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Mike Lipowski on Growing from a Single Fitness Studio to a Multi-Location Franchise Business

Mike Lipowski

Mike Lipowski is a bodybuilder, author, speaker, and fitness business owner. He is the owner of Pure Physique, a fitness studio franchise based in New York. He is also the CEO and President of IART (International Association of Resistance Trainers).

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Mike: So for me I came up to a road block and I’m going, “Well, am I going to ever scale this business and if I do, how am I going to do it?” But I didn’t know how to do it and so much of my belief leading up to that was it can’t be done. So I kind of had to shift my mindset to, “Okay, it must be done. I must do it and how are we going to make this work?”

Kevin: How is it going everyone? Welcome to the Fitness Founders podcast. I’m Kevin Mannion, VP Marketing here at Glofox. This week we talked to the fitness hacker, Mike Lipowski, a body builder, published author, and the creator of his own fitness franchise Pure Physique. Famed for his [unclear – 00:43] work outs, Mike has unique perspective on high intensity training. And he tells us how he has built a business that’s all about making it easy for his members to stay in shape. Let’s have a listen.

Mike, welcome to the podcast.

Mike: Happy to be here.

Kevin: Mike, tell me a little about your business Pure Physique.

Mike: Basically, our business, it started off as a one on one training studio but has since evolved into, well now becoming obviously a fitness franchise. But essentially our mission really hasn’t changed that much over time. I mean, we’re here basically to just lift the restrictions people place on themselves for achieving what would be their ideal level of fitness. For us that kind of means helping people transform their body without calorie counting cardio or more than 90 minutes of exercise a week. We basically do that through work outs that are just intensely efficient, 30-minute resistance training based work outs.

Kevin: Cool. I’ve read you talk about fitness hacks, so can you tell me, what exactly is a fitness hack?

Mike:   Yes, so it was interesting. I was speaking one day with a friend of mine and colleague and just kind of breaking down what we do and he is in, I guess, what would you consider to be the bio hacking space. Bio hacking, you know, all the rage these days whatever you can do to, again, hack your physiologies so that you could perform better, think better. And so when I broke down what we did in terms of our approach to training and even nutrition, he’s like, “You’re like a human fitness hacker.” I’m like, “Yeah, I guess you can call us that.” And so it kind of stuck. And yeah, we’re doing a lot of ways view ourselves being fitness hackers. Because as I was saying before, so many people have these restrictions that they place on themselves when it comes to exercise or when it comes to nutrition. I mean, everybody wants a shortcut and we know there are no shortcuts. We prefer to look at it from the standpoint of if we can make things just more efficient for people, if we can make it easy concepts to grasp, if we can make it so that it fits into their lifestyle, people can start achieving some of the results that they are dreaming of essentially. And I think a lot of people they have this grand ideas of what they like to achieve but they also look at the landscape and go, “Wow, it is going to take a lot for me to do that.” So we kind of show them those more efficient methods of getting from where they are to where they want to be and show them that, “Listen, you are not restricted by time.” You are not restricted by the fact that you don’t want to sit down and count calories or macros and all that stuff. There is a way to do it. And so that is more or less where we step in, and we place our emphasis on what tools can we give them or what ways can we lead them to achieve some of these goals, but do it in a way that doesn’t feel like it is burdensome on their life.

Kevin: Okay, that makes a lot of sense. What are some of those ways that you are lifting the burden or what is unique about the approach that you take?

