A BAD Bootcamp Business Model…
In 2009 at Pat Rigsby’s and Nick Berry’s Fast Track to Fitness Millions I was asked by several of the attendees what I thought about the future of the fitness boot camp as a business model. My answer to the crowd of people gathered was very succinct and to the point (…as I usually am); “In 18 months the boot camp model will become a commodity the minute the health clubs start using it” … and my prediction has come true… and disgustingly true, now that Groupon and Living Social has gotten into the picture.
During that same conversation I had mentioned that “only the boot camps with established and tested business models would survive”… and that establishing community trust would be crucial to any “real” business to sustain growth. And that’s when I saw eyes glaze over and I knew there was going to be problems in the not so distant future.
Several problems happened at once, it was like a “perfect storm” of stupidity rocked the fitness world.
1) All the so called Fitness Gurus were touting the boot camp model in order to work less and get paid more.
2) Every “personal trainer” and people with a pulse, started a boot camp and boot camps sprung up every where with no real framework in place to guide these new businesses.
3) Most of these trainers never taught in a class environment so it was a bit awkward and dysfunctional from the start.
So enter some fitness business heavy weights into the boot camp arena… some taught boot camp business strategies… some developed music for boot camps… some created franchises.
All of this around a business model that was not going to last… trainers spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on the idea that they would be able to help a bunch of people at the same time and get paid a bunch of money for it. Everyone jumped in without even understanding what they were jumping into.
Two big boot camp franchises came out and told these fledgling first time business owners that if they joined up with them, their problems would be solved. These two boot camp franchises were Adventure Bootcamp and Fit Body Boot Camp.
I had come to know Adventure Boot Camp because Cincinnati Adventure Boot Camp had become my enemy. Although I liked Brian Caulkins and what he stood for I didn’t like that another boot camp model was encroaching on my territory. I wanted to know more about what my competition had to offer.
The more I looked into Adventure Boot Camp ( because I always coach… know your enemy and know yourself) the more I realized that they weren’t fucking around. This was serious and they had their shit together… and John Spencer-Ellis and Kelli Calabrese was leading it up. They were both well respected fitness professionals and really knew programming. I was impressed to say the least.
The first thing I noticed was that… (and this is John’s M. O.) Education and not money was at the base of the operation. 13 CD’s ranging from Boot Camp business fundamentals to live boot camps, and everything in between. It was also a “licensed” product and not a franchised model… and you only paid a one time fee. $2900.00 (which included a certification) and you had to apply and be accepted… more people were rejected than accepted…
The more I researched the more interested I became. The list of credentials kept growing, like NESTA, a nationally accredited fitness certifying body fully backed the boot camp. All the people I talked to that owned an Adventure Boot Camp told me that if there were any questions Kelli or John were either a phone call or email away and always got back to them.
This was a solid business model… one that I was talking about when I was asked that question back in New Jersey (Fast Track to Fitness Millions… if you have short term memory loss from smoking too much pot). Although I was pretty secure that my Celebrity as a Fitness Personality in Cincinnati would carry my boot camp (… I had 150 people in one class at any given time) I knew that Adventure Boot Camp and Brian Caulkins would dominate without any doubt. My predictions were correct.
In 2008 after I won an Emmy for my participation in an MTV Show called MADE… my celebrity within the fitness industry actually took hold and many trainers wanted to know how I was able to land all the media I was on. My friend Pat Rigsby asked me to attend Fast Track… so I did… I didn’t realize how many trainers at this event wanted to know what I knew, and there began my Fitness Business Coaching career… unbelievable but true!
I took on two coaching clients that were Aussies turned Canadians and are still my favorite people to this day. As their coach they advised me that they were considering purchasing a franchise called Fit Body Boot Camp and they were going to open them in Toronto and Missisauga. I was a little surprised at this since Adventure Boot Camp was a solid business model, so I went to work doing research for them.
