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Vacassin - Legends of Fitness

Jean-Claude Vacassin, IFBA

This is my recent Legends of Fitness webcast interview with founder and owner of The IFBA and W10, Jean-Claude Vacassin.

I spoke with JC on a number of different topics, and he kindly shared his thoughts; guidance; and vision with me. I hope you enjoy the chat, and it inspires you with regards to your business.

Chris Windram, Co-founder, Quoox

Interview transcription

Important: Please note that this interview has been transcribed from audio, and that the transcription may contain minor errors or typos.

Chris Windram:
Welcome to legends of fitness. I’m Chris Windram. In this series of webcasts, I will be talking to some of the most preeminent individuals in the fitness industry.

I am thrilled to be joined today by a man who has helped hundreds of facilities find their way to profitability, through his consultancy business, The IFBA. He also owns one of the country’s finest personal training gyms W10 in West London.

He is a man who isn’t afraid to carve his own path and to do things better, rather than simply conforming to the standard mould.

I’ve heard some of those he helped affectionately refer to him as “the boss man”, and “the big dog”, perhaps best known as JC, I’m delighted to welcome Mr. Jean-Claude Vacassin as my guest today.

Jean-Claude Vacassin:
Hi Chris, thanks for having me on.

Chris Windram:
And thank you very much for joining us. Appreciate it.

So, whilst many of our viewers will be familiar with The IFBA and your services. Perhaps I could ask you to start by explaining The IFBA in your own words and the valuable support your organization is able to provide to facilities in different stages of growth?

Jean-Claude Vacassin:
Sure. The IFBA is I guess a hub or central support office for what is 150 independent training gyms across mainly the UK and Ireland. Although there are some, a little further afield and we provide education, coaching, community, and support for all the independent, all those independent gym owners to, I guess it’s kind of both the personal and professional development standpoint.

Chris Windram:
And now, some of the questions I was going to ask you, I’m going to change around a little bit because looking at the news at the moment, Ireland’s just gone back into lockdown and it looks like Scotland and further parts of the UK seem destined to follow yet again. What’s the broad advice you would give gym owners at the moment?

Jean-Claude Vacassin:
I mean, the landscape is changing, it’s changing quickly. So I think one of the things that’s been clear since March 14th, 16th, or whatever was that, you know, a week is a long time. So, you know, one of the things that we’ve, we’ve kind of impressed within our own business, as well as this is plan robustly. But be sort of pragmatic in your reaction.

I think one of the things that’s been clear is that, you know, leadership and communication I’ve had to come hugely to the fore during this period. And I think everybody, you know, teams and customers alike are looking for, for strong communication, solid leadership. And I would urge everybody, you know, don’t, don’t be too reactive. You know, as we’ve just seen with, with what’s happening in Liverpool over the last seven, eight days, I think that changes, things can change rapidly and it can completely shift the goalposts.

You know, for me personally we have stayed within the guidelines. I think interpretation does that there’s a few stages to, to, to each of these, these, these, these things that’s kind of your interpretation of the guidelines is it has become a key factor in this. How does it affect us? How can we apply it to our business and how different customer demographics want to see us respond? You know, and then the implementation is obviously super important, you know, how do we make sure that we are obviously following the guidelines and we’re robust in our COVID response, but also pragmatic enough that we still make it an experience that people fundamentally want?

I think we just need to make sure that, you know, we, we, it’s a very delicate balance to making sure that we are “COVID secure”, I think is the term for it, but also still a place that people want to come.

Chris Windram:
Now, I don’t know whether, I don’t know whether they’re calling this a “second wave” or whether it’s the same as a bit of the first wave or what, but it feels to me as if people are entering this a lot more prepared and a lot more calmly than, than when it first kicked off. Do you think that’s fair comment or are there still lessons that we need to be learning here?

Jean-Claude Vacassin:
No, I think that’s a hundred percent the case. We, we we’ve been here before. Not only have we we’ve been here, you know, recently as, as, as businesses. I think that the consumer’s been here I think what’s happening in Ireland and you know, a lot of the stuff has, has, has predetermined, you know, timelines. So in four to six weeks, which I think makes it more palatable and I think fundamentally businesses are more prepared. Maybe even more resilient as businesses and as owners having been through what we’ve just been through. So I think that’s built a level of resilience maybe that either we didn’t appreciate or didn’t have previously. So, so yeah, I mean, I think I, I think that is certainly true. And I, and I think any sensible business owner over this period will have had a contingency built into their business to, to prepare for this.

