Brittany Welk – Fitness Entrepreneur, Business Coach & Speaker
Hi everyone, thanks for joining us on this episode of the Novus navigators series where we're talking to entrepreneurs and professionals who sort of found their own paths to success, separate from the traditional paths to success that where you're sort of accustomed to through school and what-not. Today we're here with , who is the co-founder of lady strong fitness, formerly known as Midwest performance. And we're here to learn a little bit about her entrepreneurial journey and sort of how she came to founding this establishment that helps women find their own paths is a success through fitness.
Why don't we start off with a little bit about your backstory, sort of what did you grow up always interested in entrepreneurship, sort of how you found your path. [00:00:39]
As a child, I grew up on a farm, so entrepreneurial, farmers are entrepreneurs essentially, right? They run their own businesses. So I grew up around running a business in my family. I wouldn't necessarily say that it was ever something. That's what I want to do. But I was around it as a child. When I went to school, I remember college, I remember telling my dad, I don't know what I want to do. I don't know what I want to do. And he's just doing business. If you just do business, you can do anything. And I don't want to do business. So of course I did art and graphic design and music and everything other than business for the first two years. And then I'm fine, I'm just going to do business and we'll see what happens. I ended up going into consumer affairs with an emphasis in financial management and a minor in business. And so it wasn't always on my path, but somehow I stumbled upon it. And after graduating college, I worked in banking. I worked as a business manager at a school. So I worked in finance and business in general right out of college. And then I found my love for fitness in 2012 through my own weight loss journey and just going through pieces of my life that took me on a fitness journey. And when I felt my love for fitness, I had a trainer at the time, it was actually Mercia who was actually my personal trainer and she kind of grew my love for helping other people. And when I saw how much it helped me, I was why can't I do this for other people? I really want to get more into fitness. So I was group training and stuff like that. And then in 2014 I started my own boot camp. So it was I never really said this is what I want to do with my life, but it just happened by chance that that's the path that I fell into. So yeah.
You talked a little bit about the sort of benefits that fitness gave you besides just weight loss, can you talk a little bit about what those were? [00:02:31]
Yeah, well if fitness in general releases hormones, right? All of the good hormones endorphins dealt with are mean. All of that stuff that really makes you enter, energize, makes you focus, makes you feel good. So with that comes more passion, more drive more. I would say just focus in general in your day to day and more efficiency. Right. A lot of you know a 5:00 AM class here is our most popular class and it's typically because most people find so much energy after getting their workouts done right away in the morning. They have more clarity and energy throughout their entire day and more focused throughout their entire day. So I feel fitness does a lot more than just help you lose weight. It really helps you become more efficient in your day to day as well.
Gotcha, and so you sort of found the benefits yourself of fitness and they were more than just weight loss. How did you sort of figure out that or how did you come to develop lady strong? [00:03:17]
So back in 2014 when I was running my bootcamp, Marciea was also running a CrossFit gym. I'm locally in the same area that I was running one too. So we had a business prior to this too. So both of us had a love and a passion for fitness and business in general prior to lady strong, in 2016 our CEO sold her gyms. I sold mine, we both moved here to Illinois and she, and, and we weren't really thinking about running a business again, that wasn't something we wanted to do at that time. She went into MMA training full time. I sort of worked in an orange theory for about a year and then it was exported to do personal training and we kind of decided that maybe we're, we'll give this try again and see what happens. So we started the 12 week program in June of 27, 2016 and after that we just kind of scratched that itch again and we were like, maybe that we could make this work, you know. After the 12 week program was over in August of 2016, we ended up signing the lease a couple doors down from here and all of the ladies that we were coaching were like, you guys can't quit. You need to keep this going. We want to keep going. And it was like, man. And then we kind of thought, well, there's really no other all female fitness studios out there right now. Even in this area. There are other franchises who do do, you know, women's only fit is, but they're not really in this area. So we were like, let's give it a try. So Midwest performance was born and eventually now we're lady strong. So it was really, it had a lot to do with the people that we met in that totally program and really their passion for us and what we were doing in their lives that really drove us to continue, opening this gym.
