Episode 19 - The Whole is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts
Kyle Davis, Owner and Founder of Northwest Fitness Project. NWFP is a collective of 14 elite trainers with a combined total of over 2 centuries of personal training experience and some of the best group training on the west coast. What makes them different? Kyle believes that the collective community of trainers that he has brought together exemplify that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Best way to reach him: email@example.com
Host - Dan: fitDEGREE is more than just two guys with microphones. It is the studio management software you've been looking for. For more info, reach out to me on our website at www.fitdegree.com, on Instagram at the handle fitdegree, or my email dan.berger, that's B-E-R-G-E-R, @fitdegree.com to get the conversation started. All right, now onto the show.
Host - Dan: Hey, fit family and welcome back to Join Me for another episode of the fitDEGREE podcast. I'm Dan Berger your host, and I'm joined as always by my co-host Nick Dennis. Our guest today is Kyle Davis, owner and founder of Northwest Fitness Project. NWFP is a collective of 14 elite trainers with a combined total of over two centuries of personal training experience and some of the best group training on the West Coast. What makes them different, Kyle believes that the collective community of trainers that he has brought together exemplify that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Host - Dan: Glad to have you on the show, Kyle. How are you today?
Guest - Kyle: I'm great, thank you very much. That was an awesome intro.
Host - Dan: Thank you. Thank you. Awesome intro for an awesome thing you've got set up. What you told me about the other day, our listeners are not quite privy to this yet, is the setup you have, which really sounds incredible. It's a 4,000 square foot training facility with all these awesome elite trainers and group fitness classes. Tell me a little bit about how this came to be and how you made that happen.
Guest - Kyle: Absolutely. I've been in the fitness industry for about a decade and a half now in Seattle. I've been fortunate enough to stay in the same city and develop a lot of really amazing relationships. Over the course of my journey, one of the first people that I resonated with, we went to continuing education classes, we shared each other's books, is my business partner Matt Holland. Matt and I had the same vision. We both got into small group training about the same time back when we were both at a box gym before we had gone out on our own. Even after we went out on our own, we were still training at the same training studio.
Guest - Kyle: Over this time, we were both developing relationships with other personal trainers, really understanding the community that we were a part of. When we realized we had the same vision, we had the same language, we were working under the same alphabet, we decided that we wanted to go into business together because both of us had complementary strengths. When we did, we took about two years planning and setting up from an entire equipment list from saving money for two years, getting everything up to roll out and be profitable on day one.
Guest - Kyle: We wanted to make sure we had everything in place including understanding what our income was going to be, what clients were going to be bringing along with us, how well established our own businesses were going to be to be able to combine into one, and then the other piece of that was knowing the other professionals that we wanted to bring into the space with us to help create this collective. Now, Northwest Fitness Project, as I mentioned, we have small group training, eight to 10 people kept in small groups with highly functional movement patterns. That's our bread and butter, but half of all of our expenses are taken care of because we have developed an amazing studio.
Guest - Kyle: It's 4,000 square feet filled with every toy a trainer could want. We market to being by trainers for trainers. We don't have a membership. There's no other random people that are coming in and doing their own workouts taking up space. The 14 people that we've got are all professionals, anywhere from eight to 22 years of experience in the field. When you've been a trainer, when you've been a fitness professional for this long, you know how to interact with each other. You know how to communicate well and be an advocate for your clients' needs, but also negotiate with your neighbors and neighbor's coworkers, et cetera.
Guest - Kyle: When we're working out with our clients, there's no feeling of defensiveness of space. We also operate as a concierge service, so when people come in and are asking about training, we're not just sending them to immediately to the in-house staff or classes. We do an in-depth, functional movement assessment and try and pair them based on their needs, their personality, their schedule, and what niche interest they might have with the right trainer for them. Then, we are able to refer clients to this amazingly talented collective.
Guest - Kyle: When people come in, we know that they're going to get the fitness experience that they truly want. How rare is it for people to actually have this idea of what they want and see it realized and exceeding their expectations.
