Open Letter to Aspiring Gym Owners

TAGS: gym owners, Monster Garage Gym, owning a gym, Eric Maroscher, powerlifting, Elitefts Info Pages, training

At the Monster Garage Gym (MGG), we get a good volume of email inquiries about training, technique assessment, equipment advice, nutrition and meet preparation, and we also get emails from time to time about the gym itself.

Recently, I received an email from a future gym owner. He asked some thoughtful questions about MGG because he wants to open a gym in New York. He asked if we had outside investors and how we started MGG. We went back and forth via email and I think the advice served him well. With helping in mind, which is the elitefts™ way, I thought that if I can help this future gym owner, perhaps others future gym owners might have similar questions. Maybe the information I shared with him could potentially help others. I suspect, based on our emails back and forth, that this particular future gym owner from New York will be quite successful.

With that said, here was my response to him as well as my top 10 components for what I feel can contribute to the success of a real powerlifting gym. I hope this is of some value to you (future powerlifting gym owner).

frantz center The original Frantz Health Studio in Aurora, Illinois, a three-story facility that, over the years, was home to some of the best powerlifters in history (Ed Coan, Ernie Frantz, Jose Garcia, Paul Urchick, Bill Nichols, Stephanie Van De Weghe and more). Photo courtesy of Ernie Frantz/Howard Penrose.

Glad you like the articles. I appreciate the feedback. Regarding your question about outside investors to purchase equipment and the like, I think in the case of Monster Garage Gym (MGG), it was a little different than with most gyms. I had been collecting weights and gym equipment for, well, years, so there wasn't any initial need for investors. I always knew that in addition to my “real job” (I'm a high school assistant principal), I would open my own powerlifting gym. Although I trained at Frantz Gym with Ernie Frantz and the team for a chunk of years, I also trained at home with this equipment and weights as well as at a mom and pop-type gym nearby. (The mom and pop-type gym was actually a really nice hard core bodybuilding gym. They let me build my deadlift platform and gave me and my small crew the room in the back.)

EricErnieWPCWORLDS2014 MGG owner, Eric Maroscher and Ernie Frantz (2014) having breakfast at the 2014 WPC World Powerlifting Championships. Photo courtesy of MGG.

Fast forward to my move into the area where I'm at now (Gurnee, Illinois area). I had moved away from my mom and pop gym and the Frantz Team and the amazing lifters like Bill Nichols, a then teenager named Jose Garcia, Stephanie Van De Weghe and Ernie Frantz. I had weights and equipment that I had collected over the years in my garage. I bought all the good stuff every time a gym went out of business and other stuff I bought on my own like my newly purchased elitefts™ monolift, my bench press and my reverse hyper.

MGG1.0MOVINGDAY MGG 1.0 was literally a 2.5-car garage with some 15 powerlifters all squished into it on a training day. This is some of the gang psyching up for “moving day” from 1.0 to MGG 2.0. Photo courtesy of MGG.

Over time, some of the powerlifters who knew about me (I won a few things back in the day) heard that I had moved into the area. They also heard about my setup in my garage, and they knew about my team and my training system. They started training with us and it became a quickly growing group of lifters. In a year’s time, there was a good, steady core of lifters training with me at my home facility in this tiny garage. Around that time, Phillip Daniels from the Redskins asked if he could train with me and my guys because he was getting ready for another year in the NFL.

ERICPHILMGG2.0 MGG 2.0, Waukegan, Illinois. Co-founders, Eric Maroscher and Phillip Daniels. Photo courtesy of MGG.

After a few years of training Phil and training with Phil (not to mention developing a solid and trusting friendship), we decided to open a powerlifting gym, so we shopped around for a place. We started with a small, 1500-square-foot warehouse. That facility was our first MGG with a business license, insurance, bank account and utilities. At that time, in order to keep the place running, the lifters paid monthly fees (as they do now) and, in addition to their monthly fees, Phil and I paid monthly as well. However, unlike the $60 the lifters paid, for those first few years, Phil and I easily paid $200–300 a month during the winter months to cover the heating bill.

PHILSQUAT Phillip Daniels, MGG co-founder, Washington Redskins (retired) Defensive end, single-ply 800-pound squatter and 700-pound raw deadlifter. Photo courtesy of MGG.

Part of getting this first gym was putting together a business plan. In hindsight, because I had never done that (I did 99 percent of my research online), the process was an invaluable tool and experience. My job was to do all things MGG, and Phil’s job was to be Phil because he would live in Washington, D.C., during the NFL season. Phil just being Phil was very important. Phil’s athletic background in the NFL alone (along with a partner who is an active competitive powerlifter) was an important early feather in the cap of what we wanted the gym to be and who we wanted to attract to the gym because we both knew the sport so well.

