In this episode, Anthony Vennare, from Fitt, sits down to discuss fitness trends, as well as what gym and studio owners can do to enhance their community and their brand.
Anthony Vennare is the co-founder and CEO of Fitt, a company that connects communities to local health and fitness activities. The website allows users to share and discover new places for nutritious foods and recreation via a curated marketplace and media platform.
Anthony is a charismatic and visionary leader who, after serving in the U.S. Marine Corp, has built an impressive track record as a successful entrepreneur. In this episode, Anthony takes a deep dive into how Fitt came to be, where it’s headed, as well as what you can do to enhance your community and build your brand.
Dan Uyemura: Welcome to The gymOS podcast, helping fitness professionals become better business owners, one episode at a time. What’s up, guys? Welcome back to another episode of The gymOS Podcast, this is Dan Uyemura here, CEO of PushPress. I got another good one for you today. I mean, man, you all got to give Ashley some props, she’s the one who’s producing all these shows, she’s lining up all the guests, and today we got Anthony Vennare from Fitt.co. Now, a lot of you guys out there might not have heard of Fitt.co yet, but you probably will soon. And in fact, by the end of this episode, I’m gonna hope that you’ve subscribed to their newsletter and you’ve already pulled up their website and started checking out what they’re working on. They’re doing some pretty cool stuff over there. And honestly, Anthony and his brother Joe are kind of right in the middle of the entire boutique fitness industry. So he’s a good guy to start listening to, and he’s a good guy to pay attention to, somebody that I listen to you and pay attention to on the daily, and I’m really happy to have him on as a guest today. Today, we talked about a number of things. We talked about the state of the industry, the boutique fitness industry, we talked about franchise plays in the fitness industry, we talked about some of the lowest hanging fruits you guys can do to build a better gym, get more leads in the door, and it’s nothing like you think. It has nothing to do with spending money on ads, it has nothing to do with hiring an agency to do anything for you. It’s all stuff within your control, and it’s actually much easier than you think. So make sure you put your headset on, you go somewhere quiet where you can concentrate, pull out a notepad and get ready to get some learning on because what Anthony is about to drop on you in the next 45 minutes or so, I guarantee will have some impact on your gym if you pay attention. I’ll catch you on the other side.
All right, guys, welcome back to The gymOS Podcast. Dan Uyemura here, CEO of PushPress. Today, we got a special guest for you. We got Anthony Vennare here from Fitt.co. Personally, I have to kind of keep my eye on the heartbeat of fitness in general, as an industry, and one of the most important newsletters that has been coming out for a while lately has been something called the Fitt Insider, which I don’t really expect any of you guys to know, but if you haven’t heard of that yet, you probably should go subscribe to it. Some serious good information comes out of it all the time. and the guys behind it are Anthony and his brother Joe Vennare from Fitt.co, and I have been relying on this information personally for the last six months or so for fitness fitness industry information. But recently I went to Fitt.co to check out what these guys are all about, and really, what they’re doing is this hyper localized play to get people to understand what fitness opportunities are in their neighborhoods, and that just put a light bulb in my head, and I was like, “We gotta have these guys on,” to get this information out to gym owners because this is an opportunity for you guys to get exposed, but not only that, Anthony’s had a ton of experience building and running gyms himself, and he understands what it’s like to build a community and how to do marketing and how to network and a lot of information that is going to be valuable to you guys. So with that, let me let Anthony kind of step up, let him give a background of himself and kind of what they’re doing.
Anthony Vennare: Dan, I appreciate it. It’s kind of funny, so many people in the industry know Insider and follow the newsletter that I send out and the podcast that my brother does, and when we say, “Hey, do you know our consumer brand?” They’re like, “No,” and then when they check it out, “Man, this is 31 cities to scale.” So what started as a random newsletter and a side project for us, Insider, has become its own business.
Dan Uyemura: Which came first, the Insider newsletter or the commercial end of it?
Anthony Vennare: Oh, no, the consumer side. The Insider is about a year old. The consumer side is, I think, year 3.5, maybe a little longer, especially since we started under a different name at first like a side project, too. So, yeah, Insider is brand new and it’s just exploded with organic growth, thousands and thousands of subscribers and listeners, investors and partners, and, you know, we can talk about it later, but the Mindbody investment, those guys all subscribed and knew who we were from that before anything.
Dan Uyemura: Yeah, it’s a very interesting concept in the fact that, like, if you as a gym owner, you probably overlooked the idea of sending newsletters, and I actually was chatting with Anthony about this last week. Up until just recently, I thought newsletters were a waste of my time, a clog in my email box, but I just recently started subscribing to a bunch of newsletters that provide a ton of value, so you should go, as a gym owner, subscribe to you the Fitt Insider, pay attention to how they’re structuring this newsletter and start thinking about how you can deliver that type of content for your audience. But Anthony, please take us back to Fitt, I segued there.
