Leadership Series Part 4
I can remember 2011 as clear as yesterday. We all tend to remember times that are trying to us all. 2011 was one of those years I had to embrace the suck in so many ways, but I also had to level up and quickly to survive. 2011 was the year that I took another leap professionally, and it was all because I was placed in a position where I had no other choice.
In August of 2010, I left the big-box corporate gym after a little over 5 years working for them. My departure wasn’t pleasant, but it is what it is. I left because I was promised a bonus and a raise for the role I had been doing for a few months. I received a bonus during my first few months in this role from my direct boss, which was actually him giving us half of his bonus. I decided to repay this down to my top two trainers every pay period if they helped us hit our bi-monthly sales goal.
After our company awards party where I was told that the only reason I did not win an award for my titled position is that my district manager did not “advocate” for me enough. Motherfucker my results did my advocating was my brash 29-year-old self-response. Needless to say, I knew driving back with my now ex-wife that my time was coming to an end with the company.
During my tenure at the big box, I was frequenting a local supplement shop up the street. I know, I know, nothing good happens in supplement shops is what you are thinking. The dude who ran the place was about to open a gym about two thousand feet up the street from his shop, nearly half a mile from the gym. He was recruiting me pretty heavily to join the gym and help him run it. I turned him down for a few months, but somewhere along the way I started listening more.
Then there was a sign from the universe! The corporate account I was training became tired of the corporate policies towards transferring contracts to different employees. They were an IT staffing firm, and turnover was constant, but one reward was their employees after three months with the company was offered the chance to leave during work hours to train with me two to three times a week on the company dime. Needless to say, this was great for me and excellent for them.
When the owner of the firm told me I had to look at going on my own and away from the corporate account, which was roughly $3,000 a month to the big box, I knew I needed to be considering more options. Enter the supplement shop owner who flirted with me and gave me all the praise to whisk me away to his promised land.
Leaving was really more relaxed than I thought. I told my clients about my move. They were paying $35 to $40 a session to train with me, and I said I would do it for $20. My corporate account just transferred the payment to me as well. The best part? Not a single client of my 47 clients stayed at the big box. I took all of my clients with me. All that money out the door over what amounted to a dollar an hour raise and my bonus promised. Fuck ’em. They ended up not paying me my vacation I had saved up, and for my last week of sessions I did for them, but they were petty like that.
To give you a humorous chuckle in a twist of fate, the owner later sold out to a chain gym company, and all those stock shares he promised his minions disappeared like Thanos snapping his fingers. That same owner called me to let me know he would have me arrested for trespassing if I ever came back on the gym’s property. I had made an enemy, and I grinned ear to ear that some millionaire douche canoe was bothered by little ole me. I guess I had a better product than he thought could be built within his walls? It was an essential reminder that I was good at what I was doing. I had made a following, was a referral machine, and more than anything growing more confident.
My confidence was about to be tested within a few months of leaving the corporate gym life. I ended up going to work for the supplement shop dude and his friend, who co-owned the gym. Two business owners who should not have been in business together decided to own a gym jointly. Already sounds like a shit show, and it was.
In September, I started at their gym, and by February, the turmoil between the two gentlemen was outstandingly loud. The environment was a swamp. It was only a matter of time before the crocodiles would get me, and one day they did. I woke up one more morning to a text message from a member. He stated the door was locked due to a plumbing problem. Of course, I knew it was a lie. I was told to sit tight and side with one against the other while they played some investor who was in his mid 50’s going through a mid 50’s crisis.
That older gentleman who ended up not saving either of them was interested in bringing me on after the dust settled between the two. I ended up going down the road to a local gym owner who leased space for me to train clients. I paid rent monthly, and my clients paid no membership fee. The gym had shitty equipment, no air conditioning, and was run by a man who let his vices control him.
During my time down the road at the other gym, I heard through the grapevine because you know people love to talk, that the older gentleman who was trying to figure out his life in his 50s was opening a gym with his own equipment in the location of the now out of the business gym I worked at. I reached out to the dude. After all, he said he wanted to bring me on because he appreciated my work ethic.
After a few days, I decided to hit my man up and see what was going on. I reached out only to find out he did not want me in his facility because I apparently ruffled some feathers of the mob crowd the gym attracted. You know the kind of group that if Metallica is on the radio, you obviously worship Satan. Those members are the low minority that can destroy a gym faster than unnecessary overhead. He chose to listen to them over me. Guess where he is? Building drywall now trying to recoup his losses.