Host - Dan: Just that first part, how rare is it for people to actually know what it is they're looking for.
Guest - Kyle: True.
Host - Dan: That alone's pretty rare. For them to know and then have it realized, yeah, sure, that can be a tall order in many ways. When you were going out and selecting, did you have people reach out to you, say, "I want to be part of Northwest?"
Guest - Kyle: Of course. We feel there's a few important pieces that need to be in place for them to be a fit with the culture at Northwest Fitness Project. One of these things is a commitment to excellence where you're continuously looking to improve your skillset. Where you're going to continuing education classes and sharing what you know and sharing what you know with others, not being afraid to examine your own methods. Two, we wanted an openness of communication where people have a higher level of sophistication in terms of how they communicate with others around them.
Guest - Kyle: There's a bit of an unfortunate bro-y, testosterone culture in a lot of gyms.
Host - Dan: Oh, yeah.
Guest - Kyle: That can be really toxic to be in a community with. Those things are not really welcome or helpful at Northwest Fitness Project. When one of us has an issue with another, we are able to talk about it openly, directly, and clear it up without resorting to posturing. The ability to do that is really important.
Guest - Kyle: Three, we also understand that fitness in general, the five-year attrition rate in our industry is exceptionally high. It's something on the order of 80% of people that start off in the fitness field are no longer there after five years. It's often a stepping stool. People will go into personal training before going into nursing school or medical school or PT school.
Host - Dan: I see.
Guest - Kyle: There's a lot of people who end up getting pregnant or going on to do other things. There's a lot the skillset requires to be long-term successful and-
Host - Dan: Yeah, not many are able to make a career out of this. It's a stop somewhere. They're like, "Oh, I know how to exercise. I'll do it for a little bit on the side," but they can't-
Guest - Kyle: Totally true.
Host - Dan: ... [crosstalk 00:07:50] farther than that.
Guest - Kyle: That's pretty true across all fitness fields, group exercise instructor, yoga teacher. Here in Seattle, you can't throw a yoga mat without hitting a certified yoga teacher.
Host - Dan: Yeah.
Guest - Kyle: I'm one myself.
Host - Dan: Right.
Guest - Kyle: But it's a field that lends itself well to doing well in other fields as well. We wanted to make sure that the people that we invite in have the skills to make this their career, their passion. This is where they're trying to be. That way we don't have a high turnover and we have people that are committed to excelling in this field, not in other fields.
Host - Dan: Well, I think you did great on your setup and one point I wanted to go back to was the commitment to excellence and continuing education. We just talked about it the other day with specifically a yoga teacher and how important that is. But from my personal experience as well, just going from either helping people season to season ... I helped youth athletes, baseball athletes, out for a couple winters and the things you learn month to month, year to year. People, if I haven't talked to them or I haven't worked out with them in a couple years, they'll be like, "Well, why are you doing it like that? You told me like this."
Host - Dan: I'm like, "When did I tell you like that?" They're like, "Two years ago." I'm like, "You don't think I learned anything-
Guest - Kyle: We continue to learn.
Host - Dan: Yeah. You don't think I learned anything from ... I change my opinion daily sometimes on how I feel about things and then it just depends about experimenting and figuring out what works for you, what works for a different body type.
Guest - Kyle: 100%. 100%.
Host - Dan: I think people get twisted with the idea of it works for me, it works for everyone. That doesn't happen. The best practices change over time. Even though it works, it doesn't mean it's the most effective thing.
Guest - Kyle: Exactly.
Host - Dan: There's a million different ways to warm up. I experiment frequently, every couple of months with my warm up to see how do I feel most prepared for my workout that day. Definitely, commitment to excellence and creating a culture around that is awesome.
Guest - Kyle: Yeah, there's a lot of ways to do things right and there's ... Especially people first getting in the field, they may learn one certain way and they think that is the gospel.
Host - Dan: Yeah.
