My Gym is a Decade Older, and So Am I

Confession - I’m terrified of becoming the David Wooderson of the performance enhancement facility world.

Long before winning an Academy Award for Best Actor in the film Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey played a “20-something year old loser who still hangs out with high schoolers” (IMDB character description) named David Wooderson in the movie Dazed & Confused. His character is best known for saying:

"That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age."

I used to think Wooderson was a creepy but lovable character, but now I just find myself wondering if the high school, collegiate, and professional athletes pass me in our gym and see me as the guy who is obviously far too old for the party. I am acutely aware of the fact that while I keep getting older, our target market does not.

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When we opened the doors of our gym and began targeting primarily athletes, being 25 years old was a pretty good thing. I was just old enough to be taken seriously by parents and coaches, just young enough to be respected by the high schoolers, and enough removed from my undergrad experience to understand how to communicate with college students.

In what feels like the blink of an eye, my window of relatability with youth athletes has passed. Connecting with, and influencing 15 to 22 year olds is much harder at 35 years of age than it was at 25.

Losing sleep over your ten-year plan for personal development is probably a waste of time when you should be concerned with surviving year one. However, if you are fortunate enough to maintain a profitable business for long enough to completely age-out of effectively serving your target market, these are the three best pieces of advice I have:

  1. Hire young. The only way to keep the identity of your business youthful is to find young professionals to share your training philosophy with the world. You could bring your friends on board because they’re fun to work with, but you’d better be ready to reinvent yourself as the newest general fitness pop service provider on the block.

  2. Coach your coaches instead of just your athletes. While your clients may not see you as a role model like they used to, your employees may. Take the role of developing young fitness professionals seriously and you’ll likely find it to be as rewarding as your time working with athletes.

  3. Capitalize on the harsh reality that you are now closer in age to a lot of your clients’ parents than you are to their kids. The silver lining here is that you’re better positioned to understand the psyche of the adults who spend their time waiting in your lounge. As a result, you are properly equipped to pitch your training services to them as well. As your young staff is creating a memorable training experience on the gym floor, you should be focusing on cultivating a new target market in the office. The bulk of our first dozen or so CSP Strength Campers were recruited in this very context.

Surviving ten years of business operations is a great problem to have, but it’s a problem nonetheless if you resist accepting the reality that you’re no longer the relatable 20-something that you were at the onset. Mature businesses need to be managed by mature business owners. Instead of faking your way through relating to teenage clients, I encourage you to age gracefully with your business. It isn’t easy.