Episode 28 - Tapping the Well, a Really Big Well

jack thomas.jpg

Jack Thomas was a coach with a range of certifications from crossfit to Spartan race GX to Nutrition but he decided the life of just a coach was not for him. Jack moved from the UK to Thailand to get in on the untapped group fitness market in Asia and opened his studio Base. He now has three thriving locations and also host a popular podcast “Fitness Business Asia Podcast”.

Instagram: @jacktbase

Website: https://basebangkok.com/

Best way to reach him: jack@basebangkok.com

Dan Berger:                               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.

Dan Berger:                               Good morning everyone and welcome back to Studio Savvy by fitDEGREE. I'm your host for the show, Dan Berger, accompanied as always by my cohost, Nick Dennis. So oftentimes big changes and transitions can be tough, and many of us in this industry have made the leap from coach to owner. Today's guest is going to talk about ways to make that smoother. Jack Thomas was a coach with a range of certifications from crossfit to spartan race, GX, to nutrition, but he decided the life of a coach just was not for him. Jack moved from the UK to Thailand to get in on the untapped group fitness market in Asia, and open his studio BASE. He now has three thriving locations, and also hosts a popular podcast, Fitness Business Asia Podcast. Today, Jack is going to talk about the switch from coach to owner and how best to adapt. Welcome to the show, Jack. Glad we could have you with us from around the globe.

Jack Thomas:                            Yeah, thank you for the intro. It's a absolute pleasure to be here, and anything I can do to help people make that transition from coach into business owner, it's something I'm very passionate about. It's obviously something I've been through. Definitely happy to help where I can.

Dan Berger:                               Sure. And a lot of our current clients have actually... We got them just as they were either starting their business or some of them even inherited the business. So I know they had to make a very sharp transition, and it's glorified owning your own business, being an entrepreneur. But some of them, they said, "Man, it, it was not as glorious in the beginning as they would have liked."

Dan Berger:                               So tell us on that note. Tell us a little bit of background about you. How you sort of went... First of all, from the UK to Thailand, and made that decision, went about making the choices to get everything going. It's your story. I'm going to let you take it back to where you think the best place to start is.

Jack Thomas:                            Yeah. Well, I'll start with my corporate job, which was back in the UK and I was pretty sure then that that's not really what I wanted to do after about a year or two. So came traveling to Thailand. Absolutely loved it here, realized absolutely then that I did not want to do the corporate lifestyle back in the UK. So saved up some money, then came out traveling to Thailand, with the plan for it to be about a year or so.

Jack Thomas:                            15 years later, I'm still here. I'm going to go through the quick version of it. So I was teaching English for awhile, then I started a clothing export business with a friend of mine in the UK, which kind of like ignited my entrepreneurial spirit a little bit. Did that for about... Well six years in total. First four years were fantastic. The last two years we got hit very hard by the global economic crisis.

Jack Thomas:                            So that was a difficult time for me at the time. But I'm actually quite grateful for it. Sorry, there's a thunder storm in the background here in Thailand. I'm actually quite grateful for it because it threw me into a career in fitness, into something that I absolutely love, and I feel as though is my calling. At that time, I wasn't in a great spot, I had some credit card debt that I racked up from the poor times of my business, went back to the UK, stayed with a friend, did my training qualifications, and then came back to Thailand as an in debt personal trainer. So it was a difficult spot at the time, but eight years later, I'm in a much stronger position of course with three gyms here. So it'd be nice to share that story of how I did it.

Jack Thomas:                            So I started off as a coach in a very small studio. There was no real fitness industry here in Thailand or certainly no kind of boutique or studio fitness industry. I loved doing it. I was getting experience. I was learning from some good coaches. It was a very small operation. Then we moved into a bigger studio and it just kind of exploded overnight. And our studio in one other studio was kind of the birth of boutique fitness training in Thailand really.

Jack Thomas:                            So I was with that company for four years, one year as coach, one year as fitness manager, and then two and a half years running that company as managing director, while my boss lived abroad in Australia. So during that time I developed a lot of the managerial skills, the soft skills with people that I needed to run a business. And then I felt my calling was to set up my own thing, my own brand.

Jack Thomas:                            I left, sorry three years ago to set up BASE. After a bit of a shaky start, which we can talk about later, things started getting on track. We opened our second location after two years, I'm sorry, after one year. We opened off third location after two years, and we're just getting settled down with three locations now, and we're looking at the next move, which I believe will be international expansion through Asia.

