Scratching Your Own Itch
by Neil Perkins
It was successful entrepreneur and writer of the 4 hour week, Tim Ferris that said that when setting up a business that you should ‘scratch your own itch’ His reasoning behind this is that you should offer a service that is currently missing and that would satisfy you as a customer. This belief and vision is something that will inevitably drive your brand to succeed. Richard Branson was inspired to set up Virgin airways as the main competitor British Airways was not offering a service that left him satisfied as a customer. I have never flown Virgin or BA and I have no doubt that Virgin isn’t quite as good as he claims, and that BA has rectified some of it’s wrongs. Poorly equipped cabin staff, poor customer service and no ‘fun’ on the airline was the reason that Branson felt he could offer a superior alternative.
My self-belief has always enabled me to believe I could achieve anything I put my mind to, on paper in 2007 when launching Fighting Fit City Gym, I would not have financially backed me. Although I had always found some form of employment from the age of 12, with my mum taking (or dragging) me off to work 16-hour days on catering functions, some part time bar work and even some call centre work occupying part time slots in my life. My ‘skilled expertise’ where formed in my early 20’s by either dragging men out of nightclubs as a doorman on Broad Street, punching people in the face as a professional boxer or teaching other people to punch people in the face as a PT…..hardly CEO material.
My vision for Fighting Fit was to provide members with authentic boxing training and then offer them the opportunity to progress up to boxing on white collar boxing shows. As far as I am aware I was the first person outside of London that was looking to offer this nieche service? A service that was booming over the Atlantic Ocean in New York. My vision had been formed from my own life and training experiences and I aimed to replicate the community feel that I had experienced as an amateur boxer at Priory Park ABC. I wanted our users not only to become fitter than ever before, but encourage self-development, confidence and a sense of camaraderie. This was missing in regular gyms. I wanted to enable this style of coaching and community to all and I would even recall my original ‘one page business plan’ where I wanted to re-brand boxing so it was no longer exclusively a ‘Blue Collar Sport’ I wanted to open this style of training and the psychological and physical benefits that if offers to everyone. I wanted the ‘world of the fight’ to be open to everyone – elite level coaching for the everyman.
Now the last bit of the previous paragraph has shown my evolution into CEO material. It may resonate Churchill’s ‘fight them on the beeches’ speech but this is the truth of my convictions. My evolution into CEO will enable me to tell you some facts about my business, and some of these leave me feeling a little old! My target market/ demographic is 21-45 city centre professionals who either live or work within half a mile of the gym. This is seeing me slide to the higher end of the age spectrum. Although we’ve had members to 74 years old and boxers to 59 box on a show, generally speaking the market place is occupied by this age range, what is worse is that 62% of my members are 21-35 – I am officially out of the cool club! The community vision and interpersonal relationship with members is something I am keen to resonate throughout the brand, the vision for the gym is to be like the bar in TV show ‘Cheers’ and where ‘everyone knows your name’ – for the 62% of my members who are 21-35 probably haven’t got a clue what ‘Cheers’ is 😉 ?
It is fair to say that my vision has been a little blurred over the past 18 months. Changes in life circumstance, age and stresses in my life have affected my outlook. With Javelin Block re-branding HSG, my life race was nearly over as I was ready to coast over the finish line and lap up profits, I was nearly there but burnt out, tired and demotivated. Those who work in the fitness industry can not be motivated by money, they must be motivated by vision, belief and passion. April last year we hit our membership targets and were so popular we put a freeze on new members. There were still many things going on behind the scenes and this created stress. Stressed decisions are inevitably bad decisions and natural attrition, bad staffing, poor session delivery and increased competition in the market place saw our number reduce back down below 300. I was ‘the man’ driving my business, community and vision. My lifestyle had slipped, and I was a far cry from the professional boxer who started this enterprise in 2007. I began similar escapism that many clients who come and see us have experienced with stress. Self-medicating on alcohol or recreational drugs, late nights, caffeine/ stimulant reliance and poor lifestyle choices had taken its toll on my outlook. I wasn’t optimistic, driven and energy filled – I was worn out and tired. I had forgot what it was to exercise and what it was to workout, without sounding too deep, I had forgot what it was to be me. I read a wonderful quote in relation to alcohol, especially when consumed on a ‘school night’
‘Alcohol borrows the happiness for tomorrow today’
My slick writing, CEO facts or corporate speak hadn’t made my business a success – it was the drive, the vision and the belief. It was the desire to make people change and provide the best service we could in a unique and motivating environment. I had spent 9 months sleepwalking, but I had accrued some very talented coaches to deliver this vision in this time. After a tiring 2017 I took a long overdue break I reflected my 2017 on a beach in Cape Verde. In 2018 I need the last 60 members to once again have my gym on a waiting list. I realised is that no matter how good this service people will come and go, the nature of our client base and evolution means we need to keep striving to improve the service we offer. I am also aware that in the last 10 years we have seen the addition of independent gyms, Crossfit boxes and budgets gyms. The market place is more competitive. I didn’t want just a waiting list, I wanted successful classes, an nu-paralleled vibe and a delivery on the gym floor that no-where else offered. To do this we had to add to our boxing and improve the lifting, hiit classes and the service we offered our members. As a nieche gym we also need to specialise and identify our target market and the service that we would offer them. Equally, we need to understand that we are not the gym for everyone and not be afraid to tell people this.
On a beech in Cape Verde I realised that I still loved the fitness industry and if I carried on sleepwalking that this enterprise would carry on ‘existing’ but never flourish. I also realised that unless I made changes to my lifestyle that I wouldn’t experience the same quality of life that my fitness had enabled me to achieve prior. I have a unique opportunity to be crowned head of the very dysfunctional family that is Henrietta Street Gym, this would see friendships formed, memories made and have a positive effect on all that pass through our doors – this is something I am most proud of the business I have created. I have re-ignited my own training regime and I realise that I will never be the same ‘athlete’ that I was in 2008, but I can be a more definitive and successful business owner and make a far superior product. I have ‘scratched my own itch’ and rather than train elsewhere which would have been a break from the day to day routine of work, I opted to use two trainers at HSG. Steve Foster has been recruited for conditioning session and me and Paul Gough are back on pads once per week on a boxing session – albeit a little slower than we used to work together. This has re-ignited my love of training and desires to improve what we offer our users.
I am back scratching my own itch and looking to improve HSG week on week. I am relishing the challenge of making us the best gym in the UK. We have some exciting additions and changes coming this year. I am back in the swing of training….
Don’t call it a comeback