From the very first sentence I read after I Googled the founders, I was so fucking skeptical. In all honesty I never heard of Bedros Keullian or Steve Hochman… ( I was mostly East Coast and Midwest) but with that being said, I am never a big fan of giving very valuable time, expertise and workouts away for free… especially to 20 people. I developed a system that I know people would pay for… so why should I give it away for free as “Human Billboards”. It didn’t make sense… if I wanted real customers why would I give something as valuable as getting into the best shape of your life for free. That I knew was a failed promotional model… my business “Spidey” sense was kicking in.
While I was pondering the “Human Billboards” promo thing, I also was amazed to see that every single boot camp listed on the “find a location link” looked exactly the same… with the same before and after photos as social proof.
Check these and compare: Fairbanks Alaska: http://www.fitbodybootcamp.com/site/fairbanks-fit-body-boot-camp and Miami, Florida: http://www.fitbodybootcamp.com/site/miami-fit-body-boot-camp
The one thing I really noticed right off the bat was one of the founders, Steve Hochman was on every site. The funny thing is no one in Alaska looks anything like Steve… no one. So how could you really connect with people in your community like Fairbanks, Alaska? Maybe the Eskimos want to look like Steve… ya never know.
The next was a questionnaire if you were interested in a becoming a Fit Body Boot Camp Owner. After you filled in your name and all relevant contact information you were asked if you would be able to attend a 6 day course on how to run the boot camp and on the third line there is a question: Are you able to pay FBBC the Initial Franchise fee of $10,000? … 10,000 dollars! … and $400 a month there after. Get the fuck out of here!
I wanted to know what exactly is someone getting for $10,000 up front and $4,800 more a year after that… and they were promoting you look for a gymnastics studio to share times with. I can rent and build a small facility for that… with equipment!
I was starting to become annoyed now. The initial observations made me give my clients a recommendation to not join up. They wound up not listening to me and joined up any way… and they are no longer Fit Body Owners any more.
Eventually, I had 15 people come to me for counsel on how to break the agreement with Fit Body Boot Camp because they felt like Fit Body corporate wasn’t paying attention to them as their calls were never returned unless they threatened to leave… and Bedros or Steve would get on the line and talk them into staying with Fit Body. I advised them how to leave and watched the fall out.
In one of several conversations I listened in on I actually heard Bedros tell my client that leaving Fit Body would be the worst mistake he ever made… and that he would be sorry. I was flabbergasted at the audacity and stupidity. If I had or have someone that is unhappy with me or my brands the first thing I ask is “why” and I want to make it better for my client, customer or user. If I have a broken system or model I want to fix it right away… not tell someone they are the problem and that if they just keep paying everything will be alright. I’m sorry that’s just bad business… no wonder why many of the “six figure” poster child’s for Fit Body have left… in droves.
I saw on the Fit Body website that a testimonial stated that an owner switched from Adventure Boot Camp to Fit Body Boot Camp and it was the best decision they ever made, so I wanted to investigate a little further.
From what I can gather, 10 people switched over to Fit Body Boot Camps from Adventure Boot Camps from that 10 only 1 is still a boot camp owner and 9 either went bankrupt, left the fitness industry in disgust or went back to Adventure Boot Camp.
I know what you all are probably saying to yourself… WTF, Rocco? Why are you beating up on Bedros and Steve… what an asshole! At first glance that might be your reaction but that’s actually not the case.
I respect both of them for what they have been able to accomplish in their respective fields… no questions asked, they are the 800 pound gorilla. What I want to bring to attention is that if you are the 800 pound gorilla you have a responsibility to the industry you serve to be “of service” to that industry and the people who rely on you for guidance. If your business model is broken, don’t turn a blind eye to what everyone else notices… just fix it. Don’t make enemies of the people who have left because of your mismanagement, listen to the critical opinions and see what can be done to make your product a better product or service.
It’s really not a hard concept to grasp.
Thank you… and have a nice day.