Anthony Vennare: Yeah, so I guess, quick background on myself, I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It’s where I grew up. I enlisted in the Marines when I was 17, in the Marines I was lucky enough to be put in a position where I would work out and train other Marines. So I enlisted in the reserves and planned on going through their leadership course, but at bootcamp, my father was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and I didn’t know about it, so when I graduated, we found out, kind of changed my course of what I wanted to do. So I went through all my training and got to be in a position where I could train other Marines to go overseas and got into fitness, and as my father is getting close to the end and I actually ended up having a pretty big surgery on my knee, I got out of the Marines, and when I was at home, and then after he passed away, it was “I love fitness,” “I love being around people,” “How can I make that a career”, and that was our first business. We opened a gym, my brother and I together, took over and an indoor skate park. We bet the landlord who had an indoor skate part that said if we could make this into a gym in a week he’d give us the lease of, like, $1500 a month, and it was 12,000 square feet. He just wanted some people to clean his space because he had been closed for a while, but me and a bunch of my buddies and my brother took sledgehammers and knocked down this thing, and it’s cool to see the pictures of before or after, but we had a gym and ever since then it was one gym turned into many, and then we ended up having programming and equipment, and I feel like I’ve done every single thing in the industry, which has led to Fitt. So we built Fit, originally called Fittsburg, after we stopped running gyms, it was a way to get people to figure out how to connect with fitness and wellness in Pittsburgh, and from that point it was, “Hey, this kind of works,” and that’s why we made it Fitt with two t’s, and we went from Pittsburgh to Cleveland, Boston, and now we’re in 31 cities. It was originally just content around, you think Eater, Thrillist, Infatuation, Yelp to discover restaurants and bars and nightlife that didn’t exist and still really doesn’t for health and fitness, so we built that. Getting writers on the ground and creating that organic content, and now we’re working on building in booking and feedback and reputation management and transactions and all that fun stuff because we think that we could be the long term play consumer platform that is based off of discovery and content, not discounts like other platforms out.
Dan Uyemura: Right. Well, we will get back to that discount concept in a second. What I want, well, first of all, if you’re listening right now, open a browser, go to Fitt.co and check it out, so you can kind of see what we’re talking about as we’re talking about it. Let me ask you this question because, internally amongst my founders and executive team, I’ve been pushing forever to try and build exactly what you’re building in terms of a directory of gyms that people can use as an independent resource to find places to go and work out. The pushback I always got from people was “Yelp does that.” What makes you think that what you’re building is gonna beat Yelp or is better than Yelp.
Anthony Vennare: Two things. One, it’s not like Yelp because Yelp is a directory, and we’re not. We have that directory component, but we wanted to drive it through content and design and functionality and wanted to make it a modern brand. Yelp, it looks like it is something that was invented in 2007 and more importantly, they’re pay to play. Their whole model is advertising pay to play and really squeezing small businesses for money, and you can’t pay to be on Fitt. You can’t come to us and say, “Hey, I want to advertise my gym,” right now, that’s not a thing. We’re creating content. We’re building brand. We’re building functionality. Long term, you’ll be able to pay us to have more functionality, but it still won’t be able to show up in guides and show up on the top 10 lists and show up on these things. That’s just not how it goes. And I think that’s a big differentiation between us, and as well as you know, if I go to Yelp, I’m going there for restaurants, maybe I’ll look at other things, like home repairs, but the last thing on the list that people usually go to is fitness. But between that and Google, there’s no other place to see reviews. So it’s kind of like an afterthought for Yelp and everyone else, and most likely, when you go there, and if it’s a gym, it’s something bad that happened or some competitors leaving some nonsense or something. It’s not really a place that many people wanna drive reviews to.
Dan Uyemura: Yeah, I’m a big proponent that, as a society, we’re driving more and more towards very specialized niches of everything. And yeah, I believe that there’s a huge need for what you’re building in a fitness and wellness things to do type, specialized niche for local, small and medium sized businesses. Let me ask you this, if I’m a gym right now, listening to this and I want to be involved in Fitt, how do I get on it if I can’t pay to play? How do I get in there?
Anthony Vennare: Yeah, right now, it’s fill out a form and just say, “Hey I want you guys to check us out,” and we’ll send it to the writers, editors and see where it fits, and if it does, because we’re constantly updating content. Soon enough, within the next few months, there will be ability to claim a place card, so you’re not put in the content and the article’s about this or that or whatever it is, but you can claim your place, get your place listed on the map, and eventually over the next few months, we’re gonna have the booking transaction feedback where consumers only will leave reviews, you’ll be able to respond to those, and that’s the side that we’re really working on now because we build this content out as just a consumer thing. We wanted to build something for the consumer, and then as we got investors and partners, we realized that’s a great thing that was our only goal was to build that and sell it to somebody like Mindbody or someone else, but we did that really fast, and we did it really well. We’re like, “We could do the rest of it too.” So now the focus is building the complete system for both consumers and the gyms, and we’re working to add more to the gyms, and if you’re not on the list, you’re not somewhere, you know, some people get fired up about that, listen, I’ve owned gyms, I’ve been there, it happens. The content is written by somebody who lives in that city that understands the industry goes to these places, but there will be an opportunity to get listed and work with us in the future.
Dan Uyemura: That’s awesome. Yeah. So, if you guys have navigated over to Fitt, you’ll notice, I’m looking through a guide right now, and just to reiterate on what Anthony is saying, the user interaction of this is amazing. As I’m scrolling through the list, it’s zooming in and out of the map, and it just looks totally modern and totally slick, so I can see why consumers would be interested in and checking out this content. Okay, let’s jump over to this concept that you talked about with discounting. This is something that I’m pretty passionate about, and I’ve gleaned from our earlier conversation you’re pretty passionate about. Can you expand upon this idea? What are you referring to when you talk about the discounting stuff?
