Written by Team Juggernaut
Ever since September 2009, when I opened Juggernaut Training Systems, I’ve been asked the same question about 200 times – in person, through e-mail, on the Q&A, over the phone, etc.
“Chad, how did you (a 23-year-old, straight-out-of-college with a very limited training resume, essentially no client base…but a decent ability to throw a heavy ball far) open up your own training facility?”
When I was asked this question, I thought of a simple answer that could help anyone who wants to do what I’m currently doing. Sadly – no simple answer like this exists. Because I don’t have a simple answer for you, I’m just going to provide you with a list of some things that made it possible for my business partner, Nate, and I to live our dream and open Juggernaut Training Systems, which become a profitable business within our first six months of existence. Although I am offering my advice, by no means do I consider myself an expert in business or marketing.
I know that owning a gym/performance training center is the aspiration of many EFS readers, as it was mine, too. Before I get into these reasons/tips though, I would just like to familiarize you all with Juggernaut. Juggernaut Training Systems is a 6000 square foot athletic performance training facility in Laguna Hills (Orange County), California. We do small group and personal training for athletes. However, we do train some non-athletes, these are usually high school or club coaches, as well as what we call Women’s FIT Club, which is essentially a morning bootcamp class. The actual gym portion is 5300 square feet and is divided 40:60 between the weight room and turf.
We’re located in an office park with mostly specialty retail stores. The place directly across the parking lot from us sells exercise wheels for cats – yes you read that correctly. Although I’m convinced that it has to be a front for something else, because that would be impressive to pay their rent just from selling cat exercise wheels. Our location doesn’t provide us any walk-in business, nor street visibility. When we opened in September 2009, we had one real client. As of May 1, we now have around 120. These 120 clients cover a broad spectrum of age, skill and sports. However, they still have a few things in common: specific goals and the willingness to work hard.
Here are some things that I feel have been key to opening our facility and the success we’ve experienced thus far…
Some people say that it’s all about who you know. For me to open Juggernaut, this statement couldn’t have been more true. JTS was made possible because of the relationship I built with my physical therapist, an extremely well-respected leader in holistic methods who speaks around the country and world. She and I never formally discussed a potential business relationship in the two years I had been seeing her for treatment. However, we did talk about what my dreams were after college, the knowledge I had acquired through my own training, experimentation and research, the problems I saw with performance facilities around our area and many other things that demonstrated to her that I was knowledgeable, passionate and had a plan I could articulate. Because of this relationship, she actually approached me about opening my facility. I had no idea that this opportunity was coming my way. She made everything we’re doing possible and I can’t state enough times how thankful we are for her and the freedom she has given us to do what we love. This relationship is one of the reasons why I don’t have a good answer for people when they ask me how they should go about doing what I’ve done. It would be foolish to think that there are dozens or hundreds of potential investors waiting to single-handedly bankroll your dream facility. But it would also be foolish to think that you don’t need to try and seek out people who are passionate about helping athletes and are generous. Our investor trusted me because we had built a relationship, you need to build a strong relationship with as many people as you can because the more people who know, trust and like you, the more potential allies you have in opening your own gym.
Build a Strong Team
Everyone brings different talents, strengths and weaknesses to a relationship. I knew coming into this process that I had a great ability to help people become stronger, faster and better at their sport of choice, as well as connect with athletes, parents and coaches on a personal level. I also knew that I’ve always struggled to do the behind the scenes work that would go into running a business. This includes billing, accounting, marketing, etc. I also realized that although my speed and agility training knowledge was rather extensive, it could be better marketed and taught by someone who looked the part. Due to these recognized shortcomings, I decided to bring on a partner to compliment me. Juggernaut is a two-man operation, Nate and I do everything here from paining the walls, setting up the equipment, keeping the books, cleaning the bathrooms and handling all the programming and training for every athlete. Our strengths compliment each other well and we work great as a team – Batman and Robin is a pretty common nickname for us among our clients. I don’t have a formula for you to use when assembling your team, but they need to be people that you trust, get along with, and that compliment your strengths and cover up your weaknesses.
Seek Out Influencers
Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point talks about influencers, people who have the ability to drive an idea or product into the mainstream. This idea of seeking out influencers has served us well at Juggernaut, in the way of training coaches. By training the coach of a team at a reduced rate from the regular, you’ve given yourself the chance to make a believer out of someone who will influence the decisions athletes make in their training. We’ve trained coaches of water polo, volleyball and soccer teams – they have all loved it and subsequently brought us tons of their athletes, and in many cases their entire teams. Seek out the coaches in your area and offer to train them, even if it’s for free. If they believe in you and your training, they’ll send athletes to you.
Another group of influencers that was key for our growth as a company – moms. I didn’t open Juggernaut with the intention of training soccer moms, but with the high concentration of hot moms around Orange County, maybe I should have. A few months into our existence though, it became readily apparent that in the mid-morning hours there aren’t too many high school and college athletes to train because they’re in class. So we decided to tap into a new market, stay at home moms. It has been a great success, not only because it brought in revenue in an otherwise dead part of the day, but because it made more people with influence fans of Juggernaut. Most importantly, we’ve done this without compromising our vision. These moms are pushing the Prowler, dragging sleds and doing work. One thing that all moms have in common is that they have kids, often these kids play sports, their friends play sports and so on. These moms liked us and brought their kids to train with us and then told their friends to bring their kids. A referral from someone you trust is far more effective than reading a testimonial from someone you don’t personally know, or reading an ad in the paper.