Dan Berger:                               Great. Now are all three of these BASE locations in Bangkok?

Jack Thomas:                            They are, yes. So all three are in central Bangkok, and they're pretty much the three prime, most prime locations in Bangkok. So we have the business district, the main residential area, and then kind of the true center you could say, kind of the shopping district that's right in the middle of the city.

Dan Berger:                               Oh, that's awesome. And it's awesome as well that they can all be so close to each other without a strange term we've heard people use, cannibalizing your own business.

Jack Thomas:                            Yeah. With Bangkok, there's not a huge area that could really sustain a business like this at the higher end of the market, so they're not too close. They're probably about five kilometers away from each other.

Jack Thomas:                            So when we opened our third one, it did cannibalize a little bit, it brought a few customers over from our second one, but we're pretty much hitting new markets with all of them. And I think we've shown that you can run three sustainable fitness businesses in central Bangkok. Whether we could go outside of that, to a less affluent area, let's say, remains to be seen.

Dan Berger:                               Sure. Now would you say this is largely in part because it's such an untapped market? When you open up a nice well-run studio, people would go, "Wow, this is... " You know, the competition is low?

Jack Thomas:                            It's got a lot busier in the last few years. I would say the last four or five years, it's really exploded, the fitness industry here. There is a lot of competition, but to be honest with you, in Asia, there's not a huge amount of high quality competition.

Jack Thomas:                            So our original goal with BASE was to set up a studio, was to build something so special that if it was in New York, if it was in LA, London, Sydney, it would still do well. I believe that we've done that, and we thought that if we could do that, really create something that special, we would absolutely smash it in Asia. So that was the original goal. And I feel like we've made some progress towards hitting that.

Nick Dennis:                              I'd say, yeah.

Dan Berger:                               And I'm sure in some sense you're also setting the bar pretty high. You are the gold standard for anyone else trying to muscle their way in. And being the gold standard affords you a premium.

Jack Thomas:                            Yeah, that's right. We aim to be at the very top of the market. And we want to see more big players come in. Barry's Bootcamp have just moved into Singapore. There's talk of them coming into Thailand. I think that would be great. I don't see this as bad, there being competition in a market like this. I think we kind of need this, we need to show that there's big strong players that are doing a really good job, that are representing the boutique fitness space in the best possible way. And I think we will all benefit from that.

Jack Thomas:                            You go to New York or London, and there's a lot of high quality offerings, and it's harder to standout. I think if you look at Singapore or Bangkok, there's not that many. And I think a few more good quality ones would actually be good for the whole industry here.

Nick Dennis:                              Yeah, it would raise awareness, We talked about that with another guest of ours, that she started a barre studio. No one heard of barre before. So pure barre coming in the other side of town, about eight miles away, ten miles away was perfect because now it's like there's all this talk of barre going on, and now you're choosing one, instead of, "Do I even want to try that? What is it?" So that makes a lot of sense and very good perspective by you.

Jack Thomas:                            Yeah, I completely agree. And I've kind of been through all of this. So when I was working for the first studio that we opened up, another studio opened that had a similar concepts, kind of functional circuit training, strength training, and HIIT.

Jack Thomas:                            And at first I was like worried about it. I thought it's more competition. It's going to split the market in two. Our customers might go over there. And naturally I was fairly concerned. But then you start to see that it does actually start to educate the market more. It starts to raise the industry. It starts to tell more people about what you do, and then you see that we do actually all benefit.

Jack Thomas:                            And of course it would reach some sort of saturation point if everyone started opening one. But in a developing market, it's certainly good if other people are coming to help shout your message as well. So yeah, I couldn't agree more with that.

Jack Thomas:                            That makes a lot of sense. So now we're talking about this position of power you're in, where you're, you're talking about going internationally, you have three locations at Bangkok. It would be great if more come in. I'm sure this was not in any of your thought process when you left the first gym to start BASE.

Jack Thomas:                            So walk us through what happened when you left the original business, you started BASE, you're a coach, you your own gym. You think everything is great. I remember you told me in the pre-interview that the first six months were very rough, and you had to figure... You know, you had to make a change if you were going to stay alive.

Dan Berger:                               Well, I'm sorry to interject. I actually want to take it a step farther back than that.

Jack Thomas:                            Okay.