Anthony Vennare: Yeah, so when we first had our gyms, it was Groupon and then it became something Grouponfit for a little bit, and now it’s obviously ClassPass. We’ve worked with them, they’ve been a client for advertising purposes and obviously long term there what we would consider a competitor or something out there in the space and having owned gyms and been there, to take something that cost $20 or $15 and make it cost $5, but then you only get three of that, it just doesn’t make sense to me. I get the customer acquisition side, but as you’ve seen in some of the Vice articles and things come out, less and less can you acquire that consumer’s information and can you acquire that consumer. You just become reliant on somebody giving you a small portion of what you’re worth and a small portion of that to keep you alive, and that’s what we don’t think, I mean, I’ve been, I just don’t think it’s a smart move. I get the short term value, but devaluing fitness in the eyes of the consumer as well as they’re not in your funnel, they’re not on your site, they’re not in your newsletters, they’re not on your social. You don’t have this really good interaction. It’s like a very superficial version of your gym is seen by these consumers, and we don’t think that’s the right way long term. We think, yes, the ease of use to book at multiple places for multiple things, which is what we’re trying to build Fitt, eventually we want every system, every gym, whether it’s LA Fitness, a boutique gym, an event, a run group, people should be able to find them and sign up for them, and pay for them through us. But, I want that consumer to experience it in terms of the ease of use of getting there, but then they should actually experience your gym and get into your funnel and see what’s going on, and that’s what we’re trying to create, and it shouldn’t be off of discounts. Yes, first class free or offers or discounted punch cards, there should be marketing tactics in there, but not a consistent, massive steep discount on what you do as a gym owner.
Dan Uyemura: Yeah. I mean, I’ve been on a soapbox for this forever, commoditizing someone’s professional skill is just a dangerous slope to get down, and that’s where my grudge against the ClassPasses of the world have been as a gym owner and a fitness trainer myself. You feel the pressure to compete with the guy across the street who’s knocked his prices down to $5 a class or you’re gonna go $4 and then they’re gonna go $3, and then where do we end up as an entire industry? Let’s kind of dive into that idea. You mentioned a funnel, so on Fitt as you were talking and envisioning this because this is not in place yet, if people book a session at my gym, how do they land in my funnel?
Anthony Vennare: Yeah, so what we’re working on is integrating directly with the Mindbodies of the world, the PushPresses of the world, where if we use their API, it is just inventory, and the information will be passed just like it should through any other funnel or, from what I’ve seen, it used to with ClassPass and anything else, I buy from you, you hold the inventory, you get that consumer and information and the access to them. In the long term, we actually want to build some of our own management, inventory management, and dynamic pricing, as well as retention, things like the Zenplanners of the world, the Gleantaps and others. We want to build a version of that to make it easier to understand what these consumers mean and where they’re coming from, but we’ll pass that information to you. They are, just like they would buy a one day pass in the Minbody app or other places, that’s your consumer, they’re just using us as the discovery and passthrough engine for that.
Dan Uyemura: Got it. Okay. And you’re saying this will not be a pay to play engine, if anything, you’re gonna monetize the transaction that you’re facilitating, but you’re not gonna be like pay for a higher listing or anything like that.
Anthony Vennare: No, it will be transactional, we will take a small fee, and we’ll prove the value there as well as long term, we want to offer upgraded features, analytics, certain types of profile value that you could do. Yelp has a version of this, which is like a Yelp premium profile where it’s not about showing up first and searches, it’s not about things like that, you can pay to have more features and upload more content or have more posts, almost like a Squarespace type thing and other stuff like that, so that we will charge monthly for, but it’s not needed to be listed on Fitt.
Dan Uyemura: Right, I’m gonna ask you kind of a tough question, because there might be some skeptics out there, so I’m sure this is probably in Yelps original business plan, like they didn’t want to become a pay to play engine that ended up kind of holding people’s arms behind their backs to remove bad reviews or what no. How do you feel you’re gonna fight these two things: One) that, ending up so that people, they become some monetization scheme where people are gonna have to pay you to get things off and B) fuck, I forgot what B) was, so let’s just go with A)…
Anthony Vennare: I mean, if you look at Yelp now, there’s booking and reservations, and that’s where they’re, so there’s a company in Pittsburgh called No Wait that got bought by Yelp, and we’ve seen what they’ve done there and Yelp is generating much more revenue from their reservation system, and the booking, and their waitlist management, and that’s the transactional side. For the longest time, Yelp had no transactional revenues, all advertisement, and that’s why we’re making a dynamic shift to get there sooner rather than later because for us, it’s important to have that transactional, and as more people sign up for gyms and as more people buy passes, plus for doing events and meetups, that is a massive opportunity. Plus, we don’t want small businesses to advertise, we’ve already done it. We have health care companies, retail brands, sponsored content, but that will come from not gyms, not restaurants, not places, that’s, the UnderArmours and Kaiser Permanentes, and other companies, so we’ll still have advertising, but it won’t be around that product. And that’s the two differentiating factors that we think long term will make us better is, one, we won’t sell out, the content will be the content, the listings will be the listings, you can’t pay to be placed in a certain area, and we have the advertising model on one side, as well as the booking and transactional. Plus, I mean, the goal is our upgraded profile where you get analytics and feedback and all these other things you can do, it becomes so valuable that everybody has that, you pay $50 bucks a month or whatever the price ends up being to have this upgraded version of Fitt that truly adds value to you.
Dan Uyemura: Right. I will make one suggestion, this is kind of a selfish suggestion. A lot of small businesses have a hard time getting media coverage, and I would consider it a fair pay to play to have a writer come out, evaluate someone’s gym, put them in a guide if the writer feels like they fit in the guide or something because that’s pretty tough stuff to do for a local gym, you know, to get covered and these guides you have are pretty nice right now.
Anthony Vennare: Thanks. Yeah, that’s actually one thing we’re working on is for the cost of getting someone to do photography and content, whatever, but it won’t be for a guide, it will be for the place cards. So if you click on those place cards on the guide and you see a listing for a gym, like a place, we’re working on a way, Airbnb did this and they still do, where you can get your listing photographed and help them create the place and help with the management of the content. We want to add that service long term. Yeah, and that’s something we think we can do. And yeah, I mean, the writers are out there, our network is massive in terms of photographers, videographers, and writers that live in these cities, and we’re always working to grow that, and more importantly, like we talked about before we got on the podcast, not only can we help with getting listed and long term adding value there, but if gyms are running events if gyms are doing meetups and run groups and activities, we cover that stuff too, and if you’re doing your job as a gym owner, you should be doing those things, and that’s another way to get in front of people from a media perspective.