The final place where we’ve identified a great number of influencers is in the club sports community. In Southern California, club sports, particularly soccer, swimming and volleyball are a HUGE business. There are literally hundreds of teams and thousands of athletes who play on club teams. That’s thousands of athletes who are taking their sport seriously and trying to gain an edge on their competition. That means people who want to train hard and are willing to pay. Another great thing about club teams is that all the athletes come from different schools, so when you get in with one club team, you also open the doors to a dozen or so high schools. Odds are, the kid is one of the best players – influencer – on their high school teams.
Deliver a Quality Product
Juggernaut nor any other facility can survive if its clients aren’t seeing results. This should actually be No. 1 on the list. There aren’t too many things that I need to say about this, if you’re reading EliteFTS articles, you’re probably better off than 95 percent of the trainers and coaches out there. Think critically about your athlete’s training, never be satisfied with your current level of knowledge and be a walking billboard for what you do. If you do these things, you’ll be fine.
Have a Vision and Stick To It…While Being Flexible
Eleven months ago while Juggernaut was just an embryo of an idea, all I wanted to do was train football players, fighters and badasses, have them flip tires and box squat with 10 chains each side – SFW all day. Then we opened and football players were in season. I started making a bunch of contacts in swimming, water polo and youth athletics…not exactly the type of demographics that lend themselves to 500 pound board presses. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t a little disappointed, but at the same time, I remembered my vision for Juggernaut. My vision was to give ATHLETES (not football players, not wrestlers, etc.) the most comprehensive and results-driven physical preparation possible. I didn’t think I’d be training 45-year-old moms every morning of the week either, but training these moms gave us the opportunity to train more athletes. The word “hardcore” gets thrown around a lot in this industry and too many people have a vision of that as a dungeon full of lifters squatting until their eyes bleed, while in reality being “hardcore” is being totally devoted to your vision and goals and pursuing them regardless of what people think.
A key to our early success has been seeking advice from people who know what they’re talking about. There are tons of great articles on EFS about running your own training business and Dave’s Twitter is also a bounty of information regarding the subject. At Juggernaut, we assembled an advisory board. It consists of four members, each of whom have a different area of expertise. These are marketing, legal/business, finance/accounting and our investor. Nate and I had a combined “zero” days of business experience between us, unless you count my paper delivery route from when I was twelve years old. So, it was rather important that we get advice from smart people. Our advisors gave us marketing strategies, accounting information and helped us understand that in most cases we aren’t trying to sell ourselves to a high school football player who just wants to get yoked and smash people, we’re selling ourselves to his mom who wants to make sure Little Timmy is injury-free and is kind of scared by the music playing in the gym.
I Wish That I Knew What I Know Now…When I Was Younger
This may come as a surprise to some people, but I’ll admit that we definitely made mistakes along the way and I would’ve done many things differently if given the opportunity.
I’d Take More Time
This issue is something that I had very little control over. On June 1, I received a call from our future financier regarding her interest in this project. Juggernaut Training Systems opened its doors for operation on September 1, exactly three months later. In those 3 months, we created a business plan, pitched it and succeeded. We created a LLC, drafted operating agreements, found a space, leased it, cleaned it, painted it, ordered equipment, put in flooring and turf, set up the equipment, built a Web site, got a business license, and about 1000 other things that I can’t remember right now. As you can see, we did A LOT of stuff in a really short time, because we felt it was really important to open at the same time that schools started. I’m not sure why this was so important to us, but we would’ve been much better served to wait a month or so longer, because the amount of knowledge about business ownership we had gained in that time was remarkable and we could’ve done things a lot better with a little extra time.
Another issue that would’ve been avoided had we had more time, was the unfortunate termination of a managing partner within our first six months of operation. This was very unfortunate and caused a lot of unneeded stress. This whole unfortunate situation could’ve been avoided had the process of our opening not been so rushed. I urge you to know the people you’re getting into business with as well as possible, and understand that the business of training athletes is about much more than just training.
Measure Twice, Cut Once
With such a limited time to prepare everything about our operation, it was difficult to really gauge how much equipment, marketing materials and other stuff we’d need. This resulted in us wasting some money on things we didn’t need, or overspending in certain areas. We reduced our monthly operating expense each month for our first four months. As times started to get tight around the first of the year, we really could’ve used those extra dollars from before we opened and the first few months of business. Expenses are like a haircut, so keep things conservative to start and then if you need more, go get it when you can afford to.
Word of Mouth and Referrals are King
When we opened we tried doing some marketing in the form of newspaper ads, cold calling, mass e-mailing and flyers on windows. The response from all of those…none. The cost…something. A referral from a potential client who someone knows and trusts is worth infinitely more than reading about how awesome JTS is in an ad. There’s one specific Juggernaut client, a high school water polo coach named Peter Asic, who has been directly or indirectly (meaning a client he referred, then referred another person) responsible for brining us over 20 clients. If you look at every new client, especially people you see as Influencers, as a potential 20 new clients, you’ll be incredibly motivated to make their training experience the best possible, so that they’ll become your biggest fan.
Trying to Serve Two (or more) Masters Makes Things Tough
In Martin Rooney’s book Train to Win, he talks about how lion tamers confuse lions with a chair because the lion tries to focus on all four legs of the chair at once, and in doing so doesn’t know what to attack. Trying to be an elite level track and field athlete and run a successful business were two goals that compete for my time and made it difficult to succeed at both. My business partner, Nate’s, schedule is even more hectic than mine, he was (until a few weeks ago) competing in track (100m and 200m), serving as a grad assistant for a college track team and finishing his work for his MBA. Dividing our energies like this wasn’t healthy for our bodies or business, and as we’ve improved our time management, our focus at work has improved, our quality of work has gone up and Juggernaut has begun to thrive.