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Richard Wolff Tells Us When and How to Fire Employees in the Modern Age

Richard Wolff

Richard Wolff is our guest on this episode of the show.  Richard is a 30 year veteran of the fitness industry and brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to this weeks episode. His latest business is called MEDFITNESS, a strength training company specializing in on-demand personal training.

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Richard: One of the things we’ve done over the last decade is once we realize that a team member isn’t a fit at MedFitness we very, very efficiently transition them out respectfully. But we’re quick to move them out of the organization and that really enhances the performance and commitment of the other team members when they see that so and so wasn’t committed to executing on key things, so that they’re not here anymore. So just recognizing that there’s no need to negotiate with your team in terms of what the expectations are. Be clear, be consistent. If they’re not a fit, they are not a fit, move them out. Don’t hem and haw, don’t play around it. It’s better for your customers, it’s better for you team, it’s better for your company.

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 Richard Wolff, the founder of MedFitness, a strength training studio specializing on demand personal training in Saint Charles, Illinois. Richard has run his own business for 10 years, and has more than 30 years experience in the fitness industry. He talks about his Ten Second Rule for customer service, the effect of two years of video blogging on his business and how to make tough decisions around letting trainers go off from your studio. Okay, let’s get started.

Richard Wolff, welcome to the show.

Richard: Kevin, thanks for having me today.

Kevin: So Richard, tell me a little bit about you and your background.

Richard: Well my background, my formal background is in nutritional science. I’m a registered dietician nutritionist which means I have a college degree in nutritional science and then I complete a further clinical experience in what’s called medical nutrition therapy here in the United States. So it’s a professional degree in nutrition here in America and so that’s my formal training and it’s been good to have that in the fitness industry because it’s very uncommon over the last 30 years that people in this industry have that degree of training in nutrition even though that’s not our core business necessarily.

Kevin: Yeah, and I definitely want to dig in a little bit later about around how that fits in to your overall training programs. You started your first gym, I think you might have been age 13, so.

Richard: Yeah.

Kevin: That was an early start. Do you want to just tell me a little bit about your overall career today.

Richard: Certainly, yeah. So when I was 13, I created what we called at the time Wolff’s Gym which of course is my last name. My three brothers and I, we were all passionate about lifting weights and so I created a little home gym in my parents’ basement in 1976, and that was the birth of everything. That became the place to work out for the neighbourhood kids, for friends through grade school, high school, college and it became a pretty complete home gym with all sorts of amenities. But we train there for years and then of course went to college, studied nutrition. And as I was in college, I started working at the YMCA, so that was my first formal job in the fitness arena as I working on my degree. Once I graduated, I work as a dietician in a medical setting and within about a couple months probably of graduating, my older brother asked me to join him in business. That would have been in 1988 and he had just purchased a small little studio, actually a noodles facility, back in the day when noodles was becoming known in America. And so I started working with him part time and eventually led to full time and we were in business together for 21 years. We had three locations. Our core business is really high intensity strength training but we did some other things in fitness as well along the way. And over the last decade, I’ve been on my own and that was the creation of MedFitness, a studio about 2000 square feet where we offer the service that we call On Demand Personal Training which is personal training with higher appointments or high prices so that really is our niche of course – strength training, efficient workout and On Demand Personal Training. So very unique, it allows us to really leverage our position in our community and industry as well. So that’s where we are today and super excited about the work that we’re doing.

Kevin: So you have, I think the training sessions down to 25 minutes. Do you want to just tell us how that works and what people get done in that amount of time?

Richard: Yeah, they’re doing a full body workout, Kevin. So typically it is 8 exercises. We are using med-ex strength training machines so that allows us to be efficient with the flow of clients. We wouldn’t be able to do this if we were using dumbbells and barbells, but with the med-ex machines you’re training your abs, your chest, your shoulders, your back, your legs with 8 exercises. And the trainer’s job is to coach you through that session, keep you moving and we call it “Keep the line moving” which is to be able to move efficiently from exercise to exercise without waving. So their training, we train slow we use the super slow protocol as sort of our base protocol, so people are lifting and lowering the weight in ten seconds, so it is a very deliberate workout. And we’ll mix it up with some other protocols but that sort of our standard go to. So you’re doing those exercises, you’re on the machine for one to two minutes working near or two muscle failure and you’re out of the studio. We have what we call the “ten second rule” at MedFitness which simply means when the client walks in the door, trainer’s job is to get to the front of the studio, greet them, get them started within ten seconds and get them rolling on their workout. So efficiency is really a corner stone for us and allows us to keep people on a consistent basis because it’s so darn simple and efficient that you know they’ve be foolish not to continue with it.

