The fitness industry, like many others, was upended by the pandemic. The good news is, according to a survey by McKinsey, 68% of people prioritize their health more post-pandemic. The industry will rebound, but it will also completely evolve.
In response, a host of entrepreneurial companies have emerged. Peloton. Mirror. Tonal. No surprise if those sound familiar. But they only represent one end of the spectrum, home gyms.
On the other end is another type of entrepreneur. Just as innovative, but they want you out of your home and out of the gym.
Remote work and the desire to be outside have created new expectations of what any experience should be. It is in this space that we find fitness entrepreneurs like Coach Santi, founder of GX3 FitCamp, who not only runs an indoor/outdoor gym, but also creates specialized equipment.
Entrepreneurs like Santi have been reinventing fitness long before the pandemic. Therefore, the pandemic impacted them differently because many of them were already thinking differently. I had a chance to interview Santi and learn about everything from the relationship between space and ideas, to manufacturing, to the future of fitness.
Chaka Booker: What lead to your approach to fitness?
Coach Santi: My own experience in gyms told me something was missing. The physical layout didn’t support the workouts I wanted. Some are too small and feel congested. If the gym is too big, you can’t quickly shift between different types of exercises. Indoor/outdoor solves that. Small enough to customize, but it feels spacious. I used to train people at local gyms but couldn’t shoot videos because management didn’t allow it. But I wanted videos for marketing. I solved that with outdoor workouts at first, then eventually my own indoor/outdoor space. As an entrepreneur you are sometimes solving a smaller problem, but that leads to a bigger idea.
Booker: How can a fitness entrepreneur distinguish themselves in an industry that seems well established?
Santi: Ask yourself, “What is the workout I wish I could do more of, but for some reason can’t?” For me it was sand. Beach workouts. So, GX3 has a huge sandbox area which allows us to strengthen muscles and tendons with exercises you can’t do any other way. I suggest finding a niche but go broad in that niche. A lot of our workouts are focused on strengthening glutes. That might seem narrow. But within that, I train athletes, do rehabilitation, weight loss, and stamina, work with youth teams and lead couples’ workouts. I also wanted a feeling of peace. Working out should be physically hard but being outside brings mental balance. The mind body connection is important, and our surroundings affect that.
Booker: How has the pandemic affected your business?
Santi: This is where hard work meets opportunity because I didn’t see this coming. I started this before the pandemic and the pandemic fueled it to the point that we turn people away. There were people who preferred “social distancing” before the pandemic. They didn’t like crowded spaces. I wanted a space with more flexibility, and it turns out that to succeed during times of uncertainty, you need flexibility. That’s a life lesson, but also a business lesson.
Booker: You’re not just a trainer, you also custom build equipment. Why stray from your core business?
Santi: I don’t see it that way. When I’m training clients, I always see a better way to do things, but then I usually can’t find a solution on the market. So, I just started creating my own products. None of that happens if I don’t have my unique space. For me, being a fitness entrepreneur is like being a scientist. The gym is my lab. It allows me to test prototypes and explore ideas in real time.
Booker: What have you learned about manufacturing equipment?
Santi: Sharing your vision is super important. But finding a manufacturer who is open to your vision and gives you feedback is the key to making great products. I like to tinker. Always do thorough testing on your product before spending a lot of money. Find a manufacturer that lets you do small runs. Don’t let your manufacturer force you to commit to huge orders when your product hasn’t been tested to see if there will be demand. It’s important to have a manufacturer that doesn’t just create a product because you want it a certain way. If they see a better way to build it, they need to bring it to your attention.
Booker: What are some mistakes you’ve made?
Santi: Moving too fast. In the tech industry the motto is “move fast and break things.” You got to be careful with that idea. I’ve rushed to bring a product to market without taking time with it in the gym, then realized it needed to be changed, and ended up spending money to improve it. If I had been patient, used my GX3 “lab” here the way I should have and gotten feedback, I would have saved time and money.
Booker: Any tips on patents or licensing?
Santi: Test and test and test. Test on a variety of people. The more functional things your product can do the more likely you can get your patent passed. Having both a utility and design patent on the same product strengthens the protection on your product and gives you negotiating power if you ever decide to license your product.
Booker: Where is the fitness industry headed in the next five years?
Santi: Real estate is changing, so how we think about space will change. People are already experimenting with spaces like gas stations and turning them into indoor/outdoor gyms, that will continue. When you break exercise apart from the concept of a room with machines, you start breaking apart other things. So first you’re removing walls to create space. But then you start thinking about changing the equipment because the space is different. Who knows where that leads? But like I said, successful entrepreneurs start solving one problem and end up with an even bigger idea.
The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.