MGG2.0 Inside MGG 2.0. Photo courtesy of MGG.

As you know, the powerlifting world is small, and word spread about MGG 2.0. We started to get some additional quality lifters (guys like top 50 all-time American bench presser and APF Senior Nationals Best Lifter Mike Strom).

MIKESSBBANDS Top 50 All-Time American Bencher (181- and 198-pound division), APF Senior Nationals Best Lifter and 2014 WPC World Powerlifting Championships qualifier Mike Strom. Photo courtesy of MGG.

Once we were ahead on money and had hit critical mass with the number of powerlifters, we upgraded to a place around 2500 square feet. We negotiated for a longer lease to keep our monthly rental rate very low, and in hindsight, this was even more important than we realized. With a good chunk of money in the bank (not anything to live on but enough to buy a new piece of equipment every six months or so), we are now looking to expand into the unit next to us (knock the wall down), so we would be at about 5000 square feet. We are in the “hurry up and wait” mode because we are waiting for other’s leases to run out.

Going into this, I wasn't and still am not worrying about making money. I said all along that I'm about making champions and, if I clear $1.00 for the year, the gym, financially, is a success. Having said that, I'm not in a location like you are (in New York) where there are many people in a small geographical location. Thus, you could probably have a great place for powerlifters to train and yet still make money.

The MGG is located in Gurnee, Illinois. It's too far from Chicago for folks to come train with us on a daily basis. Many guys make the hour or so drive on a weekend to train with the big boys on the best equipment around and in the best atmosphere that I have ever trained in. I would say the average member drives a good 40 minutes to come train at MGG, but as you know, real powerlifters will travel to train in a powerlifting gym. My drive to Frantz was 90 minutes there and 90 minutes back and it was worth every minute on the road training with great lifters.

BILLERIC Powerlifting legend Bill Nichols of the original Frantz Gym and MGG owner Eric Maroscher (circa 1995). Photo courtesy of MGG.

With so many health clubs and cookie-cutter fitness places (and with their fees so cheap), finding investors is most likely a no-go because they know powerlifting gyms aren't typically a lucrative investment. Having said that, there isn't anything wrong with giving that a shot. Without investors, my recommendation is to perhaps start smaller like I did and let it grow through your hard core base of loyal lifters who believe in your gym and the sport of powerlifting as much as you do.

There are a few things that helped me, my top 10 if you will, which you might find of use. This list is by no means an exhaustive list and it doesn't include business models, marketing strategies, best practices for taxes, LLC versus corporation, insurance and the like because that is a wholly different topic.

Having said that, these ten components, in my opinion, are of paramount importance with regards to creating an authentic powerlifting gym because, without them, it won’t matter how sound of a business plan you have. Serious powerlifters know the “real deal” when they see it. Flashy ads and low prices might get them into a gym, but those non-substantive things won't keep them there. Those things won't grow a team and won't help you create champions. Powerlifters, the serious powerlifters, will make what others consider too far of a drive to train if the gym is authentic. For that to happen, the forces behind the gym must be authentic. The man behind the curtain must live and breathe and love his creation. Anything else is just smoke and mirrors in my own personal view. So we'll consider authenticity number 11 for this list.

MGG3.0 Equipment is a major ingredient. MGG 3.0 has two elitefts™ monolifts, benches, a reverse hyper, a Mondo Monster leg press, power racks and more. Photo courtesy of MGG.

The List

1. Equipment

If I'm going to spend hard-earned Monster money, you can bet your life that it's going to be on the best piece of equipment you can get. That's how I ended up getting to know the equipment from elitefts™. I was researching and researching for the best equipment around and that name kept coming up. What I found was that the welds were superior, the metal was a far more aggressive and sturdy gauged metal, the design had the lifter in mind and the company’s reputation for customer service was impeccable. The more I researched, the more I realized that, in my opinion, elitefts™ was and is the zenith of powerlifting equipment. The quality of equipment for your gym is absolutely essential and needs to be what I would personally want to use. Because of this, I don't have a sub-standard anything at MGG. In the beginning, your gym might not have a reputation to attract great lifters, nor would you necessarily have a big group, so initially serious lifters will look for a place that has great equipment. The other stuff follows that.

2. Family

I wanted a gym like Ernie Frantz had because his gym/team was really a family during that time period. That is what MGG is—a family. I know all about my lifters and we all look out for one another. There is a world of difference between 20 people training at the same gym with ear-buds and 20 powerlifters training with one another, spotting one another, coaching one another and encouraging one another. We cookout in the summer, we attend one another’s meets, we train each other, we joke with each other and we're honest with each other.