Kevin: You are passionate about strength training, and you know you have always been passionate about strength training, I think I’ve heard you refer to a life saving medicine. So do you just maybe tell me a little bit about this passion? Why you think it’s so effective strength training?

Richard: Yeah. The passion for strength training really comes, I tell people that I was born with it because as a very young boy, and again it goes back to growing up with my brothers, we were all just obsessed with lifting weights. Now a lot of young boys throughout the world are obsess with lifting weights because we like the idea of big muscles. We wanted to be strong for sports. We like the muscle magazines. We were very interested in the body builders of the day of 1970’s and 80s are so that seems kind of natural but that drive and passion continued into teens and 20s and so on. And now, as you know Kevin, for the first time in the history of the world we have this field called lifestyle medicine which just use of evidence base exercise and nutrition to treat and prevent chronic illness. And of course strength training is front and center in lifestyle medicine so we have sort of this gift put in into our laps, something that we’d like doing as kids is now regarded as best practice lifestyle medicine. So we get to do it professionally and it’s just very exciting and incredibly rewarding.

Kevin: How does nutrition come in to what you offer your customers, you’ve obviously got a big background in that. How does that work?

Richard: Yeah, what we do, the primary way it comes into in our place is through our weight management coaching that we offer as an adjunct to our membership. So, we’re working with clients and of course a high percent of them wants some guidance and help with managing their body weight, losing fat and so on and so. We have a weight management program that we offer in addition to our strength training membership. And not everyone uses it but a significant portion do. We have some mere replacement food shakes, on trays, nutrition bars that are tools to be used as an adjunct to the healthy eating guidelines that we’re providing clients with. So that becomes of course part of our business model as well that service, and those products, those foods are items that we do sell in the studio, but the core business is overwhelmingly are strength training membership. That’s really where we easily can breath and that’s where we succeed as a business more than anything.

Kevin: You know, you’ve been in business for a long time now. I’m kin to dig in to this business model. So you talk about having a membership but then as well having this On Demand Training. So how did they differ or are they the same thing?

Richard: Yeah, they’re really the same thing, Kevin. We use to call it membership based personal training but since adopting the sound bit On Demand Personal Training. If you came in to the studio, you’ve had a couple options, you could train with us, get 8 training sessions a month, you know, two a week for a price if you commit to a year or a higher price if you’re just going month to month. But how we describe it to people interested is we let them know that this is about 60% less from a price stand point than conventional appointment based training yet you have a trainer coaching and guiding you, and supervising you every time you’re here. So it really is enormous value on that level and you add the flexibility of not having to send appointment, it really becomes a super unique service that most of our clients, pretty much none of our clients have ever seen anything like this, so they are happy to enrol typically. We have a very good closing rate when someone sits down and goes through our free trial workout, but it’s just so different and so unique and once they know they need the strength training that would just be foolish not to have this as an option for them, given today’s world that we live in.

Kevin: Okay, and so strictly from a business model with respect of you, you’ve on demand but there is a minimum commitment there a month, and then you have things like the weight management that are effectively that your add-on programs.

Richard: Correct.

Kevin: And you have nutrition bars and another bits and pieces that also I suppose are other revenue sources for you. Have you always I suppose innovated and had as multiple revenue sources and that’s something that you start working in other places or something that you came up with yourself?

Richard: You know, we sort of came up with that with ourselves but it was a long time ago. That would have been back in the early 1990’s adding that service and product line to the core business of strength training and seem like a natural fit and we’ve just sort of honed it and refined it over the years as well. We do some additional teaching and writing on those topics of nutrition, again, always sort of woven back to why our clients are here which is strength training. But we provide what we would consider you know good evidence base guidelines so that they can be practicing relevant things and not being distracted by all of the noise that is coming in our world today.

