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Colette Lee Morales on Setting up and Growing the New York Fit Fest

Colette Lee Morales

Colette Lee Morales, a fitness instructor, event planner and the co-founder of the New York Fit Fest. She tells us the story of how she set up a fitness festival in Long Beach New York. From starting in 2017 with little resources to building up an impressive list of sponsors for the 2019 event, we hear how and why she decided to go on this crazy adventure!

Check out the New York Fit Fest here.

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Colette: You have to treat every single person like a celebrity. Every single person that walks through your door is a VIP. I think that people don’t feel important enough and that’s when they fall off and they don’t become a part of a community and they don’t feel passionate about it. They walk in, they are on the treadmill, they are motivated for x amount of time and then they fall off. And that’s where these boutique gyms are winning because they are face time with each person, they are greeted at the door, they know their names. You got to know how to look someone in the eye and check on them throughout the class. It is the interaction making them feel like they are a part of this tribe and this community. 


Kevin: How is it going everyone! Welcome to the Fitness Founders podcast. I’m Kevin Mannion, VP Marketing here at Glofox. This week we talk to Colette Lee Morales, a fitness instructor, and the co-founder of the New York Fit Fest. In this episode, we talk about why she founded the Fitness Festival open to all levels, the secret to selling sponsorships to big brands, and how she creates classes that super charge engagement and retention. Let’s kick off.


Collette Lee, welcome to the show. 


Colette: Hi! Thank you so much. I am really happy to be here with you. 


Kevin: Great to have you here. Look Colette, just tell me a little bit about yourself and your event and why Fit Fest? 


Colette: Okay, so my name is Colette. I live in Long Beach with my partner and my little dog. Very fortunate to wake up every day to the ocean, such a magical healing place for me. I am an event planner, an event producer, and I co-own the New York Fit Fest which is a fitness festival here on the beach in Long Beach. And we incorporate pretty much, we try to, at least every facet of fitness and the highest variety of all fitness outlives for everybody, for each and every person. 


Kevin: Okay. Before we dig in to how you got it started. Tell us a little bit about the day, how does it work, what can people do or see, why do people go?


Colette: The festival is something that we created because we truthfully feel and believe wholeheartedly that this is something that everybody can experience. And I am extremely passionate about making it known that the festival was created for everybody and not just the elite athletes in the world. Just an overview of what the event looks like, it is just a really fun day with a lot of energy and a lot of great, positive people coming together to just share the joy of moving your body and being happy. 


And what separates us from everything else, every other conference, every other fitness gathering is that we do everything in the sand, and it is about 4 to 5 different things you can choose from throughout the day to do. So every hour you take a look at the schedule and you can pick, you know, I want to do Taekwondo or I want to do a pole dance lesson. Pole dancing fitness is very popular by the way. And you know, it is just every hour on the hour we’ve got a couple of different things that people get to pick and just do a little sample of 30-minute of something maybe they’ve never tried before that they can possibly fall in love with. And that is what I am going for is to just get everyone to try something once and maybe it become their new hobby, passion, makes some great friends and just live life a little bit more, you know. 


Kevin: Nice, nice. Is there festivals like this running everywhere in the U.S. or every beach or do you think this is a new and different thing? 


Colette: This for sure I can tell you and knowing my research, when I first started this we couldn’t really find a lot of festivals. Essentially they are always usually in the monster and the most amazing yoga festival, you know, the Wanderlust Festival which they are just killing it. They are amazing and they focus on that one certain demographic and they do these beautiful events. For the most part I don’t foresee, and I don’t see still anybody doing everything like this on the beach, and that is our landscape and that is what separates us from everybody. All these other people that are doing great fabulous things in parks, and buildings, and conferences and stuff, I think that that’s what holds us from a lot of the other events that you do see and the diversity that we offer. 


Kevin: Got it. Where do you get the diversity from you manage to pull together the trainers for the day?