STEVEGRILL One thousand-pound squatter and WPC World Powerlifting Champion Steve Brock grilling up a feast at a post-training MGG cookout. Photo courtesy of MGG.

If the biggest, baddest guy in the gym is squatting high at MGG, it is our obligation as family to respectfully tell him that. We are brutally honest, but it's honesty with respect and that is the family way. So family is key and, as the owner, you set the tone. If you're dishonest, if you don't have a moral compass and if your ethics are shaky, you're building your gym’s reputation on a poor foundation.

I never lie to my guys or ladies at the gym and sometimes that means making hard decisions and having difficult conversations. Sometimes it means not everyone can train at your gym. It means being honest with folks who just don’t fit in or who are takers. It sometimes means that some folks unfortunately need to be shown the door because keeping your gym about the greater good is paramount for the positive environment that helps bring the best out of the members. I have guys who will bring in at their own expense a pallet of paper towels or bathroom cleaner or chalk. They do this because they are helping out the family. I want each lifter to be the absolute best that he or she can be and that permeates through the gym and makes us thick as thieves and tight as a drum.

As a family, we qualified eight MGGers for the WPC Worlds in 2014. A gym with one strong powerlifter is pretty rare but qualifying eight is unheard of. In large part, that is because of the family aspect, which allows for ravenous lifters who hunt down and devour victory because they're 110 percent supported by their team/training partners.

3. Free

The Monsters know that if it's free and we can use it, we will. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. For example, all the rubber mats at MGG were mats that were being tossed from other places. I got them, cleaned them (because they were disgusting), and we use them. Our paint for the gym was being tossed out by a company, so we asked if we could have it for free. It was put to good use. Most of our picture frames are from either the Dollar Store or a second-hand store. You can buy a new, high quality 18” X 24” frame for $20–30 bucks or just go to a thrift store, get an old 18” X 24” painting for $2.50, cut that old print of velvet Elvis out of it and frame your Ed Coan poster for the gym wall.

MGGINSTAGRAM Facebook...free. YouTube...free. Twitter and Instagram…free and free. Take advantage of free social media. Our YouTube page is at 1.5 million views with our current video rotation and over 7.3 million views if we were to have all our videos public. Free is good!

4. Tone

Set the tone. Put your weights away, turn off the bathroom light when you're done, clean up after yourself—the lifters will see that you respect the place and they will, too. It isn't a gym. It's a shrine, a temple, a fortress of solitude. You know it, they know it and they will tell the new lifters/members so they know it. When the bathroom light is left on at MGG, the gang knows to shout out, “amateur!” It's a light-hearted reminder to the new guy that we waste nothing at MGG and that means turning the lights off. A box of gym chalk at elitefts™ is like $15. I want that $15 to go to chalk, not pay part of the electric bill.

5. Core group

A core group will develop. Ask them what is missing and, because you aren't creating a vision and mission, fill in the gaps with what they want. MGG wasn't my choice for the gym’s name. I was thinking more along the lines of Maroscher Powerlifting or MPG (Maroscher Powerlifting Gym). But the kids in the neighborhood where MGG 1.0 was would walk by and say to their parents, “Look mom, a garage full of monsters,” when the big guys were training heavy with the garage door open. The lifters back then liked that, so I played around with the word 'monster' and, because it was a gym in a garage, we got Monster Garage Gym.

Anyway, the core group is key. I have a gym full of great lifters, but my core group is in a group on my personal Facebook page. I run ideas by them all the time. Sometimes I think I might have a good idea, but together we have great ideas. They help me decide about all kinds of things. If you think that you have the best ideas all the time, you're missing the powerlifting boat, so get a core group.

6. Labor of love

I love planning everything about MGG, from the placement of the equipment to the photos to the signage to the videos to the Instagram photos, Facebook posts and article mentions. I do all that and I love it all. That isn't to say that it isn’t hard work. Trust me—the business aspect (taxes, trademarks, patents, bills) is never ending. While some folks leave work and head out to their favorite watering hole or veg out watching their favorite television shows, I do Monster stuff. My joke is that you can accomplish almost anything when you have no social life. LOL. Truth be told, powerlifting and MGG are my social life, and as a future gym owner, you want to share with the world all the great aspects about your gym.

MGGCHALKBIN An MGG Instagram photo. Lots of great photo software out there that is 100 percent free. Photo courtesy of MGG.