Kevin: Are you in a competitive area? Like I know you’re in St. Charles, Illinois. Is there a lot of other I suppose similar offerings down the road?

Richard: I’d say it is competitive from a personal training stand point. There are other boutique studios and spas in the St. Charles area and there’s other plenty personal trainers typically smaller businesses. So there’s good competition but we’re fortunate because that no one has the system where you’re with the trainer, you’re paying a very affordable price and you’re not seeing appointments. So it allows us to really stand out in the market place.

Kevin: Okay, so you feel like you’ve got something that fits into how people want to buy and how people want to train?

Richard: Yeah, absolutely. I mean think about, Kevin, if you walk into our studio today and you’re 65 years old and you have never strength train in your life but your doctor says you need to strength train and the idea of personal training is never even registered on your brain.

Kevin: Sounds scary.

Richard: Yeah. “I have no idea what to do and how to do it, so you guys will coach me. I come when I want, that’s a reasonable price.” Well of course I’m going to say yes to that. So we feel that that model is well suited for today’s society.

Kevin: I’m fascinated by this, I think you said it was a ten second rule? I think probably everybody who is listening to this would like to have a ten second rule or would like to have something where you got this greeting when you walk in the door. So two questions, is this something you’ve always had or you think it’s something that is more needed nowadays than it used to be is my first question. And my second question is how do you actually make sure it always happens?

Richard: Yeah, we have not always had it. I think that it’s an outgrowth of our desire to serve our customers and knowing that one of the things that is the kiss of death in services, waiting and not being acknowledged when you walk into a business. So the moment someone walks in the door, we want to acknowledge and let them know, “I’ll be up there in two seconds or three seconds” and or “I’m on my way”, and they know that they’re being taking care of. And they feel like they’ve made a good decision the moment they walk in the door because they’re connecting with the trainer almost immediately. So I think that’s important in today’s environment of competition for 5 star customer service the way it is. So I don’t know if that would have been the case 20, 30 years ago as much.

Kevin: Yeah. And in what ways do you engage people when they’re outside the gym? Do you kind of keep in touch, text messages or what do you do?

Richard: Yup. We have a couple of mechanisms there. We host monthly seminars that we invite our clients. In fact, we’ve got tonight.

Kevin: Okay.

Richard: Those are outside of the studio and those are really design to add value to their membership. With this we’re talking about topics related to their strength training and sometimes it’s got a slight weight management approach to it which is our topics tonight is called fat mythology sort of fat myths, but, so it’s just lectures. We’re working on putting together podcast so we’re going to get that up and going. And we write articles, one article a month on a key topic that we’re handing out and is going out through an electronic email. Newsletter which goes out to them weekly and then our, we’ll probably get to it later, but the whole Train Like A Champion daily videos is a birth of that connection, Kevin. We wanted a way to have a conversation with our clients everyday and we sort of fell into this one minute a day video chat with them through the Train Like A Champion vlog. So we try to keep our hands on them on at multiple levels throughout the month even if they’re not in the studio.

Kevin: Yeah. It just shows you the number of channels you need to be active on in order to keep hold on to customers and keep them engaged.

Richard: Yeah, you’re right. Yeah, you got to pay attention to it. It’s easier said than done but it has to be done, yeah.

Kevin: So the first time I notice when I went on to your Facebook page was your on I think you can probably tell me day six hundred in around of the video series, so tell me about that.

Richard: One of the things that I’ve been doing for years, Kevin, is speaking. I traveled around the country, and spoken in every major city in the United States. And so I’ve done a lot of seminars, workshops, presentations. I’ve always been comfortable speaking and I was listening to a marketing guy on YouTube, maybe you’ve know him, his name is Gary Vaynerchuk.

Kevin: Yup, I know him well.

