“When you first started your facility, was your business very cyclical? Currently, I have pigeonholed myself into hockey athletes (which I love and believe to be my niche). I’ve gotten results and have built a good hockey following. This summer we had 42 athletes, almost all hockey players. In the fall, I worked with 22 athletes, almost all hockey players. Right now, I have six non-hockey athletes, two hockey teams, and about 11 general fitness clients (barely making ends meet). Should I try to get into the lacrosse community? Build out more general fitness stuff? More in-season hockey teams? Should I continue to expect summer to make my year and then wait out the rest of the year for next summer? Any thoughts are greatly appreciated.”

It was almost one year ago that I posted this on the forum. This April 1, 2010, will mark two years since I have moved into my new facility in Weymouth, Massachusetts. I started out in about 800 square feet in Braintree, Massachusetts, where I spent one year developing a small following. I then moved into my current facility of 3000 square feet because that group of clients began to grow. As you can see from the above forum post, I deal almost exclusively with high school and collegiate hockey players in the off-season.

I attended Thayer Academy in Braintree, Massachusetts, where I played for the hockey team. We had a decent club and I enjoyed moderate success there. From Thayer, it was on to Babson College, where I’m still the only three-time captain in program history. My junior year, I was an All-American selection. So you can see that my roots are firmly planted in ice hockey. I also never ventured far from home, so it just made sense to set up shop on the south shore and train hockey players. It was always my dream to open my own shop. I spent my high school summers working at Mike’s Canton Sportsplex location and loved every minute. It was in my blood.

Fast forward to today
I won’t rehash last summer’s numbers, as you can find them above. However, I will tell you that last winter was slow as molasses, and I even had the electric company threaten to shut me down because I was behind in my payments. My rent was also averaging about two weeks late. Because 95 percent of my clients play hockey, they go MIA during the winter. As valuable as it is to train during the season, when you have kids going to school, traveling to practice and games, doing homework, maintaining a social life, and all of the other things that come in high school, you won’t be able to get them into the gym on a consistent basis. When things slowed down in the winter, I also took on an assistant coaching job at a local high school with their hockey team, which I loved.

I’m happy to say that as spring rolled around, we had some of our players come back. I caught up on my late bills, and we were primed for a big summer. Last summer, our session times were 8:00, 9:00, and 10:00 a.m. Staff lifted from 12:00–2:00 p.m. or sometimes at 3:00 p.m. We had a few afternoon kids who would roll in around 3:00 p.m. when we were finishing up and then our general fitness clients came in from 6:00-7:15 p.m. (only about eight of these clients).

This summer we went from two-hour sessions where we were wasting a decent amount of time and just not being as efficient as possible to 90-minute sessions where there was very little standing around or wasted time. The facility flow was much better due to some tweaks in program design and also my two full-time staff members had another year under their belt and did an excellent job for us. Our session times were 6:00, 7:15, 8:00, 8:45, 9:30, 10:15, and 11:00 a.m. Staff lifted from 12:30–2:30 p.m., and we had a few clients in the afternoon slots. We also had the same eight evening general fitness clients. We had 72 clients this summer. Fifty-five were high school kids and 10 were college kids. The remainder was my faithful fitness clients. We were able to gross almost the exact amount of money that was generated in the previous year in just three short months. So summer again was great, and we enjoyed the growth.

As we rolled the fall program in, I was hoping to hang on to half of my summer clients through the fall and transition them into a three-day program that would allow flexibility with school and more demands being made of their time. In Massachusetts, the fall select hockey teams are almost as popular as high school hockey with just as many games played and often times more. Hockey players during the fall have one practice with a select team. One day is captain’s practice for high school and then they play 2–3 games on the weekends. Trying to squeeze three days of lifting in during the fall can be tough, so I also offer a two-day program for these kids. There are a few kids who come in one day per week as well. We are currently in the middle of fall where I have 30 total clients total—25 high school and middle school kids and five fitness clients. On Sunday afternoons, I also do some off-site work for Canton Youth Hockey. You can see that the slow down is pretty substantial from summer to fall.

The goal is that the leftover cash flow from summer will help carry us through the slower months on top of what we’re able to generate from the present programs. Even though we were able to generate a hell of a lot more business this year, I’m not willing to just hold on for dear life through the winter. Last year, there were mornings where I couldn’t even afford my beloved iced coffee. Every time the first of the month rolled around, I’d have a mild panic attack trying to figure out ways to be creative and pay my bills. Things like driving my car around with the low fuel light on for extended periods of time and skipping meals was the rule, not the exception. This isn’t any way to live, although I think this experience has conditioned me to be able to deal with lean times. Being broke sucks!

Today is October 14, 2010. Last week I interviewed for an assistant coaching job at a more prestigious school that will pay more and also generate more money on the back end in the way of new clients at the facility. Also, I have developed a new program that will be a two-week prep camp for high school hockey tryouts. I figure I will blend my unique skills of on-ice and off-ice work to create a new breed of camp for these kids. Most of the coaches in the area run some type of “conditioning” camp for tryout preparations that are a waste of time. I have some new, fresh ideas that I think will make this camp a success. The expenses associated with this type of camp are pretty low, which means the risk is low. However, I do see this as almost a new stand alone business that has potential for future growth. The worst that can happen is that I will break even with my current sign ups. The best that can happen is that the new cash flow will offset my slow winter at the gym, make a splash with some area parents, and produce steady growth for future on-ice/off-ice combination programs.

Now from a business standpoint, I also happen to be at the end of my first lease at the new building. I first signed a 20-month lease on my space and that 20 months will be complete on November 1, 2010. We are in the process of negotiating a new lease, which will be more supportive of the business model I’ve chosen. We’re positioning ourselves to sign a three-year lease in the current space with the landlord upgrading some lighting and sprucing the place up a bit. We’re also going to include a clause that allows us out of the lease after two years without penalty in case we need to pursue more space. I think two summers from now, 3000 square feet won’t be able to fulfill our needs (a great problem to have).

Another strategy that I think will pay huge dividends on a financial basis as well as a stress basis is a variable rent rate. This means I will pay less through my slow months and more during my busy months. The landlord was very receptive to this, and I believe it will free me up to spend more time at rinks this winter without worrying about making my rent payments at the gym. I really think this will be a great arrangement. As I prepare for winter 2010, I can rest easy knowing that there will be new cash flow from the new camp business, potentially a new coaching gig (if I don’t get the new one, the old one will be great as well), and lower rent due at the gym.

The biggest factors that have been responsible for our growth have been doing a great job at getting results for the kids, motivating kids to succeed, making kids mentally tougher, and genuinely caring about where these kids are in their lives. By the end of three-month session, most of these kids become my friends and will text or Facebook me questions about the college process, relationship advice, and other stuff they’re going through. When you get to that point with your clients, they wouldn’t even entertain the thought of training somewhere else.