Hard Work Generates Results

The best 9 years of my life… to date

Food for thought
Pushups to Pinups

Today marks our 9th year in business, and felt like writing about the beginnings of Aspire would be a fun thing to do. Now I must apologize for two things; the first I didn’t get much sleep due to snow clearing equipment clearing our street for what seemed like 6 hours straight. And second if this comes off as self-promoting or arrogant, it is not meant to be. It is just a simple story of how Aspire came to be. I will also warn you I’m just going to start typing with minimal attention to spelling and grammar, I will probably even screw up some basic punctuation” so if I offend you I’m sorry this is just me spitting everything out of my brain this morning.

The Beginning

It actually started back in December 2004, I had recently quit my job at another gym in the city. For those who are thinking about quitting a job around Christmas time, I would suggest not. Maybe wait it out till some bills are paid off. Either way I left that job and was left jobless, and the most depressing thing was my bank account, it sat at a not so impressive $1.96. Now before I had left my previous job I had the pleasure to work with a group of ladies who were affectionately known as the “AM chicks” I was allowed the creative freedom to design their programs and essentially treat them as my own clients. I had a taste for it and I liked it.

After squeaking by the Christmas season by giving a lot of DIY craft like gifts to family I needed a job, so I went back to working security at the Charlie (once a staple in the Charleswood bar scene) while planning my next steps. I needed to navigate these steps between my class schedules, I still had a year or so of school to go before I finished up my Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Science (now Bachelor of Kinesiology). I didn’t care for working for somebody else so the only logical move was to work for myself. Great I had the first step down only about 300 more to go. It all started with one client who I was planning workouts online for, Janet was training at the Brandon Fire/Paramedic College and needed some help. So she holds the title of first ever Aspire client, and yes when you look at our wall of fame her picture is hanging up there. OK I had one client… neat. Time to grow, I needed a space. Enter Healthview Therapy Centre, this chiropractic clinic is owned by a family friend. I knew there was gym equipment in there with a couple of thick layers of dust. So I approached him made some business like handshakes (very new to me) and voila we had a location. Interesting side note, we didn’t even have a name yet. We were that new gym in Charleswood.

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I guess the first physical client we had would be my mom, and because of her our official first day was postponed by a few days. It would appear she can procrastinate with the best of them. The official first day of business is January 7th, 2005. Our first client who wasn’t my mom, was a young lady who just had a kid and was looking at getting back into shape. Awesome, a real client… now what? I remember about 5 minutes before she was supposed to show up I had no form of paper work what so ever. Was I just going to sit there typing in her info on my little Nokia peanut phone? So as she walked in I was hiding behind a computer quickly making a Microsoft word template look a little less templatey. And I pulled it off, she was none the wiser or just too polite to point out my amateur word processing. Throughout the next couple of months the client roster grew and now instead of having one client a day some days there were actually two people in, never one after another but still we were on our way. As I’m writing this I’m getting nostalgic, there are some clients who are with us still that trusted us enough during our clumsy growing pains. I would be remised if I didn’t mention them by name; a big thanks to Leslie, Laurie, Judy, Cheryl, Jenny and Annmarie. These folks were with us during the awkward teenage years so to speak.

A free workshop we used to do when we were trying to grow. Circa 2007?
A free workshop we used to do when we were trying to grow. Circa 2007?

Getting friendly with SQL

With this growing client list I was in need of a system of sorts to keep track of them, and not just their names and such I wanted to see what they had done with us in the past. It so happened the months before I opened Aspire I was taking a computer science course, and for about 3 hours of the course we dealt with databases. This seemed like something I could use. I had a vague understanding of them but knew they would help. So between my academic commitments and client commitments I would study about databases, this lead me to learn SQL (this would have been killer with the ladies if I had time to talk to any). For those who don’t know what this is, think of it as techno talk. A magical string of words that somehow spit out data. I believe it is referenced in the Harry Potter series of books somewhere. I can remember many nights being downstairs (in my parent’s house, thanks folks) watching tutorials on youtube while trying to stay awake, it wasn’t uncommon for me to up to 3am doing this, sleep for 90 minutes and off to work. It took a couple of weeks but finally we had a very basic database that could show what a client had done with us in the past. It wasn’t pretty by any sense but it worked, somewhat. Around this point we were floating around 17 clients, but still no official name.

What should we call ourselves

The name… I have been asked many times where it came from, it’s not your typical gym name and in fact it wasn’t my first choice. I was given advice that my name should start with the letter “A” so that when looking in a phonebook you see it first (for those who are unfamiliar with a phonebook, think of it as googling phone numbers but on paper). So I stuck with the A theme, the first go was “Alpha Fitness” rejected by the companies office, the second “Peak Fitness” again rejected. Now the third try that was the one that connected, and it was a happy accident. I was walking through the Frank Kennedy centre at U of M late one night, stumbling to a lounge to study (probably more likely to nap) and walked by the Human Performance lab where a computer had its screensaver bouncing around. It was one of those screensavers that was just a word that bounced from one edge to the other. And the word was “Aspire”, maybe it was the exercise physiology jumping around in my head, maybe it was the lake of sleep but for some reason I liked that name. So the next morning I submitted “Aspire Fitness” to the companies’ office and voila we had a name, and it only took 6 months.