Got it! Super cool, so in those super early stages with Midwest performance, we talked to our students a lot about getting this sort of product fit and you want to make sure that your consumers really enjoy your product. Yeah. How did you sort of figure out how to deliver on a service that your customers really wanted? Was it a long process? Did you guys plan any of it or did it sort of just happen? [00:05:10]
So fitness is a little bit different than your typical product, right? I mean, you can get a good workout anywhere. You know, it's really not about the workout that a lot of people think a lot of fitness entrepreneurs think that if their workouts are just killer and amazing that's what's going to really drive business. And that's not it. For us, it was really finding our community and that sense of empowerment that we drove in, drove home to the people that we met, to the women that we met. It was us wanting them to feel they belong somewhere and that they had that sense of ownership in this studio and that we genuinely cared about them. And that's what we really saw was the driving factor in our business. It wasn't that our workouts are great, don't get me wrong every gym or is going to tell you that their workouts are better than the next person. But at the end of the day I can do a squat anywhere, can a squat at planet fitness and I can do a squat here it's the same, it's the same squat, right? What really drives a fitness business is the experience that you gave your members and that was our primary focus. What kind of experience are we going to give the people that come into these doors and how are we going to continue to grow and scale that experience and not just the workout portion.
Got it! So, you figured that out and then you started Midwest performance. How did it sort of evolve into lady strong? Did anything change? Was it just a branding move or what's that like? [00:06:44]
The evolution from Midwest performance, what to lady strong was a Brady move. It was when we would ask people what has been the best performance, they'd be maternal, you know, and we would get calls for car parts store and all it was, it was just a bad, if I could give any young entrepreneur advice is to make sure that when you name your business it makes total sense for your brand and where you're trying to go. Cause that was one thing, if we could go back and do it again, we would go back and already be Lady Strong in the beginning, right? Because we didn't really have a brand, we didn't really have an awareness. And when people saw our name, they really didn't associate fitness with us. So now when you hear lady shark fitness, it's a point blank period. You know exactly what it is. It's ladies ' fitness, right? So it was a purely branding move for us and it accelerated our business. We rebranded at the beginning of 2019 and it drove our business. It really did.
Super cool, and so now that you're sort of in this bigger space, you've got more people you're dealing with. How do you continue to bring in clients? Is it mostly word of mouth? Do you do marketing or promotional stuff? [00:07:47]
We do a lot of Facebook marketing, a lot of social media marketing. We get a lot of word of mouth, a lot of referrals, a call ins. Now that we've been here for three years, we're starting to get more of a presence in the community of who we are and what we offer. And our ladies are really great about spreading the word about us too. We do a lot of internal things we lacked in November, we did a check in for charity. So for example, every time somebody would come into the studio, they could check into late sharpness on Facebook and we would donate 25 cents to a charity. And then over the month we would just calculate how many check-ins we got. And we got over 500 check-ins in November. When you create check-ins on your face, on people's Facebook pages, now you're getting their audiences as well, not just the ones that you're paying for. So we've done stuff like that before to grow brand awareness, but we do a lot of marketing on Facebook and, and just in on social media.
Gotcha, super cool. In terms of running the actual business, how have you seen it change from the earliest to where you're at? [00:08:49]
It's kind of interesting that you asked that question because I just had a meeting before you guys came with our business consultant and we're now in the process of looking to hire a CFO. It's something that at this stage of our business, we need, we're growing quickly. And for me and Marsia, she plays the CEO role. I play the COO role and for us in our positions where we're at, her, her position is, is really casting that vision, right? Where is this business going? Where is the company going? And for me, it's daily operations. It's growing at scaling, at sales, at fleeting, my team. So, and right now I do the CFO role. That's kind of where I'm at right now, but I've never ran, you know, a six figure seven figure business and that's what we're on the trajectory to do. We have to bring somebody in here that is going to help us, you know, scale that position and scale our business at the same time. So a lot of, you know, staffing changes have happened over the years and that's one big one that we're making a move to over the next year or so. Because if we want to grow and scale the business, we have to be able to focus on the positions that we're really good at and delegate the other things that were not.