Dan Berger:                               A lot of our listeners went very straight from, I'm a yoga teacher, maybe a little bit of managerial experience, I'm going to open a studio. Not a lot went through what you did. Of a year as a coach, a year as a manager, two years running the business. How invaluable was that experience for you? And for somebody that doesn't quite have that opportunity, what were some of the biggest takeaways you got from essentially being the business owner without being the business owner? What were some of the takeaways that you learned through that, that have paid... You know, been your golden nuggets moving forward and starting your own?

Jack Thomas:                            Yeah, there's so many. It's difficult to know where to start really, but I think you just can't underestimate the value of having some experience in a managerial role. And what I'd see quite often is you get these superstar coaches, their classes are full, they've got a full PT schedule, and they suddenly think that, that's going to make them a great business owner.

Jack Thomas:                            When it actually comes to running a business, you have to realize that you're probably not going to be doing any coaching at all. I mean you might be for the first six months or the first year, but certainly if you have any desire to expand or grow, you're probably not going to be doing any coaching. And for me now, I do like one or two classes a week. So I think the biggest mistake that I see is this assumption that if you're a great coach, and you've got a following, that's going to make you a great business owner as well.

Jack Thomas:                            I think the next one is like building your team. So again, if you haven't got any experience in recruiting, in managing people, in incentivizing them, and creating a strong company culture, it's going to be very hard to go from that sort of superstar group class trainer let's say, who might have packed classes, to then go to this, you're not the superstar anymore, you're not on stage, you're actually trying to build up and promote and get exposure for other people, those people on your team.

Jack Thomas:                            And I think that transition is extremely difficult for some people, and I think it can be done of course, but I think it just can't be underestimated. So any experience you can get managing people or doing things that aren't just training, doing things on the business side is just absolutely invaluable. And so what I tried to do is any opportunity I got to learn more about the business, I would take it. Any opportunity that I had to learn more about marketing.

Jack Thomas:                            For example, we started working with a marketing agency about a year and a half before I left. So rather than just hand everything over to them, I tried to get as involved in the process as I possibly could, and just learn everything that I possibly could. And that really helped to set me up when we opened BASE because I had learned a lot about the marketing side.

Dan Berger:                               Sure.

Jack Thomas:                            So I think... Yeah, and I guess to summarize, just to learn as much as you can about just the business side in general. So management would only be part of that, right? The finances would also be another part of that. Raising investment, if you can't pay for this studio yourself, it's going to be another part of that as well. Building systems to allow your business to run smoothly when you're not there, or to scale, you need to learn about that.

Jack Thomas:                            So I think if you're a great coach, that's a great start, right? If you're a great trainer, you're going to know about training, you're going to know how to build good classes, how to maintain personal training clients. These are all good things, they're a good start. But man, you're only going to be like three, four, five percent of the way that. [crosstalk 00:12:21].

Jack Thomas:                            I mean you have to really, because if you go in thinking that you're 80 or 90% of the way there because you've got a great following, I think you're going to be in serious trouble. So I think the biggest mistake I would say is people underestimating that process.

Dan Berger:                               Sure.

Jack Thomas:                            You know, going in and thinking, "I'm popular, people love me, it's going to be easy from here. My team's going to love me because my clients love me." That often isn't the case when it comes to that transition to business owner.

Dan Berger:                               It's interesting you say that, because I was sort of shadowing. There's a market we want to move into eventually is cycling, and they use a competitor's software, which has integrations. So I shadowed their front desk staff, took a class, so experienced the software from a user's end, and talked to them afterwards.

Dan Berger:                               And when I was talking to the instructor, or the owner, I was asking who runs their social media. It's well done. And she said she runs it, and I noticed that she is never in the social media posts, and I asked her why and she said, "I'm the owner. We get that, but that doesn't mean I need to be the center of attention. My instructors need to be the center of attention. My instructors need to have the limelight. My students need to see how great my instructors are, so they go to my instructors classes, and my people, and my team. It's not about me. You don't need to see me on social media posts because I'm not the one teaching classes anymore." And I think that really stuck out to me. And now hearing you, another successful gym owner say that, it's really sort of hammering that point home. You know, the best players don't always make the best coaches, so to speak.

Jack Thomas:                            Absolutely. The business has to be about more than you. You know, the brand can't be you. I mean maybe if you have one gym and that's all you want, and it's going to be your gym, you might recruit a couple of coaches.

Dan Berger:                               But good luck scaling.

