How My Side Gig Led To A Change At My Company

Alan Brown, CEO of DNA, writes about the importance of emotion in building a business
Alan Brown, CEO of DNA

Lately I’ve found myself bringing home the towels from the fitness studio I recently bought, washing them at home and bringing them back in the morning.

It’s a little different than what I do at my day job as the CEO of an independent marketing agency.  When I bought the local fitness studio where I work out, I knew it needed a turnaround. As a longtime member, I had been thinking of quitting myself as I found its classes were no longer challenging and the atmosphere was no longer fun.

Initially I thought I could leverage my marketing consulting experience and give the fitness studio a much needed brand refresh. But as I dug into its operations, its customer service—its everything—I realized that my side gig had the potential to really kick my butt in the way that its classes were no longer doing.

In short, it needed a total business update. So as I would for any client, I set out to solve its most challenging business problems.

Emotion Matters

The world of business has traditionally been afraid to leverage emotion. But if you can’t make people feel something than you will not be successful in building community, or fans or repeat customers. This holds true for my marketing agency and the many clients we serve, as well as my fitness studio and the members who come for more than just a work-out.

When I bought the fitness studio — Lab 5 — the name meant nothing to me or anyone else. It sounded like an experiment. Something clinical. Not like a place where members feel they belong or are inspired.

A name change was in order. The studio needed to express a place where it meant something to be a member. TRIBE might not be the most original name, but how we talk about it is ownable. Our branding emphasizes the ‘BE’ in TRIBE, opening the doors to communication that speaks to optimism and the idea of be-longing.

We also took the “BE” to be demonstrative: BE Positive. BE fit. Be Happy. “BE” shows up everywhere— internal branding is highly cost effective on a small budget and it gives our members a sense of what they can be by being part of TRIBE.

It also helped me understand what TRIBE really is about – it’s about happiness. Going to the studio, doing good things for your body and mind, and being part of an engaged community delivers those happiness endorphins. That’s our purpose.

People Must Come First

The fight for great talent is every CEO’s greatest challenge. It’s no different at a fitness studio. Great instructors—like great leaders and employees — inspire us to bring our best. To want to try harder. To be better — be it in a Pilates class or in the development of ideas. The problem with TRIBE and other commodity businesses is that the best instructors will go where they get paid the most.

But pay is only part of the equation. While I decided to pay the highest per-class rate in town, I also gave my instructors bonus’ on the back end if they were able to fill a class. And I also pay part of their healthcare costs, something no other studio does. I’m in the health and fitness business. I care about my employee’s health. This is not just a perk, it’s the foundation of what my business is about.

Great instructors attract other great instructors. And the best are motivated to keep ahead of new fitness innovations.  They enable us to offer terrific classes and keep pace with changes in workout culture. Have you heard of FiiTRX, Tabata/TRX Fusion, Power Reformer/Jumpboard? Trust me, these kinds of classes are coming to an elite studio near you soon.

Sweat the Small Stuff

Back to the towels. Before I bought TRIBE there were no towels. It might not seem like a big deal, but it’s something that makes a difference to the member experience. Towels set a studio apart from corporate chain studios.

Focusing on the experience really has set TRIBE apart in a competitive market. I hired a manager who greets members by name.  We always have free fresh fruit that shows we care what you eat after you leave the studio. We built in new areas where members could hang out. We financially support hyper-local activities that our members are passionate about – like our neighborhood elementary school Girls on the Run program.

The little things count for a lot. The alignment of our employees needs with our member’s aspirations is at the core of how we have transformed the studio into a community. These same principals have helped me refocus our marketing agency behind a unified vision that puts an emphasis on emotion, our culture and our people.

Read more: New Research Says CEOs Should Follow Their Intuition