Richard: Yeah, so he has been big. One of his messages to his viewers for a long time has been you just need to get started with what you’re doing in and if you’re comfortable being in front of a camera then you need to be doing a daily vlog. And so one day I sat down on a chest press machine and said, alright let me just record something and that was the birth of it. And my commitment back then was I thought let me do one a day. It’s not that hard to do. I got a billion ideas in my head floating around all the time. So now, today was day 816th, so we’re not sure if it will ever stop but for now it’s a good tool for us. We’re actually getting business people are coming and because they’ve seen my videos on Facebook. They have no idea who I am or anything about. They just, “I need strength training. This guy talks about strength training every single day.” So it has been interesting evolution from what it got started.

Kevin: And is it purely talking about strength training or do you promote your studio or how do you get that pile of choice?

Richard: We do, it is probably 95% just talk about strength training and then 5% of promoting something. We started doing videos to promote our monthly lectures, and so I might do four or five 1-minute videos just talking about what we’re going to talk about is a way of interesting people to attend that because we’ve grown at to invite people who aren’t current members. So we’re realizing we can gain business through this. It’s not a part sell but it is come and hear me speaking. The moment they see that, it’s a real compelling reason why they would be interested more on what we’re doing.

Kevin: So this is something that starting out the way to engage your existing members but then you realized it was actually a way to get more reach and get more members?

Richard: Yes, correct. Right, right.

Kevin: That was a good lesson for us all.

Richard: Yeah.

Kevin: So change of tack, you’ve mentioned already that you’re in at 60% cheaper than similar gyms, similar competitors. So tell me about the economics of running a business like that. How can you maintain that type of price difference?

Richard: Yeah. That’s a really good question. So our model, when you look at our cost of goods we have with the On Demand Training, we have one personal trainer that is working what we call a “shift”. So the shift is typically 5 hours long. And when I’m working a shift, my job is to be providing. We call it our supervision system but it’s really world class supervision. So it’s coaching, guiding you through the workout, setting your machines, recording what you did, writing the next workout, giving you a summary of the workout. All these elements that we put in to our supervision system, it is designed to have you have that perfect experience, that world class supervision, so one trainer is really hustling, moving quickly to service. Our average flow is four clients in an hour.

Kevin: Okay.

Richard: So where we position ourselves from a business standpoint is I have, I’m leveraging. I’m getting that income of four clients in an hour and I am only paying one trainer. I’m not having to pay four trainers so that starts to improve our ratios when you look at our cost of goods and the percent that the business is hanging on to versus our cost of labours. So it’s work out pretty well. We can sometimes see five or six or seven clients in an hour. We call that busy zone and we have some adjustments, we make in how we coach and supervised. But the people don’t seem to mind if they know that someone has their eyes on them and they’re managing the process and if there’s a workout or maybe there’s a tiny bit less touch one time because I had six people instead of three seem to my net. Sometimes we were getting one-on-one training. They are only in the studio and they’re not paying for one-on-one but they’re getting it. There’s a give and take to it.

Kevin: Yeah so I could come in to the whole circle of my own high full attention or maybe there are three people on the conveyer belt so you’re designing the coaching to cater to those kind of numbers.

Richard: That’s exactly right. It shifts a little bit. It goes up and down, right. Yes.

Kevin: Yeah. Okay. You started this business about 10 years ago which was really in the depths of the hard times economically. Why did you start then and what did you learn from starting a business when there was not as much disposal income around.

Richard: Yeah the timing on that, Kevin, was that I had been with my brothers for 21 years with them and we just had some different views about business direction, business vision and such. So I wanted to go out on my own and I was going to just go start my own studio, but then we decided that they would sell me one of the studios. We had 2 at that time so one of the business operations and that was the one in St. Charles. So we negotiated and work through it and I purchased that one from them and then just took over and operate it. There was an existing business but that was in 2009 and we had loss and pretty significant business through 2008 and we’re really having to operate on an extremely lean budget. I’d say the one lesson, and not that I wouldn’t have said it before, but to go through this something different. The one lesson that I think was reinforced is that, if you have a ton of passion for something and you know you have something to give of value, I knew we did, just keep working, keep grinding, keep pushing and if you can see some incremental progress then it is worth putting your nose to the grind stone. There was many days, Kevin, when we thought we’re going to close the business. I thought that well I guess this is how we grow, we close, we’re not just cutting, we’re just not gaining enough traction because the economic climate is so lean right now. We didn’t really enter it with a buffer. We sort of entered into it at a low zone so. So I had that thought but thankfully each quarter, each year was a little better a little better a little better and we kept building a momentum and we stuck with it. So I you know excited today that I didn’t sort of turn away of that lean zone and just do something. I had other job offerings to go work as a dietician but I just turn them all down.