Colette: This is really cool because, I was one day driving in my car and I just love, love, love, love this world so much and I know that for myself fitness saved my life and I believe that I can really truthfully help a lot of people in the world. I was driving my car and thought, “Well, it would be really cool to do classes in the beach and just do like a fun day of a couple different things throughout the day”, and it is just a love into this. And it was a really truthfully just a vision and a dream and I could be a perfect example for everyone to know that there is that thing, you can dream it, you can do it. It is really true because with the amount of focus and dedication that you put into it, you really can create these visions in your mind and it is something, they can become your reality. And then now, you take that vision. You wink up with people that are sharing the same vision and passion, and that is my partner Ingrid. Her and I came together and we work really diligently, and we would basically, “Hi, how are you? I know that you teach pilates and I would love for you to be a part of this.” And we had literally zero dollars honestly and a passion project for sure, so we would just approach people and say like, “Hey, give us a chance.” And then this become the people that you hold so close to you, and they are so loyal, and they believe in you from the beginning. And we are growing them and we keep growing with them as a family because frankly we couldn’t even offer them anything, so it is just putting it out there and you’ll never know until you try. You’d be surprised of how many people want to be a part of something bigger and something so cool, and they’ll do it for you, and that is how you really you get started. It is worth a shot to ask and just put it out there for people. 


Kevin: Yeah. And maybe paint a picture, when was your first event and tell us a bit about what it was like for the first year? 


Colette: The first year we took a huge gamble. We were working with this other company that they do a crossfit competition here in Long Beach, and they are strictly just crossfit, right? So they had their event the day before and they have massive following. And we took their rain day and we used all their equipment, we rented from them. But very fortunate that the weather held out and we were able to have our event the next day. It was magical and it was its first year and so lucky that it didn’t rain because it would have been a little bit of a mess, but we took a chance. It worked out and we were able to do the best that we could do unlike anything in your life, right? You’re just going to learn from everything and you just know what to do in your life, what not to do, how to get better, how to tighten things up. And we are still learning, you know, it is a very small team working on this. My partner, Ingrid and I for the most part we run everything together, and towards the end we have our volunteers that come on and we are so lucky to have them. But we really try to learn from everything that we’ve done and what we can do better. And the first year was such a magical feeling. It was a lot of emotion and love because there was so much heart behind it, and so many people were so excited to just be a part of something so different. 


I think in our life now to stand above the rest because so many people are doing so many epic things all the time. I mean, people are just killing it doing the coolest stuff. And you just got to do something a little bit different and just constantly raise the bar, raise your standards, and you have to really dive into it and think your teeth into something and everyday work on it. Like everyday think about it, everyday, how can I make this better and still maintain your own life and your own sanity. But really frankly, it’s just what you put out in this world is what you’re going to get back, so I know from the first year until now.         


Kevin: When was the first year?


Colette: 2017.


Kevin: Okay, so this is number three this year? How big are you now versus when you started out?


Colette: It is crazy. It is so cool because the first year, I mean, people, we are like, “Come to Fit Fest.” And they are like, “What is that?” You know, we had nothing to show them, right. We had nothing to show people. We are just like we promise that it is going to be cool but we had nothing to market the event. So there is your problem, right, you are like, even me believing me but you don’t want to get into a fire festival situation where you show something that is not really cool. So we had just to keep showing our people and our team that was behind us like, “Becca Pace is going to be there, and she works for the Daily Burn and she is incredible, and we are so lucky to have here. And she is going to be teaching body art. So just come and check it out.” You could say that to the face but people need to actually get inspired, and that’s why social media and your video, and your editing is so important because that is what’s going to drive people and make them get excited to see something, not a photo. They want to see people jumping up and down in the sand, and having the most amazing time. So that is a huge part of anybody that’s trying to grow business that wants to make amazing, you’ve got to actually have the proof. Spending the money on the places that are important is something I learned with my partner. She was very adamant about us having the best people behind us to show in video, not cutting corners in those areas because that is your everything. Your social media is everything and we are still working on that. 


Kevin: Now, one thing that you seem to have done very well for an event that is only a couple of years old is getting good bunch of sponsors together. So tell us how you did that and were those skills that you already had or was it something that you learned on the job?


