Nick Mitchell: How I Built a Global Fitness Business
Success doesn’t just happen; it has to be earned. It has to be frenetically worked for, obsessed over and be all-consuming.
For many people, ‘success’ is a destination that you can kick back and enjoy once you’ve ‘made it’.
But for Nick Mitchell, success is never enough. There’s always a higher goal to strive or more that can be achieved, much in the same way that a physique is never ‘complete’ in the sport of bodybuilding.
Maybe this ceaseless desire to perfect, improve and progress is the secret to how he has created a global personal training business model that the fitness industry said was impossible.
Here Nick explains where the Ultimate Performance business started, how he built it up to be an industry-defining global concern, and what elements have made it such a game-changing success...
When you started UP, did you envisage having gyms in the US, Europe, Australia and Asia?
Before I even opened our first gym, London City, in May 2009 I called it “the first gym”. Where I think I maybe differed from all the trainers who have followed who seem to now do the same thing, is that I kept that claim/boast/goal to myself because I thought it sounded a bit conceited.
After all, I hadn’t ever proved I could make one facility work so how could I claim that it was the first of many!
My initial goal was to be known as the best trainer in the UK and have a PT gym business that was recognised as the best in London.
I thought a couple of gyms might scratch the itch, but as ever with me, and I recognise that this is both a good and bad character trait, as soon as I get close to achieving my goal I move the goalposts.
I wanted two gyms, then only two London gyms and one abroad would work. Then I thought “you’ve made it when you have five”. At the time of writing we are closing in on gym 11 and are set to be on four different continents, but of course I don’t feel like I’ve done enough and want to achieve more!
I should add that I am not one of these tortured souls who thinks he’s a failure no matter what and that’s what drives him on. I am not quite so extreme. But I genuinely don’t think what I have achieved is all that big a deal. UP is a great company for a PT business, I can see that, but in the grand scheme of great companies we are a miniscule speck on the bottom of someone’s shoe. My goal now is to change that.
Why is your business a success?
Always doing the hard thing.
Relentless hard work; standing for something and not wavering in our principles; not being frightened to look inwards and examine my own motives and seeking out my own mistakes; subsuming the ego; putting people first.
Your staff and clientele seem to be committed and driven, what’s the secret?
The moment that you walk through our doors you know that UP stands for something. We have a belief system that runs through everything that we do. It can be encapsulated in any one of our slogans – ‘maximum results in minimum time’, ‘results not promises’, or ‘where the excuses stop and the results begin’.
We live and die by these mottos at UP; they inform the way that we work with clients and the way that we incentivise, motivate, and discipline our training team.
We are a meritocracy and very quickly everyone involved in the business, from both a client and a company side, picks up on this and either dives in headfirst or looks for the door. We aren’t a business for everyone and we make no apologies for that fact.
How do you retain staff and why don’t they leave and take their clients with them?
Sometimes staff do leave and they do try to take their clients with them. But I am a hard person to cross as whilst I have zero issues with ex-staff pursuing their goals outside of UP, in order for me to wish them well they need to play fairly with me in the same way that they want me to play fairly with them.
We retain key staff very well indeed (touch wood) and that has been one of the definite keys to our success.
I’m not going to give away any specific approaches here, suffice to say everything that we do at UP is about moving away from the norm in the fitness industry of the standard transactional relationship between trainer and management, where all that the management cares about is getting money from the trainer and all that the trainer cares about is getting money from the management.
Money is important and will come, but it is not the driver behind what any of us do at UP. Our goal is to be the very best at what we do, always add value no matter what our role, and then money will come as a consequence of excellence.
Delegation is tough and failing to do it limits many entrepreneurs. How did you learn to trust the right people to make it possible?
I am the type of man who needs to be able to look at himself in the eye every night before he can have a good night’s sleep. That means that I pride myself on treating people fairly and, perhaps naively, expect to be treated the same in return.
I adopt the attitude that if you’ve taken the mutual risk of hiring someone to work for you then you’ve got to give that person every chance to succeed, and you only do that by giving them a certain amount of trust.
Has this approach come back to haunt me? Yes, many times and it will continue to cause me problems for as long as I am in business.
But I won’t change a thing as I believe that in order to grow an effective team you have to follow this process. It’s trial and error, some people will let you down and you need to learn not to take that personally, and a few others will show their worth both as “business resources” and people. You only find someone like that by giving them your trust and loyalty first.