Totally! So, when did you get your first employee? [00:10:08]
Tiffany started for us, Tiffany has been here for since actually the cool statistic just sat about our staff is all of them were members before they were staff members. So every single person was a member here before they were actually staffed. So that really drove the culture and community in our studio as well because when people would come in and realize that the people that we're coaching them and helping them with the front desk, we're actually in their position and have taken a first class before here, it really helps to break the ice and make that connection. I believe it was I wanna say it was, October, November, December of 2016, early 2017 when Tiffany came on. But for the most part, a lot of it was just me and Marsia, you know, we were the ones that were running classes. We were the ones that were running the front desk making calls following up with leads for a long time. It was just her and I, you know, and Tiffany was only teaching a couple classes cause they couldn't really afford to have her teaching all of our classes at that time cause they weren't really making a lot of money. So we had to really do when, where all of the hats in the business. And as we grew and evolved, we knew that that was one thing we had to reinvest a lot of our money in was staffing. Because it's important that you go from being a technician in your business to actually being the operator of your business. There's a lot of books you can read out there. E-Myth is one of them by Michael Gerber. And in that book it talks all about that journey from being a technician in your business and to going to working on your business and your business on a daily basis. So fitness businesses are a little bit different when it comes to employees because at the end of the day, you can't be completely out of your fitness business. You just can't. It's just, it's really difficult to operate a business, a fitness studio like that, but you do the best that you can to delegate the stuff that you're not good at to your staff and really focus on growing and scaling your business on the back end.
Got it. So when do you like to start to hire your first employees? I imagine there's a huge benefit to the fact that they were participants in the program prior. How do you sort of decide what to delegate and then how do you, you know, keep this culture that you've cultivated as you, you're delegating these tasks? [00:12:02]
I think it's important to remember the age old saying is, you know, focus on your weaknesses or GRI or weaknesses and for me it's like I want to focus on my strengths and delegate my weaknesses. There's only one reason I need to spend time trying to be better at something I know I'm not good at already. I would rather delegate that to somebody else who I know is going to Excel at that and focus on the things that I'm really good at. Right? Sales is a huge thing that I am really good at. Systems and processes, managing and leading a team, those are my strengths, right? My weaknesses are creative marketing, advertising. I'm just not good at that stuff. So those are the things that I delegate a lot of. And then just small, tedious things that I know I could have somebody else do creating schedules and doing stuff like that. Those are things that I have somebody else do because I want to spend my time learning how to manage my team better, growing my business, checking my numbers, you know, having leadership meetings with my staff. Those are the things that are going to actually grow and scale my business versus just making, making a front desk schedule, you know? So I, as you grow, you have to, and it's hard as entrepreneurs because you want to do everything. You want to have a hold on everything. You want to have control of everything and that's normal early on in your business. But it's important as entrepreneurs for us to understand that we'll never grow and scale our businesses if we don't let some of that stuff go and really focus on driving the business and moving the needle forward. So it's difficult, but it's necessary.
Sure, and as you sort of approach that, the scale that you're in now. What were some of the growing pains that you experienced? Were there any sort of struggles that maybe when you, like you hadn't met Midwest performance, when you made the move to lady strong, you've got this huge new space. Did you guys consider getting any investment for it? How did you sort of finance that big scale? [00:13:48]
Yeah, so we took on deck when we expanded, we were at a point in our other studio where if I could go back, I would have stayed there another year. Because there's a saying out there, start small and take it all. So you want to stay small and get as much, you know, generate as much revenue in your business as you can. And then when you absolutely have to move, you make the move. We made the move a little bit too early and which is okay. I mean, it wasn't a bad thing.
