Fitness Founders Series
In this first article from our Fitness Founders series, Mehdi Elaichouni of Carpe Diem Jiu Jitsu Singapore, shares his first-hand experiences of personally navigating challenges along the road to success. He highlights key learnings and actionable takeaways to help new fitness businesses grow and succeed.
“Do what you love” is a piece of advice I hear a lot, but it can be hard to do what you love and be able to pay your bills. For me, starting Carpe Diem in Singapore was a combination of skills, passion, and opportunity.
As a martial arts practitioner of ten years, I’ve practiced Muay Thai, Kickboxing, Wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu, and Mixed Martial Arts. However, it was Jiu-Jitsu that had the biggest impact on my life. It helped me build resilience in the face of adversity, got me through some of the toughest periods of my life, eventually making me a better person.
By day, I work as Head of Strategy at VaynerMedia and have accumulated twelve years of experience in the advertising industry. Outside of work, my passion for Jiu-Jitsu meant training and competing at the highest levels.
Unfortunately numerous injuries and surgeries forced me to stop training, and my dreams of becoming a world champion had to be put on ice. This is when I wondered if there was something I could do to pass my love of martial arts to others, so that they too can experience the benefits that changed my life.
This is when I decided to start my own Jiu-Jitsu gym. But first, I needed a location. Finding a location for your business is an art and a science. It starts with art (and heart), and I can break this down into a simple three-step process.
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1. Make sure you have a vision
When I decided to start a Jiu-Jitsu gym, I went through a honeymoon period of exploring ideas, places, services and spaces. Be aspirational and draw inspiration from multiple sources. You shouldn’t worry about being prescriptive at this stage but in order for it to be as productive as possible, you need to come up with a vision at the end of this phase. Here’s what I did:
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- Studied other Jiu-Jitsu gyms
- Looked at the biggest fitness brands locally, and abroad
- Drew inspiration from other industries – the best gym design could be inspired by a fashion store
- Spent a lot of time on Pinterest
- YouTubing dream homes, best gyms in the world, best service businesses, etc
Things tend to be emotional at this early stage, and that’s completely ok. Don’t be afraid to have fun.
By the end of this phase, I had my vision: Use martial arts to instill future-ready resilience in adults and children in a clean and safe environment.
2. Explore areas you love
With a vision in mind, it’s time to head out. Every weekend, my partners and I would pick a neighborhood and spend hours walking around. Here are some key things to look out for:
- Direct competition. If they’re going to make your marketing job tougher, I would go somewhere else.
- Previous tenants. Have there been similar businesses that have failed over the years? This does not mean you should avoid the area, it just means that there is a history you can learn from.
- Accessibility and convenience. Check if the place is accessible by public transport or close to highways. You’ll also need to look at parking amenities and ease of use.
- A healthy flow of foot traffic is a good sign that your business will get loads of eyeballs.
- Population density
- Presence of complementary businesses and services. You could benefit by having their customers become yours or, your customers could enrich their experience by having them closeby.
- Opportunity to connect with local businesses. A great way to gain some first-hand insights into the area, find out when footfall is high, and build early relationships with your potential neighbours.
It’s also important to discover the area where others love. This is where successful competitors are, so you can observe the people and businesses around them. The key point in this phase is immersion – really get to know the areas and observe people, places, businesses, and the vibe.
3. Shortlist the best locations
At the end of the exploration, you should shortlist three to five locations that you love and can see your vision coming to life. These locations are where you can imagine yourself having a gym, and where you feel connected to the people and the neighborhood. Also keep these points in mind during your shortlist:
- Style of operation – will you be formal, casual, or somewhere inbetween
- Profile of future members – what are their demographics
- Your business tone and manner – will you be high end and chic, or warm and neighborly
- Look and feel of your space
You’re going to be spending a lot of time here so you’re going to need to love it.
When looking for a location, your guiding star is your vision. Gather inspiration from all around to develop a vision for your dream business, then immerse yourself in different neighborhoods to build a location shortlist.