Ring… Ring… Ring…
I turn over in bed, opening my eyes just long enough to make out the time on my bedside clock.
It’s 4:30 in the morning.
The ringing stops, and I fall back asleep.
The ringing starts again.
Who the hell’s calling at 4:30?
I pick it up and begin speaking groggily.
The voice on the other end is all business.
“Hello, this is your security company calling. We have a fail to open at the Planet Fitness in Bloomington, at 10606 France Ave. Is this your property?”
I hang up the phone and sit up in bed.
Where is the person who’s supposed to open the gym? Why didn’t the manager answer his phone when they called?
I hop out of bed, put on my Planet Fitness golf shirt and pair of khakis and I’m out the door. It takes 24 minutes to get to the store, and it’s already 4:45 a.m. The gym is supposed to open at 5:00 a.m on the dot, which means I’ll get there nine minutes late.
Hopefully, there aren’t too many people waiting to get in. But the early risers don’t exactly take a casual approach to exercise.
The first time I retired, it was from Major League Baseball. Today, it is with great gratitude — and, if I’m being honest, with a lot more anxiety — that I announce my second retirement… from Planet Fitness.
Why more anxiety? Because making money in the real world is hard! In my first career, I was a third baseman. But in my next one, I had to learn how to be a utility player. At Planet Fitness, I played just about every position you can imagine:
– VP of sales
– front desk employee
– marketing intern
– sign flipper
– HR manager
– customer service manager
– project manager
– real estate attorney
– HR attorney
… and on top of that: father, husband, baseball coach and hockey coach.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is: hitting a baseball was easy compared to building a successful business.
One unfortunate truth about the real world is that if you want to build something, it’s much easier to lose money than to make money.
In the beginning, I did a lot of the former.
It’s 5:09 a.m. when I arrive at the store in Bloomington. There are 15 angry customers waiting for the doors to be open. And they’re all laying into me:
“OH! OH! Big boss had to get out of bed— don’t you pay somebody to do this?!”
“This is the second f—ing time this month! What a f—ing joke! What kind of operation are you running here?”
I really had no good comeback. The bottom line was that these people had paid for a membership and expected the gym to be opened up on time. There was nothing I could say but, “Sorry, grab a Gatorade out of the cooler, on me?”
The employee who was supposed to open that day stumbled in at 7:30 a.m. smelling like a bar floor and looking like he rolled to work through the mud in a windstorm. I was ticked.
“Hey, what is going on? You’re 2 ½ hours late.”
“I am so sorry, but my best friend was killed in a head-on collision last night in my car and I walked from downtown.”
I was obviously shocked. I gathered myself and said, “I am so sorry, I can’t imagine what you are going through right now. You should take the day off, go home.”
As he was leaving, I peaked out the window and watched him walk to his car — the one he had just told me had been destroyed in a head-on collision — and left. This is the first time I had to deal with somebody blatantly lying to my face in order to save his or her job.
…At least that I knew of.
Later that day, a gym member comes up to the front desk to inform me that the toilet is clogged. I went to see what was going on.
I didn’t realize I was about to step into a war zone.
I walked in and was greeted by a toilet slightly overflowing, filled with toilet paper. I grabbed rubber gloves and started cleaning out the debris. When I finally clawed through all the toilet paper, there was a surprise. One of the biggest turds you’ve ever seen (and this is saying something, because I was in MLB clubhouses for nine years).
I promptly began dry heaving. (I actually just gagged while writing this.)
As I got down to the bottom of this mountain of joy, I thought to myself What the hell am I doing? I’ve played nine years of big league ball and now I’m up to my elbows in somebody else’s freshly churned colon kebabs.
I didn’t need to be doing any of this. I made enough money in my career to not do another thing for the rest of my life. But like most athletes, I went stir crazy after I retired. So I figured I would become a “businessman.” I mean, how hard could it be?
I dabbled with some business opportunities here and there, but I didn’t get serious about it until I overheard my then seven-year-old son Joshua and his buddy talking one day.
“What does your Dad do? He’s home all the time.”
“I don’t know, he plays golf sometimes, but nothing really.”
Everything I’d ever learned about work ethic was from my parents, and immediately upon hearing that I thought, What kind of example am I setting for my boys? I knew I needed to do something… but, what?
What kind of skill set does a high school graduate who bounced around between three colleges before playing 16 years of baseball really have? Never mind the fact that I was still dealing with post-concussion symptoms from my playing days.
I thought it over, and after nine years in the Majors, I figured that could buy some skill sets.
Boy, did I almost make some dumb choices. But my saving grace was that I was cheap. Manitoban cheap.
To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, this is how I was taught the value of a dollar while I was growing up in Canada.
One day, when I was 7 years old, I threw a fit because my mom wasn’t going to buy me what I wanted. In my anger, I ripped a dollar bill into a thousand little pieces. When my mom found the torn up dollar in the garbage, she made sure that I understood the error of my ways.
Once I had the ability to sit on my butt again, I had to pick up all the pieces and put the dollar back together again. It was like the world’s smallest jigsaw puzzle. Then my mom taped it, framed it and hung it right above my bed.
“Don’t ev-er forget the value of a dollar and how hard people have to work to earn it.”
During my first contract negotiation, I can’t imagine what my parents thought when I turned down the Twins’ initial offer of $3 million for three years.
For my first foray into “business,” I decided that I was going to become a real estate mogul. Heck, if Donald Trump can do it, anybody can, right?