Chris Windram:
Now, throwing quite a big one at you, looking forward maybe three to five years, where do you be on beyond all of this rubbish, where do you think the industry is, is now heading and how do you see physical facilities competing with the likes of Peloton and FIIT?

Jean-Claude Vacassin:
I think there’s no doubt that a digital side of that the industry will continue to grow. It will continue to have a huge yeah, to take up a huge amount of market share as products and services and technology develops. And I think in a large part of that, that’s hugely welcome.

On the complete reverse of that though, I do believe that that bricks and mortar proposition is here to stay. But what I do believe is that I still think people will want the in-person experience. I still people will pay a premium for that because the overall experience and community aspect that you, you, you can’t replicate online and people fundamentally, still want to leave the house, but I think people will be much more discerning about how much and where they spend their money. I think, I think that you’re going to have to kind of, I think the good news, the good bricks and mortar businesses are going to thrive. And in fact, I think, I think that that, that, that this whole last six months know may have given certainly the independent training gym sub-Sector, if you like, it sort of levelled the playing field a little bit. And I think for those who are good enough and brave enough to do so, I think there’s a huge opportunity to take a step forward.

Chris Windram:
I’ve seen that certainly in the last couple of weeks there seem to be, or certainly I’ve been hearing quite a lot of trainers that seem to be leaving some of the bigger box gyms to actually set foot in and open up on their own.

There seems to be a lot of that going on, I guess, a brave time to do it. Is there, I mean, if you could give sort of one piece of advice to people about to set up and branch out on their own, what, what would that be?

Jean-Claude Vacassin:
There’s a couple of bits to that. So question, if you, like. I spoke to an equipment supplier the day he told me that they personally had done 300 fit-outs over lockdown for garage gyms or studios. So I think, I think in a lot of cases, because, because the, the larger gym chains let’s call them “the high street gyms”, if you like, had a serious amount of adapting to do over this period, it would’ve been much easier for the independence or the, the training gyms, if you like. Because a lot of the things that we had in place were already conforming to social distancing by appointment and we had high trust. I think it’s been very difficult for the larger operators. They’re bigger ships to turn around. They’ve got much bigger teams to get conversant with the new EOPs and so on and so forth.

So I think they’ve had a much harder time and to adapt and adjust. Now, I think some trainers that where their clients are paying premium for personal training, I think their hand has been largely forced to, to, to set up on their own so that they have a high trust or COVID secure environment. Because I think, you know, one of the things that’s clear is that, you know, most of the, most of the gyms across the whole industry are following the rules and inverted commas, “in the guidelines”, but what is clear and what people are concerned about, and it’s perhaps from a consumer perspective, the biggest concern is other people not following the rules and where you’ve got gyms for 20, 25 year old lads, who to, you know, to stereotype, you know, the “rock ‘ard Roys” of this world who think they’re completely immune to all this stuff, but then you’ve got someone who’s in their mid-forties, early fifties, who’s a little bit more sensible, nervous may not be the right word, but a little more, more conscious of the environment.

You know, those two things don’t necessarily go hand in hand. And I, I do think that’s, what’s playing into people going off on their own. So do you think in some part people’s hands are tied. And I do think we’re going to see quite a lot of, you know, newer, smaller, you know, garage gyms, so a thousand square foot studio operators come to the table. But my advice to those people as would been in any normal time, I guess, is, you know, just to make sure you go in with your eyes open, make sure you go in knowing what your, your ultimately or end goal is. I know some of it will have been very reactive to the time. But I do think when the dust settles, which at some point it will I think some of these will run the risk of, of leaving as quickly as they came. So I think it is the independent gyms, the training gyms, if you, like, I think we’ll benefit massively from this. But I do think that you’re going to have to be good. Yeah. Better than good. I think you have to be exceptional. And in, in, in the broadest sense to survive or thrive in this environment

Chris Windram:
On that note, so what would you see, or currently see, as being the essential ingredients to a successful training in gym?

Jean-Claude Vacassin:
It’s all about trust. So I think, I think there’s a few key ingredients. I don’t think they change. I just think they’ve got highlighted. Or heightened. And I think, you know, I think that what this period is, has been for me certainly is, is just proved to be an accelerant. I think the gyms that, that, that were on a firm footing that we’re doing some good stuff have continued to do that, and it’s pushed them further that way. Those that were perhaps struggling and weren’t piecing it together, perhaps now found out a few things about themselves and their business and it, and it’s pushed them further that way. So I think, you know, that, that, that the core ingredients still remain the same. Everybody is, is insistent that we want to find a completely new industry off the back of this. I don’t know if that’s necessarily how this is going to look.