Colette: It is always a learning process, right, like every single day we are learning and we are growing about how to get people to believe in us and get on board with us. Now it has become a lot easier because a lot of brands are like, “I want to be in the mix of all these awesome people.” In the beginning we are fortunate enough to pitch it to BMW National and they were on board. And again, they take a gamble on us and vice versa, but we do everything in our power to make them happy. So when you are in a business and you want people to partner with you, you got to make it worth their while. You got to deliver to them. In the beginning, it was like, “Do you want to sponsor with us? Do you want to partner with us? We are a fitness festival.” And they say, yes. You sure as hell got to be ready to give them what they pay for. So it is like, you can’t say to them, just put your name on it, and walk away. You got to give them, it got to come full circle. You got to give them material and photos and videos and show their name. Again, I go back to that social media, it is all about exposure. So how can we expose this brand as much as we can possibly to make it worth their time? What is the visibility going to be for them? What it is going to be for them to say, “You know what? I want to go back to that because I got something from it.” So everything, again, with sponsorships is what you give them in return. So in the beginning they took a gamble on us and we would say. “Here is our pitch and this is what we’ll give you.” 


Now, we have brands approaching us. They’ll say to us, “We now want to be a part of that.” So we get emails constantly and people seeing what we are doing, we see what you’re doing, and we want to be a part of that. That’s how the ball starts to roll is by people seeing what you’ve done and it goes back to that whole, like I said, it is the way you market yourself through your videos and your photos, not just word of mouth, you know. 


Kevin: Yeah, and in the very early days what was it that got you in the door in those places because you’ve obviously learned a lot. You’ve built the brand. What do you do when you’ve got nothing to really show for yourself? How did you open those doors? 


Colette: Well, for me and starting back in 2005, my journey is very different from a lot of people’s because I am really, really passionate about philanthropy and charity work. I don’t do it ever for money. It comes from a really genuinely deep place in my heart that I feel I was put on this earth to do. So money never really was my driving force with anything that I do which sounds totally crazy. Most people don’t really understand that. But I do know that I feel and I know that what I’ve put out in the universe has come back to me full circle. And that’s truthfully the way that I teach my classes too and I tell them what we put out in the world, and all of those things are what’s going to come back full circle, giving your best caring for others. And when I started doing the philanthropy and doing my charity work back in the day. I mean, I’ve done everything with zero budget. You just have to work your ass off and you’ve got to just do it from a good place. You just work on things and you build things and people always come. 


I know that everybody always wants to be a part of things. Everybody wants to be involved in a breast cancer event and they want to come in cycle for a cause and they want to go to a really cool fest and show that’s going to raise money for a great cause. It is just they need someone to put it out there for them and you would be really surprised and how many people will snap their fingers and be there for you just if you ask. And so that’s how my journey has been. It’s just been doing. I just do. I don’t think too much about finance. I just keep going and doing, and diligently working to just build my community.


Kevin: That’s very interesting. In what ways do these events work with the community or how do you manage to integrate some of that into the current event? 


Colette: I never expected what has happened, what has happened from putting together something like this in the community. It is not only becoming like a really big part of the city that we live in. We live in a really cool, tight knit city which is Long Beach, New York. It is surfers, it is very recreational, it is very active, so they love this stuff here. They love to have something to look forward to. And in the community you are seeing people that are from this outlet in fitness and then linking up with another brand and they are coming together. Our friends own a supplement company, Power Core Strength, right, and they met people at the festival, and then they are networking, they are becoming friends. I’m seeing people that have become best friends from these things. I’m seeing brands working together, creating the most amazing things. And I am so excited about it that I love the camaraderie and I love the sense of network and just all positive things come from it because you got to think about the grand scheme of it. What exactly is that you’re doing? You’re bringing people together and letting them see that you don’t need to be shredded with a six pack to be an athlete. You know, you got to believe it that you’re an athlete. You’re like, “You know what? Throw them a shirt that says ‘Athlete’ on it.” They are someone that maybe never worked out a day in their life like we just change their lives. They are feeling great. They are making friends. People that have never tried yoga and now they are going to yoga three, four day a week. It is just the coolest thing to me. It is just getting them to do something that they have never done and now they are friends, and they are a part of a community which. Again, back to what you’re saying is, people want to be a part of something. They don’t want to walk into a fitness center and be a scan’s number. They want to be involve and they want to feel like they are part of a tribe, and that’s where a lot of the gyms can start to separate themselves from the others. They can just, “Hi! How are you?” Or they can do events within their center that bring people together that create a sense of community and make people feel special. 