We're here now and we're doing great, but if I could go back, that would have been one thing if I really, we really didn't need to take on that kind of debt at that point in time. And if we would have just waited it out, we would have been able to just use the profit that we were generating over there too, but instead we just made the move we took on debt to expand, but it was a good, I mean it was a good risk that we took. So doing that was scary because when you're, when you're just by yourself and you have no investments and we were so new at that time, there was nobody that would even touch us with a 10 foot pole because we had, you know, maybe one year in business and you can't, you can't decide if a business is profitable or not. After one year in the fitness space is really difficult to find investors for because it is a risky business to be in.
So early on we had to take on a lot of that responsibility. Now that we've been in business for three and a half years and we are profitable and we are doing really well now. We've got people that are looking at us that are looking to invest and grow and scale this business with us. So we're in those conversations now. But prior to this, no, it was like we just had to take the risks. You know, Marciea and I had to take a lot of personal risks on our own and, and hope that they paid off. You know, we just busted our butts as much as we could and they have paid off. So it's scary early on. But now we're at a point where we've got a product and it's ready to be, to be marketed the way that it should be. So.
Gotcha. So very early on in those stages where you business planning, were you making financial projections because typically, you know, a lot of entrepreneurs make those financial projections because they have to take those 10 investors and sort of show them because you guys were sort of bootstrapping this thing cause that something that you guys do. [00:15:54]
We didn't honestly do it early on. We didn't really have a business plan. We didn't have a pitch deck, we didn't have any of that stuff. We just kept growing and growing and it wasn't until we got connected with the right mentors and coaches. We've always had coaches all along the way. We've always had some kind of coaching or mentoring the entire way through our business so far. And it wasn't until I connected with those people that they were teaching us those kinds of things that we needed to pay attention to those things.
You know, the company that we lease our equipment from, they, the guy that operates that place, Clayton, bless his heart, he's been such an integral part of planning for our future. They do a lot of projections for us in our business. They've helped us recently with a pitch deck for investors. So now as we're growing and scaling and we are at a point where we are looking for an investment, that's really when we've dug in and really made that business plan and created that pitch tech and got in, got financials together and done all of that. But early on we didn't. We were just trying to survive. No, we were just surviving at that point in time. But now that we really are on solid ground, it definitely is important at the stage of our business that we're in right now.
Gotcha, and so now that you're at this stage where you're looking at investors and you're looking at outside investment, what are the things that you're finding investors are looking for? [00:17:21]
Profitability is huge. Break sustainability is another one because the boutique fitness industry is growing fast. It's growing rapidly. It's a popular industry to be in. There's a lot of money made in the boutique fitness space, but there's a lot of people at it as a very high risk too. It's hard to put a, put a price or a valuation on a fitness studio because at the end of the day, members are just, are people and people can come and go as they please. So when you look at a package deal like this, you can see that, yeah, we're generating X amount of dollars, you know, a month per year. We have so many members.
But at the end of the day, those members walk out the door. They can, you know, if you saw this place. And the reason that a lot of times what happens with fitness studios is their businesses are so built around the owner that if the owner leaves, the people leave with. So it's really important when you get to a stage of needing investors and making that decision that you're at a place in your business where your systems run your business and not your people. Because if you pull your people away from it, your systems are still there and your members will stay because they like the system and not the people.
So with Marciea and I have been very diligent about, you know, we're here but our staff and is really the face of our business. Our systems are really the face of our business, not us anymore. And when we made that transition early on, it was hard. Our members were like, we don't like these other people. Where are you guys at? You know? But now it's different. But so I think it's important when you are looking for investments like that, that you make sure that your systems are running your business and not people, because that is a huge thing that investors are going to look at.
