Our Story | Austin and Zander Arthur
Growing up as gymnasts in our parent’s gym in Miami, FL, my Brother and I never knew much of anything else. My Father was a gymnast, my Mother was a gymnast, and in the 80s, as a married couple, they opened one of the first recreational style gymnastics centers in Florida.
At that time, my parents were witnessing the fall of gymnastics in school gymnasiums, and knew Club Gymnastics was the future of the sport. They weren’t business people, they weren’t managers, they weren’t anything but gymnastics coaches, but they had a vision.
A vision that gymnastics could be a business, an enterprise, a new phenomenon.
But they had no idea how to start, so they did the best thing you can do when you don’t know how to start, you start.
In their first location, when I was shy of being three years old, I remember watching in awe as the gymnasts vaulted over the horse. After their practice, I would take a crack at it, but with the horse so high and the springboard being harder than concrete to me, I couldn’t possibly get airborne.
Then, one day I saw an opportunity. Someone had placed a stool in front of the horse. , this was my chance I thought. I started at the end of the Vault runway, ran as fast as I could, jumped onto the stool, and as the stool tipped over towards the horse, bam! I smashed my face. Of course, I had my tongue out the whole time, causing me to bite it; blood was everywhere. It was late that night, my mom sitting at the front desk was likely already stressed, organizing the bills, invoices, tuition, rosters, scheduling, nevertheless, she came to the rescue to console me. Until this day, I still have a one inch scar on my tongue representing my first vault. I show it to my gymnasts, from time to time, to teach the importance of keeping your tongue in your mouth. In 2008, my parents sold Florida Gymnastics Training Center, and moved to a small town near Ocala, FL to retire. My brother and I, myself being 18 years old, had no idea what we were doing or where we were going. We found ourselves moving to Orlando, FL, because like many retired male gymnasts, I landed a job at Disney as a Stunt Performer. My brother and I also coached at local gymnastics centers on the side. I coached competitive gymnastics, and Austin focused more on the managerial side of recreational gymnastics. As employees, we were constantly trying to fulfill the vision of our parents; to streamline the gym into a turnkey operation. We were a package deal to gym owners, and were far overzealous, causing a love/hate relationship with the owners. This led us to a disgruntled mentality that if we could just open our own gym, nothing could stop us. Of course, we were wrong, but that was more than our juvenile ignorant and arrogant minds could comprehend at the time. So in 2012, we opened Stars and Stripes Management, a resource company for gym owners, we built a business plan for our own gymnastics center, went to USAG congress, pitched it to an investor, and in 2014 we opened our first gym.
Our first tuition cycle was $8,000. It was the coolest day of our lives to see that much money come in one day. My brother and I celebrated feeling like we were on top of the world, masters of the universe, business magnates, entrepreneurial geniuses. Yes, together we thought we were the Wright brothers, the Koch brothers, the McDonald brothers. Then payday came along for our employees, and we calculated that our payroll was going to be $16,000, and just like that, we were already in the hole, deep in the hole. So what was us ‘Koch brothers’ supposed to do? Borrow money? Default? Fold? With our boastful attitudes and grandstanding, there was no way our ego would allow us to fail.
So, to catch up with our major and ever-growing deficit, we did what we knew how to do best, grow. We marketed through flyers, social ads, search ads, email blasts, community outreach, and just got creative on how to make a ‘sign up’ irresistible. Students were flooding in, each month 100 more than the last. The new enrollments brought in revenue, but that new revenue had to be used to facilitate the our previous clients and liabilities. And so the cat and mouse game began. We were constantly attempting to get new business to pay for old business.
Through that constant pursuit, near captures, and repeated escapes, within just four years, we ended up having a 50,000-square foot facility with over 4,000 class enrollments (around 2000 students), making us the largest gymnastics center in Florida. Just like how great wars result in technological civilian advancements, four different brands manifested from our endeavors to grow Gymnastics USA… Ninja Kidz, Climbers Aerial Silks, My Web Solution, and MySkillChart.com. Through these brands we served hundreds of clubs and consulted club owners across the world in gymnastics, dance, swim, and cheer gyms alike. Over the years, I personally spoke to hundreds of gym owners, and through these conversations many confide with me their struggles. They tell me they are overwhelmed, they can’t find good employees, they can’t grow, they can’t retain. For some, throwing in the towel and returning to being just a coach or team parent seems to be the most logical choice. But with all their styles and stories being unique, they all tend to have the same problems; the lack of legitimacy, agility, organization, and leadership. They might have a vision of where they want to be, but simply don’t know how to get there. The ideas flow like a river, but execution halts it like a dam. Many have the knowledge on what needs to get done, but just don’t know where to start. Through these conversations, Austin and I realized the importance of what we call the Company Legitimacy Pyramid. A legitimate company is one that has stable growth, is predictable, and provides a consistent service to its community. Imagine your business as a pyramid with 5 different layers, and to be clear this is NOT a hierarchy pyramid of employee/management status.
First, you begin with a minimal viable product or service, one that fulfills the needs of your community. Second, you must brand that product and service with an attractive design. Third, you must provide security and legality to your business through client retention modules, industry compliance, and risk mitigation. Fourth, you must build a real marketing and sales foundation. And fifth, at the top of the pyramid, you must continually control the quality of your business through systems of management and product development.
Agility is being able to adapt to changes in your staff, the market, and nature. You should not dig yourself into an original way of doing things, an old business plan, or specific way someone did it in the past. Agility is being able to adapt to feedback from your clientele, employees, and managers. In software, we call this “user acceptance testing”, where the users (your employees, your clients, your members) give feedback on their experience. If a process or system is not working, don’t say “well, that's how we always done it”, change it. In our offices, we have a quote on a white board, that’s been up there so long it’s now permanent, that states a mantra, “change or die!”.
Organization is creating roles, positions, and departments that constitute the body, heart, and brain of your business. It’s the organization of your business that determines its ability to operate, and dictates its ultimate success, not people. This is done by creating self-organized teams, with ongoing cycles of business and product development, alignment, and vision. The organization of your business needs to be mapped out, and should address every aspect of your company. Every person within your business, (employee, affiliates, owners, or stakeholders) need to be assigned to a part of that organizational map.
There are no bad teams, just bad leaders. It’s in our nature to be selfish, lazy, and ungrateful and the only way to prevent this primitive state is to be held accountable. Accountable to a superior with good character, values, and a clear vision. A good leader is focus-driven, consistent, and attentive. A leader provides a platform for open communication, prioritizes and executes, addresses issues swiftly, and serves his or her team members. As the gym-owner, you must be a leader, by holding your employees accountable through your own extreme ownership, not top down authority. Taking ownership of every problem and short fall in your business.
In the chaos of growth and potential collapse, I often myself wanted to give up; Founders Depression is a real thing. Speaking for myself, I consistently lived in the future, waiting for the day to ‘make it’, waiting for the day that all stress is relieved and my problems just wash away. But that day never came, and never will. I realized that the ‘here and now’ is what matters most, so long it is coupled with a definite chief aim, and daily progress towards that aim. So now, when I become emotional, and feel the urge to give up the fight, I look at myself in the mirror, open mouth and see the one inch scar on my tongue. It reminds me that my part in the business I’m in, is too deep for me to uproot.
Through our journey, we’ve learned that it took us seven years to learn how to get it wrong, just so we can spend seven more years getting it right. Our first seven years of being in business is coming to an end, and the seven more have just begun.
And with that, I want to set the framework for others, such as our followers, members, clients, staff, families, and children to achieve their greatest potential and ultimate happiness.
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