Mike: I think first and foremost if we just look at it from the side of the fitness itself, right, the exercise component. What traditionally have most people felt they needed to do in order to get in shape? It is usually I have to be in the gym for an hour each time and I have to do it at least five or six days a week. So already you are painting a picture of, okay I have to be in the gym for five or six hours a week. What is next part of that? Well, you know, I have to do some combination of cardio because that’s a necessity, and I have to do some resistance training because that’s necessity. You know, really when we break it down we are looking at going, well, you actually don’t need a lot of that stuff. You don’t need an hour each workout and you don’t necessarily need to do mind numbing cardio. The resistance training we believe deeply in our hearts, it is our core DNA, like we believe that that is the one source of exercise or one form I should say that pretty much covers the entire umbrella. It is more like an umbrella that kind of hits on almost every major aspect of somebody’s fitness, so whether they are trying to improve their muscle tone because they want to look better, they want to be stronger, they want to have more energy, they want to be more functional, they want to be more flexible. You name it. I mean, resistance training done properly really covers the full gamut and you can’t say that about many other forms of exercise. Most will highlight a certain component but rarely is there one that actually covers them all, and that’s the one thing resistance training does. And so we set our focus on, okay, so how can we perform resistance training and like the most time efficient but also effective manner possible. And so for us, I mean, most people would look at what we do and if they were to categorize us we would probably fall into the category of high intensity training. Not high intensity interval training because we are not into doing any of the plyometric stuff. Again, we are kind of staying out of that realm of cardio but rather high intensity training in its more traditional form which was some people would look at it and say it is circuit training, though that is part of what we do, it is now what we do. But yeah, I mean, it would fall into that category again, high intensity resistance training that is just built to be done efficiently and quickly and providing your body with the stimulus that it needs to get the result you’re looking for while at the same time balancing that out with the time that your body actually needs to recover and to realize those gains from that particular stimulus.   

Kevin: Yeah, okay that makes sense. You’ve obviously got a long career in high intensity training yourself, so maybe tell me a little bit about your time as a bodybuilder. I’m sure people will be interested to learn about that.

Mike: Well, it is funny how I kind of fell into body building. I mean, I had like somewhat of a fascination of it since I was a kid. I mean, since I was 7 years old I was seeing my superheroes, I was into Superman, and Hulk, and at that time you had Lou Ferrigno playing the Hulk on TV. I don’t know. There was just something about it at that time that as a young boy it influenced me. It was trigger. I said, “You know what? I want to have muscles. I want to look like that.” And it led me down this road of eventually getting into body building. Of course, at first naively thinking that those guys achieve some of these gains naturally and when I would be flipping through the muscle magazines. But really what brought it all together for me was I graduated college and I got a job as a personal trainer, and I’m sitting in there and I’m like, “You know what? I think this is really what I would want to do as a career.” I am enjoying this. I am doing what I’m passionate about. I love being in the gym. But the one thing that was missing was like, what if somebody asks me how do I get six pack abs? And I’m kind of myself going, “Yeah, I mean, you build some good muscle over the years but you don’t have six pack abs.” And so I said, you know what, that’s going to be my focus, right. If I am going to know how to teach somebody how to do some of these things, I better understand how to do them myself.

And so I entered myself into my first body building show just as I got started as a personal trainer. I think I was about 21, 22 years old. And I did it mainly as a learning experience. I figured if I enter myself into this show I’d be forced to put myself into the best condition possible because if I didn’t I was going to pretty much embarrass myself. So I had some real leverage there. You know, I went on this journey to compete, and literally, I did it as a learning experience. But as I said earlier I kind of always look up to some of these superheroes and guys in the magazines, and I would love to look like that one day thinking that all the time that all it took is enough training, right. If you train enough hours, and enough years and your body would magically morph into this, not really understanding the nutritional component to it all. So that’s what it really did is this body building kind of forced me to think and learn a lot more about nutrition and how that interacts with your training. And at that time is kind of when I first ventured into doing any form of high intensity resistance training because up until that point it was all what we all commonly did when we were young, right? We spend an hour and a half in the gym because what else do we have to do? So it is like you enjoy doing it, you’re passionate about it, then you have nothing but time, that’s what you do. But not understanding all the science behind and not truly understanding the role that recovery place and that nutrition, and how all these factors work synergistically to help develop your body into whatever it is that is your ideal.

So for me the body building became two fold. First, it is helping me to learn what I need to know in order to help other people and to be at the top of my game as a trainer. And I knew then it would separate me from other trainers who didn’t have that knowledge or that understanding. And then the second thing was it was personal challenge. It was how can I keep levelling up my game on a personal level, you know, what are the limits of what I can achieve. How lean can I get? How much more muscle can I see or what can I expose that has never been exposed before. And so that for me was a big part of it. Again, I just keep growing with a passion for bodybuilding.

Kevin: Yeah, that’s really cool. Tell me, what made you start a fitness business? What made you turn this thing to a livelihood?