They're going to look at the business in general and can operate without you, right? Less you. And if it can't operate less, you then they're not going to want to be in it. Because if you're asking them to help you open 10 other locations, but you're one can't run by itself, they're going to look at, well, how am I supposed to open 10 others when this one came around without you? You know? So that's a huge thing that investors look at. Plus profitability and just marketability of your brain, you know, how did you get around to developing systems? What were the sort of the most important things about that? So, I would consider myself a systems expert. It's something that, that's why I play the COO role really well because I'm a very like spreadsheet like documentation person and I've documented everything here from the openings to the closing to how you turn off the alarm to how you open the door to how you turn on the lights, how you turn on the music.
Everything is written down and documented that way. When I bring a new staff member in, all I have to do is give them the documentation. They review it, they take the quizzes, they do what they need to do and they're trained. And that's how you want it to be. Your systems and your documentation should train your people too, I shouldn't have to come in here every time I hire any staff member and spend two weeks with them training my systems, my documentation should be training my staff. And then if I need to come in and answer questions or do things as needed that I can, but I shouldn't be. It shouldn't make or break me training that person for them to know their role and how to do their job well. And does a habit of documenting come from college or career? Just learning coaches, mentors.
You know, the marketing company that we use is lob, bloomer, they, we've been marketing with them for since we opened three and a half years and the CEO of that company, Mike RC is a good friend of mine and he's also a really good mentor and has been a coach of ours. And that was something he taught me early on was like you just as tedious as it is and as annoying as typing everything out as you just have to do it, you have to do it because you will thank yourself later. And it took me a while to actually start doing it. I would say June of last year was when I really started documenting everything. And now every time somebody doesn't know how to do something, I'm typing it up. I can type it out or the girls are sending me you, I don't see documentation for this.
Can you make a process? Absolutely! Making a process because I want everything to be so cut and dry that there's no question that the hamburger is served the same from the front desk to the studio. Consistency is key in a fitness business. Not nobody wants to have a different experience from the front desk to the studio, to the, to the studio in their workout and back. It should all be the same. Everybody should be giving the same answer, sing the same things, answering the phones the same way, texting the same way, coaching the same way everybody should be doing all of those things the same because again, systems run your business now your people and that's how you do that. I wonder then, what do you think if anything did you take from your college or post grad experience? I would say the financial side of things.
You know a lot of it, a lot of it came from the financial and the business piece too. You know, I'm just very business minded and very numbers driven. I'm a numbers driven person. I would say a lot of that came from college, but I honestly can't say that. You know, while I took business classes and learned small business stuff in college, a lot of the stuff that I know now I've just learned by listening, by reading, by surrounding myself and networking with people. For example, I'm hosting a networking event for gym owners, a free networking event in two weeks here at the studio and I just invited local gym owners to come in because I feel it's important to surround yourself with people who are doing the same thing that you are and bounce ideas off of each other and network with each other and discuss the struggles and the wins that you're having in your studios.
And there's really no networking group like that for gym owners locally here. And so I wanted to start one and I feel that's where I learn a lot is learning from other people and learning from people that are doing it better than me. I always want to surround myself with people who are doing things better than I am because it will drive me to want to do better. So while college was great, everything that I've learned about the fitness business in general and how to operate my business now has come just from learning and reading and, and getting mentors and coaches and just being a sponge. Really. Gotcha. So if you could maybe go back in time and tell yourself your posts or pre college self something, what advice would you give to yourself? You know what? I wouldn't have gone to school.
I found my love for fitness early and if I would've known then what I know now that all I had to do is, you know, surround myself with great people and just be a sponge and learn it and read and listen and, and do all of those things that I'm doing now. I don't think I would've gone to school and all because at the end of the day, I've taught myself everything that I needed to know about a fitness business up until this point. And I could have done that prior to that too. So I think the, the issue is is that there are so many, there's just a status quo out there about going to college and being in school and that's what you need to do because that's the American way is to go to school, get a good job, be educated and work for somebody else.
For me, I don't do well working for other people. I do better working for myself and I don't think that it should have to be that way. I don't think that kids should have to follow the status quo if they feel that they have a natural ability to be an entrepreneur. It's not necessary. If you can just read and listen and connect with people, you'll learn more than you would go to school.