Jack Thomas:                            You may be able to build a brand that's around you perhaps. But if you have any desire to maybe step away from the business at any stage, have a couple of months off perhaps, if you want to sell the business at any stage, it makes it very hard. And also importantly if you want to scale, so if you want to open a second location, a third location, a tenth location, it has to be about more than you. That's extremely important. Even with two locations, you can only be in one of those at any one time. So I think-

Dan Berger:                               We know a friend going through that. She was the face of her studio, she opened up a second, tried to sort of be the face of both, tried to pick a Mini-Me face of herself, if you will. She went through about three of those.

Nick Dennis:                              That's what... Yeah, the thing is we have to recognize, the best athlete doesn't always make the great coach. If you have a great following, it's like the first thing you should be do is writing down how the heck you did that, and then just start grooming.

Jack Thomas:                            And then it links back into culture as well. If you can start building people up to be as good as you are, and as big as you are, that's going to do big things for your team, and for the morale of the team. That builds loyalty, you know? If you can really build up other superstars.

Jack Thomas:                            So yeah, if it's just all about you, and everyone else is just backing singers, supporting you, I just don't think they're going to hang around for very long really, or the good ones won't at least. So I think try and at some point soon after starting your business, take a step away and just focus on your team and building them up, getting them exposure, giving them the opportunities to grow and learn and to be part of the PR that you do, and the media that you do as well. You know, the articles you put out, the TV interviews, if you created something special, a new concept, there's going to be lots of opportunities to get your message out. The more you can involve your team in that, the better it's going to be for everyone, and ultimately yourself because then it's going to allow you at some point to step away, which you're going to have to do.

Dan Berger:                               Sure. So we've digressed a little. Nick actually asked a great question that we... We went back in time before that. So back to you opening up the first BASE. You said you had a little bit of a shaky start. Now that you had taken on a responsibility that was not so different than before, but truly your responsibility, what were some of the lessons that were wrought of that struggle?

Jack Thomas:                            Yeah, there's a few lessons I'd like to share. One is I kind of maybe didn't listen to my own advice I gave five minutes ago. I recognized I had to learn and grow, but I didn't realize how much. Like I really thought at the time, like "I'm the best person to be opening this. I've got three years of managerial experience, like I'm ready for this." I think it was good to have the attitude, but now when I look back at then, I didn't really know that much to be honest. And I've already grown so much in every single year since then, and it's kind of shifted my mindset now. So I feel like now I'm in a stronger position to run three branches than I was to run one branch three years ago. But I recognize now that I'm not the person today to run ten branches, but I'm going to really have to learn, I'm going to have to really grow and develop to become that person as we grow as a company as well.

Jack Thomas:                            I think that's a really important thing to thing to get into your mindset. You're not going to grow automatically with a company. And the same goes for staff as well. You know, we've had some staff, which have really grown with our company, and really tried to get to that next level as the companies gone to the next level. And then you inevitably have some that just sort of rest on their laurels, and think that promotions and opportunities are going to arise just because they've been with the company for a long time. So I think again it goes back to what I was saying, first thing is even if you have got experience, and you are a great person to be doing it, you could be better and you're going to have to grow and develop as the company grows and develops.

Jack Thomas:                            So that'd be the first one. Second one is sales. So we didn't really have a very robust sales process at the beginning of opening the gym. So that was something that I recognized quite early on. We had a sales manager that just wasn't up to scratch, just couldn't do the job. So actually he, funnily enough, recognized that a little bit before me and resigned. And it was one of those situations where as soon as he resigned, you start seeing just how bad the situation is.

Jack Thomas:                            So a month later he left, and we got someone in who had a strong background in sales. We had to pay her more money, but I was happy to do it because of her background, and because I recognized that sales were just going to be so important for the success of our business.

Dan Berger:                               Right.

Jack Thomas:                            And it pretty much turned things around overnight. Not only was she actively selling and enjoyed the process of selling well, she was training the front desk staff to do that, and that was just an absolutely pivotal moment.

Jack Thomas:                            And I think looking back, I really overlooked his shortcomings during the interview process. You know, he kind of said he wasn't so keen on sales, but he had a strong service background, and I was like, "Don't worry, I'll train you up, I'll show you how to make good sales and how to understand our products." And I should have done a little bit more due diligence really, and sort of pushed that point a little bit more. So that was a massive pivotal turning point for us.