Kevin: I spotted you on your social media that you do I think motivation speaking nights and events throughout the year. Do you want to tell us what kind of events you’re on and how they helped the overall main event?


Colette: So the events that we do though out the year are A) for exposure for our brand. We want to keep putting ourselves in your face whether you like it or not. We are just going to keep ourselves in the frontlines because the festival is one day. So how are we going to build a brand, how are we going to keep ourselves popular, how are we going to keep people excited about us? It is sewing these many pop ups, right? So we’ll say, a month ago about we created an event called “Spring in to Positivity”, and it was just a really cute night that we threw together with a couple of our ambassadors. Our ambassadors are people that work with us. So if you own a gym or you own a fitness center, they are going to be your coaches, your trainers, whatever. 


My recommendation would be to create this little, small, mini event and a couple of them throughout the year to keep your tribe together, to grow your community, and they love it. Everybody wants to come and they learn about proper forming and your training and how to keep yourself motivated. And we were lucky enough to have one of our ambassadors lead them to this beautiful journey dance and it broke people open from the inside out. They were at the end crying and everyone was hugging, and it was just really beautiful, and that is my point. Again, I always circle back to that for people that are owning their own boutique fitness centers and stuff, like keep yourself not stressed where come and work out. Make sure that you involve your members and do really great things with them. That’s going to make them feel like they are part of their fitness family. That’s what going to make them feel loved and important and in a community, so important to do that. 


Kevin: It sounds to me, specifically on the event that the secret to creating a successful event is finding ways for people to come together. Who want to meet each other and wants to benefit from just solely meeting each other, so that you nearly become an invisible part of the whole show. Is that fair to say? 


Colette: Yeah. In fact, we actually had a guy last year. He was really amazing. He showed up there at seven in the morning. He was probably 65 years old by himself, and next thing you know he is on a spin bike with a bunch of people half his age. And this guy, you know, he became friends or had an experience with this people and they were all high fiving, and they were all smiling and laughing. And you got these people that come alone and they leave with a whole new group of friends. And I think that that is the coolest thing and that is why I love, follow me and you follow me and everyone keeps in touch and supports each other. That is the coolest thing to me and to see people gain a tribe. It is giving them something that they’d be a part of is what everybody wants.


Kevin: Obviously, every year you come to put on this show and you’ve got to fill it, you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got, you sell it out. From a purely business perspective, how do you approach doing that, making sure that it is not half full or how do you make sure you nail it? 


Colette: You give it everything you have. And that is my advice to anybody that’s trying to create something is if you know that you did it at 90% or 80% or 50% is not going to cut it. Like if you can sit there at the day, whatever it is that you’re doing, and you know that you gave it a 100%. I’m not talking about finances. You can have all the money in the world but if you don’t put your whole entire heart into it. I don’t think that it is going to be as successful. Little things will fall between the cracks. You have to be so attentive to detail and learn from those mistakes and the things that you didn’t do the best a year before. And knowing that you gave it a 100% is what you’re going to get out of it. From a business standpoint, yeah of course, you want to sell tickets. You have to work on that on a daily basis. You get your word out there so people know and people get excited about tickets sales. Like, okay ticket are going on sale June 1st. Build that up. Constantly keep building it up and building it up and getting people excited with your videos. Like we’ve got a couple in the can that we’re going to start to share within the next couple of weeks that our videographer made that are gorgeous videos. And then people are going to be like, “Wow, I want to be a part of that.” So you can’t start to become bigger without raising the bar. It is all about raising the bar and raising the standards every single day. How can I make this better? And that goes for anybody that owns any business I think really.


Kevin: Yeah. Tell us about some of those mistakes that you just mentioned. What stands out as things you learned the hard way?


