How Our Core Values Are Killing Our Business (And Why We Don’t Care)

I probably first really considered the idea of corporate core values while reading Tony Hsieh’s great book “Delivering Happiness” in which he details how he built Zappos - the giant online shoe and apparel retailer - by breaking many of the established corporate rules and highly, highly prioritizing customer service, an excellent online shopping experience and employee satisfaction. In doing so, Hsieh become one of the first visionaries of e-commerce and, ultimately, sold his brand to Amazon for nearly one billion dollars. In the book Hsieh details his 10 Core Values, unusual ideas in the corporate setting such as “create fun and a little weirdness” and “do more with less”. I haven’t ordered from Zappos in a while but they used to print these core values right on their shipping boxes. Maybe they still do.

Certainly the idea of building a corporate culture and ideology existed long before this book was published. But, in my experience, it was always staid and uninspiring and had more to do with bringing the company glory rather than providing a great experience for the customers or clients. Zappos turned that upside-down. And, clearly, got rewarded for it.

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Ironically, by the time we opened Fortitude Strength Club, although we toyed with the idea, the thought of just doing a straight up top ten list of core values had already seemed passé. Of course we have ideas and values that are wildly important to us. But the thought of making them short and pithy enough to fit on a t-shirt seemed like that of the previous generation. And if I’ve learned anything in my past and even current environment it’s that not paying attention to what is currently happening in the field is to get swallowed by nostalgia and the quickest way to see your business burn to the ground.

And this brings us directly to the sweet, dangerous irony of this entire blog post. How our core values fly directly in the face of many of the current fitness trends – and lay outside the ease, comfort level and desires of some of our clients – and why we choose to vehemently hold onto and pursue them regardless of these facts and feelings.

On the surface, this may seem like corporate suicide. For a new business with an unfamiliar structure, little-to-no marketing budget, run by some fitness nuts who essentially live in a basement, flying in the face of current proven practices cannot be the recipe for any kind of success. And, sadly, I agree. If this were a typical, modern get-rich-quick, look for a giant corporate partner, hope for an IPO and get the fuck out with your 10% cut endeavor- which seems to be all the rage with start ups - then, yes, I agree, we are going about this all wrong. Cause while that would be great (do you hear us, Equinox?) that is not what we are pursuing or what we got in this for. As we’ve mentioned in countless blog posts, first meetings with clients, press opportunities and Thanksgiving dinner conversations we wanted to bring authentic, well-thought-out, effective training in a small group setting to those who make working out a priority. And when that is the omelet you are trying to make you are clearly going to break a few trendy eggs.

So with that in mind here are a few of our core values that have managed to throw people off their center, challenge their mindset or generally just piss them off.

We will not lie to you. All right, Trink. Here you go. Right off the bat you tell us that this is going to be some ‘think different’ piece and you go with a value that you might find on any Fortune 500 company’s list. Maybe. I don’t know anything about big corporations. But what I do know is fitness. And fitness businesses, studios and trainers lie to people all the time. Not all of them. I am lucky to know some real stand up people and companies in our field. But the vast majority of trainers, studios and gyms are promising you things that they know they can’t deliver just to get you in the door and grab your money. So, no, I’m not going to tell you all your fitness goals are going to be realized in 12 weeks. Nor am I going to tell you that you are going to look like a ballerina if you are built like a linebacker, that you are going to the CrossFit Games after 6 months of training or that you are going to get to a 700 pound back squat by the end of the training cycle. You know who feeds you this bullshit? Either the aforementioned thieves who just want to take your money or people who don’t actually train and know what it takes to achieve these types of results. Of course, I want to help you reach your goals. Honestly, I probably spend as much time thinking about them as you do. But I’m not going to tell you what you want to hear if it’s not true. Does this cost us new clients? Probably. But at least I can look you in the eye, tell you what is actually possible in a reasonable timeframe and do my best to deliver.

We will not submit to the cult of fitness personality. We recently took our trainers names off our schedule. When clients used to sign up they would see that Alec or Jess or Jake were training their sessions. Now, nothing. Just a time slot. For a lot of clients, this was no big deal. They were used to training with a variety of trainers (we do not keep set time slots for each trainer) and, quite frankly, were more attached to coming in at a certain time that worked for their schedule than working with a particular member of our staff. But, man, there were clients that were pissed. Some people just got attached to certain trainers for any variety of reasons. We get it. However, we don’t see things that way. We noticed that clients that worked with a variety of trainers usually got the best results. Maybe it’s constantly having fresh eyes on you, or one trainer’s way of cueing a certain movement that you hadn’t heard before or that natural tendency to be more on your game when you are working with someone new and they spend more time looking at your footwork on the bench press than discussing last night’s results on The Voice. Yet, even when we recommended to our clients that it’s in their best interest to work with a variety of trainers many resisted. So we forced their hand.