Mike: I was totally unhireable. You know, and I only half joke about that. The truth in that was I was one of the guys who again in college was not passionate about anything but being in the gym. I was a physical education major. Still didn’t get the greatest grades so coming out of school it was one of these things where I never had a desire to be a gym teacher which is pretty much the only job you would get if you had a degree in Physical Education. But again, I had this passion for being in the gym and I always had somewhat of an entrepreneurial spirit as well. And some of that comes from a, you know, I had a family member, an uncle who was an entrepreneur, the only one in our family. I kind of saw the way that he operated and I just thought it was pretty cool that he wasn’t tied down to a job or anything like that. And I thought that it would be just a cool thing to own a gym one day. You know, I had that thought as early as 13 years old. I mean, I remember getting together with friends like a high school reunion and we were talking about the fact that yeah we remember standing around in a gym saying, how cool would it be that one day own a gym, and I just went and did it. I went and did it because I never really thought of going on any other path. To me it was just like this is where I want to be. This is where I want to spend my time. This is what I want to do. And at that time it was thinking I’m going to open up something like traditional hard core gym. Never really thinking I’d open up a personal training studio and then it morphs into more of just, again, this fitness studio that has personal training, and group, and has a larger impact than people simply coming in dropping few dollars down and doing their own thing. Yeah, I mean, it’s just for me it came one of the situations I came out of school. I’m working at these other gyms. You know, it was okay, but it didn’t get me charged up like the idea of doing it on my own.

Kevin: Yeah. You’ve built a pretty successful business and it’s got a really unique selling point. How did you know how to do all these?

Mike: I think that with anything you don’t know. I think things that basically they evolve over time, and you sprinkle in a little bit of luck and some unique circumstances. And I think that’s really what happened with me was I think I got, and I truly believe this, not to [unclear – 14:23] and I’m a firm believer in God’s plan. That you are always being led down the path that you are supposed to be led down but you just got to recognize the signs.

For me, coming out of college like I said, my focus had always been on these marathon type workouts. I never heard of high intensity training before. I only knew that I love to lift weights and I want to look like a body builder. And the first place that I land happens to be a Nautilus based facility. And so up to this point like I had never, I was familiar with Nautilus equipment but I wasn’t familiar with the entire training philosophy that was developed by Arthur Jones who invented the equipment. And so it was that time just kind of being thrown into that circumstance and seeing like, wow, like all these time I’ve been putting hours in each week, and now these guys are trying to tell me that I am doing too much or that there is a better way to do it. And that was a little hard to accept. I mean, I wasn’t necessarily grasping unto it right away and saying, wow this is the greatest thing ever. But I decided to be active minded enough to give it a shot and when I did and I started seeing the results that I have been hoping for years prior. You know, I said, wow maybe there is something to this and so from that point for me it just became, you know, how can I learn more about this particular style. Wouldn’t you know like the next gym that I wind up at has 50 trainers and staff but about 8 of them do different types of high intensity training so now I have a whole new group of mentors that I am learning from. And then from there it rolls into me eventually opening up my own business, starting my own business, but more importantly now is I’m digging into the business. I’m going, well, this model that I have isn’t really scalable over time and so what is scalable? Well, we look around and we know the stuff that is scalable is a stuff that is more grouped oriented and more community based. And so it was kind of like, alright, this totally goes against my philosophy of individualized training and giving people that really close attention. So for me I came up against like a road block and I’m going, “Well, am I going to ever scale this business and if I do, how am I going to do it?” There are different things happening around that time that were pointing more and more towards, “You got to go group. You got to go group”, but I didn’t know how to do it and so much of my belief leading up to that was it can’t be done so I kind of had to shift my mindset to, “Okay, it must be done. I must do it and how we are going to make this work.” And so we really, for I would say a solid two years kept trying to refine a way of doing what we’ve always done in this one on one sessions. And what I learned up until that point how to adapt that to a group setting and make it scalable. And again, that is literally what led to us being able to franchise because I think if we never took that step of finding a way to make this scalable, there is absolutely no chance that that was going to happen.

Kevin: Yeah. And tell me you’ve had some changes of mindset in your career. I’m sure there are people that come to your gym and say, “I’m not going to reach my fitness goals with 30 minutes of workout.” How do you change their mindset?