Guest - Kyle: While I think a lot of us can recognize some universals of what's not a good idea, what bad training looks like, it's sometimes harder for people to acknowledge that, "Oh, there's good training besides what I do."
Host - Dan: Yes, absolutely.
Guest - Kyle: We have somebody who is ... He does bodybuilding. He's competed in the Emerald Cup and won it. He's an exceptional trainer in terms of helping people build muscle. We have somebody else that works in a nursing home, geriatric training for five years and has brought an incredible amount of ability to modify and assess older populations. We have somebody else who is one of the best boxing trainers in the city who does really precision athletics training and helped an injured Seahawk rehab and get back on the field.
Guest - Kyle: I'm impressed every single day by the people that I get to work next to and learn from 'cause we all learn from each other too. Every quarter we sit down and we do a lunch and learn where we take two hours and we'll have a couple of people present on different topics.
Host - Dan: That's awesome.
Support - Nick: That's really cool.
Guest - Kyle: It is really awesome and it's also really rare. That internal professional development doesn't happen most places. You have to seek it outside. We're trying to bring it in. We want to be known as the hub for the highest level of excellence in physical fitness in the city.
Host - Dan: Right. You guys have created such a network in here, why do you need to go to a conference? You guys are the conference.
Host - Dan: So, tell us a little bit about your business model and how that works because I see that ... You already covered it a high level, but if I go down your website and I look at find your trainer, right after you and your business partner, Nick Koller of Koller Fitness, Lisa Ballatore, Ballatore Fitness ... Explain to us how that works. Are these different gyms? Is it all under one roof?
Guest - Kyle: Those people, the Ballatore Fitness, Koller Fitness, going down that list, all of those are the independent trainers who are running their own businesses under our roof.
Host - Dan: That's what I was going to say. It's their business, but it's under your facility.
Guest - Kyle: It's their business. Correct.
Host - Dan: Okay.
Guest - Kyle: We're the umbrella that they can all shelter under.
Support - Nick: It's a fitness shopping mall.
Host - Dan: Yeah, that's what it sounds like.
Guest - Kyle: Well, essentially it's not a shopping mall. This would be a boutique outlet right here.
Host - Dan: Sure.
Support - Nick: Ah, okay.
Guest - Kyle: Because all these individuals ... To be a great trainer is an amazing skillset, but most excellent trainers don't always make excellent business people and to be able to have their own fitness facility to-
Host - Dan: That's why we started the podcast.
Guest - Kyle: Exactly, right. We wanted to create a facility that made it easy for people to train their high-level clients in a high-level facility and make it feel like they're getting not just quality in their training, but quality in their location, their environment, and their community. We don't see any of these individual trainers as competition. We see them as our compliance. We see them as people that we can learn from and that we can lean on.
Guest - Kyle: Now, when somebody comes in to train in our facility, my partner and I, we don't have any space for one-on-ones. Our schedules are full for one-to-ones. We have group training classes and most of those are full now too. People come in though because we have so many high-level, five-star ratings, and all of these individual trainers also have their own websites that are directing people towards Northwest Fitness Project. It elevates our profile.
Support - Nick: Just from that alone, your SEO must be through the roof. In addition to your own business and 14 other businesses being linked right back to you.
Guest - Kyle: Correct. That's one of the draws for people as a trainer is because they don't have to do any work for marketing. They come to us and then we can say, "Okay, this is your perfect client who came in wanting training, got a high-level recommendation, and they want to pay you whatever you're asking."
Support - Nick: What's the crossover look like? Someone comes in and not necessarily from one trainer to another, jumping, but I work with the bodybuilder guy for a little bit because I want to get bigger, but I'm also a competitive athlete so I'm going to work with your boxing guy on Tuesdays and the bodybuilder on Thursdays. Is that common?
Guest - Kyle: Absolutely. I wouldn't say it's rare. I, in fact, just had somebody earlier this week that came in who does ski touring, who will skin up a mountain and then ski down it.