So I tried to buy a couple commercial properties. But the guys I was dealing with were speaking a whole, different language. Present value, future value, amortization, depreciation, vacancy rate, CAM, CAP Rate, blah, blah, blah, blah. I realized I was playing with the big boys, and I needed to put on my big boy pants. Lucky for me, the owners didn’t take my offers and I didn’t budge from my initial one. If I had “won” those properties, I would be writing a different story.
A family friend, Jeff Majkrzak, was on the board of Planet Fitness and told me to look into opening a franchise. I was immediately drawn by the $10/month membership and the Judgement Free Zone. Cheap and no judgement spoke to my Canadian heart. But then I stopped and thought, Wait, how do you make money off a $10/month gym?
He told me to do the due diligence and find out. I don’t think he figured I would partake in as much due diligence as I did. I called every franchisee — every single one — to learn as much as I could about what I was getting myself into. Finally after a year, I took the plunge and became a Planet Fitness franchisee. I opened my first location in January 2010 and my second location in May 2010.
Two franchises, double the opportunity to make mistakes. Perfect.
So this might shock you, but it turns out running a business is not like playing a professional sport.
When I was playing professional baseball, I fancied myself a businessman as well. I was an idiot.
Side note: To the athletes currently reading this who play a professional sport, focus on playing the game you love. You will have the rest of your life to dabble in business. Make as much money as you can right now playing your sport, because you’re not making that kind of money in the real world without risk.
Side-side note: To those athletes who have two phones, lose the second phone, man. That second phone is no good for your career! You only need one phone. Toss the shady phone in the trash. Just play the game and enjoy every moment of it. There is no place out there that will fill your tank like it is being filled now.
My business career went a lot like my baseball career. In the beginning, I had no experience and I really sucked. I couldn’t catch a ball in the minors and I couldn’t retain an employee at Planet Fitness. In baseball, I took ground ball after ground ball. In business, I read book after book. In baseball, at the end of the day, my personal success was all up to me. In business, it was all up to everybody around me.
At Planet Fitness, I had to depend on the competence of others in order to do the job to a Major League standard — which is to say — to strive for perfection. And I was a Hall of Fame-level fault finder. I could walk into the gym and tell you 15 things that needed to be “made better” before I blinked my eyes.
Suffice to say, my business career started off with a thud. I got to the point where I was hemorrhaging money on a daily basis and losing several employees every month via termination or quitting. This went on for about 18 agonizing months.
The turning point for me occurred at 4 a.m. on a Monday. I was in bed and hadn’t slept a wink. I was having heart palpitations because I was so stressed and frustrated. I did what plenty of stressed people who can’t sleep at 4 a.m. do: I turned to Google.
“Why don’t employees do what I want them to do?”
I find out there’s a book titled, Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed To Do and What To Do About It.
Bam. Ordered. Amazon Prime next day delivery.
Oh look, there is another book in the series.
Coaching for Improved Work Performance.
Bam. Ordered. Amazon Prime.
And then I stumbled onto another book Why We Do What We Do.
Around the same time, I started watching a show called The Profit with Marcus Lemonis. This may sound weird, but this TV show was really valuable to me. I learned that even though the numbers are important, I needed to do a better job of being accountable to the people at my businesses. The common denominator among all the firings and quittings was me. I needed to change.
I needed to come out of my shell with my employees. I needed to build a relationship based on trust with them. I needed to learn how to have a conversation that would move them forward and not tear them down. I needed to earn the right to speak into their lives.
After a lifetime of playing sports, I discovered that leading in sports is different than leading in the business world. Sure, there are similarities around teamwork and striving toward a common goal. But leading a group of college or professional athletes who possess an internal drive to succeed is relatively easy. Compare that to a world, where you are one of a million job opportunities — with many of them paying a similar amount. The speaking circuit might have it backwards. Professional sports teams should be bringing in entrepreneurs who built their company up with regular people to speak about leadership, instead of the other way around.
Now that this phase of my life has come to a close, it’s cool to look back and see how far the franchises have come. Once I got a handle on how to actually manage people, things completely turned around. I found out that you definitely can make money from a $10/month gym if you run it the right way. We went from losing a lot of money, to a business that has enough merit to be acquired. The majority of the employees I had working for me at the time of the sale had been there for two or more years. Seven of them had been working for me for four-plus years. This was something I was very proud of, because the average tenure of a person taking on an entry-level position in the gym industry is just 5-7 months.
This wouldn’t be a proper retirement letter without at least a few thank yous: I am so appreciative of all the Planet Fitness franchisees who helped me refine my process, took my many phone calls and answered my many stupid questions during the early days. I’m also thankful for the opportunity that Planet Fitness gave me in opening up the businesses. Finally, I’m very grateful to all my employees and members. Without you, I would be nothing. To my two longest tenured employees, Anna George and Boranica Ly, thank you for being there with me since the beginning.
I paid a lot of money for this real life business education, but I wouldn’t change a thing. The failures forced me to look internally and grow as a person. Now I’m not just a better businessman, I’m also a better father, husband and human being.
After all these experiences, here are some very costly lessons I learned. Athletes and young entrepreneurs, listen up, because I am about to save you a lot of money.
- If you are not willing to roll up your sleeves and dive into the “colon kebabs,” stay on the sidelines. You need to learn the business and be active in the business. Nobody is going to watch your crap like you.
- It is not about you. It is about your employees! If you care about your employees, they will care for your business.
- Trust takes time. You can lose it in a flash by what you say or do. Choose what you say carefully, and remember: DWYSWYSYWDI (Do what you say when you say you will do it). Okay, that’s a long acronym.
- Surround yourself with wise people. Leverage wisdom.
- Finally, and most importantly, always look to evolve and grow as a person. Learn from your failures. It is not always somebody else’s fault.