Jack Thomas:                            The last one was a little bit... The last piece of advice I can give, and it was fairly unique to us, I think in in Thailand. It might not apply so much to the states, but there wasn't really any good marketing agency for me to work with at the time. And I spoke to a few freelancers, spoke to a few agencies, and I just wasn't really confident that they knew what they were doing and they didn't understand our industry.

Jack Thomas:                            So now there's a lot of great agencies that work worldwide. I wasn't aware of them at the time, so we chose to do that in-house. So six months in, or the first six months were tough, but actually it was a good process to go through because now we do all of our marketing in-house. We have a strong marketing team internally. It forced me again to really learn about that side of things, and I feel very confident now that we have strong marketing. I think our online presence is one of the main reasons I think that we won Asia's Gym of the Year because we're represented very, very well online.

Dan Berger:                               Sure.

Jack Thomas:                            We've got good PR. So it was one of those things that made things difficult at the beginning because it was a tough first six months while we were learning, but it really forced us to learn about marketing, and to make sure that we had done that well.

Jack Thomas:                            So I think for a new gym owner, my advice would be perhaps look to get an agency to help with your marketing. It's incredibly important, but try and learn as much about the process as you possibly can yourself, so that you can at least recognize what a good marketing company looks like, and what good marketing looks like. So it wasn't like the best way for me to do it. I think if I'd had a bit of help in those initial six months, it would've meant that those six months weren't quite as rocky as they were. But actually it turned out to be a valuable experience in the end.

Dan Berger:                               You know, in the grand scheme of things, six months.

Nick Dennis:                              I was going to say, yeah.

Dan Berger:                               Just for many people we talked to, it seems like a... And hats off to. A very, very quick time to get that under control. I can say my largest takeaway from that is instead of spending, you invested. You invested your time to learn about the marketing, then you invested in bringing in an in-house marketing team. Instead of spending more to have someone consult and help with your sales, you invested to bring in a better salesperson. And those things really resonate with me because when we started fitDEGREE, yeah, I loved talking to people, and I've always had a natural knack for doing things. You know, I used to... I don't know if anyone's ever... This is going to show much of a dork I am. The card game, Magic the Gathering, I used to go to tournament of that, buy up cards and sell them to people there on the spot. And work in a baseball... You know, things like that.

Dan Berger:                               But that was not formal sales. And then when I came to fitDEGREE, and we started this, and I had to go through formal sales cycles, followups, managing leads, how do you hunt someone down if it's not a one... You know, I was buying and selling T-shirts for my local sports team when they did something cool. This is totally different, and I felt so in over my head. And to be quite frank, I still do because I never had a formal sales training. But that education and that getting ingrained in the sales process has really started to help. And just like you were saying, getting ingrained in your marketing, bringing your marketing in-house, doing it the right way has really seemed to pay dividends for you guys.

Jack Thomas:                            Absolutely. And yeah, a trade that I think I've really developed and nurtured since we opened BASE, it's kind of becoming obsessed with all of this. Like all of the things that you talked about, like I really love learning about now. And I listen to podcasts in my spare time. I read books in my spare time or going from BASE to BASE, I'm listening to audio books or podcasts because I really crave knowledge in all of these areas. And I think for me it kind of took that step into being like a full entrepreneur, and owning my own business to actually really make that mindset shift in my head. And now I just love learning more about it, because I feel that every little thing that I learn about all the things that you've discussed, the sales process, marketing, everything to do with running your business, everything I learn is going to make this business, BASE, a little bit better.

Jack Thomas:                            And I think although I gave a lot to my last job, you just don't quite have that like burning hunger and desire that you do if it's your own business.

Dan Berger:                               No.

Nick Dennis:                              No, no.

Jack Thomas:                            Yeah, I think if any coach is thinking about starting their own thing, needs to become a little bit obsessed with these things. And if they're obsessed with coaching, and training people, and running classes, and they don't get excited when we talk about sales and marketing, and raising money, and all these things. Again, you need to strongly consider whether that's going to be the right move for you or if maybe you need a business partner that is going to do all of that, while you can focus on the stuff that excites you, the coaching.

Nick Dennis:                              Those were two great things you just said that I was actually going to highlight on earlier, was that Gary Vaynerchuk does a great job of talking about, there's a difference between being an entrepreneur and like a great, great worker. And this is a difference people don't realize when they like coaching, is like you might like coaching, you might not like owning a gym. You have to recognize that, and either stay as the head coach of wherever you are, or B, I think a lot of people in the studio fitness space don't recognize getting a business partner would be such a huge asset.