Mike: Well, it is two part. Number one, it is education. So we are going to show you and help you understand how this works and why it works. And then second is you put them through it, then they quickly understand, “Okay, this is how it works. This is why it works.” It is usually such a departure from what they’ve ever done in a gym setting, like people associate working out a lot, or working out often, working out long with results as well as they think it is working hard. But effort is what you are doing in that moment. And so, how hard you are working in the moment, every moment, is what is most important to us. And that is what we are upholding during these training sessions be it a group or one on one. And people quickly see like, “Wow! I’ve never actually train hard.” And when I go to the gym and I look around those people really are in training aren’t either. And so you realize like, “Okay, now what they are educating me about kind of make me sense.” But the most important thing is, again, it has to be the proper application. And it can’t just be something that theoretically it should work like this. You have to understand when it is put into practical terms, right? When that practical application comes along then that’s what connects everything. And so for us, yeah, I mean, people at first day they are questioning whether or not this is going to work. But as soon as two weeks passed, they’ve done anywhere from 4 to 6 workouts, they are feeling significantly stronger. Physically they are standing more upright and then within the next 4 to 6 weeks from that point, they are seeing these physical changes in their body and yet they are working out, for those who have been working out, they are working out a fraction of the time that they have in the past. And for those who are new to it, it is like, “Well, hey, this is a whole brand because I didn’t like working out to begin with.” So if I could get in, get out, get these outstanding results, then I am good with it and so they don’t even really care.

Kevin: Yeah, that makes sense. Do you apply the same approach to how you run the business?

Mike: Yeah. And it is funny because somebody had said they were like, “It is pretty amazing How are you able to build this business while again at the same time body build?” Because again, you think about the level of commitment that it takes to do both. And so I always said, if it wasn’t for the way that I went about my body building which is our business model. Same approach, I mean, over the course. I mean, I retire maybe about four or five years ago from body building but for the 15 years I was doing it I never train more than two hours in an entire week. And so because of that, during the time that I’m focused on trying to get myself into the best shape I can, I am still able to focus on the business because I am not overly consumed by this personal pursuit. And then on the other side of it, if it wasn’t for the fact that I only had to put that two hours a week at the training, it is like I wouldn’t be able to focus so hard on business. So they’d definitely work synergistically for me at least. And in the business we are always trying to look for different ways that we can hack our processes. How can we make things function more efficiently, what can we automate, what can we cut that really is an unnecessary step or something that, is it something that’s actually been holding us back. We don’t hold on too tightly on anything.

Kevin: Give us an example of something like that in the business, somewhere you find a hack.

Mike: I think one of the coolest ones for us was we never operated really with a front desk staff. We don’t have one of these gyms where you walk in and there is a staff there. It has always been personal trainer run basically. One of the things that we keep running into though is that as we are getting busier and busier and busier, I mean, the phone doesn’t stop ringing. We are looking at this going. You know what? This is crazy. We don’t have time to answer it. When it’s going off and we are in the midst of training people to distraction, yet we don’t have somebody at the desk to answer the phone. Yet that’s a problem because these days when somebody does call it is like they want to hear somebody on the other end. They don’t want to leave a voicemail. And from a business perspective, you know that one of the key factors as to whether or not you are going to get somebody to join your facility or buy your product, or whatever it is, is how quickly can you get back to them. And no statistic show that if you could get back to them within 5 minutes, statistically, now you are over a 50% chance of landing them as a client or customer, yet the percentages just keep dropping from there with every minute, hour, day and especially week that passes. So for us, you know what, we recognize that it is important for people to have that human contact even we can’t speak with them. So we ended up going with a phone answering service. And so we pay them by the phone call. The way it works is really nice where the phone call comes in, so we are in New York and our phone answering service is located out in Nevada. 24/7 they are available so somebody calls in and obviously if it is after hours they take the message, if it is during hours, what happens is we have a phone that we keep at our front desk. It is a little cellphone, and if somebody is available, that cellphone will start vibrating and when the number pops up and we know it is the answering service we can pick up, and they are like, “So and so is on the phone. They are interested in training services. Can I put them through?” And so if we are available, then great, we’ll take them right then and there. If not, the phone answering service just simply gets back and lets them know, “One of our trainers is not available at the time. They’ll get back to you in just a few minutes. If I could just take your name and number for the time being?” Simple as that. And then they shoot us a text message letting us know who called and we can just do our follow up in between those sessions. Something like that just help us work more efficiently as well as it eliminates all the calls that we don’t want to take either.

Kevin: Yup, it is the simple things. And tell us, that’s a really good one for getting people through the door. I’m sure all our listeners want to know. What do you do to keep people coming back? What have you done to build customer loyalty and retention?