So now that we're at this point with Lady Strong and you guys are on the verge of expansion or scaling, what does the vision look like? And you said Marsia typically is a CEO minded person. What does that look like? [00:25:00]
Our vision really is to have another location by the end of this year. That's the goal would be to open our second location early in 2021, and start planning for the fourth quarter of this year. But our vision really is to get an investor, somebody who wants to come in. And when I talk about an investor, I'm talking for a strategic partner. Sure. I don't want somebody to, you know, we don't want somebody coming in and just be you know, here's, you know, X amount of dollars. Now he can make me money.
We want somebody who's going to come in and is going to bring something to the table for us and help us really grow and scale this business and who's like-minded, who understands the industry. And we would, we want 10 locations in the next five years. I mean, that's a goal for us is to have 10 plus locations over the next five years in the Midwest. So that's where we're at. But we're, we're in search of that strategic partner. That's what we want. And we've had a couple of conversations with people that are going well, but it's important for us to just find the right person and then just grow and scale.
Totally! Yeah, and you've talked about mentors being a really important part of that growing part of ladies strong. How do you find mentors? How do you connect with them? What do you look for in mentors? [00:26:09]
Yeah, I look for you know, as far as connecting, it's just research. You just researched people, you know, we happen to stumble upon Mike with the marketing company and he's been an amazing mentor, coach and friend ever since then. But he also connected us with another mentor. We had Marcus Kurzy who's really big in the CrossFit space and he, so Mike connected to him. So it was like you're just getting connected with the people in your circle and it just takes one person to connect you with other people. So I think it's just making the connections and also finding somebody that you feel you can trust, finding somebody who's doing better than you are in space.
Mike's company's strictly markets for fitness studios only. So he has a lot of connections in this industry and he knows a lot about this industry. He was a great coach! Marcus, same thing as coach CrossFit gyms for several years and is in the fitness space and also grew and expanded his own fitness business. So that was another thing. You want to find people that are in your space that are doing it better than you and just follow them. Just be a sponge around them. Ask questions. Don't be afraid to reach out. Don't be afraid to, you know, raise your hand and say ham struggling.
Vulnerability is a huge part early on in entrepreneurship. Understanding that you don't know everything and you have to humble yourself a lot cause we have made a lot of mistakes that have cost us a lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of energy. There's been a lot of times where we've wanted to quit, but you just have to be vulnerable and willing to learn and humble yourself and know that you don't know everything and you've got to go out and find people who are doing it better than you are and learn from them.
Totally! Yeah, knowing entrepreneurship is such a struggle. How do you sort of, I know a lot of entrepreneurs deal with burnout. Is that something you've experienced? Have you avoided it? [00:27:59]
You know, early on it got tough for a while when we were here, you know, I was, when we were in the other studio, we were sleeping on the floor in between the, the 6:00 AM class and the 9:00 AM class and you know, we're commuting 40 minutes from Bolingbrook here every day, you know, eating dollar burritos at taco bell because we had no money. There were a lot of times where it was like, what are we doing and why are we doing this? And truthfully speaking between Marciea and I, we kept each other going, but our, our members really kept us going. They really just were the reason that we just kept pushing, no matter where we were at in life.
There were so many times where we were crying and yelling and what are we doing? This was just stupid. Why did we do this? But those are the moments, and I'll never forget, you know, Mike told us that there were times, you know where we would be, we had a coaching call with him one time and Marciea and I had been fighting over, we're life partners and we're business partners at the same time. And I was crying and she was frustrated and he was on zoom on the zoom call and we figured it all out, but he was these are the moments that you're going to look back on when you do get to where you want to go and you're going to be thankful for, because they're the moments that really decide your, your ability to fight through adversity and to just, and to rise above. So you're going to struggle and you just have to lean on the people that are around you and know that if you just keep fighting and putting one foot in front of the other, you will make it.
