably be number one. It is what STS prides itself on, and I owe a large amount of our success to it. Our staff goes above and beyond each day. They know each client on a first name basis, they help them make their grocery list, they go their football game, and they go above and beyond at each session making it the best one yet. You should aim to deliver 10x the value of what you charge, so if you charge $199 per month, you better be delivering $1990 in value.
6. Have systems in place: Remember in middle school when the teacher had you spell out exactly how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? That was a system. You need to have a system in place for everything. How you greet your clients, how you deliver a session, how to greet an inquiry, how to respond to an e-mail, how to deal with an unhappy client, how to clean the facility, how to market your business, how to track your leads, etc. They should all have step by step instructions so that anyone can follow them. A policies and procedures manual should be mandatory reading for every new staff member and intern.
7. Know When to Refer Out: This is a big one as well, hell these are all big. You have to know when to refer out. Know when to refer out to a doctor, physical therapist, massage therapist, and nutritionist. Know your scope of practice, and know when you are about to go outside of it. Also know that if you want to have a successful facility, you must have a focus or niche. Our focus is athletes of all ages and abilities. That’s a line straight from our mission statement. You can’t be jack of all trades. So if a client is not a good fit for your facility, refer them to another facility. It will help you in the long run. If you don’t know something, refer out. Also refer out for things like taxes and website design. If you suck at, have someone who does it really well do it for you. It’s not worth the headaches.
8. Network: This kind of piggy backs the last one. So you know that you need to refer out, but who do you send them to? You should have doctors, physical and massage therapists, and nutritionist in your network. You should also build your network as much as you can with anyone else. They will be your promoters without you even asking. We no longer pay for any marketing, it’s all word of mouth. That is done because we over deliver and under promise with our clients so they are extremely happy, and we have built an incredible network, all of these people do our marketing for us without even knowing it.
9. You’re going to make mistakes: You’re going to piss some people off, you’re going to have to let some people go, and you’re going to make mistakes. It’s how you react to those mistakes that determines your success. Learn from them and move on. Make yourself, your staff, and your company better every day.
10. Grind. Never stop working. Work harder than anyone else. Owning a gym, or any other business for that matter, is not a 9-5 gig. You’re on call 24/7, and it’s on your mind 24/7. I have built a team that I love and trust 100% to run the facility, but it’s still my business and all the responsibilities fall back on me. When things are good it’s on me, when things are bad, it’s on me. Take responsibility, and never stop working. Work to grow the company, work to grow your team, and work to grow yourself. Never settle.
I hope those who are interested in starting a facility one day learn something from this. There are lessons for everyone though. Build your team, build your network, build yourself, over deliver, always aim to improve, never stop working, and never settle.