So I still think, you know, fundamentally, I do think people are going to be at the core of where we’re at. I think how you’ve treated your people, that your customers and your staff during this period will, will probably define where your business ends up over the next three to five years, because everybody will remember. And so I think that the people proposition is as important now as it’s ever been, if not more so. And I think then it’s, I think branding; messaging; overall communication; is going to be absolutely critical. People are going to want to, people are going to want to engage with professional businesses that are, you know, that are consistent, that appear trustworthy, that have a good reputation. And that they have a solid overall brand. I think the days of, you know, doing this on the back of a fag packet and, you know, and, and cutting the corners and, and just throwing some training programs together, I think they’re gone, and so I think, you know, I think communication, and I think, you know, branding, that’s important overall.

And people are going to be more important now than, than ever.

Chris Windram:
I know that you, at W10, you, you have classes focused on over fifties and things like that. With, COVID putting those of a higher age and you know maybe greater risk of obesity and such like as more in need of getting in, in, in good health and such like, do you think there’s actually an opportunity here for gyms to, to help some of those, those people who perhaps ordinarily might not have come to a gym?

Jean-Claude Vacassin:
Yeah, I think that, yes, I do. And at the end of day this is a health pandemic I think whilst people can’t be in pubs and restaurants in the same way as they were previously and disposable income gets redirected elsewhere, I think the over fifties have always represented a massive opportunity and they have typically more disposable income and they know that they’ve got an eye on, on longevity and health, you know, much more so than I guess the younger generation, the young, younger generation, but that is more discerning customer and they want better trained teams and they want better quality environments and they’re prepared to pay a slight premium for what is ultimately you have, what’s a better word, a better product. And I think, yes, that market is there to be tapped into, but only by those who have earned the right to do so. So yeah, I mean, but I don’t think that, I don’t think that’s a new opportunity. I think that opportunity was there way before.

Chris Windram:
We’re kind of, you know, amongst a group of industries that kind of loves a bit of a race to the bottom with profit margins often, often being just cut ridiculously thin. What advice do you give your, your customers in the IFBA when it comes to setting their pricing?

Jean-Claude Vacassin:
Fundamentally you have to reverse engineer your business. So most of the people that I speak to will they like training, so they getting into training with us. They find a space, they fill it with kit, they do some programming and then, you know, six, 12 months, a year later, they wake up and go, I’ve got a space. I, I don’t love this anymore. It’s a noose around my neck. So they undervalue themselves. They, they will say, you know, it’s not about the money now I do this because I love it. And then that’s, that’s true. I think that was true of all of us and probably still is for most of us, but fundamentally what we have to do is we have to treat it as a business. So, you know, the biggest thing that I say to anybody and my, my favourite people to work with are those who are just starting out, you know, who maybe six, nine, 12 months before they open, because we can do this stuff proactively say, look, okay, fine.

Let’s work backwards from what you want this to provide you in terms of freedom. That could be financial freedom. It could be time, it could be money, and it could be fun. There are three currencies that most of us want to get paid in, different, in different amounts and in different proportions and, and work backwards from it. You know, if you need it to give you an income of X, you know, let’s, let’s reverse engineer, okay. You know, you need to take this out of the business. And therefore it needs to make a margin of this in order to make a margin of this, you need to have this many people in this size space charging this much money. Is it viable in this demographic in the way that you want to provide it? You know, whether, whether, whether you decide to do four-to-one or six-to-one or 12-to-one, it largely is going to be determined by, you know, some of it by your geography. Some of it by the size of your space. Some of it by your, your capital that is available to you then just because there’ll W10 does six-to-one now it doesn’t mean that you should follow suit and do six-to-one and four-to-one is better than six-to-one, which may be better than 12-to-one, but is it financially viable in your model? So let’s, let’s do the due diligence first and let’s work it back.

Chris Windram:
Now. I was talking to our mutual friend, Thom Plummer last week about where he thought the was going and you know, Thom very well, he was kind of telling me his thoughts on, on what he thought would happen in the next three to five years. One of the things that struck me was he was talking about gyms having juice bars and lounge areas and, and things like this. And it, it sounded fantastic. And I get exactly where he’s coming from, but in the back of my mind was thinking I could see that being quite hard to implement in quite a lot of the UK where, you know, generally the spaces available to operate the gym might be smaller. The prices of leases are a lot higher.