Mike: Well, you know, first I’ll give the cliché answer is deliver more value. I mean, you got to deliver more value. And so because of that fact that we are only running 30 minutes work out and sometimes it is just like one the half hour we have another several people walking in, another group of people walking in, and so we don’t get a lot of that time that you might get in a one on one session. Or in like these places they run five classes a day and because they put 30-45 people through one class. It is like you can do that. We can’t, so for us we make sure that just about quarterly we host parties and stuff at our facility. So we are bringing people in and that’s the time to communicate. I think one of the biggest helps is social media. For all the things that we like to complain about social media, the one really cool thing is like it is a great opportunity to be able to highlight people when online, in front of the entire community, and people are learning about other people and they get that sense of why are they paying attention to me. Why they really care about me because again we put it out there. We don’t hide that stuff. It is like we want to be out there highlighting people’s success. And I think that has played a big role. It is just tough to keep up with sometimes but doing just even little things like that. We believe that if you just keep doing the little things, those touches, those ways of showing people you appreciate them. I could give everybody like one really simple tactical thing to do.

So again, one of our, we have a number of core values and one of them is inspiration. So when you walk into our studio, we have all these Pure Physique branded quotes and stuff like that up on our walls. We have a big word wall, huge. And what I did is we just turned around and we took that and scaled it down and put it on the back of a business card. Then on the other side, we just put a little message at the top basically saying, “Hey, you are inspiring us because you are exhibiting these values.” Something like that, paraphrase, but because you exhibit these values. And what it is we have a list of about 13, not our core values, but values that we appreciate in the people who come here. So it is like your commitment, your consistency, your intensity of effort, and just a number of things that are just awesome things about the people or that we would love to see in our most valued customer, our client.

And so we have this and we’ll sit down as a team at some of our meetings like maybe once a month and we’ll pass out a card or two to each trainer and say, “Alright, who should we be highlighting?” And so they’ll pick somebody, put their name on the card, circle the values and whatnot and then next time that person comes in it is like we are handing this to them. And they are like, “What is this?” Just wanted to say like, “We just recognize that you’ve been doing an awesome job. You’ve been super consistent for the past three months and it is inspiring to us and everybody around us.” And they’re like, it is awesome. They have this thing that it’s in their hands, it is tangible. It is something that we didn’t have to. And I know it is always great to sit down and write handwritten cards and we all know this. But that’s not always, again, especially when you are super busy it is not always easy to do that. And like, alright who is going to write it? Who is going to send it out? But this is something really simple, like boom, just put it on a card, just hand it to him. On one side, like I said, it is all out quotes. It is everything that is our brand on one side and then on the other side it is like this is how we view you. This is why we value you. And they love it, and it is something that they are going to hold on to. I mean, that is a put it up on a refrigerator type of thing.

Kevin: So you are rewarding your ideal customer for being your ideal customer.

Mike: Absolutely.

Kevin: Cool. You seem to be very conscious of your brand and how you use that to build your business. What was the top process for coming up with your brand in the first place?

Mike: Good question. You know, I would say that initially we really didn’t have a brand. Initially, we have a training facility and this is what we do here but I think just by virtue of once you start digging in to your business, like if you’ve figured out what you’re going to be, then I think you have to really be clear on who you are going to be and who you are going to be that too. It was really interesting. Just to give you a quick story, I mean, I was just speaking at a resistance conference this past weekend, and it is a lot of other businesses who operates similar to us. They are into high intensity training and so it is kind of like a nerd fest for guys who are into high intensity resistance training. And so many of them also run businesses that do 30-minute or 20-minute workouts and what have you. So I am sitting down with our team and we are looking at all these different businesses. We look around and it is like, well, what does make us different? Because again, there is only within our niche would we be seen as like, if you want to call it common. What we do is not uncommon. In the big scheme of the fitness world, what we do is very uncommon. But we are looking around. I am going, “Well, this one, like they are very suit and tie, professional like. This one, they are kind of fun, this and that. Us, we are cool.” We like kind of being the cool kids. And I don’t mean that in a braggish type of way, but like all brand is intended to draw a certain client in and be like, “Yeah, this is cool. I like being here because this place is cool. These people, they are cool.” And what do you want to do? You want to hang out with cool people. You go want to spend your time around them and it makes the relationship a lot easier. If I got to really put you to the paces to get you the result that I want. Like I don’t want you to look at me like a jerk or this place is just way too dry for what they are making me do. It is like, no, I want to feel like, this is a cool place and I enjoy being here. We just kind to find our own identity, and I think that that’s one of the key factors is. When you are developing your brand, what you are really doing is you’re putting a stake in the ground and you are saying like, this is our identity and we live to be this. And for us we have our core values and we live to uphold those, but it is like we are also living to uphold the persona, and so we hire based on that persona. You know, everything that we do kind of revolves around that persona and I can’t say that we are conscientious about it. It is just we knew we had to be something and we kind of let it evolve. And the more things start to evolve, the more we start to say, “Yeah, you know what? We are not this one over here and we are not like that on over there.” But what it is about us? And for us it was like, we are kind of just a cool place to come and hang out. If you got to go some place to work out, you might as well go to some place that is cool, right?   