Kayaking at Fort Whyte with some of the staff from Wilderness Supply. Little did I know the future home of Aspire was less than 1000ft away!
Kayaking at Fort Whyte with some of the staff from Wilderness Supply. Little did I know the future home of Aspire was less than 1000ft away!

Another milestone I will remember is the first time I saw our logo on something. But before I get to that let’s come back a bit to the logo. Throughout this whole adventure of starting a business I had all my friends in my corner eager to help, one of whom is my very close friend Kirby. She had a knack for drawing so I approached her to make me a logo. And she did, it was a basic logo but never the less it was something I could see. I loved it! In fact if you’re in Aspire and look at the east wall you will see a metal sign with our name and the original logo. OK back from the tangent. I ordered 25 grey shirts with our logo and company name on it. I remember picking them up and driving them back to the gym, every chance I had I looked at the shirts. I can’t believe I had shirts with my company on it, it was almost like this was a real thing now. Scary thought.

The original logo…thanks Kirby!

Time to grow

We kept trucking along in our Charleswood location for a few years and quickly outgrew it. If you had never been in it let me paint a picture for you. Take 383sqft and jam as much equipment in there as possible, while working around patients of the clinic itself. It quickly got jammed in there. I remember one day in there with 6 people in there thinking to myself, “yikes”. It was time to get a bigger space, but that was scary and seemed more like an adult decision. It’s important to note that we started January 2005, I was only 21 years old, and struggling to have what might be mistaken as facial hair. One of our clients around that time was Bruce an established entrepreneur. I’m glad we had him around. He called me one day and asked me out for lunch, this seemed like an adult thing to do, so I checked my sparse mustache hairs in the mirror and left for lunch. Little did I know this wasn’t just a friendly lunch this was a business opportunity. I had read about these things, time to act cool. Bruce was expanding his business and was going to be building a new building, and wanted to know if we wanted a space in the building. So there I was regretting not shaving and trying to act like I knew stuff about stuff. He showed me the proposed blueprints and I told him I would get back to him ASAP. I bought myself sometime. Now to google “Acting like an adult”. After some consideration and many spreadsheets later I agreed.

We were originally scheduled to be in the new building January 2009, little did I know construction is never on time. Fast forward to March 2009 we were open, with one functioning shower and washroom. Regardless we had a fancy new facility with some shiny new equipment. Now just to get some clients in here.

A picture of my office... some assembly required
A picture of my office… some assembly required

The first year was rough, I remember experimenting with different ad campaigns to no avail. One that was particularly neat was the radio ads we ran, it was neat to hear “Aspire Fitness” on the radio. Unfortunately all it was neat and well I guess expensive. We had one client come in from it, now don’t get me wrong Gillian has been a great client but when you dish out radio ad money you’re hoping for more than one client out of it. So there we were struggling to get footing in terms of advertisement. The plus side of everything in this first year at the McGillivray location was that we had a name for our Semi-Private Personal training courtesy of Lori, who mentioned one day “I have a great product name for you”; and voila CustomFIT finally had a name. Looking back I find it funny that our bread and butter program never had name until 5 years into business. It has always been and continues to be our most popular product.

Our Radio Ads from back in the day…

It took a couple of years to get the McGillivray location rolling, mental note expanding during a recession is going to add a few more challenges. OK now we were going again slowly growing, maybe time to try something new. We started with our HITT workouts, essentially 75 seconds of work with 15 seconds of rest for between 12-15 minutes and a 90 second break between that. Nothing mind blowing but it was something new. The first couple filled up with my friends and their significant others, like I said I have awesome friends. But being complacent is no way to grow a business, so I looked at these group by coupons. And we ran some for the HITT boot camps. Yes we got a few clients out of it but what a nightmare, I wasn’t prepared for the influx of phone calls and questions. Somehow we managed.

One of our HITT promo shots
One of our HITT promo shots

Why “Us”

Throughout this little ramble and since day one I’ve always referred to the company as “Us” and not “Me” or “I”, I’ve been asked by numerous people why I do this. The simple matter is since the get go I’ve felt that the sum of the parts of a company are greater than the individual parts. So even when it was just me I always said “We” or “Us”. Now even when it was just me working for us (see what I did there?) there was still a team, the clients are a huge part of the success or our business. I don’t know what we did to deserve such awesome clients, but from the start we’ve had awesome clients. We have made a lot of changes over the last 9 years but that has always stayed the same, even as I’m writing this I can hear a client cheering on a new client on her first workout. Now that we have grown to more staff members than just myself, the “Us” still encompasses our clients but the team has grown and everybody that works here or comes here is all on the same page to help people make positive steps towards their goals.

