>>5 years of Force and still learning.
Five years ago today we opened the doors for the first time and hoped people would walk through.So much has happened and yet, it seems like yesterday. The week we got the keys to the unit, my daughter Faye was born. Faye has just turned five and can now read, write, swim, ride a bike and perform a pretty good forward roll. She has learned a lot in that short period and we feel like we’ve been on a equally steep learning curve too. We now get a lot of people in the industry asking us for advice about opening up their own facility. We never claim to know it all but we know what has and hasn’t worked for us. So with today being our 5th birthday we thought we’d reflect and share some of the things we’ve learned in that time.
>>Don’t go in cold
Before you start, do your time and go in prepared. Too many people try to run before they can walk. Between the two of us we had nearly 20 years of experience in the industry before we opened up and will still felt raw. Get as much experience as you can.
Too many people fail because they go too big too soon. You don’t need to open a gym the size of an airport on day one. We ran BST in a local leisure centre and a female fat loss group in a school gym for a year before moving to Force.
When we opened, we had a modest amount of equipment and less space which kept costs low. (pic ) We did as much of the work as possible ourselves and reinvested everything into the business which eventually grew.
Starting small allows you to grow not just in terms of size and equipment but also very importantly in terms of culture and environment. If you open too big it is very difficult to control culture and you run the risk of having to cut back on equipment and services that aren’t working. It is a far better strategy to drip feed over time!
>>Don’t join the race to the bottom
Don’t think you need to copy and compete with everyone else, run your own race. When you undercut the business over the road to win customers, what’s your strategy going to be when someone then undercuts you?
The decision not to offer discounts and offers was made from day one. We would hate to be chosen on price, we want clients to come to us for our services and expertise not because we were the cheapest. Having a low barrier to entry is a good idea but never at the expense of undercutting current clients.
Set strong principles, value yourself, know what you are about and stick to your plan.
>>Buy for a reason
A strip of turf, 4 GHD’s and a big rig all look very cool but are also very expensive.
Spend money for a reason, not because you can.
Think very carefully about what you buy, it MUST be aligned with your training principles and programming.
Opening up a facility usually means that you have limited space, fill it wisely. We don’t have a great variety of equipment here at Force, what we do have is plenty of applicable versatile equipment that compliments our programming, that way every member can be serviced correctly.
Buy the equipment you believe that will deliver results.
>>You can’t do it on your own
This is two fold, we are going to split it into staff and business partners.
Staff — We’ve surrounded ourselves with good people who compliment the values we have at Force. Staff must have the right personality and knowledge that you can develop for the business. The old classic of hire people who are better than you is right. If you can’t get people who you think are better than you, get someone you can develop to overtake you in time. Staff will make or break you, a bad member of staff will be like poison in your facility.
Criteria for hiring varies. For us, an excellent personality and attitude with appropriate qualifications trumps a Masters/PhD with no people skills. Our rule of picking staff you’d go for a pint with has served us well so far. As the All Blacks say “No Dickheads!”
Partnership – We have seen plenty of partnerships go sour. The stressors of business can certainly put a strain on working relationships. What is key and something we will cover later is that you both must have the same “why”.
So, before going into business with a partner, make sure you are aligned on the majority of your structure and principles.
Something you MUST do is back each other. On the odd occasion we have disagreed on something and one of us feels strongly it should be done we have backed each other, you must TRUST each other .
Finally, if you are friends or become friends which often and preferably happens, you need to quickly understand, establish and differentiate the business working relationship and friend relationship, otherwise it could destroy both.
>>Trust your gut
When planning and making important decisions, always consult and ask for opinions from people you respect. Take advice on board but when you come to making a decision, always trust your gut. Some of the biggest mistakes we’ve made have been when we’ve gone against our gut feeling.
>>Relationships and Results
“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much YOU care ”
Whatever you do, you must realise you are working with people. Building a foundation of good relationships and getting positive results makes everything else possible. If you don’t put these first, everything else is incidental.
>>You need a strong “WHY”
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy WHY you do what you do”
This is huge because your “why” will influence everything, the people you hire, the equipment you buy and the services you offer.
Your “why” or purpose will help you achieve all that you want. It will also carry you through any bad times because you will believe in what you are doing and your plan. If you have a weak “why” things will crumble pretty quickly, especially when problems arise.
Opening up a facility is tough, very tough. The reasons for opening need to be clear and strong.
First, and foremost, you have to have a passion for helping and training people. On top of the passion you need structure, systems and programming to go with it.
Opening up a place, because you think you are going to make money by putting on sessions based on trends and fads, is a recipe for disaster. Your clients will quickly see through your lack of commitment, expertise and direction. These gyms are easy to spot. They will be the ones constantly changing and swapping classes or even asking you what sessions they should put on. This is because they have no plan on how to train the client. They will also be offering discounts and offers on a daily basis, because their client retention is poor and clients can sense their lack of commitment and service.
We started small in terms of equipment and space but also working capital.
We started Force on a shoestring budget and remarkably low capital investment. Debt can be a huge black cloud hanging over a business and personal life. This sounds obvious, but you must minimise outgoings as much as possible and know all your costings.
There are a whole host of hidden costs that all add up, put a large loan on top of that and things can quickly snowball.
When we opened up, a friend of mine who’d run a successful business for years, gave me a great bit of advice that’s stuck with me. “Anybody can create a big turn over, the skill is to make a profit!” Turning over £2 million a year sounds great but if you spent £2.2m you’re still at a loss.
We know where we are in the industry, and we would never look at our facility and claim it’s the finished article. In fact we still feel we are only scratching the surface. We will never be satisfied with our service and the way it is run, but that is just in our make up. We keep going and we look to enjoy the journey. It’s been an absolute roller coaster ride over the last 5 years, and it feels like we have only just started.