Fighter Spirit // ft. Dani Hoddinott, Harbor City Fitness

In The Trenches catches up with Dani Hoddinott, General Manager of Harbor City Community Fitness to discuss leadership, principles, values, planning, staff development, and a “before, during, and after”

People will quit gyms but it’s hard to quit relationships.

People will quit gyms but it’s hard to quit relationships.


Dani Hoddinott

Dani Hoddinott is the General Manager of Harbor City Fitness in Melbourne, Florida. In this episode Eric sits down with Dani to discuss leadership, principles, values, planning, staff development, and a “before, during, and after” look at “readiness and resiliency” through this crisis.

Show Notes

Full Episode Transcript

Eric LeClair: Welcome to In The Trenches a weekly podcast series dedicated to entrepreneurial leadership the principles and values that define and develop it as well as actionable steps that you can take to immediately lead your team to victory.

Good afternoon. This is Eric LeClair over at PushPress, and we are continuing our In The Trenches leadership discussion, and I am absolutely thrilled and privileged to have Dani on with me today. Dani and I had a chance to connect through our EventX pipeline, she is a trooper and I thoroughly enjoy our relationship. And I want her to introduce herself to those of you that don’t know her…Dani, feel free. Go ahead.

Dani Hoddinott: Thank you, Eric. I’m really excited to be here. My name’s Dani Hoddinott, and I am the general manager and head coach at Harbor City Community Fitness, and that’s in Melbourne, Florida. We are a pretty large facility, our space we’ve got, you know, about, I believe, 10,000 square feet, about 100 members, and, we’ve been around since 2007, so going over 13 years now, which is awesome.

Eric LeClair: There aren’t many affiliates around that have been through the 2007 window, here we are, 13 years later. So you are partners with Mike is that correct? Mike Manning. Talk to me a little bit about the staff. You guys have employees? Do you have personal trainers? What’s the staff look like?

Dani Hoddinott: So we are a MadLab gym, which basically means that everybody sort of works together and gets their own tribe of clients, if you will. So right now it’s Mike and myself. We have, I believe, two or three just part time coaches that fill in for classes here and there, and then there’s four of us who have kind of our own tribe of clients, so I look after my certain people. Coach Jen looks after hers, Caitlyn looks after hers, Mike looks after his. That way, everybody kind of gets a touch point with a coach like nonstop or their go to for really whatever they would need. And then we make sure that we’re always on top of them in terms of have you been to the gym? How’s things going in life? Hey, do you want, oh, let’s get a personal training session and make sure that we kind of fix up that thing we saw the other day, but yeah, so I’d say for the most part, it’s four of us that are mostly hands on in terms of our clients and, you know, it’s a good system and my coaches are awesome. Especially right now. Like they’re coming in hot to like help, whatever we need, so I’m really excited for them and for us to be together no matter what.

Eric LeClair: I dig it. I love hearing the organizational structure that MadLab presents for affiliate owners, by the way, feel free, this is no shame, feel free, shameless plugs all you want. You know, we’ve asked a bunch of affiliate owners do they belong to mentorship groups? And you know, a lot of people that have really solid foundations and that, obviously, here we are 13 years later, the gym has been around, so there are principles at play that allow the gym to thrive. There’s organizational structure there that’s set up to allow the coaches to thrive from a leadership standpoint. Then let me ask either you personally or maybe you collectively as the gym, do you want to speak towards any personal values that you hold dear to you or any maybe the company values that the company holds dear to them, any topics of discussion there that you want to share?

Dani Hoddinott: I mean, I just think from start to finish, like during regular times and during now, the biggest thing for us has always been focusing on the relationship with our clients because people, you know, people will quit gyms, people will quit a lot of things in life. But the hardest thing to quit is a relationship, right? And if there’s that trust built from coach to coach, owner to coach, client to coach, client to owner, if all that trust is kind of built through a relationship than you can see more of a long term path for everything. And I think that that’s been the best thing for us like overall, is knowing that the relationship should be the starting point.

Eric LeClair: No, I think that’s, it’s a tremendous value there that you place such a high purchase or high touch point on the relationship. The human piece is the value right we’re not commoditizing and just simply selling exercise. We’re developing relationships, right?

