When I first joined World Gym right after it opened, I got to meet a bright-eyed excited gal who found joy in helping people get fit. Four years later, she’s still very much walking in step with her original passion, as World Gym is seeing more success than ever. We got to hang with Pam Trader, World Gym Millsboro’s owner, and ask her a few questions about what it’s like to run a business:
1. First of all, tell us how you got started! You didn’t take the traditional path in business, did you?
Well, I was driven by a very strong desire to get out of the insurance business and into a career I knew I would love. The gym to me was always the place where I left my stress behind and felt renewed. I found myself wanting to share that passion with others, getting more excited talking to my policyholders about fitness than insurance. Needless to say, with Steve’s support and lots of cheerleaders (especially my parents, and my prior employer) I took the plunge and left my 16 year job to open a gym. As for taking the traditional path, I’d have to say “no”. There really isn’t one in this business; there’s no protocol when you build a business your way. The good side of that is there is very little regulation; we were free to build and create our own model based on our own years of experiences ‘from a member’s perspective’. The bad side: not much sleep, very hard work and very little expert guidance. It took a year of long hours every day from the time of franchise exploration to open for business.
2. What thing are you most passionate about when it comes to running the gym?
That’s easy. When I get to be ‘me’. In my insurance job, regulations were in place. I could be nice but was often the bearer of bad news to good people. (My boss would jokingly say “you’ve got to stop trying to give away my shop”.) Now, I get to take the many valuable lessons I learned in business and add in my own flair. Probably my best quality is people relations, because I listen! I also love the freedom to be creative – to have random contests, or take little green weights right out of a woman’s hands and replace them with bigger iron ones because I know she has it in her! I love hearing reports from members about weight loss and ‘no more meds’. I have even personally inspired some members to get their hip replacements over with, after sharing my journals and success story with them. I could go on and on.
3. What’s been the most unexpected thing about having your own franchised gym?
Well, I certainly didn’t expect to have to sleep here so many nights. LOL. The operating expenses, of course were underestimated. But the hours and sheer demands of this business; totally unexpected. I have a standing joke with my old boss. When I told Chris I was leaving to open a gym, he replied “You have no freakin’ clue what you’re getting into.” I replied “How hard could it be to run a gym? You talk to people about fitness all day, get to workout all the time, clean machines and do some office work”.
…The first time I had to leave my piles of paperwork to tend to a member’s disaster, lock myself in the bathroom with a bottle of bleach and rubber gloves, sleep deprived and crying, the words echoed “how hard could it be to run a gym”. People think it’s a gravy job because they, too, see the gym as a wonderful place of refuge. Only a gym owner can understand and appreciate what really goes on in this business.
4. What one thing do you wish your customers knew about running a gym?
That they just might be the 30th person to pee on the toilet seat that day, or leave trash on the floor, abuse a piece of equipment, complain about the music, forget to wipe their feet or re-rack their weights, or interrupt my workout. LOL
5. If you’re at liberty to share, where would you like to see World Gym Millsboro be in 5 – 7 years?
Well, we are four years in and already planning our expansion. In response to demand for additional amenities, we need to grow to accommodate Group X, Functional Fitness, Child Care and MORE. My dream is in 5-7 years to see even more and more success in this town. The state of Delaware ranks #2 in the country for obesity! We are constantly throwing “walk a little faster, eat healthier” dialog out into the Millsboro community because WE KNOW the number of people that come into the gym with obesity-related high risk factors (Type 2 Diabetes, Hypertension, etc.). I want to see less people slouched over, walking slowly and using scooters and walkers in our stores. And we will do this!!
6. What piece of advice do you have for someone just starting their own franchise? What do you wish you knew when you first started?
My advice is simply “Do your homework” and talk to professionals (Bill Pfaff of the Delaware SBA was a huge help to us!) When you research franchises, you’re given a template from which to develop your business plan. There’s an estimation of start up fees and operations expenses one can expect to incur. Plan on it being severely underestimated. And, plan on the income estimation provided by the franchise being overestimated. The reality is, you will work many more hours than they say, for less money and much higher overhead. There are taxes (payroll, property, franchise, unemployment, etc.) and many, many bills and fees that are not included in the estimation. And the true costs for repairs and maintenance and never-ending need to meet customers’ demands; these are expenses that can’t be pre-determined.
What do I wish I knew when we first started? I want to say ‘all of the above’, but then again, I am grateful we had to learn it all on our own. It is more rewarding to have learned from our mistakes, to have been the developers of our business from the formation of the LLC, to lease negotiations, our business plan, financing, vendor research, technical research, layout planning and carryout of our gym membership and operations structures. I am grateful for these experiences.
BONUS FUN! – You’re on a desert island, and you can only bring one piece of workout equipment with you, what do you bring?
I had to think hard about this one. The truth is – I probably wouldn’t care so much about working out if I was alone on an island. I’m a people person, remember? But assuming I wanted to be fit while all alone there, and could only take one thing, it would have to be the 45lb Olympic Bar. It would last forever, is portable and easy to grip. I could rig it up in the trees for pull-ups; use it for squats, lifts, presses, curls, rows. Between the bar, the ground, the sand and the water, I’d be set -one fit and lonely gal!
What about you? Are you interested in starting your own business? Do you have any questions for Pam?