Dan Uyemura: So perfect segue, let’s actually jump into that. When I first met you a few months ago, you told me a really cool story that I want to just kind of rehash real quick. I believe, you can correct me if I get the story wrong, it’s been a few months now, you guys got funded originally by some sports teams, and I think it might have been someone in your area, the Pittsburgh Pirates? The reason they found you is because you threw this huge yoga event out in front of the stadium, and how many people came, 1000 people came to yoga or something?
Anthony Vennare: Yeah, so we created an event when it was still called Fittsburgh, and it was like a side project for us, and it was called Yoga in the Square. We created Yoga Downtown, and it was Sunday’s, going to a place that, you know, Pittsburgh secondary city when this was starting to come on, it was still kind of iffy to go downtown, especially on a Sunday. So we got people to go and do yoga downtown. It was 20 people, and then 50, and then hundreds. And then, we helped promote and grow an event that happened at the stadium actually, it was called “Oms in the Outfield,” and we took our audience and promoted this and got it out there because we knew some of the instructors, and we helped organize a lot of stuff, and it ended up being that, you know, it was 1200-1500 people did yoga in the outfield at PNC Park, and the owners of the Pirates were like, “What is happening?” One, the pirates haven’t done well in forever, so no one goes to games. Let alone, it’s Pittsburgh, why are there 1200 people doing yoga at our stadium and staying after to watch the game because the tickets included both, and it was a really good way to get on the radar because we showed that we get people to turn up. They turn up for events. They turn up for activities, they show up for certain things, and that was a good way to get on the radar for them, and I mean everyone. The city knew us, the mayor, everybody knew who we were originally because we were just getting people to show up for things and doing it in a place like Pittsburgh, which is just not what you would think for health and fitness. Now it’s a much different place, and it is in a lot of areas, but that concept of finding a good channel on marketing and getting people to show up for events and activities not only gets people to connect and it really builds your brand and gets you out in front of other opportunities, and same thing goes for gym owners. We were a media company then or even a side project media thing but it goes the same, and we did the same when we had gyms.
Dan Uyemura: Yeah, and while your example is kind of taking it to the extreme, getting 1200 people to show up at a major league baseball park and, you know, end up getting a check cut to your business because you’re getting this many people to show up. What I want gym owners to understand is on a smaller scale, this is super applicable to you, doing workouts at the park, doing things where you’re getting your members out in the community and participating and getting people to show up creates buzz, and it creates people talking, and it creates people to notice. And while it might not be the owner of a major league baseball team that notices, it might be a whole bunch of people who want to join your gym that notice and they start talking about it and asking questions. I remember when I owned my gym, two of my early, most loyal members, Drew, if you’re out there listening right now and his wife, Regina, they joined my gym in the early days because they saw us working out at the beach and they knew they wanted to join CrossFit gym and and they found us from that. It’s just a stupid example to show that putting effort into these events outside of your gym matter, right? And I don’t want to date this episode, but in the Coronavirus times, we need to start doing stuff outside of our gyms, you can’t do it inside the gym anymore. So, to that note, is there anything you can speak about in terms of what you noticed gym owners doing, studio owners doing that can benefit, that can help them in terms of throwing good events, building good community, everyone talks about community with you. What do you see, whether it’s tactics or some tactical things they can do to make this work better for them?
Anthony Vennare: Yeah, I mean, we were just talking about this. My brother and I always joke that we want to get back in owning fitness facilities and just because we think it’s still not being done right and we have a unique perspective. We have thousands of creators, content in 31 cities,15,000 places that are mostly gyms and events and activities listed on Fitt, and I’ve talked to, seen, and interacted with a lot of those people to see what’s the best of the best. Then on Fitt Insider, we do research about the industry, and not only do we see the local places, what’s OrangeTheory doing, what’s Equinox doing, all these different things, so the playbook for me would, one: be such a simplified version of your online profile, your site, your newsletter, this building a complete funnel, which we could talk more about, but once you have that funnel set up, so you know that somebody could find you, you can remarket, retarget, reengage, you don’t lose them. The CRM and the engagement around content newsletters and social is there. Then it’s getting in front of the consumer, we used to go to school health fairs, and business health fairs, and community days and do so many things like we joked, so being in the Marines I used to go and do the pull up stand, you know, doing that for events, doing that for your gym, you never see that, but the Marines have been doing it for 100 years, getting people trying to join the Marines, so it’s stuff like that being out in the community and then starting with run groups, marathon training, CrossFit competition training, bar in the park, yoga in the park, whatever your domain is, doing that in large groups, for free, don’t charge for it because even if you have to go out of pocket to rent that space, which you 90% don’t have to, you do that and you put it out there and invite your members to invite other people or post it up a coffee shops or get it out there locally, you hit up the HR managers at large businesses that have a lot of consumers. You’re getting them to show up for free for something which they love to do. We drive so many people just to Fitt just because of events, and then you get in front of them, you get to display your personality, your training, your aspect of fitness, and then it’s not just putting on the event. Getting them to sign waivers, sign up for the newsletters, follow you on social engage with them and then kind of get them in your funnel and doing that regularly. If I had a gym right now, I would have a regular run group that met up in a coffee shop. I would do free events and training quarterly for large businesses like we’re in Pittsburgh, so PNC Bank is here, this headquarters, 50,000 employees downtown, I can find the email for their HR manager and say, “Hey, I want to run a free training about nutrition and a free workout for anyone that works at PNC, here’s the sign up.” Stuff like that is just so accessible, let alone I told you, when I first opened up the gym, I got cops called on me a bunch because I literally went door to door and knocked on doors, handed out fliers like Comcast people, but it was like, “Hey, I have a gym, here’s a free class,” old school version of free class offerings, but stuff like that you get people to show up and see who you are, and you, as the owner slash trainer, get to be in front of them and win them over because you are passionate. You care about what you do.