This is a city in which fitness professionals can gain near celebrity status. We’re not interested in that. We believe that the magic is in the system. In our training philosophy. In how we progress our clients into more difficult, challenging and meaningful programming. Do we value our staff? More than I’d ever be able to express in any blog. Building trust and effectively communicating the system is the key to the entire process and no one does that better than our staff. We work very hard (VERY HARD) making sure that is the case. But, in the big picture, we all put our ego’s aside for the benefit of the training. The gym is bigger than any one of us.

Our training is boring. New exciting training modalities pop up on a seemingly weekly basis in this town. Ride a bike underwater! Try our new 45-minute class featuring 54 different high-intensity training stations! Punch a water balloon for an hour! Wrestle a highly trained circus clown to the death! Sadly, I’m not making most of these up. Conversely, we rely on very few tried-and-true movements that actually drive results. Sure, we change reps and sets and other parameters in order to drive training forward but you are going to get a lot of exposure to (and hopefully get really great at) a few key movements. It’s not that we don’t have any creative bones in our overly-muscled bodies (hello, you are reading the most creative blog in fitness right now!) but we save the creativity for the places where it’s appropriate. Sorry to break the news but building strength, increasing work capacity and improving body composition is boring, repetitive work.

We will constantly challenge our values. The minute we find that spinning or using a ViPR or practicing yoga is superior to progressively overloading our core movements in order to improve strength, work capacity, health and body composition you will see this gym filled with bikes, metal tubes or yoga mats. We do what we do not solely because we love the modalities themselves (though we really, really do) but because they have proven through science, evidence and experience to be the most effective to get the desired training effect. When something comes along that we feel we can employ that serves that end better we will sprint in that direction. We are more married to the result than we are to the equipment and techniques that we currently use to best help us get those results. So, rest assured, we are always looking for the best ways to get you where you want to go.

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We will not tell you your butt looks great. We appreciate the value of a good butt. And, sure, we may give you a compliment on your improving physique from time to time. But while improved body composition is certainly a by-product of the training we do, we always try to keep the main focus on performance. And this should be liberating for you for two reasons. One, you can control your effort and the process of training. How much cellulite comes off your thighs is a product of so many factors and how much and how fast that happens is not directly up to you. Second, aren’t you tired? Tired of worrying about why your butt isn’t small or big or skinny or fat enough. Tired or worrying about how washboard-y your abs are and how quickly that definition will go away if you put, God-forbid, an extra half tablespoon of peanut butter in your morning kale shake? So put those insecurities on the shelf for the hour you are in here and focus on the things you can actually control. I promise there will be plenty of time later for you to be bombarded with images of Zach Efron’s ripped midsection and lament the fact that you are somehow not good enough because you are a size 6 instead of a 4. The horror. When you are in here, to quote Elsa from Frozen, let it go.

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I know, I know, this list comes across as a bit of a humble brag. Like I set you up with a “look at how much we don’t give a fuck” and really delivered “we care about the important stuff and it’s really everyone else who could care less about the real issues and solutions”. But, I shit you not, having these values and ideas and putting them out there has and will continue to cost us business. People want to hear that I really can give them J-Lo’s butt or that I’ve come up with a creative, new, never-before-seen exercise routine that delivers magical results or that I was that goofy, ne’er-do-well who only wore leather man-skirts on E’s latest fitness reality show “Squats and Scandals”. But I can’t promise you anyone else’s butt but your own. I only know about 8 different exercises. They don’t put people my size on TV. I’ve never owned a leather skirt.

We have a goal around here. We refer to it as being “the real”. It was coined by our friend Doug who got it, I believe, from ,of all places, the pro wrestling legend The Iron Sheik. Being “the real” simply means being true to one's self. To put the bullshit and the doubt out of your mind and relentlessly pursue what you want using that which you believe in most. So if we truly had to sum up our core values in one sentence it would probably be this: To be the motherfucking real.

Maybe we’ll put that pithy slogan on a t-shirt.