Support - Nick: Cool.
Guest - Kyle: And, she wanted to keep up.
Support - Nick: Yeah.
Guest - Kyle: We have one of our athletes does that every weekend. She goes skiing up the mountain and skiing down. It's one of her niche skills is alpine fitness. So, she was-
Host - Dan: I love that.
Support - Nick: I will be taking the chair lift this weekend.
Guest - Kyle: That was a clear win, but she said she also misses doing boxing training with her trainer that she left in San Francisco. It's something that she really missed for conditioning. So, what we did was get her set up for twice a week with a trainer who specializes in programs for alpine skiing, but she'll do an additional day a week with another trainer. Both of those are independent operators. We're not taking a cut of their sales. We're not telling them how much to charge, when to work, how to set up their rates or their website. They're independent operators. They pay us a rental, like rent essentially-
Host - Dan: That's what I what going to say. It's almost like a barber shop.
Guest - Kyle: Correct.
Host - Dan: It's like you pay rent for the month. We know rent's covered. Now, make as much money as you can.
Guest - Kyle: Correct. They're able to scale that just maintaining their business part-time or full-time, below a certain number of hours or above a certain number of hours a month. Wherever they fall in that is the rent that they give us. It's one of two buckets, right? Small bucket and large bucket. Then, if we refer them a client, we will charge a one-time $100 referral fee that is added on top of that rent.
Host - Dan: Okay.
Guest - Kyle: It's not ongoing, but we're basically only ... Instead of raising rates this year, we started doing this additional referral thing. So people, if they're not getting clients from us, if their business is already full, they're paying the same rate. However, if somebody's business is growing and we're handing them clients, then they pay just a little bit more when somebody else signs up with them.
Host - Dan: Because they came-
Support - Nick: $100 is nothing compared to the long-term what they'll gain-
Host - Dan: That's probably going to make a session-
Guest - Kyle: Correct.
Support - Nick: One session.
Host - Dan: Yeah.
Guest - Kyle: Correct.
Host - Dan: And, that's if someone goes to NWFP and says, "I need help," and you're like, "This is the trainer you want."
Guest - Kyle: Yep, yep. Correct. That is a qualified hot lead who is essentially walking in saying, "Take my money. Let's start today."
Host - Dan: Yeah. Yeah, and you're like, "Do I have the person for you." So, we talked about a client bouncing back and forth. I'm curious, you have 14 different people in here and fitness is not simple by any means. However, do any of these have overlapping skills or overlapping niche focuses that causes any issues or do you focus on separating everyone and then not bring in someone that would overlap?
Guest - Kyle: First off, I've got to give you a little bit of background about our marketing.
Host - Dan: Right.
Guest - Kyle: How much do you know about Seattle?
Host - Dan: That it rains a lot. That's about it. And, there's a lot of yoga.
Guest - Kyle: That is a factor. The weather here is pretty rough nine months out of the year. It gorgeous in the summer, but people here do also largely consider themselves outdoorsy. They like to go hiking. They like to get on the water. They like to go out skiing. There's year-round, outdoor fitness that is very intrinsic to our culture.
Guest - Kyle: Two, we have an exceptionally highly-educated, high-level of employment in tech fields. That means people are getting paid really well for what they do-
Host - Dan: Sit for eight to 10 hours a day, and they need to stretch their psoas out.
Guest - Kyle: They sit all the time. They need to move. And, the dating scene's terrible in Seattle so everybody wants to look good naked too.
Host - Dan: Yeah.
Guest - Kyle: We have these people who have disposable income. They have the need to move and the desire to be outside. Northwest Fitness Project being a place where people can find a great fit. We have a highly-educated market, so they do their research. They want to see the people who are the best in their field and they're directed towards us. When they search for us, they find us very easily in terms of ratings on Google and Yelp and Facebook.