Nick Dennis:                              And we've had a couple people on the podcast that said it was one of the best things they did because now they can define roles and responsibilities, they can do the things they like. Some people like owning a business, and they like fitness-

Dan Berger:                               Nick.

Nick Dennis:                              And some people like coaching classes and not worrying about any other aspects of the business other than great programming and knowing every client's name. And that's a huge difference.

Jack Thomas:                            Yeah, I mean, yeah, the best partnerships, each person has their role in that partnership, right? If both people just love training, and they get all excited about that, and they're all about ideas and different workouts and events they can run, and there's no one there to do the nitty-gritty of the business, then it's just probably not going to work so well.

Jack Thomas:                            But if it's two guys, that are both finance guys, again, there's going to be something missing in the magic, you know? So I think the best partnerships, yeah, you see that people have their roles that they play in kind of making that thing special. So if you are a coach and you don't want to do anything on the business side really, but you do still really want to run your own business, maybe find a business guy that's also excited in fitness but doesn't have expertise in that area. And that's where you can find something that might work and you can kind of bounce off each other. Yeah, I totally agree with that.

Nick Dennis:                              Yeah. So you got really fortunate because you were a coach, you were a great coach. It looks like you got a couple certifications under your belt. You had probably a small following, but then you also got excited about business. So now the next step of stepping away from your business, we've kind of mentioned it loosely, but recruiting great coaches and building up... Well, even recruiting raw coaches, and building them up to be great coaches, and that will really allow you to step away because now if you like coaching, you need to have confidence in the people that are coaching your classes, so that you can truly walk away from that part of the business and focus on the other aspects.

Nick Dennis:                              So walk us through that of getting your first couple of coaches. How prepared were they? How much work did you put into them? You know, go on from there.

Jack Thomas:                            Yeah. Yeah. I mean, recruitment's the topic I'm really passionate about. I could talk about it for a long time, but I'll try and break down a few sort of tips I guess. Firstly, I'd say when you're starting a new business, it's quite difficult to recruit good coaches because they're going to be taking a risk on you.

Jack Thomas:                            So we spoke to some coaches that already had a good gig at a gym, or they had their own freelance clients, and some of them knew me or they knew my old studio, but they would be taking a real punt on me. Fortunately, I could persuade a couple of guys to come over, so that was enough to get the business started. We were quite lean at the beginning. We had quite a small team. Now over time it's become easier, funnily enough to actually recruit coaches because we're more well-known now. We invest so much into our team and I think that's quite well-known-

Dan Berger:                               They're probably coming to you at this point.

Jack Thomas:                            Yeah, I mean we get resumes every day. We can't recruit any more foreigners because there's a certain amount of work permits you can have here.

Dan Berger:                               Sure.

Jack Thomas:                            Yeah, we get resumes every single day. Recently we had two clients that wanted to become coaches-

Dan Berger:                               Wow.

Jack Thomas:                            Which for me is like the biggest endorsement of what you're doing. I mean that makes me very proud. And these guys are superstars. They are awesome. And so they were just clients that came and spoke to me. One of them said... She said she had to build up the courage for a few weeks to actually say anything to me, that she wanted to join. I was like... I had a chat with her. I said, "Look, I think you'll be great. We can definitely talk further if you do your certifications," which you can do now in Thailand.

Jack Thomas:                            So she went straight away, signed up for her cert. Then we took her on as an intern, and she's awesome.

Dan Berger:                               Wow.

Jack Thomas:                            She's spectacular, and she... I think she will be with us for long time because we've got her into the industry. We've built her up, we've developed her. And I think that's how you can build true loyalty.

Jack Thomas:                            So we get a lot of people applying for jobs now. I think a huge part of building a strong team, and as you said, allowing yourself to step away from the business is about focusing on staff retention. Now you hear a lot about like client retention, but I think staff retention isn't actually talked about enough. So I'm very proud of the fact that we haven't lost any coaches to another gym. We haven't lost any coaches to become freelance trainers. And that's something that you're always battling against because freelance trainers do earn a good amount per hour.

Jack Thomas:                            So for us, the way that we do that is we pay well. So we pretty much pay as much as we can, that allows the business to be profitable and allows it to grow. And that allows us to compete on some level with what you would earn as a freelancer. We give them great facility, so they can line up their hours. You know, five, six hours in a row, again, that's difficult to do as a freelancer. We give them as much support as possible, in terms of educations. We give them an allowance every year, so $300 that they can spend on their own training, which goes quite a long way in Thailand. We give seminars regularly, so our more experienced coaches would give seminars on how to coach deadlift correctly, kettlebell training, CRX training.