Dan Uyemura: Yeah. So, I mean, I can speak from experience, things like going door to door probably are intimidating many of the people in this audience right now. I know when I owned a gym, some people told me to do that, and it just made me petrified, going cold calling or cold knocking on doors. What kind of advice do you give to somebody who is listening right and going that sounds cool and all, but I’m not gonna do that–to actually getting up off their butt, dealing with a few rejections and doing it enough to start seeing results because I believe that this actually could drive results.
Anthony Vennare: Yeah. I mean, it’s proven. I was a 21 year old kid that didn’t know what he was doing and generating tens of thousands of dollars of monthly recurring revenue from gym memberships, back when trust and faith in gyms and things were still on the new side and the group side of things, and we see it every day. The best gyms have the best community, and community isn’t being that cool person that runs a gym and your bros with everybody, it’s getting out there and representing your brand. So I think the easy playbook for them to get going is one: put on the free events, yoga in the park, run group, meet up, plan something and get the current members that they have to go to that and invite one other person and say, if they invite that other person they get something free or they get some type of offer or shirt or anything or you buy them a beer after whatever, put some money in place instead of running Facebook ads or giving some firm that you have no idea what they’re doing to run Facebook ads, put that money towards an event and see how it goes. Everybody wants to go to things and run and engage and be social. Fitness is so social, so try that out. If it works, then put in place the other aspects of getting out from the community more knocking on doors whatever it may be, but you’re going to win if you execute and market an event the right way by telling your members and putting on social, creating a Facebook event and all that other stuff. That’s the easiest way to verify that community engagement and acquisition actually works.
Dan Uyemura: Yeah, I mean, if you really want to think about just the mechanics of sales, if you get a member to bring someone to an event where they’re going to get a free fitness class and have some fun with friends and meet new people and get to understand your personality and your charisma, it’s almost like if you can’t sell that…
Anthony Vennare: You’re in the wrong business.
Dan Uyemura: Yeah, exactly like the return on investment on that should be gangbusters, right? So, it’s funny you joked around about when you’re done with all this you want to open gyms. Me and Chris here talk all the time about like, “Dude, if we open the gym again knowing what we know now like we would destroy.”
Anthony Vennare: Right? Because you get to see what they do, and you get to see the mistakes. And there’s this, like, weird mold that everybody falls into now when they think if I have a pre-built site from one of the brains that builds sites or a building a Squarespace, I have an Instagram, and I talk about workouts, I’m going to have a successful gym, when you should be an expert in and you know the content, the site, the representation, brand management, acquisition, remarketing, retargeting, event, community, promotion. There’s just so much you should be good at to really run a true funnel because the gym isn’t a gym, it’s, like, the mom and pop restaurants. If you look at them, yes, there’s some outlines, but a lot of the ones that are winning in local businesses, they know what they’re doing, and it’s that type of thing I feel like the fitness industry, and the reason that we’re coming on board with Fitt is, we feel like the fitness industry is where the restaurant industry was 5-10 years ago. You know where it’s not just “I open my shop and I am successful.” You have to understand now, and that’s what we want to be, the platform that hopefully brings everybody on board and modernizes things.
Dan Uyemura: Yeah, that’s a really good way to paint that picture if you’re listening to this now and you’re kind of just going through the motions of running a gym. I think of a local restaurant, maybe even like a local coffee shop now and honestly, all these breweries that are popping up, in my opinion, are like the next version of fitness studios. They’re all just super popular right now, and they’re all gonna hit a crunch real soon, there’s a brewery on every corner now. But yeah, if you’re not focusing on relationships and building experience and understanding your sales funnel and how you’re bringing people in and why, and what the cost of those people that are coming in are, and how your retention strategies are, and your referral strategy are, if you haven’t, if you don’t have a game plan for all this stuff, then it’s gonna be a tough go for any business, and every industry, and every niche is getting harder. Fitness is on that trend right now for sure.
Anthony Vennare: Especially with big entities like Xponential and others that are bringing these brands, yes, they’re not as good of a product, the product is not usually as good because it’s more corporate and more cookie cutter, but they win, and the reason they can succeed and raise money and grow is, and you always wonder, everyone talks about like, “Oh, you know that gym isn’t as good or that training isn’t good,” well, why did they have full classes, and you don’t. It’s experience and understanding of building a true funnel, full scope of how to acquire, retain, engage, and build these things. Yes, they have more money on marketing but having been on the other side and talked to these businesses, they really don’t have that much. It’s not like they’re blowing you out of the water with this money. They just have a formula that works. And you have to focus on your formula when you’re running these businesses, especially if you want to build scale and growth, and not just have it be some side project passion play, which is fine. But I mean, I feel 90% of the gym owners out there think and want to make it more, and you got to step back and look in the mirror like, okay, I need to make this more for business and less of a thing that I just kind of fly by the seat of my pants and do.