Guest - Kyle: Our rating, we've got just about a five-star rating on all fields on a good number of reviews too. When they go and find us, they already know, they already have made that connection that we are providing an exceptional level of service and we're the right one for them. So, it's not a difficult sell and it's also the market we really enjoy. Both my partner and I, we practice what we preach. We go out every weekend and play. Our entire motto is you train hard in a gym to play hard outside.
Guest - Kyle: My partner takes that to an extreme. He mountain bikes and snowboards and does mountaineering. I'm a trail runner myself. I'll go long on the trails, but I'm not quite as much of an adrenaline junkie as he is.
Support - Nick: That's the fun stuff.
Guest - Kyle: Our logo is this beautiful mountain. It's this beautiful mountain with Northwest Fitness Project around it. We get to look out every day over Lake Union to Mount Rainier. That is an intrinsic goal that people every day, every time on their commute they see this giant mountain on the horizon. That's what we're tapping into. We're tapping people where they have aspirations to climb that mountain, aspirations to go out and play in the woods and on the Puget Sound and get outside. We design our programming around bullet-proofing people for their fitness.
Host - Dan: Yeah. We live in New Jersey. It gets cold. I grew up-
Support - Nick: Sounds like we need a new office.
Host - Dan: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. My parents, I remember I would do so much yard work because we had such a big property. We lived on a small mountain and I had to do so much yard work growing up. That was my mantra for fitness and still is, is that it's I just want the yard work to be easy. I just surround myself with functional fitness and making sure for preventative as the more technical the lifting gets.
Host - Dan: It's pretty funny. Yeah, you either work hard, play hard, or my thing was always I just want to be ... When I got to split wood, I just want it to be easier than it was last year. That's the goal.
Guest - Kyle: Yeah, one of our mottos is 1% better every day.
Host - Dan: Sure, yeah.
Guest - Kyle: When you come in, we have a set of lockers right as you come in. You open up the locker and there's a motivational quote on the back of the locker. Every locker has a different one.
Host - Dan: Oh, cool.
Guest - Kyle: That's one of them. 1% better every day. Every day we come in we're trying to refine our programming. We're trying to improve our communication with our other trainers. We're trying to think about what else in our gym do we need to incorporate. We just upgraded. We got a brand new deadlift bar and we got a brand new SkiErg last quarter, and all of these ... Every quarter we're trying to add in two to three pieces of equipment that improve the quality of our space and make people feel like they've got the toys and the tools to do their job as fitness professionals and have the clients feel like they're always being challenged in new ways.
Host - Dan: Right. I may have asked this in the beginning, but how long has this location been open? I know it took two years-
Guest - Kyle: Two years.
Host - Dan: It took two years to plan and now you've been open for two years?
Guest - Kyle: That's just about right, yeah.
Host - Dan: Okay. Now, what's on the horizon? Are you fine-tuning things you're doing? Are you trying to expand in Seattle? Are you looking at a different city?
Guest - Kyle: No, we are actually trying to expand in Seattle. My partner lives in Kirkland, which is the other side of Lake Washington.
Host - Dan: Sure.
Guest - Kyle: His commute's pretty long, so yeah, by 2020, we'd love to have a location in Kirkland and then maybe 2022 have a location in SoDo so we can just triangulate-
Support - Nick: I was going to say ... Yeah.
Guest - Kyle: Triangulate the entire Seattle metro area. So people can either go southeast or north to get to us. That's about the extent of our ambitions at this time. We think too much bigger than that is actually going to be ... We don't want to water-
Support - Nick: Probably pretty difficult to support.
Guest - Kyle: We don't water down our brand either.
Host - Dan: Yeah.
Guest - Kyle: What we do is not necessarily replicable, scalable on a national level. Does that make sense?
Host - Dan: Sure. Yeah.
Guest - Kyle: However, it is manageable, I think, within the Seattle market. I'm loving what I'm doing although scaling up, we went from ... This September we hired our first employee and we're now up to five.
Host - Dan: Okay. It gets harder the more people you got to talk to, right?
