At age four, Daniel Stein was diagnosed with a learning disability. After trying traditional counseling methods and medication with no real results, his parents enrolled him in a sports program—and the rest is history. With a physical outlet, his behavior and ability to focus and socialize improved.
“From that point on, I rode my bike several miles to the YMCA almost every day because I loved working out. It made me feel stronger and more confident. As I grew up, I realized fitness was my true calling,” says Stein.
Even at a young age, Stein knew that fitness would be a huge part of his life. He was an avid athlete throughout school, participating in football, weight training, and other sports. But it wasn’t until after high school that a mentor planted the idea for Special Strong in Stein’s mind.
“He suggested I take my passion for fitness and combine it with helping people navigate challenges similar to the ones I dealt with growing up. And so I took his advice, got certified as a personal trainer in 2011, and started working with clients who had various disabilities,” explains Stein.
Sure enough, Stein’s passion for helping others led him to leave his corporate job to focus on working with special needs and adaptive clients full-time. In 2016, Stein and his wife co-founded Special Strong. Since then, the business has seen rapid growth—and continues to grow. Here’s how.
All about adaptability, people, and inclusion
The problem with starting a business in the twenty-first century is that there are a lot of other competing businesses. The key to success is to identify your differentiators and use them to your advantage. For Special Strong, it’s all about the training curriculum, adaptability, people, and inclusion.
“Starting with adaptability, we can train clients pretty much anywhere: at home, virtually, at the gym. Plus, our training curriculum allows us to adapt fitness to work with just about any condition, whether it’s autism or MS,” says Stein.
In terms of people and inclusion, Special Stong has built a very intentional team around the company’s core values. Stein shares that they only move forward with about one percent of candidates who apply at corporate and franchise levels.
“We’re extremely particular about who we bring on to our team. We take our core value very seriously. As a result, we’ve seen great success because our people are just incredible,” explains Stein.
Last but not least, Stein credits a large portion of Special Strong’s success to inclusion. “We don’t turn people away because of a disability,” he says. “We give them a place to work out together and just do life together.”
Growing out of growing pains with Mindbody
Naturally, every business goes through growing pains at some point. Stein reflects on the early days when managing finances was one of the biggest challenges for Special Strong.
“We just didn’t know how to handle the money coming in,” he says. “Instead of putting money away and allocating it properly, we put it all right back into the business.”
Initially, this lack of financially planning know-how made it challenging to grow the business. Stein and his team were already using some Mindbody features—but it wasn’t until they hired a Mindbody consultant who taught them all about the comprehensive reporting features that things changed for the better.
“Through Mindbody’s counsel, we’ve become much better about managing our money. Our consultant taught us about the KPIs and reporting features. We’re in a much stronger financial position now,” says Stein.
After discovering the benefits of Mindbody’s reporting features, Stein added two additional locations for franchises. “That’s how serious we are about reporting—we pay extra for our franchisees to have the best reporting they can get,” he says.
Breaking down barriers and exceeding expectations
With robust reporting in their back pocket, Stein and his team have big plans for the future. But it wasn’t always that way, he reflects.
“I didn’t have high expectations when we started. No one else was doing anything like it, so I had no point of comparison,” says Stein. “But after our first year, Special Strong completely exceeded my expectations in terms of revenue and the impact we had on people’s lives.”
Still, Stein didn’t plan on scaling the business or opening multiple locations—yet. Then a viral video changed everything. Stein saw the massive need for his services around the world.
“In August 2019, we had a video of a young man walking for the first time in eight years go viral over 150 million views. Because of that video, we saw the global need for our services,” explains Stein. “That’s when we decided to franchise the business.”
Fast forward to today. As Special Strong continues to grow, so does its relationship with Mindbody. Starting out, Stein reminisces on using a potpourri of tools to run the business: Google Calendar, Google Contacts, QuickBooks, and more.
“You can only get so far with that stuff,” he says. “When I realized this was a real business—not just a hobby—I knew it was time to switch to Mindbody because your business is only as strong as the platform it runs on. If you want a million-dollar business, you need to use a million-dollar technology. For us, Mindbody is that million-dollar technology.”
For Stein, the cost of Mindbody was a sizeable investment at first—but it was worth it. “With all the features, we ended up saving money with the merchant processor. Everything’s seamless, scalable, and integrates easily with our other software systems.”
Looking forward and abroad
Thanks in large part to Mindbody, Special Stong has the foundation and freedom to focus on significant growth goals. During the next five years, Stein plans to go international and begin building Special Strong brick-and-mortar gyms.
“We want to create an inclusive, adaptive facility. Right now, we work in people’s homes and other people’s gyms. The next step is to build our own and begin franchising physical locations,” Stein says. “
Since seeing the positive impact Special Strong can make in the lives of so many people, Stein is committed to the calling. “Now that I’ve seen the need, I can’t imagine doing anything less than scaling to reach people everywhere,” he concludes.