Dani Hoddinott: That’s exactly, people don’t want to be a commodity, we try to stay away from that. We want to be, you know, more of an all around, like your life coach, you know, coach for life is actually what we call it. So each of our clients, we’re their coach for life, you know, they each get their own coach for life because we want to look at it. I mean, and it sounds a little aggressive if you will, your coach forever, but like in the grand scheme, it’s meant to be more like, no, I want to work hand in hand with, you know, your doctors and your whoever you need us to to make sure that all around you’re getting everything that you need in life, you know? So we try and build a relationship with them, the relationships with all the other practices around us so that we know what’s going on or how to help if we need to, you know.

Eric LeClair: I dig it, I totally dig it. I really wish there were more affiliates that we’re open to that model. It seems to be very successful for the MadLab gyms that have stood the test of time. I mean, there’s a ton that have lived over a decade. It’s spectacular. The next segment that we move to in the interview is more about we recognize where we are today, both as individuals, as gym owners, general managers, coaches caring for our clients, so we kind of look at it before, during and after. The before phase, where or I guess I should say, who is responsible for the development of your coaching staff? Is that you? Or is it Mike?

Dani Hoddinott: It’s me.

Eric LeClair: It’s you. Okay, so what kind of either principles or guiding lights have you challenged your coaches with to prepare them for something like this? Do you guys have continuing education, do you guys have certifications per month and, like counseling sessions? Talk me through like your coach development at your facility.

Dani Hoddinott: Absolutely. So a lot of this is driven through MadLab in how we do this, so they are part of what we call the junior apprentice program. Um, and that is given and delivered through MadLab, but also through their sort of mentor in house, which would be me. So basically, they have weekly meetings and they have tasks and targets that they’re supposed to hit and write. A lot of it are not necessarily hurdles, but things that are out of their comfort zone that they have not done yet. But in order to graduate to the next step, they have to do them right. So then they meet back home with me, and then we go over, you know, how I did it, you know, suggestions on how they can do it. And I kind of work with them hand in hand to make sure that they are successful in their endeavors. So basically goes from junior apprentice one to junior apprentice two, then senior apprentice one, senior apprentice two, and there’s lots of different workings around each of the levels, but it is like a full education program. It’s very hands on.

Eric LeClair: There’s a big sales portion to that also, they learn and understand that. And in order to graduate through those levels, they’ve got hit, maintain sales, Correct?

Dani Hoddinott: Yes, there’s definitely sales components to it and kind of like bringing in their own clients. We also give them clients. We kind of do like a round robin sort of thing if we have house leads. But, um, you know, they need to bring in a certain amount of their own, meaning, like reaching out to their friends and family or businesses around or going and just introducing yourself to people, you know, there’s kind of different levels for each of those aspects, if you will. It’s been good because, like they’ve learned a lot and you can see through the whole process, like how they got from A to B and looking back on A you’re like, wow, look where you’ve come like since that point, you know? So it’s really cool to watch, like a human that was once a client or just a person outside of the gym developed within it and kind of find their own space.

Eric LeClair: I love it. I love hearing that you’ve poured this amount of dedication and education into developing these competent junior leaders, right, cause that one day maybe you’re gonna, I mean, would it be fair to say maybe you will step out of some of the senior roles over time, and they will start to take more ownership piece. Is that the idea?

Dani Hoddinott: Yeah, that’s definitely the idea. And I think that’s where I’m at in my path too is like, you know, what do I see myself doing in three years with the business, right? Or five years? It’s kind of thinking about a long term goal in deciding which pieces I think would fit really well for each of them as I sort of step out of them and they step in so that I can step into the bigger, larger aspect things, if you will. But I do. I love coaching. I love our clients like we have such a great client base, and I don’t ever really see myself fully stepping away from the coaching part, you know, I like to have my toes dipped in like a little bit of everything.

