This week we meet Ben Lucas, former a professional NRL player who opened and ran three successful fitness studios before deciding them sell them off and create his own concept – Flow Athletic – with Australian yogi Kate Kendall.
ISB: How did your experience as an athlete help you establish yourself in the fitness industry initially?
BL: Being an athlete and having a lot of driven people around you who all want to be the best teaches you how to work hard, be consistent and be a team player. All of these attributes are important when you own a business and you have a team who need to have your back. Now, after almost 20 years, I have a lot of runs on the board as a PT, but when I was starting out having the footy career behind me certainly helped me get attention with the local community.
ISB: And what was the inspiration behind you selling your successful fitness studios and launching Flow Athletic?
BL: I set myself a challenge to run 35 marathons in the space of five years. While I was getting to the last few I was struggling with injury and soreness and someone recommended that I start doing yoga to help me with recovery and work on my flexibility. Kate Kendall was the instructor at my local studio and we became friend. I told her that she was so good she should start her own studio, and she came back to me a few days later and said, “I will only do it if you do it with me.”
At the time I had three successful studios but they were part of a franchise business so I didn’t have much control over the product. Since visiting Equinox in SoHo on a trip to New York as a 21-year-old I’d dreamt of owning one of the best fitness facilities on the planet, and Kate wanting to open a studio with me gave me that chance.
ISB: What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting the enterprise off the ground?
BL: Initially the hardest thing for me was finding world-class staff which is so important when you have a fitness studio that prides itself on community. However, the world-class staff now come to us.
ISB: How do you balance the need to scale your business
BL: It took a while for me to learn how to balance it. There is always some admin to do and I also spend a lot of time researching, coming up with new ideas and concepts for the clients. However, I still love personal training and taking classes. I spend 35 per cent of my time with clients and 65 per cent working on the business these days. It’s a good mix for me as many business owners need to sacrifice what they love to grow the business. I’m lucky I have good staff who can help me.
ISB: Please tell us briefly about the experience of training up 50 clients for the New York Marathon and getting every one of them over there to not only to compete in it but also complete the course.
BL: It was one of the most challenging and yet rewarding experiences of my life. Nine months of training people who were all at different levels for one magical day. The people I shared that experience with I will be friends with for life!
The nine-month commitment was definitely worth it because it brought the community together, it gave myself and my key staff a good chance to be in the same boat with our clients as well. I think community is so important if you have a service business such as a gym as you are an element of people’s social connection, so if they feel comfortable in your space they will talk about you and support you when times are tough, as they are now.
ISB: Finally, what is the number one lesson you’ve learnt on your journey you’d share with others looking to start their own business in a highly competitive industry?
BL: The main thing would be that Fitness is a people business, so be a good person. And, in light of COVID-19, I would also say be agile. You never know when you need to pivot. Be open to it. If you keep to your original plan but it doesn’t fit the climate, it will be very hard for you to succeed.