Kevin: Yup. I can’t argue with that.

Mike: You know, that is kind of our feeling on it and that’s how we approach it in. That’s why when we have these parties with our clients and staff, it is laid back. We are not about being super formal or any of that stuff. It is like we are super about what we do like 100%. I would put us up against anybody in terms of how seriously we take what we do in the way we apply it. But on the opposite end of the spectrum it is like we are not going to be super serious about anything really outside of that. We are going to be just laid back and just, “Hey guys let us enjoy ourselves. Like fitness is fun, so let it be fun.”

Kevin: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So Mike, tell me about some of the hard times. What mistakes have you made along the way?

Mike: Oh jeez! What mistakes didn’t I make? You know, I think one of the biggest mistakes was being so close off to different ideas initially. For me, I always bring this back to, me and my father have a great relationship but it is funny. You know, when you are running your own business and you got those love ones around who always mean well and they tell you, “You should do this and you should do that.” Well, my father was one of the ones early on. He was like, “Hey, you should really be doing classes.” And I’m like, “No, we’re not doing that. That is totally going against the grain of what I believe in and what have you.” I think I had to go through that period though of feeling like that and believing that in order to arrive where we are now. I think it was a mistake to be so close off to the idea though whatsoever.

And that’s one of the things that I kind of have learned over time is the old adage, “Never say never.” And you are always going to stand behind certain values. But if something is not a core value of yours then there is no sense in holding on so tightly to it. One on one training was never a core value. It was just my belief and what I thought was the way to go about things. And that fact that other people did things in groups and got results, but we did one on one and got results. To me it is like, this is just the way we like to do it. But being close off to the idea of doing it was definitely a mistake.

And of course, I had like most business owners plenty of hiring mistakes. That was a big one. And then, of course, mistake of not investing in things where you try to do the work to save a few bucks but you wind up setting yourself back in terms of your time, and your energy, and your effort, and you never quite do it as well as somebody who specializes in it would. You know, these are same things that we are saying to people when they walk in like, “You can work out on your own but you are going to make all of these mistakes and you’re not going to get the result that you want.” Whereas, “Yeah, you are going to spend some money with us but you are going to get the result that you want.” And I think that in business I was guilty of the same thing. It is like, “Oh, let me build my website. Let me create all of these campaigns. Let me do a million different things” and thinking that, either one, I was going to save money or number two, it is like nobody was going to do it just as good as me. I know for most entrepreneurs that is definitely one that I’m sure resonates with a lot of listeners out there. We tend to be so hyper focus on doing everything like perfectly and doing it right. And sometimes you just got to say, listen if somebody could do it 70% as well as I can then it is probably going to be good enough. Oftentimes, it is.

So learning to let go was a big big thing for me. It took quite a while but once I did it was like, “Oh wow! This just freed me up to focus on the next bottleneck.” And then after kind of fixing that one a little bit or finding somebody else that could. It was like, “Oh wow! That just freed me up to work on this.” The more that you are letting go of things and just putting them into the hands of others, I think the better off you are in the long run, because you are the one driving the ship. And if you are so caught up in doing a task, you are so caught up in mopping the deck, how can you man the ship, right? So you can’t do both.

Kevin: Yeah, makes a lot of sense. Tell me how do you apply this thinking to building out the franchise because obviously you can’t be in every studio. How do you maintain that quality as you build the franchise.