Dan Uyemura: Yeah. My narrative here lately or not lately, for a while, has been these Orangetheory fitnesses and F45s and these guys that are coming into the space, these Xponentials, they understand the business, like, locked down, understand the business. They know all their numbers. They know how to make these businesses work per square foot per person that’s coming in the door. But I don’t think they understand the community end of it and the product end of it as well. But that’s okay, because they’re like Starbucks, right? They don’t make the best cup of coffee, but it’s just every time you know what you’re gonna get and you’re okay with it, right? The boutique fitness studios that we represent, they don’t understand the business end of it so much, but they really understand the product, and they understand community, and they understand how to get people having a good time and experience inside the gym. If our gym owners can understand how to do business a little better before the Orangetheories understand how to do community better, I think we win, but, and I don’t even know if the economics work for an Orangetheory to really invest the time and energy that our type of studio owners put into their people. What are your thoughts on that? How does Orangetheory and all them, and again if they’re a sponsor I don’t want you to talk bad about any sponsor, but the big corporate entities are getting into boutique fitness, how do you see them fitting into the whole idea of community, product, well, they win in experience, with all the cool stuff in there, but, how do you think they fit in with the whole community and personal connections and investment in the people?
Anthony Vennare: Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot of things that go into that, but from a surface level one, yes, their experience is better but are their coaches, coaches? Are they trained, are they understanding, and can they continually show results to the consumer? You can’t play mass and custom at the same time. so that’s one way that you could advance. I know Jim the CEO of Opex fitness, if you know they are, I think they have a really good model of programming and consistent growth, and I think that’s an angle that the local brands or the smaller brands can win on is the consistent growth because you’re gonna hit a plateau at some of these studios that you go to and you’re gonna hit a phase where you can’t go more, plus access, these places are booked, you have to wait. My girlfriend used to go to Orangetheory, and she would have to set an alarm for nine o’clock to get into the class and just a lot of stuff that didn’t make sense. So more access, more programming, more potential growth and not hitting getting plateaus, more customized engagement where they feel more engaged with you. So now she goes to a local studio that does, not even the similar training, but every class that she goes to, she gets DM, “thanks for coming to class, I appreciate you showing up,” offering things. So it’s called Meraki, it’s in Pittsburgh. It is a bar and AMP studio, and it’s not even close to Orangetheory. but my girlfriend goes there now and loves it because the people that go there, the way it’s designed, and she literally was like, “I can’t believe that every time I go, she sends me a DM and thanks me for coming to class,” the owner of the studio, and it’s a successful studio. So it’s stuff like that that just wins. Plus, the instructors were trained and they put a lot of time into the programming and their music and their efforts. It’s not cookie cutter. And when you feel that you consumer feels that.
Dan Uyemura: Yeah, hey, quick question, I’m curious. Do you think that those personalized texts coming to her after classes are literally the owner texting? Or do you think it was some kind of scheduled thing that happens after check in?
Anthony Vennare: I honestly think it’s her doing it because it’s Instagram, it’s an Instagram DM. If it was a text, I would think it was automated but it’s a personalized instagram DM. So she’s probably spending 15 minutes after every class and sending people DM’s.
Dan Uyemura: Yeah, so if you’re listening to this, think about that, I mean and honestly that could be something you’re having a VA or somebody helping you with, just going down your check-in list and DMing people if you have an associated record. But think about how easy and effective that is. Does your [girlfriend] ever tell people like,” Hey, you need to check out this Meraki gym because they’re amazing.” Probably.
Anthony Vennare: Their community has grown so much with that group, millennial, young professional women love it because that audience, that community that feel, and yeah she tells everybody that she goes there and loves it. So it’s kind of it’s crazy that that level of engagement and attention has really won that specific consumer over and the classes aren’t cheap and they’re paying full price, and they love it.
Dan Uyemura: And again, this tactic could work today, and it might not work tomorrow because once everyone starts doing it, it won’t be as special, but think about it, like for me, when I go into this one coffee shop near me, they’re, “Good morning, Dan. Do you want your drip coffee?” Like they know what I like. They know me. They greet me by name and they say, “Good morning” and I drive past three, and these are all fancy coffee shops along the way, but this is the one that does it. I drive past three coffee shops to go to this one, and I didn’t even realize it until I started thinking about it. It’s because they call me by name. It just is that simple.
Anthony Vennare: Yeah, it’s the same thing. We talk about restaurants, going to the place where the manager knows you, and the hostess knows you, and they give you the special thing, and in reality, it doesn’t cost them anything or maybe it costs them a little bit to give you that extra thing. There’s a buddy of mine that owns a place, and every time I go there, he brings out a dessert and he’ll text and thank us for coming in, like we’re friends, but we’re not really close friends, but we’ve become friends because I went there once and he had such good service I had to talk to him, I had to meet him. He’s the perfect example of if he owned a gym, it would be the texts, the calls, the special thing, the free shirt, whatever it may be, and really being helpful and engaging and showing that attention. And now, you know, certain things going in the community with the Coronavirus going on right now, don’t want to date the podcast, but during that time, I’m ordering food from him because I’m going and getting coffee beans from my local coffee shop, I am taking online classes with the gyms that I like because of the community, not because of the ease of use. I think times like these show the value of engagement, attention, the model of being a really good community, and I hate the word community because it’s used so much, but the intention and engagement and the effort that’s put in to make you feel welcomed and make your experience better is shown.
Dan Uyemura: Yeah, I agree. 100% and really, how hard is it to build a relationship with your 100 to 200 clients? Not that hard. How hard is it to train your coaches to do that? I mean, that should be ingrained in your culture of your gym or your studio, and all it really needs is just some planning. Like you just need to think about it. Like here at PushPress, a core mandate that we made a couple years ago was customer service is always first, and just because we drove that down from the top, that’s what we’re known for now. So you’re gym, if you’re mandating to your coaches that you greet everyone by name and you always say goodbye to people by name, you give everyone a high five or at least some personal shot out, and we make sure we do this every class and that is our culture. You’re gonna see huge dividends from that. It costs literally nothing, but just your time of building that framework around your culture.