Do you think that there’s a potential diversion between the UK in US markets or will they vaguely remain on the same course, do you think?

Jean-Claude Vacassin:
I think one of the things that I do agree with Thom is that the, the, that gyms generally in the UK, that they don’t finish the gym. So the gym floor is great, but the wraparound, the gym is typically not, not great. And I think one of the biggest mistakes, maybe one of the biggest traits of a lot of gym owners in our market is they just think it’s about training. And it, yes, it is about training because that’s our core product. But when I go to a hotel, it’s not about the bed I sleep in. When I eat at a restaurant, I, to just, if I pay it, it’s an expensive restaurant. It’s a given that the food will be good, but I leave talking about, you know, how I was greeted at the door at the hotel and what the concierge was like, you know, what it was like, you know, from reception to my room, you know, what the, the, the daft little shower products are like. I mean, I stayed in a, in a hotel in New York called the ACE hotel, and I can still tell you what was in the minibar, you know, which was kind of, you know, condoms and Skittles and all this stuff you just wouldn’t expect. And I opened, all of it and used none of it, but it was just, you know, the room was tiny and it was $500 a night and it was, but it was all the little bits of, of, of uniqueness that sits around it made it the experience that, that I wanted, that I would repeat and have done since. So I, I do agree with Thom or anybody, you know, that we do need to think about the gyms from up from a 360 perspective. It’s not just a vehicle for training. Yeah, obviously there’s a gym in London called The Third Space, but I think for most, in most people’s cases, you know, this is work home and, and gym, we need to create that, that third space. And I think that, that the market of the last couple of years has, has leaned more towards, towards that.

So I think we’re probably at the stage for, for a lot of independent training gyms. We must, we must do them properly. So we need a proper budget. We don’t want the cheapest location in the smallest building because it doesn’t work. We’re not visible. We can’t charge enough. If we don’t charge enough, we can’t, it doesn’t feed our marketing budget and we can’t attract the best people because we can’t afford to pay them. And then we just get trapped. We get trapped in this, in our existing infrastructure. Whereas if we reverse engineer the business and we, we’re a bit braver and we play the game a bit bigger now, and I have to temper that, you know, we need to do our due diligence and we need to kind of, you know, it’s got to be modelled properly, but if we think bigger the gyms will be better. And I think they’re the businesses that we’re going to look at in the next three to five years and say, yeah, that’s an impressive, that’s an impressive gym.

Chris Windram:
You seem to have an awful lot of insight and, and expertise in, in what you do. I’m interested in how you kind of got to this point.

So you started off as a personal trainer, and then you moved into having your own gym, and then you moved into IFBA. How did that all come about? Was it all part of some fantastic life plan, or was it organic, or was it you found that you had skills as, you know, what was, what’s the story? How did this happen?!

Jean-Claude Vacassin:
Before I was a personal trainer, I was also I worked as a retail manager for what was then BT shops. I was then a regional and retail manager for the same company before moving to work for Halifax Bank of Scotland as a bank manager, and then a cluster bank manager, and then into a regional sales role. So many of the things that I guess the IFBA or W10, I have been, become known for systems, standards, operations, and the rest of it. They were learned before the fitness industry, and they’d been brought into the industry. So I think a lot of that is transferable skills from, you know, having proper jobs in terms of, in terms of W10, I got sick of corporate life. I was kind of mid-twenties and I was everyone else around me was 35-40. And, and I was just like, this isn’t going to be for me.

I came back from New Zealand. I worked as a PT for the first time. And in the gym, I opened a studio space, which was 850 square foot. We outgrew that I put a mezzanine in. We moved out of the mezzanine place into what is now W10 and 4,000 square foot gym. And five years later, we kind of done one-to-one two-to-one, three-to-one, four-to-one made all the mistakes, you know, and out of petulance, you know, there’s lots of people sort of helping gym owners to do small group PT or semi-private as, as, as people call it. And that’s an absolute load of bollocks! So we did a few seminars ourselves, which became six and the follow-up just led to the IFBA. And then over time, I think with The IFBA it’s just grown organically. And, and we’ve probably reached a point now where we were at a crossroads with the IFBA and, and need to decide where we take it.