Colette:   Holy shit! You know it. It’s a few things that comes to my mind. The micromanaging is like super, super important I think, like you just paying attention to little details. Like last year we had some of the speakers were going in and out, and the functioning headsets with the instructors and things like that. And you know, I can’t be in 30 places at once so I have to micromanage my teams to make sure that all of these little details are fluid and flawless. It is like any business that you own. You got to keep a standard and maintain it and keep getting better. Otherwise, that is why you see a lot of businesses go under because they don’t pay attention to these small details. And when you want to become a bigger and more important amazing brand you’ve got to raise your standards. So now for me I have to have a person standing there watching to make sure that does not go out because it was really annoying. I actually got new headset this year to rectify that issue and little things just people that were on the boardwalk essentially didn’t really know that they are allowed to come down there. So how do we get that message out there? How do we let the whole entire city know that you don’t need a ticket to come and shop in the vendor booths. Little things, like I said, a table cloth flying in the wind that we would look at a picture and be like, “Oh my goodness, we wouldn’t ever want to see that again. Oh my god.” You know, stuff like that. 


Kevin: And the people you hire, it obviously requires a lot of trust in them. You got no time to really try them out. You’ve got to show them the deep end of the your first year. How do you make sure you can trust those people and how do you train them for the event? 


Colette: We have a bunch of meetings prior to the festival. They are volunteers. I really feel like the only people that are going to show up to these things to actually volunteer are going to be really excited about it. I don’t foresee anybody and I haven’t had anybody come to me that negative or any kind of that energy. I think that you feel that. And no matter who you hire and who your work with it is like a snap of a finger and then people respond. You know where you can put somebody, and you know where you can put them just based on the energy that you feel with them, and that goes for any job really. So for us, we’ll know just based on the person, where we can allow them to be a part of our team. And then in exchange, when you’re part of the team you get to experience the day too. Not just because it is our event, I mean it really is fun. It is a really, really great day and I’m just excited to see where we’re going with because I know that this is something that we have really big plans for to just continue to grow and take it on the road so to speak.


Kevin: And tell me about that. What is next? Where are you going? Where does the road take you? 


Colette: It is really endless and meaning that too because we’ve got this entire beach. It is like miles long so we can get as big as we ever want to be. We want to eventually take it and do it in different parts of the country to really let everyone experience that they can’t essentially get here and just keep growing. We just want to keep growing this tribe and the movement that we’re creating. I think fitness now is a win-win no matter what. When you’re seeing these gyms pop up everywhere and it is like there is something for everybody out there and that’s what I want to get across with these events. I can’t even tell you as a trainer how many times a day I hear, I am also a hairstylist, so I work in a salon a couple of days a week as well. And I get to be one on one with people all the time, and like, “Oh no! I don’t work out,” or “I’m not an athlete”, or “I’ve never done that before.” The point of this event is so everyone can give something a try because it is just so good and if we can give that process to everyone then at the end of the day my job is done or was done.


Kevin: Yeah. Those barriers are definitely going down. So your day job is, you’re a hairstylist, but you’re also a fitness trainer. So tell me a little bit about group fitness. What are you seeing change and some of the tactics you are using to keep people motivated and create classes that are compelling for your members?


Colette: Yeah. So I am very passionate about leading my classes with intention and motivation as far as the verbiage that I use, but it is not planned. I don’t Google it. I don’t think about okay let me type in what I’m going to say to my class today. I just feel it. You know, the minute I walk in the door my main job and my goal is to get everyone to shut the rest of the world off. I want them to focus this one hour on themselves and just be present and stay in their minds positive. Because I think once they get tired or when you’re leading a class you can see it’s very easy for people to start to get to that place in their mind would like, “I can’t. Tired, I can’t.” My job as a leader is to put in their minds that you can keep going, just keep on. Do the mindset how to be kept positive that is what my whole intention of the class is. And I’ve always been that way when I’m teaching. And I love group fitness for that reason because I think group fitness is great for so many people that don’t really know how to train or they don’t really know, again, walk in to the gym. I know from myself I fell myself short. If I’m on the treadmill I’m like, “Yeah, I’m good”, lift up some weights. And I know how to train myself but still the group fitness really passionate about it because it is just the energy, you are accountable, you are in there, and you know what it is like no matter what you’re going through, you go in, someone is going to lead you, “Do this, and this, and this…” You got your workout in, and you leave and you love it. And that’s why I love group fitness. I teach boxing. I’m part of Lifetime Athletic which is a huge monster of an amazing company. I am so blessed to work there. And the heavy bag training is just a great outlet for people to get their cardio in in there, and their strength in there. Fitness is just so awesome. I love it. 


