What’s your journey been to this point?
Fitness has always been the most important part of my day-to-day, so after uni I decided to take it seriously. I worked a couple of years as a one-to-one PT in a local gym, and when new owners wanted me to pay them rent to continue working, it forced my hand: I decided to take the plunge and open my own facility.
I went to visit the gym of someone who was already a member of the IFBA. As soon as I saw it, I knew: this was what I wanted to do – this was how I wanted to work. There was a massive gap in the market for the small group personal training model in Scarborough. To be honest, it felt like a no brainer – like I couldn’t fail.
To be honest, it felt like a no brainer – like I couldn’t fail.
What was it like transitioning from being a PT to a gym owner?
My books were full as a PT so I was able to bring the majority of my clients across with me which was a huge benefit.
The change in model made complete sense for my clients. They were mostly women who didn’t have confidence to go to their gym on their own, so were only going to the gym once a week – for their session with me.
I was passionate about creating an environment where they felt comfortable, could afford to come two or three times a week, and would get the results they wanted.
Employing staff has brought on a whole new level of challenge. I’ve been really fortunate that all the staff I’ve employed have been great, but when you’re a one-man band, everything’s down to you – if you make a mistake, it’s your fault.
As a leader, I’ve found it hard to know what to delegate and what to hold back. To keep standards high, my tendency is to try and do everything myself; but you can’t serve everybody from an empty cup. Plus I have found that delegating to staff actually makes them feel a more valued member of the team: our team has definitely got tighter in the last six months now that I’m making them feel like they’re contributing more to the long term future of the business – rather than just coming in to work their shift.
What are your next steps?
We reached capacity around three months ago at near on 100 members.
At that point, I needed to decide whether I was happy standing still, having a good little business, making a decent amount of money: or did I want to push myself and have a bigger impact?
I think if I hadn’t been a member of the IFBA, I would have been happy staying where I was. But going to the Meetups and speaking to people like Ross (Owner, Improve Glasgow) and Jerome (Owner, Performance Project) gave me the fire I needed. Seeing their success made me realise that it is possible to go further. If they can do it, I can too!
So next year Barbelle will be moving from an 800sqft to a 2000sqft space. The full unit is near to 4000sqft and I’m planning for this to be the go-to place for fitness in Scarborough, with a healthy café, retail outlet, rooms to rent for massage, physio and beauty therapists: a full-service space all under one roof.
Dealing with the logistics and details of this expansion is a big challenge. I’ve had to loosen the reins on the coaching side of things as all my time’s taken up working on the business side. My connection with the IFBA has definitely made the process less of an ordeal. Lots of members have been through the same thing, so I can always give them a ring and they’ll help me out of tricky situations.
Having the IFBA on your side as an aspiring or current gym owner is massive: there’s a network of gym owners in the trenches with you, a way to ease the loneliness of being a business owner. It’s a real, reciprocal relationship where you can offer other people help, and get help in return.
Do you think being a woman has impacted on your experience of starting and running a gym?
For me, being female hasn’t impacted on my experience of setting up and running a facility. I didn’t even think about it in the beginning to be honest – that gender would come into it.
But I’m proud that I’m one of the few: I’m female and I’m running a successful gym business in a predominantly male world. JC has already asked a few people earlier in their journeys to give me a call to share my experience, and it feels really good to be able to give back and help people who were in the same position as myself only a short while ago.
What are your biggest triumphs?
I’m very proud of my brand. I believe that I’m really consistent with the message and experience I deliver, and I think this is incredibly important in a busy market.
My advice would be to stick to your principles: stick to what you know and do it well.
I won’t compromise on anything. Everything, from the font on our social media posts, to the fresh flowers in the gym every week, the soap we provide in the bathroom, our clothing, the check-in text after a session – every single thing with the Barbelle name attached has to reflect quality and consistency. Everyone who walks into the gym knows that everything will always be exactly the same, no matter what.
That’s my driving force. I won’t settle for naff: everything has to be spot on.
Any shortcuts/tips to make life as a business owner easier?
There is no shortcut to success.
You can achieve anything with hard work and consistency. Expect long hours and days. There will be challenges every day of different magnitudes: kit breaking, triallists not showing up, etc. Sh*t happens and you’re going to come up against some tough situations. It’s how you react that defines you.
Having said that, my one big tip would be to get yourself really organised. Know where your business is and where it’s going.
You could get way with winging it as a PT, but not when you’ve got members and staff relying on you. You need to always be one step ahead of curve, thinking about the next thing – resting on your laurels could be your downfall. You’ll need to get used to working hard, but it’s all worth it in the end because you’re working for yourself; for what you believe in.
What makes Barbelle stand out?
The community and environment we’ve built makes us stand out: we’re successful because we’re like one big family. People don’t just turn up, sweat, and leave.
We’re a really unique offering in the area. People have tried and failed to pull off the Small Group Personal Training model, but we’ve succeeded because we’ve implemented it properly. People skills are definitely at the heart of success for this: to train SGPT, you need to be able to deliver quality coaching to several people at once. We’re also really good at reading the client in front of us and tailoring their experience to combine both what they want and what they need. This shows with our retention rates; almost every member that started with us two years ago has stayed with us.
Our client feedback has a common theme: that however you feel, whatever’s going on in life, you know that you’re going to feel 100 times better as soon as you walk through our doors. And we’re incredibly proud of that.