Most people quit before they even actually make an, because it's just too hard. And so if you can go into entrepreneurship with a bias at that, this is going to suck for a while, but it's not going to be forever, then then you'll, you'll make it, you know? And the entrepreneurial journey goes like this, right? It's one day you're making all the money and the next day you're losing all the money and the next day that great employees, the next year firing people. So it's always up and out. And if you can go into it, go in, those are the things that are gonna happen, then you'll make it, you're still going to struggle. But you'll make it knowing that, okay, this is normal, this is going to happen. You know.
Totally. When you hit those struggle points, how do you sort of evaluate a fit? You know? Is it ever actually a point where you should stop and maybe reevaluate and pivot? [00:30:10]
I think there are going to be points in time for some people that that is a realistic thing. Is that okay? Is this actually working? And I think that that's something you again need coaches and mentors for. You need people in your corner. We have a business consultant that, you know, helps us with our finances and stuff like that and looking at a CFO and you've got to find people around you that can take an, you know, an objective look at your business and be okay, this is time to either you guys either need to do this or you need to move on. You know?
So I think it's important again to have other people around because as entrepreneurs you'll just keep going. You'll keep going and going and going and spending money and borrowing money until you can't anymore and you put yourself in a crappy position. So it's important again, to surround yourself with people who are on the outside of the box, who can give you a really objective view of okay guys it's time to quit or no, you guys just gotta keep going. You gotta keep pushing. So you've got to have, got to have a team, you've got to have good people around you.
Totally, and you guys sort of have taken an interesting route and finding a business consultant to help help you along. How did you guys make that decision? Did you guys consider just bringing another co-founder on board? [00:31:18]
It was really interesting that you asked that question. Because when we expanded our studio, we took on debt and at the time it was, you know, as small business owners it's very difficult to find funding. We can't go to the SBA because technically according to them we discriminate because we own a small business association. So it's a government place that you can go like a small business could go and get funding from at a low interest rate. And we, they, we don't qualify because according to their seniors we discriminate because we only serve women and not men. So we couldn't go to them to get funding to expand. So a lot of small businesses are forced to go to almost these predatory lenders who charge you, you know, 70-80% interest on a loan and literally drown you. And so that was the direction that we had to go. We had no choice.
And after that happened, I had been searching for places to refinance all of our debt into one loan. And there was one day that I was this close to doing it. I was so close and we were so stressed because the payments were so high. And we're like, how are we gonna be able to do this? And I was this close. And I thought we had it. And then I got a phone call like 30 minutes later that they denied us and I was done.
That was my point of I can't do this anymore. I can't. I was crying. All my mom, I don't know what I'm going to do. And I'm a very faithful person. I'm a Christian, I have a lot of faith and I'm like, I just need some Jesus. So I went to see my pastor and I'm crying and I'm like, I don't know. And I said, you know, it's hard because Marciea would always tell me you shouldn't worry, you should have faith and you shouldn't be scared. And so I'm like, is it okay for me to be scammed on my pan? I'm like, is it okay for me to be scared? I'm scared, blah blah. Anyways, I felt better after I left, but then he called me and he's like, you know what Brittany? Cause I told him the whole situation and he was like, I actually might be able to help you when I was like, okay. He's like, I have this friend that works at a bank, give him a call. His name was Maurice, I'll never forget the guy's name. And I said, okay. So I called Marie and I told him my situation.
He said well, I can't help you, but I think I might have somebody who can. So he then put me in contact with Skynet, Craig, who was a president of a business lending area at a bank, at a local bank in Elmhurst. And he called me and he's like, well, you guys are too small. You're too new. I don't know if I can help you, but I've got this guy named clay and he does business consulting for small businesses. He was in banking for a long time and I think that he might be able to help you. And low and behold, I met the claim three years later, he's still here. And he just really has helped guide us just financially making decisions and really cleaning up our balance sheet and really cleaning up our cash flow on a month to month basis. And he's helped us get rid of a lot of debt that we had.