But we’ve got 150 gyms who kind of share our beliefs, share our value. I guess the IFBA is now to gym ownership what, you know, most gyms are to personal training memberships. You know, we’re a community of people like-minded, they’re low ego, you know, high trust, high sharing. And it has genuinely just grown organically up until January. We hadn’t done a single Instagram post, or we were not active on Facebook and we’d never spent a penny on marketing. So it has, has to genuinely organically grown.

Chris Windram:
One of the things that I was talking to Thom about it, quite some length is kind of the wellness side of the business. And something you kind of alluded to earlier was that a lot of people are coming to opening their own gyms, could be, you know, likely to be great personal trainers, probably very, very good at training, not necessarily as great on everything else, obviously those that will be, but, you know, it doesn’t necessarily come naturally. Are there opportunities within groups, such as IFBA for facilities helping each other out and providing this, this full service? So like, you know, providing the wellness side by working together and saying not necessarily every gym has to have their own nutritionist and that sort of thing, or, or is that more problematic than, than, than advantageous?

Jean-Claude Vacassin:
I think it could be both. We, we certainly, you know, some of our members, a lot of the members that comes in to W10 first and foremost, they want an exceptional training experience. It’s a given that the gym floors going to work, but they want good conversation. They want, you know, “grown up staff”. They want to have fun, but they want it to be equal amounts of focus that they want the core product to be excellent. And for many, maybe 70% of our current members, that’s what they want. That ticks the boxes. It’s transactional. They come, they enjoy themselves. They take a beer out of the fridge, they do their training and that they enjoy their time with us. There are, there are a portion of our clients who do want more of, they want and slight more accountability, be that ongoing or be that, you know, seasonal. And they want a soft tissue therapy. They want, you know, different parts of the service.

So we outsource yoga. So we have somebody who’s, who’s an outstanding yoga instructor who does that for us. And we outsource our nutrition to somebody. You know, we have a nutritionist who works with, she’s not in the fitness industry, who, who does our nutrition for us. So we, we do bring in people who are more skilled in their areas that then we to work with our members. Now, the plus side of that is that they are specialists in that area. The downside of that is that obviously they can come and go and relationships build, and, you know, so there’s some commercial disadvantages of that. But I think there is an opportunity for gyms to round up their offering round off their offering a little bit.

I just think we need to be very considered about how we do that. And first I think, you know, we really must make sure that our core product is good because I do see sometimes people, yeah, whilst there was a lot of opportunity to expand services. I think first and foremost, you need to make sure that the one that you’ve currently got your corporate is absolutely shit hot! And I, you know, most businesses need to make sure they’re very comfortable. That is the case before they start layering on stuff, because what that brings with it is yes, it brings diversity, but also brings complexity. So it makes the business more difficult to manage. Expectations are different. There’s more deliverables. And sometimes as we’re seeing a lot in the restaurant scene, you know, there’s lots of places in London, you know, you can have a steak and a salad and chips, and that’s, that’s the menu know, but they bloody good at steak salad.

Right. And I think there’s a lot to be taken from that because it whittles down choice that it is easy to deliver what your expectations are easily met. And you get really, really good at doing it, you know, a narrow range of things. So I think it’s about striking the balance between doing that, that, that a few things very, very well. And, you know, making sure there’s enough, there’s enough to kind of, you know to keep people I guess, entertained or, you know and, and provide the additional service. And then it’s always a tricky balance to strike

Chris Windram:
You’ve got your fingers in, in, in multiple successful pies. On the W10 side, yeah sorry, you mentioned that the IFBA is coming towards the crossroads and decisions you’ll be making about directions to take that.

What about, about W10? You know, when life gets a little bit more back to normal, what’s what, what are your plans on the, for the, for the gym side of things?

Jean-Claude Vacassin:
Well, W10 pre COVID was, was, was ticking 300 members, which would be capacity for that site. That’s probably a bit beyond your functional capacity for that site. But the gym was kind of at the point of we were full. So then we, we sort of looked at it and said, well, you know, and it’d been like that for a year or two. And we said, well, what are we going to do? You know, what, what, where do we take this? What does it do? Does it just get better at doing this? But that’s difficult to do in such a fast paced market. It’s also frankly as somebody who’s self-employed as what’s called myself an entrepreneur then, but I still don’t know what that means, but that somebody works themselves. Does that still get me out of bed in the morning?

