Q&A: U.P. CEO Nick Mitchell talks business
Nick Mitchell is the global CEO of Ultimate Performance.
Nick is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading personal trainers and body composition experts.
The former barrister and banker resolved to follow his passion and create Ultimate Performance in 2009.
Since then, Nick has built the business and the brand up to be the only serious global player in personal training, with 12 private personal training facilities on four continents of the globe.
The bestselling-author relocated to Los Angeles in 2017 to spearhead the expansion of U.P. in the US.
Nick speaks here about building the U.P. empire, the vision for U.P., the key underpinnings of his business success, and why U.P. has taken a different route than the majority of the fitness industry in this revealing Q&A.
When you started U.P., did you envisage having gyms in the US, Europe, Asia and Australia?
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 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”.
We now have 12 gyms 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. U.P. is a great company for a PT business, I can see that.
But in the grand scheme of great companies, we are a minuscule speck on the bottom of someone’s shoe. My goal now is to change that.
What is your vision for U.P.?
I want perfection in what we do. I know that this is an impossible goal, but it doesn’t stop me from striving for it.
Where we are with U.P. now is tremendously exciting. We can do things that no one else in our field can do.
I want to see that translate very visibly into an unparalleled service for our clients, a voice that really can help people lead healthier, fitter and more productive lives without this squalid noise that most of the fitness industry makes as they constantly chase after the next dollar.
I also want to continue to be able to provide world-class career opportunities for the people within the business.
I feel very strongly about all these points, but the last point is something that gives me immense pleasure and pride to be able to do.
The fitness industry should be a celebrated, high-end, long-term profession, yet it could not be further from this once you scratch the shiny, Instagram-driven reality.
A key mission statement at U.P. is all about changing that.
If you want to know what that vision means for the actual bricks and mortar gym business then the next steps are to continue expanding in the U.S.A. which is a huge risk and challenge – the U.S. has been the graveyard for many a foreign business and the fitness industry over there is extremely poor from a PT perspective.
We are going to have to change Personal Trainers’ perception of what a PT career really means if we are to succeed, but if we do then look for 50 North American U.P.s by 2020!
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 U.P. 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’, and ‘where the excuses stop and the results begin’.
We live and die by these mottos at U.P.; 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.
Do you have plans for U.P. outside of personal training?
Within our niche of working with so-called ‘regular’ people (in other words, not dedicated physique athletes or sports stars) I want U.P. to be THE trusted place for the best body composition-focused advice and services in the world.
We are in the process of growing our online advisory business, which is great because it allows all the people who want to work with U.P., but can’t get to one of our gyms or afford our admittedly-expensive Personal Training fees, access our services anywhere in the world.
I’m also a big believer in certain nutritional supplements and we’ve developed some great new products that I think will be a big boost to many people’s health and fitness regimes.
These products have been years in the testing because it’s taken a heck of a lot of work to get U.P.’s reputation to where it is today and I am aware of the suspicion that many have towards the often huckster-like supplement industry.
What’s the worst lie you’ve heard in the fitness industry?
Where do I even begin with this one? “Eat more, move less, lose weight” ranks high up there.
The supplement industry lies are too numerous to mention.
Online “trainers” and their cut and paste programs that they claim are “bespoke”.
However, the one that bugs me the most because it is most personal to me are the liars in the Personal Training industry who fake their results.
The general public, rightly in my view, treats all “before and after” results with very heavy scepticism, but, of course, that means that U.P. is right in the firing line.
We do things the right way. After all, our clients are part of our results so it would be too easy for us to be found out given how visible we are, but other so-called companies are not so scrupulous or honest.
Is the truth about health and fitness too simple to sell? Does it put more responsibility or onus on people than many want to accept?
I could write a book-length response to this question alone.
There should be a huge amount of responsibility placed on the health and fitness industry, but because it is dominated by short-term thinking (supplement businesses that are literally all about marketing – they produce nothing, private label other people’s products, and add no value; Personal Training that is dominated by an every-man-for-himself attitude where money is so scarce that most will sell their Grandma to make an extra buck) that is never going to happen.
I am really going to toot U.P.’s own horn here, but what I sincerely believe is needed are more businesses like ours.
We have the stability, the belief, and commitment to not chase after every scrap of money and can afford to take a long-term, ethical, and honest view to everything that we do, be it the way that we deal with staff, charge our clients, or market our services.
The problem with the fitness industry is not just that it is dominated by short-term thinking, but, by and large, the quality of people in it can be sorely lacking.
In the UK, we hire about 1 in 100 applicants for junior positions.
When barriers to entry are high then quality increases, but sadly 99.9% of the market is commercial gyms renting space to freelance trainers to “work” the gym floor.
Any fool can, and very often does, get that job.
Commercial gyms have literally zero quality filter, they only care about numbers and units, never results or added value.