The Entrepreneur: Nick Mitchell, Ultimate Performance Fitness

The founder of the world's "only" global PT business explains why overseas markets are key, and why entrepreneurialism isn't always glamorous

Founder: Nick Mitchell
Company: Ultimate Performance (UP) Fitness
Website: www.upfitness.co.uk
Description in one line: International personal training studios
Previous companies: N/A
Turnover: £10m annually

Business growth

Describe your business model and what makes your business unique:

  • We offer bespoke nutritional and exercise coaching to help clients maximise the efficiency of their health & fitness regimes.
  • Clients come to our gyms which are exclusively for working with our trained teams and one-to-one with an UP personal trainer.
  • We have a unique culture of relentlessly aiming to improve on everything that we do. Many businesses pay lip service to this aim, but very few have the tenacity and drive to follow through with it day after day. We do, and that is why we are the only international personal training business in the world.

What is your greatest business achievement to date?

I’m never satisfied so can I say there hasn’t been one? If you push me then I’d say that it is organically growing a successful management team, in an industry where everything is so new that we have to make up the business model as we go along.

What numbers do you look at every day in your business?

I don’t look at daily numbers as I feel there is no point. Weekly, I look at sessions delivered, specific to each individual trainer, and a range of sales information from consults to closes, through to no shows, deferrals, and where leads are sourced from. I do this for each gym in each country that we are based in.

To what extent does your business trade internationally and what are your plans?

We now generate more revenue outside of the UK than within it. The PT business model is not a very scalable one in the UK because you need a large population with a high disposable income, so for the PT side of the business, international expansion is now the key.

For 2016 we are looking to continue our Singapore and Hong Kong expansion, as well as starting to research the Japanese market. I will most likely be relocating to Los Angeles to spearhead a US business venture that will either take us to the next level or be one almighty expensive red herring!

Describe your growth funding path:

I had a partner in my original gym that I opened in 2009 and he provided some seed capital. Since then UP Fitness has been entirely self-funded and will continue to be for the PT side of the business. However, we are looking into various spin off projects that may require an external source of capitalisation.

What technology has made the biggest difference to your business?

None! I feel that we’ve been very bad with using technology although that is about to change with the launch of our Body Prophet app which is going to revolutionise how the fitness industry assesses the best protocols for individual clients.

The daily technology I can’t live without is email and FaceTime. The latter keeps me in touch with my business locations across the world, and allows me to spend most of my time at home in Spain.

Where would you like your business to be in three years?

I want to see UP facilities across the US, Asia and Australia. For various economic and specific fitness industry reasons, Europe is probably a bit of a dead duck for us outside of the UK.

We expect overall turnover to be at least £35m per annum within the next three years.

Growth challenges

What is the hardest thing you have ever done in business?

I had to force myself to trust people in order to properly delegate and achieve efficiency.

What was your biggest business mistake?

Trusting people!

Piece of Red Tape that hampers growth most:

I steer clear of red tape and delegate all of that, so I’m not qualified to comment. In a similar vein though, I just don’t understand the concept of “employer’s tax”.

Taxing companies, especially smaller start-up operations, to take on staff makes no sense to me at all. There should be incentives for job creation as opposed to this kind of penalisation.

What is the most common serious mistake you see entrepreneurs make?

Too many business owners get caught up in the glamorous dream of being an entrepreneur as opposed to the reality of the numbing day-to-day grind.

In my small niche of the fitness industry a lot of trainers want what I have but if they knew what it took to get there, and if they had any appreciation of the ongoing sacrifices that I have to make, they’d pass on the dream. The problem is that too many people get into debt chasing the dream before they realise that it’s not for them.

How will your market look in three years?

The fitness industry in the UK isn’t really growing, but as it matures it is becoming more niche That will continue and there will, no doubt, be more personal training businesses.

However, I doubt if many of these businesses will become more than owner operated standalone facilities. The PT business model is too dependent upon staff and is extremely challenging to scale properly.

What is the single most important piece of advice you would offer to a less experienced entrepreneur?

Ask yourself what you really want your life to look like in five to 10 years’ time. In most cases, in order to be successful, you will need to be consumed by work for a heck of a long time and not consumed by the drive to own a Ferrari or a yacht.

If you’re aiming for the Tim Ferris inspired “4 Hour Work Week” dream then by all means fly solo, but don’t fool yourself that you can start a successful business that makes money while you’re sleeping.

Personal growth

Biggest luxury:

They know my face in too many Four Seasons hotels!

Executive education or learn it on the job?

In my previous careers I’ve been surrounded by MBAs from top business schools. Yes they were smart, but they’d also have been smart before dropping $100,000 on their MBA!

Based on my observation of people who have been infinitely more successful than me, and also based on my own hard earned lessons, there is no substitute for experience, especially failures. Nothing has taught me more about myself and how I need to react and think than my hardest of times.

What would make you a better leader?

Spending more time with key staff. A few years ago I’d have replied “patience and empathy” to this question, but these have been learned skills once I realised I was making too many mistakes by lacking them.

Business book:

I tend to take my business ideas from observing how other business work more than books. The commercial world around me is a constant source of inspiration for concepts to think about. If I had to recommend one book that would get start up entrepreneurs thinking it is The E-Myth by Michael Gerber.

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