Guest - Kyle: Yeah, yeah. Pretty amazing, right?
Host - Dan: Yeah.
Guest - Kyle: We just hired a brand new operations manager, which has been a game-changer for us. It's helping us relook at a lot of different pieces of our business and what's not working, what's taking time away, what are we doing too much of that ... What are the $10 tasks that we were doing instead of the $1,000 tasks that we should be doing as business owners? Where are we wasting time, energy, or money?
Host - Dan: Right.
Guest - Kyle: Hiring an operations manager is really letting us streamline our business so we can be scalable to a second or third location.
Host - Dan: Going off of that, I would say the hardest part for expanding would probably be the hiring process. 'Cause you're going to have to really vet the people you bring on so that you can be at one location and not worry about the other two.
Support - Nick: Are there enough qualified trainers Seattle to support three NWFPs?
Guest - Kyle: There are. Absolutely.
Support - Nick: All right.
Guest - Kyle: In this most recent round of hiring for a coach, we posted in several different places. We posted in ... We have some fitness Facebook groups or Facebook groups, things like that. We used Indeed. We used Namafit as well as posting organically. We actually had a plethora of qualified applicants and we really got to cherry-pick the ones that we like the most and that I thought would be the best choice for our culture.
Guest - Kyle: I have not found a hiring drought. If anything, I feel like I got candidates that were more qualified than I expected.
Support - Nick: Yeah, they're lined up for years.
Guest - Kyle: Yeah. For instance, our-
Host - Dan: That's a good spot to be in for what you're trying to do.
Guest - Kyle: Oh, I know. It's pretty amazing. Our operations manager originally applied to be a trainer, but she had a masters in nonprofit management administration and she just had a passion for fitness and she was leaving that industry to follow her passion. I'm like, "Sure, you can be a trainer, but while you're doing that, do you also want to be our operations manager?" It turned out to be a really perfect fit.
Host - Dan: That's awesome.
Guest - Kyle: It is. I feel exceptionally fortunate, exceptionally fortunate.
Host - Dan: Yeah, yeah.
Support - Nick: Well, it sounds like especially just coming out of the starting gate, you've got something that it's a golden egg.
Guest - Kyle: It. Is.
Support - Nick: You mentioned to me before you guys are in the black the first month.
Guest - Kyle: First month.
Support - Nick: You had people lined up out the door to get in your second, third location if you can. That's truly special. Congratulations.
Guest - Kyle: Thank you. Thank you very much. We're very proud of it. It's been a labor of love. Now, we just got to get to a point where we're not working quite so many hours a day, right?
Host - Dan: Yep. Yeah, man. That's why you got that operations manager.
Support - Nick: At the rate you're going it sounds like that's a when, not if.
Guest - Kyle: Yeah.
Host - Dan: If someone wants to get in touch about either being a trainer at your studio, training at your studio, or maybe someone else in the country that just wants to learn more about your business, what would be the best [crosstalk 00:28:54] to reach out to you?
Guest - Kyle: Email. Email to reach out, absolutely, for firstname.lastname@example.org. But you can also find us on Instagram, nwfitnessproject. Facebook the same. Yeah, come give us a follow. Come check us out. If you're in the area, come workout with us. And, if you have any questions, I'd love to communicate, connect, and coordinate with anybody who's interested in networking.
Host - Dan: Awesome. Sounds great. Thanks for being on the show, Kyle. It was super productive.
Guest - Kyle: Thank you very much. Appreciate that.
Support - Nick: If you liked this episode, be sure to go and leave us a review. Your feedback helps us make better episodes every week. If you're a studio fitness owner who wants to streamline processes with a studio management software that's actually affordable, check out fitDEGREE. Go and find us at fitdegree.com, that's F-I-T-D-E-G-R-E-E .com, the talk with a team member today.
Support - Nick: We'll see you back here next week, same day, same time for another podcast episodes featuring amazing studio fitness owners. See you later, everyone.