Entrepreneurship is a journey filled with highs and lows, successes and failures, and unexpected twists and turns. For many entrepreneurs, it can take years to find their footing and achieve lasting success in the business world. Ben Lucas, the founder of Flow Athletic, a leading fitness and wellness center in Australia, has amassed a wealth of knowledge and expertise, navigating the complexities of entrepreneurship to build a thriving and successful enterprise. Here he shares 5 lessons he has learnt after a decade in business.
By Ben Lucas, Director and co-founder of Flow Athletic
A decade ago I decided to sell off my personal training studios, which were all thriving, to take a chance on a yoga instructor that I had stumbled across while training for a marathon.
I had retired from my NRL career and decided to buy into a fitness franchise that offered personal training studios. The first studio that I became a franchisee of went so well that I ended up opening three of them. I was working around the clock, the business was thriving, I started bringing in other trainers to help take on the client load but something was missing. I felt it may be the challenge and competitiveness that you get from playing footy, so to fill that void I started training for ultra endurance events. I ended up running 35 marathons and ultra marathons in the space of five years and towards the end of those five years, my body was starting to feel very sore. A friend suggested that I try yoga to help balance the endurance and strength training I was doing and that is how I stumbled across Kate Kendall.
Kate was an amazing teacher and her classes actually did improve my running. We got talking, I started doing personal training with her which improved her yoga practise as it built up her strength and that’s how the Flow Athletic concept was born. Our philosophy stemmed from balance, so for every cardio class, you should do a strength and a stretch/ yoga class.
Flow Athletic has gone from strength to strength over the past ten years, but it also had its challenges, namely lockdowns! Ten years on, this is what I have learned along the way.
5. Do your research
When myself and Kate connected and started talking about launching Flow Athletic, we wanted to make sure that it was a world- class concept that people would talk about, that the community loved, that people would hear about if they were to ever come into Sydney. We knew we wanted our concept to be based on the “Flow Philosophy” of balancing cardio, strength and yoga, but we also knew that we needed to keep things interesting to keep people engaged.
Kate and I went over to LA to research the latest trends over there and over the past 10 years excluding the lockdowns, one or both of us went overseas 1-2 times per year to get inspiration on new ideas that we could bring into the studio. This is how we discovered the hybrid workout concepts (30 minutes of two styles of training for as 1 hour workout), this is where the inspiration for our disco indoor cycle room came from and more.
When we first launched in Paddington, there were not too many gyms in the area. 10 years on, there are a million gyms and studios in the area but we are still extremely popular and our community is highly engaged. We believe that’s because we keep things fresh and interesting.
Don’t get me wrong, some of the concepts we brought in did not land and cost us unnecessary time and money, but if you don’t try things you will never know if they will work or not.
2. Your staff are your best asset
I could never understand how some bosses speak like their staff are replaceable. Our team are imperative to the success of our business and many of them have been with us for years! If you have a customer facing business, such as a fitness studio where you spend lots of social time with clients, your team are your ambassadors and your greatest asset so keeping them happy and engaged is worth your time.
It took us around a year to really hone in on the best team members for Flow Athletic, but now we really know who we are after and we hire well. We make sure we are always offering programs and courses that help them up skill, we reward our team members and we also do regular check ins on their goals and chats around what we can do to help them achieve those goals. If you have a good team, they are worth investing in.
Having said that, you do need the right people. Sometimes you get someone who may be lovely, but they are not quite aligned so for us it really helps to draw the picture of what we are after and have that as a guide for when we are hiring.
3. Engaging your community
Flow Athletic is a membership business and it is based in a specific location so keeping your community connected and engaged is important for success. Aside from having a great team, great trainers and great workouts, we also put on a number of events and challenges to keep people interacting and to keep them challenged. We have a run club where a lot of the members will travel for running events together, we do health challenges, goal setting workshops, we also host events such as Flow After Dark (the silent yoga disco that sold our Australia wide) and Nightclub Spin. We also try to get involved in things that both we and the community care about, from charity events to Pride and more.
4. Have a safety fund
We went from a thriving, healthy business with 20 salaried staff and international trips planned to being forced to close our doors for nearly 18 months or working with restricted numbers! Most business owners would never predict that. Fortunately we had a safety fund so in addition to the Government schemes that were happening at the time, we were able to keep our staff on salary although it definitely set the business back by around two years and we are still recovering from it.
During that time though, we needed to keep our community engaged as we didn’t want to start from zero. We had weekly meetings with the team where we could run ideas past each other on not only how to keep the business afloat, but how to support the community when they were going through a stressful time and how to support other local businesses. The local community really came together for each other so while it was a horribly stressful time that led to many sleepless nights and severe anxiety, it also was an experience that build a strong bond within the community.
5. You’ve Got to Risk It for the Biscuit
With no risk there is no reward, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be calculated with your risks.
When I sold off my fitness studios, that was a huge risk as I had a strong client base who unfortunately were all based over the bridge so it didn’t really help my Paddington based business. The businesses were also thriving. However I felt that I wanted to be creative with my own concept and I felt I had drawn on experience from running those businesses for five years and bringing on other trainers to help, so it was a calculated risk.
With the restrictions, our classes could barely fit anyone into them which meant members couldn’t fit into the classes they wanted to attend during the pandemic. We ended up hiring a second space down the road so that we could train more people. It obviously burned cash, but it also kept our members on their memberships, so it was a short term solution that has paid off now that we are back to normal.
We also change up our studio every few years depending on what offering we want to go with. That costs a bit every time we do it, but it keeps things fresh and engaging.
While there have been a few risks that were not worth taking, if you do them within your means and you can justify them that is what will help to keep a business fresh over 10 years and for us, we have found it to be necessary for continued engagement and growth.