Am I still excited, because there is an element of that. And we must admit that. So we made some that, that the COVID hit, obviously, W10 was hit pretty hard because of its location, because of the types of clients. We have lots of people that self-employed in media, entertainment, events, music but we, we did have the opportunity to reflect, to make lots of efficiencies, you know, go from four-to-one, six-to-one and slightly refine the model and slightly do stuff, which would make it more profitable going forward. And there was just some, some things that actually we could do to, to, to V2 it, if you like, and I could genuinely 2.0 W10 and we decided to take on another gym. So W10 is now two sites. There’s one in London, but there’s also one in Haywards Heath, which we opened. And we, we came out of lock down and we said, look, we’re going to be in this situation for, for a while. Let’s take the opportunity to take it on and see if we can do, do W10 in, in another market. And far so far. So good.

Chris Windram:
Now, one of our mutual friends in the, in the US has earlier this year started franchising their, their operation. Is that something that you you’d look to perhaps do down the line?

Jean-Claude Vacassin:
We looked at it before we started the IFBA and the IFBA, I guess, if you were to strip it back as I guess, a franchise without the brand, and what it gives is it gives the operator more autonomy and it’s more fluid. So one of the things that I think is, is, is super, is one of the things that I, the only thing that sets most independent training gyms apart is, is the owner is the team. And I think the franchise robs the business of that identity. And I think over time, whilst the franchise model can seem super appealing, it’s a plug and play, and I totally get it. It’s a proven system and all the rest of it, I think for the types of people that we work with, who are owner operators, they’re not investors coming to the table wanting to buy a franchise business.

I didn’t like the idea of saying to people, this is the only way, because… You have a license to operate, which is quite fluid. Here’s the logo, do what you want with it all the way through to his franchise and do it exactly as we tell you. And when I looked at it, you know as a franchise, if I were a franchisee I don’t, I don’t think I’ve enjoyed being so closely bound to everything that the product does. As a franchisor of course you want things replicated exactly the way that they need to be. So, and you can make good money. But I think also it’s fair to say that most franchisors do better than most franchisees commercially and, you know, rightly or wrongly. I looked at the landscape and said, actually, I think I’d prefer to do it the way that we’ve done the IFBA, rather than as a franchise

Chris Windram:
Through the mutual clients that we’ve got, I mean having spoken to several, they, it is clear the strength and the support and the, the foundations that they get from, from yourself and IFBA, but it’s also clear that they then tailor their offering slightly for their particular market. And that is from what you’re saying, clearly, one of the strengths in the way that you operate and what you work with them.

Jean-Claude Vacassin:
It, it certainly one of the strengths, but it’s also maybe our biggest weakness, because there are people who come to the IFBA who say, I need a more stepped path. I need you to tell me over the next 12 weeks, 16 weeks, exactly what to do and exactly in what order. And that’s never what we set out to do because we’re not trying to recreate 150 of the same business, 150 of the same processes, because I think there’s a couple of things. One as you lose your identity, which I think is eventually suicide for a business. And I think for, for our types of businesses and I, and I think it’s you can navigate your thinking, which is the appeal at the beginning, cause it’s quicker, you plug and play. But if you’re not thinking about why it is a certain way and how to adapt it, I mean, how, how can you apply it to your market?

What works in West London doesn’t work in Scarborough. Yeah. It doesn’t work in Plymouth, which might not work in the suburbs of Dublin. So I think to take the same approach, the same view, the same landing pages, the same operational systems, the same price points, the same four-to-one versus 12-to-one I think is completely daft and it just doesn’t work. And whilst, you know, most of that makes sense to most of us, we kind of, we talk it through, you know, the problem with that is that you can’t tell everybody exactly what to do exactly every step because we’ve got to work out. So, but for me, that’s part of the fun, but it means that, you know, your business, you know, it might take you a bit longer to get it to, to exactly where you want it to be, you know, rather than just a plug and play off you go,

Chris Windram:
There are, there are, there are a lot of big names in the industry of which you, people like Frank Nash, Mike Boyle, Eric Cressey you know, just a few now in, in, in your role of mentor and passing on your knowledge, experience and guidance, do you any see, do you see any interesting names breaking through for the new generation? Who are the people we should be watching?