Eric LeClair: Sure, but now, in Florida, you had, like, a week or two to observe the rest of the country, and so you were obviously communicating with your clients and communicating with your staff, hey, there might be a potential for us to have to shut down or pivot to a different type of offering different type of service, so what were you and the staff doing to kind of prepare for, I guess, what was inevitable

Dani Hoddinott: A lot, we did a lot. I mean, so first it kind of started as a discussion, and then, you know, I think all of us in the back of our heads were like, no, that won’t really happen right? Or at least hoping that maybe it wasn’t true, but as we watched it happen elsewhere, then it kind of turned one from, like, I don’t know, we’ll see and changed over into, like, go mode, right? Like let’s figure out what we would do, how we would do it and make sure that we’re able to deliver it as soon as possible so that we don’t skip a beat. And I think we did a really, really awesome job that, like, I have to say, I’m proud of like our coaches. I’m proud of myself, like we seem to have worked really well under the stress of it all. But basically it was like looking at the main components of everything that we do day to day and then deciding how we could if we could, you know, or in what way to deliver those things to our clients so that nothing else changes other than having a physical location. But one of the main things that we’ve told everybody is right. Like we, we don’t sell classes. We don’t, you know, like we don’t even offer like, oh, a 3x a week or a 2x a week membership because we sell coaching and you don’t need a physical location for that.

Eric LeClair: That’s a huge thing to have communicated to the clients before this so that they don’t think you’re all of a sudden switching on them.

Dani Hoddinott: Yeah, so we, you know, there came, like, the initial email to all of our clients like, hey, if this happens, here’s what we’re planning, here’s what it will look like for you, and nothing other than a physical location will change like we still have your backs, we’re still your coach for life, we’re still doing all the things that, you know, we possibly can to make sure that you guys were going to stay healthy, stay fit, stay whatever this is for you, while we cannot meet in a spot. So that was kind of like the first part of it, and then it was like, ok, figure out what we’re gonna do with programming. Who’s going to do what? How we’re gonna sort of divide it up, but since we already have our tribes, it’s been sort of a seamless roll over. Like, I’m still in charge of my clients right, and they’re still in charge of theirs, so that we have those clients and it just kind of switched from, okay. I see them each week, if I don’t make sure that I get in touch with them or, you know, maybe sometimes we have personal training sessions, and then it just kind of changed to an online platform. But I have to say it went a lot smoother than I thought. I didn’t think it wouldn’t go smooth, but I think that we just did a really, really good job at that transition point.

Eric LeClair: You say that the communication to the clients early on was helpful.

Dani Hoddinott: Oh, yeah, for sure. I think a lot of people were like, you gotta be kidding me, like that’s not gonna happen. You’re not gonna close down, but we wound up closing the gym before we were even told to because, honestly, like the real factor for me in that decision was, like, we love these people like they, you know, 2007 they’re are family and if anything were happened to any one of them because we waited too long to make a decision, I don’t know that I could ever forgive myself for that. It was hard.

Eric LeClair: You personally agreed across the coaching staff, like you and Mike and the coaches were like, we all agree this the right thing to do.

Dani Hoddinott: Yeah.

Eric LeClair: Awesome. That’s a tremendous show of care, understanding, of course, and also before mandated, it’s a huge step because you didn’t wait to be told, you took action at a time.

Dani Hoddinott: It happened like a day or two after that, they closed down gyms in Florida, but we were like, all right, we’re ahead of it, you know? And even our clients, when we posted and called and texted and did all that stuff there, like you’re making the right decision, like they backed us up. And we’re like, okay, good, all right, now, I don’t have to worry about that, you know, so I think a lot of them sort of appreciated the fact that we have that foresight, you know, and have their health in our mind.

Eric LeClair: Yeah, of course. I mean, it’s huge for them just to, number one, understand and recognize that importance and also support the gym, you know, and the decision of the gym to say, look what it’s gotta be done. I can’t tell you how many coaches we’ve spoken to that they’re not getting traction with their clientele. They’re not delivering the message or the why, and they’re losing clients. Have you sat down with the coaching staff and had a discussion about, because before, the during, and the after, none of us know if this is gonna go April, May, June, July, August. How are you communicating? Maybe just Mike or maybe you Mike, and the staff. Have you guys talked about what this looks like in 30 more days as far as, maybe offerings to the clients, any adjustments to the calendar and schedule? Any additional social services, obviously digital but social above and beyond fitness? Have you guys have any discussions yet about that?