7. Talent

I have some uber talented lifters at my place. Dr. Al is a carpenter, electrician, plumber, you name it. So with Alan, we have a quid pro quo arrangement. When a project comes up, he is on it and it costs the gym nothing. In turn, Al never pays a dime to train at the gym with his 24/7/365 membership and he never has to pay for an MGG shirt. Mack is an amazing welder and fabricator. He makes a lot of specialized gadgets and gizmos for MGG. Like Dr. Al, MGG just pays for the materials and Mack does the work. In turn, Mack also never pays for a membership and never pays for his MGG shirts.

Ralph, another member and a talented powerlifter, is a guy who laid floors for a living. He just finished our old office floor in return for six months free at MGG. The floor looks professionally done because Ralph is a professional. If you have talent, work symbiotically with them. Matt, one of our raw powerlifters, was our first gym photographer, and in my opinion, he helped set the tone for outstanding quality when it came to our web page. His photos are truly art and he would take 600 shots during one training session just to get 15 breathtaking photos. If the photos aren't up to the standard that Matt set, they don’t get posted. Talent is critical, and it will be there at your gym if you look closely enough and get to know your lifters well enough.

ATLASSTONES Monster made chalk bin, box squat platforms and Atlas Stone platform via our very own powerlifting carpenter, Dr. Al. Atlas Stones mixed and poured into stone molds by Ralph and Dr. Al at the MGG. Photo courtesy of MGG.

8. Women

At MGG, we have the Monsterettes. This is a group of amazingly strong female powerlifters. MGG isn't a meat market. These ladies come to MGG to get as strong as possible, train to compete, get a superior spot and lift off and get the best coaching. They get 100 percent respect and are no more and no less a part of the team than the guys. I see gym owners dumb things down for female lifters. Big mistake because they're smarter than most guys anyway. They have their own bathroom, but that is about the only thing that is different for them.

Within the Monsterettes, we have two Monsterettes who bench well over 200 pounds raw, another who pulls 500 pounds on a routine basis, an AWPC RAW World Champion, two who qualified for the NAS National Strongman Championships, and two who qualified for the 2014 RUM. These are serious powerlifters and they can smell it when guys are being fake to them.

MONSTERETTES5 Some of the MGG’s Monsterettes. Photo courtesy of MGG.

9. Control

There are things that you'll want to control if you want a certain message out there about your gym. I built our web page monstergaragegym.com from the ground up. I shot, edited and uploaded all our videos and I maintain the MGG YouTube channel. I'm not a tech savvy person, so I had to learn this stuff. I know what photos I want on Instagram and what messages I want on Twitter. Now mind you, the guys at the gym had to constantly bug me to get on Twitter and Instagram, but that goes back to the core group.

Speaking of control, here is the “why” to the control. I know what message I want others to get from MGG and that message is positivity because that is a true reflection of the gym. You will never see anything posted on social media from MGG that is negative on purpose. I feel that there is enough of that out there and we are about making champion powerlifters. Anything other than the positive simply takes away from that.

10. Equality and diversity

In a powerlifting gym, you'll start out with a modest and similar group of lifters, but as the group grows, it will become more eclectic. You will have seasoned lifters, elite lifters and brand new lifters. It will run the gamut. It is important to help the 200-pound bencher just as much as it is the 700-pound bencher. If both are giving it their all, they both deserve a great lift off, a careful spot and sound feedback. No one lifter who is giving it his all is more important than another lifter of lesser strength who is giving it his all.

I remember lifting at Frantz Gym and powerlifting legend Bill Nichols came over to help me with my old canvas suit. That made an impression on me because I watched him unload his huge 850 pounds off the deadlift bar for my little baby 675 pounds.

Of equal importance is the celebration of diversity. Depending on location, diversity might or might not be there (in New York, I'm sure it will be), but a gym with a rich, diverse population of lifters is a wonderful bonus. At MGG, we are diverse and we celebrate that. We have lifters who are Puerto Rican, Mexican, Asian, Persian, Jamaican, Russian, black, white, gay and straight. We have men, women, masters, teens, raw lifters, single-ply lifters, multi-ply lifters, bearded lifters, clean shaven lifters, inked lifters, non-inked lifters, full power guys, bench only lifters, elite lifters and amateurs. This diversity actually makes us more unified and powerful because everyone’s background brings something new to the powerlifting table.

MGGDIVERSITY Some of the faces of diversity at the MGG. Photo courtesy of MGG.

Even if you don’t have investors, but you have those ten, key bullet points, you and your partner will create one hell of a powerlifting gym as I see it. Forget “If you build it, they will come.” Remember, “If you build it the right way, they will come and they will stay.” Just like there is a house versus a home, there is a building with weights versus a real, living, breathing powerlifting gym. You took the time to write and send your email. That's the start of your gym as far as I'm concerned.

Hope this information helps. Wishing you all the best!

Ever onward,

Eric

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