Dan Berger:                               Wow.

Jack Thomas:                            And we've got 25 coaches that are really great. They're really leading their particular field in fitness. So we can offer the new coaches a lot of learning, a lot of education. We've recently done mentorships, so the more experienced coaches will develop the new coaches. The one I just mentioned, the girl that started with us, and another girl that started, they wanted to learn more about strength and conditioning. So I paired them up with two guys who've got years of experience in strength and conditioning. They're power lifters, the enter competitions, and they're both gaining from that. The mentors enjoy it because normally they're just training and we pay them for it as well. So they're now teaching their skills and sharing those with new coaches. And obviously for the new coaches, it's a massive benefit to them as well. And these kinds of setups like really breed this amazing culture. You know, everyone's happy to be doing this.

Jack Thomas:                            It's one of our values that we... We're a team is one value. One is that we share our knowledge. So it starts to harbor this environment that people don't really want to leave. They're being paid well. They're learning, they're growing, they're developing and they've got this great facility to train at. Or they've got three great facilities to train at, so I'm actually skewed between the three branches.

Jack Thomas:                            So you know there's a lot that goes into creating this kind of ecosystem. But if you get these things right, you should create an environment where coaches just don't really want to leave. And it's been a lot of tweaking along the way. Obviously there's been mistakes along the way as well. But I feel now that we've really created something quite special, so that coaches don't see the value in certainly training at another gym. But also they don't see the value in going freelance even if they can earn maybe double the amount per hour.

Nick Dennis:                              Yeah. Yeah. Well the first thing you said I agree with so much, is the employee or team member retention versus client retention. I mean with the amount of like... I think it was a fact, it was like it costs seven times more to earn a new client, than it does to keep a client. And at the end of the day they're both paying the same monthly fee, and it's the same thing for your team members. Is that, how much work does it take to keep someone happy to build someone to keep continuing their education, versus dropping someone and building someone on?

Nick Dennis:                              I mean we do that with... You know, the very outsourced part of our businesses, which is like for example like our social media, getting help with our social media. It's like you can't bring someone on new every month because then you're spending so much fricking time teaching someone new, and it's like there is some benefit. I am a big fan of quick to hire, quick to fire, which is just cut your losses and start fresh. But once you get a couple months in with someone, it's like, "Okay, this is an investment now. I have to make sure this person's happy. I have to make sure this person's growing. I want this person to be here for ten years."

Nick Dennis:                              And I'm sure there's a lot of jumping around in the corporate America, but I'm sure there's a lot of jumping around in the fitness space as well of, "Where's my next best opportunity? How much can I make per hour," instead of valuing the things that you're talking about, like continuing education.

Dan Berger:                               The intangibles.

Nick Dennis:                              Yeah, the intangible parts of a career.

Jack Thomas:                            Well, through the recruitment process, you can start to identify the kind of people that love that environment.

Nick Dennis:                              [inaudible 00:00:30:56]. Yeah, your interview I'm sure changes different.

Jack Thomas:                            For sure. Yeah. As your cultures develop as a company, and that kind of takes a little bit of time sometimes to sort of feel where you're at, and feel where the team's at. But when you go through the recruitment process, you're asking yourself all the way through, "Is this guy or girl a good fit for our team?" And if they just want to earn as much money as possible per hour, BASE definitely isn't right for them. But if they want to be part of something special, if they want to learn, grow, develop, share their knowledge as well, then yeah, that that could be a good fit.

Jack Thomas:                            So over time you start to refine your recruitment process, and the culture and the values of the company to help you identify the right people that are going to fit in. So yeah, totally-

Nick Dennis:                              Yeah, I've read about that a lot. And listened to a lot of podcasts that talk about it, is the idea of not hiring brilliant jerks. The idea of hiring culture fits, and there's like a raw base level of like, now it's not even like, is this person smart? It's like, can this person learn? If this person can learn, if this person can get better, and I kind of like them as a friend, then it's like that's all you need to get started. You should be able to take care of the rest. And I think a lot of people don't look at themselves as a mentor, a life coach, builder-upper. Instead they think like, "As soon as I hire you, you better be ready to rock."