Jean-Claude Vacassin:
I mean, to be honest, I keep my head down a little bit when I think, I think some of those people that you’ve mentioned are still around and still doing great stuff. They bring, still bring lots of, and I speak to Thom fairly regularly. And they bring lots of good stuff to the table. I, one of the things I like about all of those people is that they’re “time served”, they’ve proven track records. They’ve, they’ve done it their own way, so they’re not regurgitating other people’s stuff. So, and I think there are a few people in the UK that are doing that kind of stuff and some in the, the, the industry itself and some outside of the industry. Do I know any individuals that I could name now, I’ll probably miss somebody. So I’ll take the fifth and duck out in case I get the wrong people, but I do think, yeah, I think what’s clear over the last three months is there are lots of people that are going to come to the fore to try and, you know, to help others with their businesses. I think what people just gotta be really clear about is, you know, just, just have a look at what people, what people’s backgrounds are, because I think, yeah, I think when you’re talking to people, it’s just, just, just check where they’re at, check what they’ve done and, and also listen carefully to what they’ve got to say, because one of the things that I see a lot of is people selling systems and processes and, and, and I, and that’s fantastic, but, you know, teams implement those systems and processes and leaders drive those teams. So if you’re, when you’re speaking to people, you know, that there is more to this jigsaw than just a 30 day nurture sequence, you know, whether it’s four, eight and 12 sessions a month, or whether you go four-to-one or 12-to-one.

So, you know, I think people aren’t going to be short of people to give them direction. I think I would still be listening frankly, to a lot of the people that you have the, the aforementioned, because I do think of those people have a lot to bring to the table. But there are also people lurking in the background that maybe aren’t household names because they don’t spend time on social media and they’re just too busy doing their thing. So it’s certainly going to be an interesting time because as all the more people come in, you know, I mentioned earlier 300 you know studio, gym owners. They’re going to be looking for some point once they put their head above the parapet and kind of see, you know, see what’s going on, they’re gonna be looking some guidance because not all of those will have done it with their eyes wide open.

But my advice to anybody who’s working, whoever it might be is just don’t jump into, just have to think clearly about what it is you need, whether it’s systems, processes or personal development, or and just be very clear about what it is that you want from it. And also be very clear that nobody, one of the things that frustrates me, if I’m totally honest, is there’s a lot of people that are coming into the industry that I’m sure it’s the same in every industry, but in it. And what they really want is a job. They want a boss, but they want to, they want to act and be paid like an entrepreneur or self-employed. And, you know, I need accountability. I need you to set my goals. I need you to check in with weekly. And I’m looking at them like that.

What you really need is, is a job, you need a boss you know, so I think, you know, you must be clear that nobody can do that for you in a mentoring or coaching, or, you know, it’s the relationship for me from most what, like most independent training gym owners is somebody to bounce off. And sometimes that could be an individual. Sometimes that could be a group. Just be very clear that, you know, in my language, you don’t get “done by the decoys” because it’s very easy for me to sell you at all singing all dancing system. And, and it’s very easy to get to get caught in those, in those headlights and with all that stuff. And it’s great dinner party chat, but it doesn’t really drive the business and just make sure that, you know, if you’re working with somebody and, and I think you should, because I continue to do so.

Just be sure that you do, do you do the research for me, there’s a, there’s a, there’s a, there’s the guy’s giving away systems and gives away systems and processes, but also, you know, I think there’s more to it. There’s kind of, lots of personal development. One of the big gaps that that’s particularly been highlighted. One of the areas where I think we probably do need to up our game as a community is our leadership and our communication. I don’t think we’re short of systems and processes, and we’re definitely not short of technical knowledge, but we’re not, you know, are we the best team leaders. Are we the best with our time management? You know, what’s our level of self-insight. Do we know how we communicate? Where are we as leaders? Because the best, the best of the best gym owners hands down and the best mentors and others are the best leaders and the best communicators. And there’s no getting away from that. It’s not ultimately about systems and processes.

Chris Windram:
I saw some figures recently, which seem to be leaning towards that women owned gyms very often had a stronger bottom line for the same turnover than male owned gyms. Any experience on, on that side yourself?

Jean-Claude Vacassin:
Yeah, I mean, I don’t know why, and I don’t have the stats, but I, my anecdotally yeah, one of things I’m most proud of I’m really enjoyed through the IFBA processes is the number of women, gym owners coming to the fore, who are running market-leading gyms. One of the, you know, using example of Abi Durrant in Scarborough, I knew Abi when she was, you know, she was, she was working in a, in a gym in Scarborough and they wanted to move small group PT. I was working with them to, to help that happen. What comes to the light within this, this 10,000 square foot gym. And they were like, you can’t charge what we want to charge here. And Scarborough won’t handle it. And all the rest of it and Abi was in the gym at the time as a trainer, we struck up a relationship.