Adding to the Aspire Family

After the increase in clients from the HITT boot camp we were cruising along feeling pretty good, I was only working 75-85 hours a week… living the dream I guess. Then I got an email from some young hot shot trainer who was looking for a job, I said “no”. He said “well if you ever need help please let me know”, I said “I like your attitude come on in and let’s chat”. This young man was of course, Jeff. I liked Jeff’s attitude right from when met him, thought he’d be a good fit. But I didn’t really have work for him, I guess 80+ hours of work a week was normal at that time. I told him I would come up with something for him to do here. Some brainstorming and we got Yoga Infused Fitness it was a combination of a 45 minute boot camp finished off with 45 minutes of yoga done by another hire McKenzie Hill. Can you believe it 2 new staff members in the same month, things were spiraling out of control. I learned a few things from our last group buy campaign and felt we should try it again. So armed with this new found knowledge we started another one for our Yoga Infused Fitness. It worked we had some new clients come through some even stuck around after the boot camp and are still here today. It helped us to grow to a point where this hot shot Jeff guy got a fulltime job within 6 months.

So here we were some fancy new staff members and some new programs that were paying the bills. And then Laurie dropped this bomb on me, one quiet day at the gym she asked “have you heard of Tough Mudder?”. I hadn’t but youtube proved this is something I would love.

Traveling with Aspire

Enter our adventure race era. We started our adventure races with a Tough Mudder in Phoenix, 9 lovely people joined us and we had a great time. We had the bug and we wanted to do more. Took a look at some other races around North America and found a Warrior Dash in Minneapolis a couple of months later, boom did that one. We had a bite on our line and we were going to reel it in. This adventure race thing was fun and people liked traveling with us. I guess we were getting a reputation around town about being an adventure race gym, we were approached by Swamp Donkey Adventure Race. A local company responsible for, at that time, 3 races. But were looking at doing a 4th. The Dirty Donkey a race held here in Winnipeg. Where do we sign? The first year of the race we were the official training partner of the Dirty Donkey. It was and continues to be a great partnership. Along with their help we now have the Aspire Fitness Adventure Race Team (Aspire FART), and in 2014 have 5 races around North America. The partnership also brought about a relationship that sparked another product. Let me paint the picture first; we were doing a demo day for the media and the whole Dirty Donkey thing, they brought along a photographer. Now I first saw this guy and just thought “look at this dude, fancy camera thinking he’s all that”. So there he was jumping around like an idiot getting all these pictures. A couple of weeks later I saw some of them, ok looks like this guy knows how to use a camera. The picture that sold me on him was of Reagan flipping a tractor tire in the parking lot here.

The picture that proved Kelly wasn’t just some idiot with a camera

Smile for the Camera

After we had the promo shots up and running on all social media streams, Kelly (the photographer) asked if I had ever thought of doing a training program in preparation for a photo shoot. The truth of the matter was I had, I even had 90% of the program done was just looking for the right photographer. So we rallied 3 guinea pigs to demo the new product, which at that time was code named Project Photo shoot, original I know. So we had our three test subjects, Kristin, Amanda, Suzanne. We went through 12-weeks with these girls taking notes on our observations getting feedback from them, anything we could do while we demoed the program. The night before the photo shoot I didn’t sleep, I was so nervous that I might have done something dumb and maybe they wouldn’t have muscles or something stupid. I imagined every possible outcome and yes not having muscles was one of them. The shoot went awesome, a couple of weeks later the photos were up on our site and started to make their way through Facebook and Twitter. Still no name for this one yet though. Driving to work one morning at 450a, I was trying to think of a name, I probably should have been watching the road but I was off in space dreaming of names for this product. Maybe I should walk by a couple of screensavers to spark an idea. I’m not sure what sparked it but I remember turning on to Portage Ave and just thought Push-Ups to Pinups. I was convinced it was a great name. I got to work texted my girlfriend (who doesn’t like 5am text messages), she liked it. Ok it passed the test we can move forward with it. I told Kelly we had a name and we started rolling with it. The day we announced the new product was our busiest web traffic day to date, before noon we had 1400 unique visitors to our site. I was stoked, I felt like the next Google.

Push-Ups to Pinups started in August 2011 with our demo group, since then it has grown we have added Sherri who is in charge of keeping the gals organized and on track. We have paired up with Puressence Spa Salon who now take care of all the hair and make-up needs of the girls the day of the shoot. As I’m writing this we are approaching the 100th girl signed up.

2013 was a great year for us, it saw great success with many of our programs. We aligned ourselves with Sucker Punch Creative, who now takes care of our beautiful graphic work. Everything you see that looks professional is their work, everything that looks amateur is something I tried to do myself and forgot to take down. Last year also marked the first year we passed 10,000 workouts in a year, we know this because of that database I started many moons ago. Needless to say it’s been an awesome ride for this first 9 years, it’s hard to believe it’s been that long but the grey hairs in my beard remind me that it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but I wouldn’t trade those greys or the awesome people I’ve met for anything in the world.

What’s in store for Aspire

With such a great team of people here it’s hard to imagine Aspire not continuing to grow and adding to its tickle trunk of programs. So I will end this with little stroll down memory lane with a simple answer to what’s in store for Aspire? Lots…