I believe the universe gave me a gift by removing me from the equation with all three ass clowns. One still lives in his mother’s house. The other is searching endlessly for a business to work for him. While the third has his gym located in his daddy’s shopping center. Needless to say, it worked out great for me. Why? Because the owner of the garage gym I was training out of was about to give me a crash course in how to not treat coaches, members, and your family. It was the absolute best education I received, and not a day goes by that I do not thank him for it.
To say working for Big W was tumultuous would be the understatement of the century. First off, I want to preface what might be some perception as shit talking with this. I am speaking only from a professional looking at another professional – it is strictly that. I actually think the dude has one of the best hearts you will ever know, but he liked to bathe with leeches. This is why your circle of 5 is so important. You show me the 5 closest people to you, and I will show you. But that topic we shall circle around to later.
With Big W, you always had to worry about what mood he was in. He was one to never meet his appointments for sessions, including new clients. He spent all of his time at the bar up the road with his pals. I watched the business slowly circle the drain for a few months.
Other coaches who paid rent and I tried to help him, but always his pals knew best. Guess where all his pals were when he was on his knees? Yep no hands to help their homie up. A lesson learned for me from afar. It took me a few years of working at my inner circle before I removed my own leeches. This is something you will always be continually working at. Upgrading your inner circle should always be the goal.
One day Big W’s friend overheard me talking shit on him. She went running like some narco agent to him, saying this and that along with God knows what else. Truth be told, what I said was, “if he was not going to show up for sessions, he should give us the leads and charge us more rent.” In my mind, an obvious win-win, which you want in business.
He didn’t like that, and one night leaving the gym a few days after my statement, he confronted me. I immediately smelled the booze, and I saw the rage in his eyes. I owned what I said, and he came close enough to me that spit was flying from his mouth, hitting me in the face as the fucks flew freely out his mouth. A few chests bump later, he had thrown me out the door to the street two weeks before Christmas.
I spent that night in complete turmoil on what I would do to provide for my sons. I was in the middle of fighting for custody of my youngest son while my other visited me on all his breaks. How was I going to do all of this with no income?
The next morning I woke up and decided to train my clients at my apartment gym. I approached the management about this idea offering to help residents for free if they were in there and monitor it too for them, helping to keep it clean and in good working condition. Nothing in their rules said I couldn’t do it, so they blessed me. Crisis adverted. I immediately turned my focus to punishing Big W for what he did to me. I would fuck his shit up, and he would forever never be able to remove the taste of my name from his mouth. I let it consume me and drive me. I had a new enemy besides OI.
With all my focus now on making Big W pay, I began growing clients in my little apartment’s gym. I had to switch to small group training 2-3 people at a time, and people loved it. I caught on people love being a part of their own tribe. Steadily I was growing in clients, and I was beginning to save while fighting in court for full custody of my son. I was building momentum again. I could feel the power behind me of the universe. I also had to check my ego out often during this to make sure I stayed emotionally detached from my business to make the best calls for my business.
In late February, Big W reached out to me, wanting me to come back as a trainer in his facility. He reached out to me because 3 full-time trainers to the tune of over $2,400 in rent a month had left his facility due to his erratic behavior. I knew it too because my friend was still in there training people. I agreed to meet him.
I listened to his best sales pitch and left thinking about it. As I drove away in my super sleek and sexy RX-8, I was grinning ear to ear to watch him squirm with bullshit apologies and empty words. I knew the reason he needed me back is that he was drowning. I decided to say I would hold off to go back. I am glad I made this call because, in May, I was in a knock out court fight for my youngest son, and every dime I earned was about to go to that to bring him home with his brother and me.
Months passed, and in October, my friend convinced me to go back as he was buying a part from Big W and would make things tolerable for me. A few months passed for him before he realized the words of him were worthless. He took my friend’s money and told him to fuck off pretty much. Every promise made was never fulfilled. I meanwhile kept growing and focusing on building my brand.
Eventually, both my friend and I would end up uniting to save the gym after the owner mismanaged funds so much that he would be shutting the gym on the 1st of March on everyone after the fees for the month were collected.
What began next was the beginning of the best journey I have walked so far. It is sad, it is crazy, and it has been hard, but oh, has it been worth it.
About Jeff Black
Jeff is a nationally recognized health and fitness coach, public speaker, podcast host for The Excellence Cartel, owner of Iron House Strength & Conditioning, bodybuilder, and Osteogenesis Imperfecta Advocate. He is also a roundtable expert on IntenseMuscle.com.
Today, Jeff works collectively with some of the top coaches in the health and fitness space presenting to other coaches and individuals on health and fitness. He has a passion for leadership and serving others to help them be their own hero. He is recognized for his results, but above all else, the passion he has for the coach’s heart he holds dear.