Recognize Your Competitive Edge

Pole vaulting enthusiast David Pomfret fell out of the running for the 2004 Olympic trials after separating his shoulder. Unwilling to let this unfortunate turn of events keep him down, he connected with a college buddy to plan his next move: opening a gym. What they first perceived as an unexpected limitation turned out to be the very thing that saved their business.

David and his college friend, Julian Varela, wanted to open a startup. When they applied for a small business loan, they discovered that wasn’t their best option. It was actually harder to get funding for a new business than an existing business with an established membership and a history of revenue.

The two aspiring entrepreneurs decided to purchase an existing fitness studio that catered to women. “At first we were a bit nervous at having such a narrow focus. We figured we’d keep things the way they were for a while and eventually change it to a coed gym.” And then came the 2008 recession.

“Because we had a specific niche, we had something unique to offer. And that ended up saving our business.” David and his partner realized that they had inherited a blessing, rather than a limitation. Because their business had a unique focus (women), they weren’t in direct competition with other gyms.

Despite the economic downturn, David and Julian built a pretty large membership. It was time to start looking for a billing company that could handle collecting and managing membership dues. Unfortunately, the organization they initially found was more of a weakness than a benefit. “It was frustrating for both us and our members because we had to go by the billing company’s policies. We wanted something that would give us the flexibility to schedule and receive payments on a timeline that was sensitive to our customers’ needs.”

In search of something better, they discovered MINDBODY gym management software at a tradeshow. “It had everything we were looking for. And with online management for contracts, we no longer had to wait for a third party to collect payments. That was pretty exciting.”

In 2013, David bought out his business partner leaving him and his wife to run Equilibrium. “Brittany and I got married in 2012. She had been an employee when we first bought the fitness center, so she was very familiar with the business model.”

David and Brittany noticed the fitness industry was starting to move away from larger generic gyms to more specialized training studios. That meant more competition for them, as they, too, were specialized. Being proactive, they began developing classes based on women’s life stages. “My wife started Bump and Beyond, a prenatal, postpartum, mommy and me fitness class. We group women based on their stage of pregnancy. That allows them to exchange relevant tips and stories with each other, giving them a better experience.”

They also added bridal boot camps to the roster. “We help brides get ready for their dress fittings and customize their training regime based on the type of dress they’re wearing. For example, if they have a sleeveless gown, we focus on their arms. If they’re wearing something form fitting, we work on their core.”

David and Brittany continue to keep a watchful eye on industry trends. And now they’re able to track the success of their classes, member feedback and monthly dues with the help of MINDBODY gym management software. By staying informed of what’s happening inside and outside of their business, they’re able to maintain a competitive advantage.

This blog post is the eleventh in our series opening and managing a business. Read the other posts in our series here.