Jack Thomas:                            Absolutely. Yeah. A couple of points I'd like to make on that. One is the stronger the culture you have as a company, the more obvious it is when you recruit the wrong person. And that does happen.

Nick Dennis:                              That's a good one. Yeah.

Jack Thomas:                            So if you have a great strong culture and it's quite... Again, if you have a larger company, this can actually make things easier. So you've got a big company, everyone's on the same page, everyone's pumped, and happy to be part of what you're doing. When someone comes in and they're not right for the company, you find out pretty quickly. Yeah, people will let you know, or it will just become very obvious.

Jack Thomas:                            So they might get through the recruitment process. Some people are good at knowing what to say. They're good at kind of showing the best side of it, let's say.

Dan Berger:                               Yes, they are.

Jack Thomas:                            But when it actually comes to the job, you have that probation period, you have that three month probation, and then you usually know, you can almost always see whether they're a good fit or not. Or your team will recognize and they'll let you know as well.

Jack Thomas:                            So yeah, I think that's... Yeah, that's pivotal. And it works the other way as well, so if you have a rotten culture, no one wants to be there. No one's really excited. A couple of people are looking elsewhere for jobs. If someone else rotten comes in, they just fit right in. No one bothers letting you know. No one calls it out. It's not obvious to see. I think when that starts to happen, and when you start to go down that path, you're in serious trouble. So I think you always need to... If you have a company, you have to think about which path you're going down. Are you going down the path of your culture just getting stronger and stronger with the more people that come onto it? Or is that going the other way, where as the more people that come on, the more you don't even know what the culture of your company is?

Jack Thomas:                            So I've worked in a few places where we've had a poor company culture, and fortunately for us, I feel like we built something where, we've got 45 employees now-

Nick Dennis:                              Wow.

Jack Thomas:                            And I look around and I have a lot of good conversations and we're like, "Okay, we're on the right page here."

Jack Thomas:                            And we do sometimes get it wrong. We do sometimes recruit coaches that aren't right for us, but it's easy to see. You can see quite quickly. And then I would agree with Gary V as he says, "Hire slow, fire fast." So if you see quickly they're not a good fit for your culture, remove them as quick as possible for everyone's benefit. It's not a case of being right or wrong, it's just a case of, "Hey, we're not a good fit. We're not on the same page. It's going to be better for everyone if you look for other opportunities."

Dan Berger:                               So this has been, I have to say fantastic. There's so much actionable items, and just I like to call them golden nuggets, you've given our listeners. Little small but valuable dense pieces of information that they can take, expand upon, learn from.

Dan Berger:                               If somebody wanted to reach out to you, find out about your podcast, keep the conversation going, just get ahold of you, learn what you're doing in any way. What's the best way for them to do that, Jack?

Jack Thomas:                            Yeah, BASE Bangkok across all channels. Instagram, Facebook or BASEBangkok.com. And then Fitness Business Asia, you can just search that anywhere. So Apple Podcasts, Spotify, search it on Google, and you'll find the website, and then through that you can reach out to me. I'm always happy to connect with people in the industry. So yeah, if anyone's listening, and they want some help or advice, or certainly if they're based in Asia, I would love to hear from them.

Dan Berger:                               Awesome. This has been phenomenal. Nick, you got anything?

Nick Dennis:                              No. Happy to have you on, Jack. That was awesome.

Jack Thomas:                            Okay. Thank you Dan and Nick. Yeah, it's been a pleasure. And yeah, I love what you guys are doing as well. More competition in that space. The more that we can keep MindBody on their toes.

Dan Berger:                               Oh, yeah.

Jack Thomas:                            Congratulations to you guys. I really hope you make a big success of it.

Nick Dennis:                              Appreciate that.

Dan Berger:                               [crosstalk 00:35:18].

Nick Dennis:                              We'll be in touch with you soon, once we get over to the Asian market ourselves.

Jack Thomas:                            [crosstalk 00:35:23].

Nick Dennis:                              You're a star in the momentum over there. We'll be behind you shortly.

Jack Thomas:                            Sweet. Look forward to it.

Nick Dennis:                              All right.

Dan Berger:                               Bye now.

Dan Berger:                               So 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, checkout fitDEGREE. Go and find us at fitDEGREE.com. That's F-I-T-D-E-G-R-E-E.com to talk with a team member today. We'll see you back here next week, same day, same time, for another podcast episode featuring amazing studio fitness owners. See you later, everyone.

 

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