Dani Hoddinott: Yes, loosely like there’s nothing set in place right now that we’re like this is exactly what’s gonna happen in 90 days, you know, we have ideas and our coaches are really smart and they have a lot of great ideas too, so sort of the meeting of the minds. I talk with our coaches every day and I talk with Mike every day and then we all talk together I would say at least once a week, we all talk together, But, basically, I guess first and foremost, we’re sort of playing the waiting game right now because that’s really all that you can do. You have a lot of really great ideas. I don’t know so much outside of fitness, but things that we can do with our clients if this really does keep up because at some point like and disclose for all gyms at some point, people are gonna be sick of zoom classes. People are gonna be sick of, you know, whatever it is that any gym is offering, it’s gonna get to a point where it’s like, all right, cause we charge a higher price point and we deliver a higher level of service. But when it turns into, you know, five months of beach body type workouts through a camera, people are going to start to weigh their options and especially as they start to lose their jobs or see what their financial situation is going forward, it’s gonna be very hard. So I think, like, long term, we just have to keep that in mind and, like, over deliver nonstop new ways to keep them engaged, find new things to offer them, even if at a distance. But honestly we lean a lot on, like all of the different companies that we utilize so with PushPress, they have been, like leading the charge in figuring things out, I have to say, I was absolutely blown away. I’ve said this to my coaches. I’ve said it to my boyfriend, people outside, like your company, has done so much in terms of delivering information to us before we even know that we needed it, and that was like, it’s been really, really valuable, and then like Uplaunch, and we use WodSites,they all have a plan, right? For how to sell, how to deliver, what kind of communication to give to new people if you want to take on new people for remote coaching, right and then Level Method, you’re a Level Method, right,  like the resilience challenge, all of the social media assets…

Eric LeClair: Just the social media assets alone is brilliant.

Dani Hoddinott: It’s unbelievable because when you see this all kind of unfolding, and you’re like, ok, what am I gonna do here? And you’re trying to come together with things and then boom, all these like crazy ideas just pop right in front of your face done for you, and you’re like, oh, my gosh, so we’ve taken all of those ideas and to made them our own which I think has been really, really valuable.

Eric LeClair: Excellent. You do have your toe in all of the right buckets, if you will. We do recognize that there are some affiliate owners out there and not necessarily even just in the affiliate landscape and let’s just say, the microgym landscape that are struggling. They’re operating from a place of fear, they’re operating from a scarcity mindset or like a doomsday scenario mindset, and they’re stuck. If you had a chance, and this is your soapbox opportunity, is there a message or a statement that you would feel comfortable sharing with them to maybe help move them forward.

Dani Hoddinott: Yeah. And I think at the end of the day that this is in every single gym owners lap to decide what to do, how to handle it, and how to move forward no matter what is coming. And I can tell you right now, Mike and I are not quitters and it’s hard, like, I think we all know that this is hard, but there’s no way that we’re gonna give up without, like, a solid fight, like we’re just fighters. You know what I mean like it’s been 13 years of this. If other things have been taking us down, this has nothing on us, you know what I mean? We’re very innovative. So I think that whatever is in your head is definitely going to drive your actions and your thoughts. And I think that that’s a huge part of sort of tackling this is like the second that you panic or you tell yourself like oh, my God, we’re losing or oh my God, we’re going under right, like that’s when it’s actually going to wind up fulfilling itself because you have given up on it. And I think, have a plan, and if you don’t have a plan, talk to a friend who might have a plan or right get in touch with people like you who have all these brilliant things going on around you to help gyms. I don’t think that we would be in as great of a place as we are right now without the help of our mentors and all of the sort of different organizations that we’ve associated ourselves with, and I think that that’s been, right now more than ever, we’re like, oh, like we’re so smart, like, brought them on board because, like, oh, my goodness, look how much easier this is getting, you know? But I think that mindset is everything we’re not giving up.

Eric LeClair: Outstanding. It’s so refreshing to hear that fighter spirit, that not quitter spirit.

Dani Hoddinott: I love working under pressure.

Eric LeClair: I dig it. Awesome. Well, Dani, thank you so much.

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