Kevin: And what’s the difference? What made you stay versus made you go and take those offers? What do you think it is that keeps somebody like you grinding away?

Richard: Right, right. You know what it is? I’m very much a visionary guy. I really believe that what we’re doing, how we’ve structured the strength training program and how we structured On Demand Personal Training is literally something that you could equate to when Henry Ford created the model T in the beginning of 20th century. Nobody knew what it was to drive a car. We’re all riding horses in 1905, same thing here, nobody. You could ask a thousand people, Kevin, “Do you know On Demand Personal Training is?’ “No” They know what it means to schedule an appointment, they know what it means to pay a lot of money for a trainer, but they don’t, no one has experience this. So I just felt like it was our gift to the industry and to the world to make it work. You know if it’s not us, if we create a model that is can be use as a template for others to learn and adopt and do similar work then that’s really our gift to the world and in the industry is to drive this process forward. So I’m very much of vision sort of minded guy that sense. You know sometimes you have to balance that of course with the practical financial side of things but that really kept my heart burning strong during those lean times.

Kevin: You made it through the hard times. The business has lasted until now. Obviously, people have it maybe more money to spend now but what do you think has been the secret to having people comeback over and over again and building that loyalty? What have you done to make sure that happens?

Richard: Well, there are two things that will influence their decision making. One is what is their customer service experience like and I think that’s just the statement of 2019 in the world. They have to have great customer service experience. They all decide whether or not they’re going to train those based on our technical proficiency if they believe that this is actually works, and it’s safe, and it’s effective. They’ll make that decision to what work with us but they will only stay if we treat them like they are family and friends and just treat them like gold. So we have to be again 5 star when it comes to customer service and not take a single thing for granted. Everything from how the workout goes to how we manage their billing to everything operationally has to be just flawless for them and they need to be treated like they are our guest, our special guest every time they’re in the studio. So they get set high touch, high engagement, serving them. We’re there to serve them. That’s one of our core values is servant leadership. So it’s all about the customers, it’s not about us, it’s not about the trainer. So I think that’s critical for retaining them in today’s world.

Kevin: Yes, you would that above say the cost, the seminars you’re putting on, the weight loss add-ons. You put above all of that stuff.

Richard: Correct. I mean, in today’s world, people want to be connected. And as you know, Kevin, people love to do business with people they like. So if I am treating you like a special guest that you are every time you’re in the studio and just going out of our way to serve you, they get that and people like it, so that really is the glue that determines whether or not they stay with us or not.

Kevin: You know, you sound like you’ve learn a lot along the way and maybe this is a little bit a cliché question but tell me about a couple of the bigger mistakes that you made along the way.

Richard: You know that’s another good question. I think you have it in your head what you are saying out to do and then you sometimes don’t set the expectations as high as they should be for your team and your process. So I think one of the things we’ve done over the last decade is once we realize that a team member isn’t a fit at MedFitness if they get through the hiring process if we end up hiring them but it becomes clear that they are not a fit we very very efficiently transition them out respectfully. But we’re quick to move them out of the organization and that really enhances the performance and commitment of the other team members when they see that so and so wasn’t committed to executing on key things, so they are not hear anymore. So just recognizing that there’s no need to negotiate on with your team in terms of what the expectations are. Be clear, be consistent and if they’re not a fit, they are not a fit, move them out. Don’t hem and haw, don’t play around it. It’s better for your customers, it’s better for your team, it’s better for your company and so on. And move quickly when it comes to the lack of fit, you know.

Kevin: It’s a hard lesson but maybe it’s a good one to know.

Richard: Yeah, right.

Kevin: When you’re not there in the studio today, how do you know that the standards are high enough?