Anthony Vennare: Yeah, and that, as well as the systems they use and the online reputation management, and the reply backs in the email timeframe, everything has to match that, which is the consumer is first. When they think about your business, it has to be, even if something bad happens, for example, right now we let sponsors, “Hey, if you don’t want to run ads right now because of what it’s going on, pull it, cancel it, reschedule, whatever is best for you.” Yes, it’s a hit. But winning in that scenario is the same thing, the interaction is always positive, no matter if it was actually negative to start, and that has to be online, offline, community acquisition, everything has to be based around that. And you see it in some areas where gym owners win, but I think, long term, if they sat back and did an actual kind of road map and understanding of how they engage with consumers, everyone would have something better.
Dan Uyemura: Yeah, and if you’re sitting right now listening and wondering how you can kick this off because it does feel like a lot of stuff, building all of these touch points and how you’re gonna communicate. It really could be just as simple as become obsessed with having every customer love you, that’s all you have to start with is just become obsessed with that. And if you really can wrap your mind and your heart around that concept, everything else will follow because your obsession will drive you to every other touch point that you need to find. It won’t be on day one. You won’t have it. But over time you will build the perfect customer relationship building mechanism, whatever that is for your studio.
Anthony Vennare: Yeah, on our wall at Fitt in our office, the big entryway wall it says, “The right thing is always the right thing,” and that’s the saying we would always say, understanding you know what’s the right thing, you know the right way to do this, and that’s what we want to consumer to see us doing. And yes, we might not grow as fast as some places, and we might not, like, we didn’t take money from certain things that we didn’t like or align with. We didn’t take certain cutthroat initiatives to grow faster. But in the end, when people look at us and look at what we do and think about who we are, they’re like, okay, I respect them, I appreciate them and I think we will win in the end because the right thing is the right thing and that’s what we always do.
Dan Uyemura: Yeah, nobody can ever take that away from you because everyone always knows what the right thing is, you know? And everyone always knows when someone, when they’re on the other end, the receiving end of a business transaction where they’re doing it to make money, shareholder value, whatever the case, whatever their reason is, if it’s not in the customer’s best interest, everyone knows, even the customer service agent that they’re dealing with knows, even if it’s just the policy of the companies. Man, thank you so much, this has been a huge podcast, very informative. Let’s end with a couple gives to the listeners. I like to try and get everyone expanding their mind, thinking bigger than themselves and learning from people who have already kind of walked down this path. Do you have a favorite podcast or blog that you pay attention to that you think fitness studio owners could benefit from?
Anthony Vennare: Yes, let me pull up my podcast app, so I’m not a very good reader, I love podcasts, and that’s where I learned from, so these are not typical fitness podcasts but they’re very helpful. One is called My First Million, so there’s a company called the Hustle, they send emails, they’re Morning Brew, Hustle, similar businesses where they have millions of subscribers that get their daily emails
Dan Uyemura: Do you subscribe to that by the way? I’m curious.
Anthony Vennare: Yes.
Dan Uyemura: That’s a paid one, right?
Anthony Vennare: No, they have a paid one. So The Hustle is free. They have a paid one called Trends, which is way more in depth.
Dan Uyemura: I almost subscribed to that one.
Anthony Vennare: My brother is on that, he loves it, so I use his stuff. So it’s good.
Dan Uyemura: Is it worth paying for?
Anthony Vennare: He thinks it is. Yeah, he loves it, especially with Insider and what we do. So it’s called My First Million and it’s Shaan Puri and another guy and the way they talk about things, and it’s the same mentality that we have today, like, hustle, get out there, do it, consumer facing, do the right thing, and it’s just it’s all off the walls and all over the place. But it is awesome. I love it, it’s my podcast right now. I obviously, shameless plug, my brother’s podcast, Fitt Insider. We’ve had so many killers on, from Rick Stollmeyer, CEO of Mindbody, I know they’re a competitor, but he was a good get for us, John Canarick, managing director of North Castle Partners, the CEO of Future, the personal training app, Aarti Kapoor, the head of Goldman Sachs Fitness and Wellness investment. So, all over the map, it is people that are leading in the areas and have something to say about a certain area. So one, if you run a brand and you have scale, we’re growing that, it’s pretty backed up on the list of who’s getting interviewed, but we’re always looking for guests, to hear from new people, and it’s just a good look. So, like, you know, the one other one that I really liked was the CEO of Camp Gladiator, what they’ve done and how big they are, so that’s another one that’s a really good podcast.
Dan Uyemura: Yeah, and for the listeners out there, I would actually say you should, even though this is kind of outside the realm of your local fitness entity, you should probably subscribe to Fitt Insider, and you might wanna listen to that podcast he was mentioning because what’s going on in the bigger picture of fitness stuff, you need to pay attention to because that’s the big tide that’s kind of going to keep you around in the long term. In the short term, not so much. But if these big trends are happening with, like, if you don’t know who North Castle Partners are, they’re one of the biggest PE firms that invest in the fitness space. Who do they own? Orangetheory?
Anthony Vennare: No, they own Barry’s Bootcamp.
Dan Uyemura: Yeah, so it’s a good idea to understand who the players are in the space to understand who’s positioning where and where the trends are going, and it’s very, very important. Cool, you said you weren’t really a book reader, I was gonna ask you what your favorite book is, do you listen to audiobooks at all?
Anthony Vennare: Yes, I do. The one that is on my list right now that my brother really recommended is called, I think, War is Art? Or Art is War? One of the two, let me see, I gotta look it up, sorry.
Dan Uyemura: Hopefully, it’s not Art is War because that’s, The Art of War?
Anthony Vennare: No. No, it’s not. I think it’s the opposite.
Dan Uyemura: That would be a clever title if that was it.