And he's really gotten us on the straight and narrow. So, and I'll never let that man go ever. He's been a savior. So it's, again, I'm not great at finances. It's not that I know about it, but I'm not great at it. So I found somebody who was good at it, who I knew could straighten out our business and who could give us an outsider's perspective of what we needed to do and bring us back to reality. That's exactly what he did. So you've got to connect yourself with people. You can't always think that you're going to know everything or be able to do everything. It's important to be okay, I'm not good at this. It goes back to delegation. I'm not good at this. I've got to find somebody who is.
So one thing that I really admire about Lady Strong and your guys' sort of journey is that when you guys started small, you literally listened to your customers who were talking to you. You can't stop you. You have to sort of move forward in this. If you could give some sort of advice to students who are looking at their own customers as it relates to listening to their customers, what would that sort of be? [00:34:41]
I believe that you know, there's the old saying that customers are always right. And I understand that that's true, but we do a lot of customer surveys around here. We ask a lot of questions of our members. We want their feedback, we want to know what they want to see, what they like, what they don't like. Because at the end of the day, it goes back to what I talked about earlier is that customer experience, it tribes your business. That is what is going to bring people in your door.
Is your customer experience, your member experience. What are you making these people feel when they come in here and how are you supposed to make that any better? If you don't listen to your people, you know, sometimes you're going to get you know, feedback and you're like, no, definitely not doing that. We've had it. I'm like, no, not doing that, but thanks. But then you're also going to get feedback. That's a really good idea. I never thought about doing that. Or you make adjustments in your processes where you make adjustments with your team. You put emphasis on certain things that people really like and you take away things that people may not necessarily be excited about.
So they are literally the driver of your business and you have to look at them as the people as the thermometer, you know, take their temperature every once in a while and figure out, you know, we have a system and what's called fit grid that we use and we do client, client outreach on there and it will generate 30 people a day that we outreach to for surveys. Like on a scale of one to 10, how is things going? Blah, blah. It's just asking them questions and we send them the emails of okay, how are you feeling on a scale of one to 10, what would you like to see differently? What do you like, what don't you like? And we do that on a daily basis because it's important to listen to your customers. They're the ones that ultimately pay your bills, number one. Number two, who help you create a better business. Yeah, that's important.
Mission wise, I think it's super important that you guys have this ladies from mission here where you're focused strictly on women and helping them with their fitness goals. How did you find the mission and how would you suggest others find their mission?
I think for us it just came again from listening to our customers. You know, after all the meetings that I've done with members and after all the stuff that, you know, we've heard and seen the women that come in here and just need a place to belong, they just need somebody to tell them that there were something and that we're here to make sure that they find what they're worth. You know, the wall says empowering women, we do it every day because there's a lot of women who come in here just lost. They've tried everything. They've tried every diet under the sun. They've tried every gym under the sun and they just need somebody to tell them how to do it and do it the right way so they can do it for the rest of their life.
And it came again from just listening to our people. And what they really need and what our women need is fitness. They need nutrition, but they also need accountability and mindset help and mindset work because a lot of them come in here with the mindset that they're just failures. They failed at everything. What makes us any different. Sure. And we have to shift the narrative for them in their head and teach them that, no, it's not over. You just have to do it the right way. There's not a lot of, you know, fitness places and health places out there that are doing it the right way. A lot of people are going for the quick fix or the workout that just absolutely smashes you in, but they're not teaching them about nutrition. They're not teaching you how to shift your mindset. They're not teaching you how to shift that internal narrative, that internal story that you continually tell yourself when you look in the mirror and you're disappointed with what you see, you know? So we really work on that a lot around here.
Totally! cool. Well thank you for sharing your story. I am very inspired by your mission here. And I think the students that are listening have a ton to learn from your story and sort of your growth from that small studio to this huge beautiful studio. [00:38:23]