Richard: In our business, we have a general manager and so she runs the show. My primary function besides being the president of the company is to really drive our sales, so that’s my job. And so she has weekly check-ins with the team. We have quarterly training and monthly team meetings and there are multiple levels of sort of support training, feedback and goal setting with the team. And then we’re very data bases, we’re very objective about what’s happening. So we’re measuring outcomes on every shift workouts. All kinds of metrics that allows us to get snapshot of what’s happening with our business from a data standpoint, so we’re always look for that.

Kevin: Is that around sales or retentions?

Richard: Sales also but workouts as well so we’re looking the total workouts, the workouts per hour. We call it average progression. The clients training load has been logged into the computer and we’re measuring that. They’re getting a progress report. We’re looking at trends, the goal set for the year in terms of progression. So we’re talking about that in our monthly meetings. So there’s a lot of measurement that helps us to say yes or no, are we on track very quickly and easily.

Kevin: That’s good. Sometimes in the fitness business it’s not easy to get all those metrics in place and end them accurate. So I’m sure there is a bit of work in getting that set off and getting it running properly.

Richard: It’s been time, yes indeed.

Kevin: Okay, Richard. Well, you know, I feel like we’ve covered a lot of things and everything from the personal touch to economics and how to be data driven to extending out beyond the gym through social media. Maybe we will just finish off then, you know, a couple of tips for some people that are younger in their entrepreneurial careers and looking to set up a business similar to this. What would you say would be two or three things that they should bear in mind before they get serious about it?

Richard: Certainly. First thing I’d say is you want to avoid that temptation that a lot of entrepreneurs have is to be all things to all people. To be successful, you really have to drill down on some specific entity whether it’s a product or service and the one thing that we’ve done, that I’ve done for thirty years is getting more specific and more specific and more specific. So when you’re thinking about what your passion about try to keep it dialled in and very specific. We wasted a lot time and money on years trying to do things, it really weren’t. And within our niche, and it would save this a lot of time, a lot of money, a lot of so and so. So think specific, think narrow. When we look at successful people and successful entrepreneurs and even in any industry, whether it’s business or musicians or whatever it is, if you’re going to be good at something you have to be resolutely focus on that one thing. There’s no way you can excel on something if you’re trying to water down yourself and what you do into five or six different areas. Drill down on something and stay steadfast with your focus on that one thing and I know that’s a little counter intuitive today where people want to do everything and be able things. So that’s one thing I would say, and this gets tossed around as well and some people would say no and yes. My belief is that when it comes to your career, if you’re a business owner and you’re an entrepreneur and you’re starting in this industry. You have to have just mind-blowing drive and passion for what you’re doing. When you think about the time that you spend in your career, whether you’re an entrepreneur or not, it is most of your life until you retire, so it’s the overwhelming majority of your life that’s spent doing this. So to really get good and to be competitive, you’re going to have to invest a truckload of sweat equity. And so the only way that make sense is that you love doing something. You can’t just beat yourself up day after day after day because you’re kind of chase money. You have like what’s happening, you have to like the process. I tell our team, you have to really want to serve people, you have to be people centred. If you don’t like working with people, helping them, seeing them succeed, then this might not be the company for you. I’m just voting that they need to do something that you’re just ridiculously excited and passionate about. Otherwise you may not make it through all of the tough lean times, hard work, challenges, problems, all the stuff that goes with it.

Kevin: Yeah, it’s not worth it if you’re not all in.

Richard: Yeah.

Kevin: Okay, siege advice. Probably wrap up there. Before we go, and maybe just tell people, they want to meet you, they want to get in touch. Where can you be found?

Richard: Yup. Well they can, the easy spot initially is our website which is They can find out more about MedFitness. They can contact the company through the website. They can also email me directly at [email protected]. And then they can see me daily if they want, my daily vlog, Train Like A Champion is on Facebook. If they just search MedFitness on Facebook, it’s on Twitter @mymedfitness, it’s on Instagram @medfitness, it’s on YouYube at mymedfitness. So we’re on all the major media channels and they can watch me there and they can always send me messages and I like to respond to all of my viewers so they can always leave a message there as well.

Kevin: It’s definitely worth to look. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye and I hope you get a few more hundred if not thousands shows up there.

Richard: Thank you.

Kevin: Thank you very much for appearing on the show.

Richard: You’re welcome, Kevin, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.


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