Anthony Vennare: I think that’s what it is, honestly, because it’s sitting on my desk right now that I’m going to, yeah, The War of Art. Sorry. The War of Art. My brother, it’s one of the things he recommends, he’s a big reader. I said, “Listen, you know, I’m not a fast reader, I’m not very good, give me one book to read.” He was like, “Read that.” And then another side of it all is a lot of the things that I say, I’ve learned over time from a guy named Gary Vaynerchuk, most people know who he is nowadays, marketing expert. Sometimes I don’t agree with a lot of stuff, he says, but his original books Crushing It and The Thank You Economy, The Thank You Economy specifically really touches on this side of it. It’s a little dated because it came out more than a few years ago, but the aspect of The Thank You Economy being the consumer first and building out that customer service it really touches on that, that’s probably one of the most impactful books for me I’ve ever read.
Dan Uyemura: Very cool. And if we can leave the listeners with one tip or trick or tactic that you think that they could do, that they can implement in 5, 10, 15 minutes today, right now, that could impact their business. What would you say it is? Kinda put you on the spot…
Anthony Vennare: No, I love it. I’m all about it. The thing that I have learned over time is I’m not very organized. I’m not very skilled in certain areas. I didn’t go to college or barely graduated high school. The thing that I can succeed at and that I think most people can, that they overlook, is do what you say you’re gonna do. The responsiveness of your emails and your calls, following up, making sure that when you tell someone something, you agree to something or you are engaged with somebody that you follow up fast and you follow up the right way. That to me, I’ve seen businesses that we’ve dealt with and people we’ve dealt with where they say they’re going to do this, they don’t do it or they don’t follow up or they don’t call back or they don’t have some type of response. Those simple tactics are, you just build people’s trust, and even if something doesn’t go right, they trust you and they like you. And that’s what I’ve been focused on because I’m not good at it. And since I’ve been better at it and with the leadership from my brother, everybody is, they all just say like, you know, those guys say what they’re going to do and and literally from the top down, we’ve got investments in the millions from people and they’re like, why did you invest in Anthony and Joe? It’s because they do what they say they’re gonna do, and they are always there, and they always follow up, and that, to me, is something everyone can do. It really builds your brand, personally, and people trust you.
Dan Uyemura: Spoken like a true U.S. Marine. Well, I will actually add to that because I completely agree with that, but I think my downfall in that spectrum of stuff is I agree to do too many things, like I can’t say no to people, so I end up passively agreeing to things that I should just be upfront and say, I can’t do that. So lately I’ve gotten a lot better and telling people that’s not in my timeline. I don’t want to lead you on, can’t do it. When we were first building PushPress, I remember there was a lot of times I’m like, I really want this, this is a good idea too, this is a very valid thing we need to build, and I just stack myself with so many of those that I put myself behind an eightball that I couldn’t dig out of, so do what you say you’re gonna do, but say no when you can’t do it, that’s that’s my addendum to that part.
Anthony Vennare: That’s a good one. Yeah, definitely don’t overcommit because then you can’t follow up and you won’t do it.
Dan Uyemura: You’re just gonna end up not doing everything you say you’re gonna do. Cool. Well, hey, thank you so much, Anthony. This is a huge episode, I know there has been a whole bunch of stuff in here that people are gonna take away and learn from again, Fitt.co fit, you should check it out if you’re listening right now, definitely subscribe to that newsletter, and, I’m gonna start listening to that My First Million podcast, that sounds like definitely something I’m interested in. We’re pretty big on getting people to expand their minds, learn how to become better business owners, so check out those resources he gave you, and if you need to relisten to this podcast, please do so, tons of good stuff spoken by somebody who’s literally in the thick of this entire boutique fitness industry. Anthony, thank you so much again, and we’ll catch you on the other side of all this.
Anthony Vennare: Yeah, thanks so much.
Dan Uyemura: Well, there you have it, Anthony Vennare from Fitt.co working on some big things over there. I hope you guys really have taken a look at that, and you’re gonna be paying attention to what they’re doing. At the very least, good person to pay attention to and has a lot of information coming out of their organization that will help you in one way or another, and at the best, I mean, Fitt.co is going to start showcasing more and more gyms in local regions, and, I mean, how do you find new members, local marketing and local searches, the way to do it to find new people for your gym and to be included in a directory like Fitt.co will be pretty big for your gym in the future, once they get some more of those features rolled out.
I hope you enjoyed that episode. If you did, make sure you leave a comment, give us a review, give us a five star rating, give us a thumbs up to all of the things that help other gym owners find us. You know, if you do that, if you find value in these episodes and you think that it’s worthwhile for me to be spending my time interviewing some of these badass guests that we’re getting, you’re letting Apple and Spotify and these other algorithms that are out there, Google, know that what I’m doing matters to you. And by doing so, they’re gonna put us higher on the list, which will let other gym owners find us, which will make me be able to help more gym owners, which is at the heart of what we’re trying to do here at PushPress. So again, I’m gonna make the ask, if you think this is helping you, I would really appreciate it. Share with a friend, leave a review, give us five stars, give us a thumbs up, and subscribe. I mean, that’s the best way. What Ashley has been doing here, who’s the producer of this podcast, she’s been silently releasing new episodes early on a Friday and all of the subscribers will get it over the weekend early, and then she publicly is releasing them on Mondays. So if you subscribe, you get the added bonus of getting some of this stuff early as we do it. We are also going to start releasing bonus episodes here and there, kind of peppered through the week because we’re building up kind of a library of episodes. So as we release those that are unscheduled if you subscribe, you also get those too without having to lift a finger. What’s easier than that? All right, guys, I hope you enjoyed the episode. And until the next time we meet, keep grinding on those businesses and we’ll see you later.
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