We had a coffee and I’ve worked without being alongside Abi while she went to a thousand square foot. And now she’s just opened a behemoth of a gym that’s amazingly branded. Charging what nobody in that market thought could be done and she’s actually flying. And she’s one of, lots of female gym owners who have taken the bull by the horns and they’re flying and it, and it’s amazing to see in, what is his has been traditionally a male dominated industry. And I think some of that probably does lead into, you know, natural trust, communication. And maybe, you know, certainly that the women that I’ve worked with, are just low ego and they’re good communicators and people like them. And that’s had a big impact on the teams that they can attract because they’re attracting good people. That, that they’re fair. That, that it’s really good to see

Chris Windram:
When future books are written on the history of the fitness industry, how would they, how would you like them to sum up your contribution?

Jean-Claude Vacassin:
Oh, bloody hell. Urm, I dunno. I mean, our contribution in the grand scheme of things will be fairly small. I mean, I think we, we have had a hand in helping in some way shape or form, and that’s currently 150, but it’s probably 200 people over the last four years that have come and gone through the IFBA. Not to mention those that we’ve helped you know, indirectly through blogs, through posts, through podcasts, through, you know, all the rest of it. But you know, all we’ve done is pay forward some of the stuff that we’ve, we’ve taken from others you know, we, I remember being one-to-one and, and, and, and, and getting frustrated about, you know, where we were at and going to spend three days with Alwyn Cosgrove, at Results Fitness in the US and that was eight or nine years ago.

And, you know, semi-private training to me at the time that was a new thing, and I just couldn’t get my head around how it works, you know, cause I was a one-to-one, I was a bit of a zealot and that was in some programming and I’ve worked in spine and rehabilitation and I just couldn’t see how this does scale, but I knew that from a business perspective I had to do so, you know, an Alwyn, you know, so I went to spend three days with Alywn. I came back, I closed the gym on Monday, we reopened the following Monday, as a small group, PT gym. And we just, we just kind of broadly modelled or copied almost what Alwyn had done. And then over the space of six months, 12 months, we said, look, this doesn’t quite work for us. We don’t like this part. Let’s chop this up. And we, we forged our own path through it, but we, we, we, we, we fundamentally, we fed off somebody else who helped us make a big, big pivot change. And Alwyn was in turn helped by Thom. And so it is a pay it forward thing. So I think if our contribution is just to be a cog in that wheel, and now there are other people that can take that and pay it forward, then I guess we’ve done our bit,

Chris Windram:
But I’ll just end on one more clich√©. But what, what would you say is your, your greatest achievement and your biggest regret?

Jean-Claude Vacassin:
Having children!

Chris Windram:
Nice, nice! Great answer!

Jean-Claude Vacassin:
From a industry standpoint, that’s actually a harder one to answer. II guess ultimately it is opening a, because I think, I think we run a good gym it’s profitable and that business is it’s a good business. But if somebody told me 10, 12 years ago, what it was going to take to get that business to that point, I might not, I might have done it differently. So you know, it’s not a regret as such, but it it’s taken time to take an effort. It’s like a massive amount of sacrifice. I love it. It’s been, it’s been a great journey. It’s something we’ve enjoyed and we’re going to take, you know, we’re looking forward to taking them further and it’s been the catalyst of lots of good stuff, not just for us, but for others in the industry in the UK have looked at it and gone well, if they can do it, we can do it too. But yeah, it hasn’t been without, you know, literally blood, sweat and tears. It is hard work, you know, we work in the service industry. You know, someone was laughing with me the other day, one of my mates, who’s not in the industry who was kind of winding me up that “you’re just a waiter with dumbbells” and I just, yeah. So to a greater extent, you know, we’re no different to a sommelier or a we’re just experts, but we are in the service industry and it’s a, it’s a hard place to be. You got to, you’ve got to want to do it. You’ve got to love it. You’ve got to work hard for people. You’ve got to work with a team. It’s a tough gig. I do think that, you know, it shouldn’t take some businesses 10 years because there are shortcuts now. There are people that can help you circumnavigate some of those mistakes. But it’s gonna take longer than you want it to. You can, you can do more than you think, but it’s going to take longer than you than you wanted it.

Chris Windram:
Well, thank you so much for your time and your insight. JC, I’m going to put details for IFBA and everything on the screen. Highly recommend everyone to, to check you out and really appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

Jean-Claude Vacassin:
Likewise.