Mike: Well, I think a couple of things. I mean, number one, I believe that the advantage of a franchise over creating a chain let say is that when you are just trying to open up multiple studios, and this is what we really have to arrive at, because we have the idea before franchising. You know, early on I thought I was going to franchise then I never thought I would be able to franchise the business. Then I figured you know what maybe just own several locations and then it came back around to franchising. And the reason why was when you are trying to just open up multiple facilities, sometimes you do your best to hire the right people. But if that person who is running one of these places for you doesn’t have any skin of the game, what is their leverage for doing the job to the absolute utmost and to the letter of the law that you lay down. So you are going to have to be so on top of or at least be present in some of those locations in order to just simply ensure that quality control. What I like about the idea of a franchise is that person is fully bought in to this business. Like they have real skin in the game, they have invested their own money to purchase these systems, these processes. And there is always that thing hanging over and that like, listen, now that you bought this, you are legally bound to do this this way. With that, I think it brings a certain level of awareness that you can’t always get if you are just simply opening studios and trying to plug or finding the right person to plug in to each one. So no you have this person who is fully vested and now they are so much more willing to follow everything that you tell them to because you already created the system. You have the proven process, you have the system, so it is just like, follow this. You know, go from this step to this step to this step. Do it this way, and you’re going to make plenty of money. You’re going to have a life that you enjoy because you get fulfilment in what you do. But if you don’t do it that way it is like, again, we made all the mistakes and we know what happens and it is not pretty. You’re not going to enjoy yourself and it is not going to be a fun process.

So like I was saying, a part of the reason why I franchise is so that I know that at least if I have to sit back and just simply facilitate on these systems and processes, get people to learn them, understand them, perfect them, that’s where my time is best spent. It is best spent helping other people just become better managers of their business, become better business owners. But if I have to run from one place to another to not just help a person become a better manager but then have it like literally my hands in that business on a daily or weekly basis, to me that is stretching my abilities way too far. And I know my limitations. I know where I am best suited in what I do best and so I am trying to keep my focus on doing those things. And that’s why even in the studio that I own, I am not really training people anymore. I do a few sessions in the morning because again I just like to keep the saw sharp and I enjoy that interaction with those people and again kind of being still present in that way. But you are talking about 2% of my day, 2% of my time versus if I felt like I still had to train people on a half hourly basis all day long. It is like I wouldn’t be able to do the work on the business that I need to do or had to work on the franchise and help that continue to grow and be present for my franchisees.        

Kevin: If I am a studio owner and I’ve got a really successful business what sort of sense check do I apply to myself to know if I am ready to start my own franchise?

Mike: I think the biggest factor is how much have you documented about your business up to this point. I think the thing is that franchising is a great idea but it is only a great idea if you are truly, truly prepared with everything you need to be able to hand somebody a booklet, a manual, training modules, whatever it is. If you are not prepared to have something that can be translated to others that they can then take and run with, learn with, then I would say you are not ready yet. And to spend more time to focus on developing those processes.

Again, I go back to a little bit of looking a whole lot of trying to actively learn as much as I could about all this. One of the books that I read early on was Michael Gerber’s E Myth, and if a business owner up to this point has not read E-Myth revisited it is like you have to get your hands on that book, because that kinds of explains everything that I am talking about. In the book, and if you are familiar with it, the book it talks about the technician. And the technician is usually that person who works for somebody but they are the best of what they do. A lot of us in the fitness industry we come to own our own facility because maybe we are that trainer in the gym and we’re like, “I am the best trainer in here. I deserve to be making more money than I’m making. This gym is just making too much money off of me.” So you turn around and you say, “You know what? I am going start my own business.” Then all of a sudden you realized once you start your own business, you are hiring trainers and they are making more money than you are because you didn’t recognized all the overhead, and all the expenses, and everything that goes into owning your own business. So quickly you realized like, “Oh boy! I was the technician…”, but you are not the entrepreneur.

An entrepreneur doesn’t start a business that they themselves have to do everything in. They are the ones who usually find other people to do it and create systems and processes so that business can run successfully, and then they hire managers to come and run those businesses for them. And that’s the thing is that if you’re just owning your gym and it is really successful because of you then I would say you are not necessarily ready to franchise. Not until you’ve taken what is in your head or what you do and you’re proving that you can put other people in place that can deliver that as well. And when they can deliver it and then they can show other people how to deliver it. Well now, you have systems. Now you have processes and now you have a real business.