Kevin: Tell me, group fitness, it is getting more and more competitive. There’s lots of studios. What do you think the best ones are doing? The ones that are going to be most successful and the ones that are going to say beat their competition, what are they doing right or well? 


Colette: You have to treat every single person like a celebrity. Every single person that walks through your door is a VIP. Every person is important and it’s true because oftentimes a planet fitness or those gyms, more of the larger facilities I think that people don’t feel important enough and that’s when they fall off and they don’t become a part of a community and they don’t feel passionate about it. They walk in, they are on the treadmill, they are motivated for x amount of time and then they fall off. And that’s where these boutique gyms are winning because they are face time with each person, they are greeted at the door, they know their names. You got to know how to look someone in the eye and check on them throughout the class. It is the interaction making them feel like they are a part of this tribe and this community. My partner and my girlfriend, she owns a crossfit gym here in town, and that experience is really beautiful because it is a real, real family and everybody is important and everyone is special. And they all cheer each other on and that’s why they are successful is because people are a part of something. They are not just a scan number like I said. 

I always go back to that because these small boutique gyms are killing it and they are doing great things because it is a higher standard and it is amazing every single time, and the talent that you have behind who is leading your classes. Llike if you are listening to this and you’re a fitness owner you’re like, “Uhmm, the number in that class aren’t so great.” Think about it as your instructor [unclear – 29:20] their class. Are they giving 100% every time? Are they amazing? Because if they are not there is going to be someone around the corner that will step up and make it amazing. And at the end of the day it is your business. Have the best people under your belt and the best people working with you and that’s what is going to separate you and that’s what is going to keep you on top because there is a lot of competition out there. There is a lot happening in fitness. They are opening up left and right. Doors are opening and people are dying for it. They love it. Everyone is trying and I think that is so cool. 


Kevin: Yeah, it is good. Whatever raises the bar, like you said, you have to have those trainers providing energy, performing at a high level, or you’re going to be in trouble. Okay, well, this has been a really interesting conversation. Just before we go, just tell us what is next for you and tell us how people are going to get in touch with you in the event.


Colette: So what is next for me is this is my whole life right now is the festival. I am growing that and doing really, really great things and we’re going to start to incorporate some of our pop up shops in Manhattan. My partner and I are looking to create our own facility here in our city in Long Beach, so that’s something that is on the radar for me. I am going to keep doing my thing, my business at work. Keep doing hair because I love that interaction. I would not be okay if I didn’t get to be a part of my client’s life anymore. And I love that duty from the inside out and making people see themselves from the inside out beautiful. I am on Instagram colletelee17 or newyorkfitfest. Instagram is NYfitfestival. And we have our website is, and we are also on Facebook. Yeah,we hope to keep growing our tribe and our community. We want to keep shaping and changing lives so join us, join the movement, join the fun, come down, network, meet some amazing people. Hope to see you guys there.


Kevin: Okay. Well, I am going to talk to my boss Connor and see if I’m going to get myself a ticket to Long Beach on the 21st this September, [unclear – 31:22] so fingers crossed. Okay, well listen, thank you very much Colette Lee for joining us on the show. 


Colette: Yes. And you know, we do have some packages with our partner hotel, so The Alegria Hotel in Long Beach. We’ve got some great packages for people that want to stay so please shoot us an email if you’re interested. 


Kevin: You are always looking on for your sponsors.  


Colette: Yes. Always giving the mention and the credit. So anyone that’s taking your photos and anybody that sponsored you, anytime that you can plug them in. I learned that from my partner, to just constantly keeping their name afloat and keeping their name and their brand on the forefront. Consistently mentioning them too is something that is really awesome. 


Kevin: Yes, good to see that in action. Yeah, cool. Alright listen, thank you very much.


Colette: Thank you so much. I hope you have a great day. 


Kevin: Thank you, all the best. 


Colette: Talk to you soon.


Kevin: Bye bye. 


Colette: Okay bye. 





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