And I think that was early on like I used to cringe when clients used to say to me, “You know, this business couldn’t survive without you. This is business is you.” And as much as so many trainers would probably love hearing that because it strokes the ego, I am sitting there cringing going, then that means I don’t have a business yet. I don’t have a business that I could run without me here. And so I just worked on developing all the systems and processes and then teaching those to others until it got to the point where, yeah, I can step away. I cannot train and the business will run perfectly without me. While there might be those people that might miss me in terms of like, “Hey, you are not training much anymore”, or “Hey, you don’t work on me anymore.” You are still getting high quality workouts and probably at this point they probably higher quality than what would I be giving you anyway. Because, again, everybody who is coming up behind is being trained better and better and better. I think that’s when you realize like when you realize, “Okay, I can step away from my business and this thing runs without me.” Then you know that you are definitely well on your way to being able to franchise your business.

Kevin: Okay, last question. I know you run your business with your wife. Maybe tell us how that works both professionally and personally for you guys?

Mike: First and foremost, me and my wife have a phenomenal relationship and anybody whoever sees it online it probably make them sick. I know because I’ve had clients who are like, you guys got to knock it off. But it is like, listen, first of all she does more of the posting than I do. No, I mean, we truly we have a phenomenal relationship. We love each other but it has taken time and it has taken a lot of growth on both our parts to arrive where we are now. People look at us now they are going, “Wow, that relationship, that can never work with me and my wife or we could never do that”, and I get that. We would also be the first to say that even though we started early on working together. It wasn’t anything what it looks like now, and it has taken a lot of personal growth on both our parts and then a lot of growth as a couple to really truly make it work. But I think what does make it work is the fact that we are very clear, and we know our roles really, really well. We know what each of us is really good at. And the way that I like to describe it is like if you are on a two lane high way, I mean we are driving right next to each other. But if I have to get off the exit and get on the service road, we’re still travelling in the same direction. So it is like we don’t have to be right on top of each other and make it work, we just have to know that we are going in the right direction, and we make sure we always come back to that. We have our meetings with each other outside of being in the studio. Most of the time we are actually separate. She does a lot of work from home because we have two little ones there as well, and then I am usually in the studio and whatnot. But again we know what each other is doing all the time because we are always checking in with each other. But it was funny, I mean, the way we arrived at this was literally we started dating, and after we were dating we got married, and when we got married we spent our honeymoon in Napa. You know, great place to honeymoon but we also spent a little part of that time coming up with a business plan. Now, I don’t know how many people come up with a business plan on their honeymoon, but our plan was. She was a teacher at that time. We want to get her out of what she was doing because again she wasn’t. I wouldn’t say she wasn’t passionate about teaching but the circumstances in what she had to do her job, they change tremendously and it was very stressful. And so we knew we could take her teaching skills, implement them in our business, and so we had to come up with a plan to do that. And once we did, again, we established our roles, we established what we each had to do, and we made it happen. And we are both very respectful of each other’s role, and I think that’s a huge part of it. I think part of it is that personal growth component that we just had to arrive at that place where we can sit down and, I don’t want to use the word criticize, but again we can poke holes in what we are doing or each of us is doing. And even though it might sting at times, it is like we recognize, “Hey, listen this is what we need to do for the business.” But we also know that we have this relationship. We have kids that are depending on us and so in order for us to be the best that we can for them, it is like first we have to take care of each other. After God, she and I are priority number one to each other. And so we set aside those date nights, we set aside that time that’s just going to be us because otherwise we could let the stresses of work, of family, of our kids, and everything else come down on us but we always come back to home base, right. You know, we put each other first. I think that’s the only reason why it works. Yeah, I mean, she is definitely my superpower and we realized early on that everything we do, we do better together. And it is just that realization that like, yeah, she is a rock star in her own and I’m pretty good at what I do but we recognize that yeah even still we are better off doing all of this together.          

Kevin: Before we wrap up, do you want to tell people how they can get in touch with you, where’s your base and just a little more about the business.

Mike: Yeah, sure. Obviously, all over social media you could look up Pure Physique. Often these days doing more stuff, I am more on Instagram, so mike_lipowski, [email protected]. Our franchise side is and Those are probably the easiest places to connect trying to form relationships is always a good thing in mind, so anybody who wants to connect I am out there.

Kevin: It’s really been great having you on the show. Yeah, thank you very much.

Mike: You’re welcome.              



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Owner at Carpe Diem BJJ

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