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Activity entrepreneurs share their business secrets

Activity entrepreneurs share their business secrets
March 24, 2016

Australasian Leisure Management asked leading entrepreneurs in the fitness and activity industry how they have built their businesses, what they have learned, about their successes and what they would do look to do differently.

Diana Williams founder and Chairwoman of Fernwood Women's Health Clubs
Fernwood Fitness operates women’s only clubs in every state and territory of Australia while Williams is a member of the Fitness Industry Roll of Honour and a former Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year.


“In 1989 I was a stay at home mum who went to the gym and got addicted to strength training for women.

“I saw a need to create an environment where women would want to go and work out without feeling intimidated and uncomfortable in the weights area of a gym.

”At that stage I had no intention of this small business becoming a national brand, I just saw a need for women to understand the value of strength training and not just feel that they should do group fitness classes and leave the weights to the men.

“My vision was to create an environment with serious results focussed training but with all the little touches that women appreciate, like fresh flowers, oil burners, chilled face towels, fruit and complimentary breakfast.

“Prior to opening Fernwood I had not worked for 15 years as I stayed at home and raised my children. During those years, I did a business management course to fill in time and keep my brain active, but that is probably the extent of my business experience. I did, and still do have a very strong work ethic, having been raised by hard working parents and married to a man with a retail business, so the requirements and stresses relating to owning and operating my own business was not a challenge for me.”

How would you describe your success in business?

“The success of Fernwood has been achieved through a lot of hard work, dedication and a commitment to staying focused on the business goals.

“It is very easy in business to get carried away with what the competitors are doing and trying to match them rather than staying true to the core of what the business is intended to achieve and being better at what we do rather than try to be like every other fitness provider in the marketplace.

“Hiring the right people who share my values and work ethic and accepting that not everyone you hire will work out successfully is important, but when you have the right people it’s vital that they enjoy what they do and that they are acknowledged for it.”

What do you need to be a successful entrepreneur?

“I think the key of most entrepreneurs is they that look to the future and never dwell on the past. They are okay with making mistakes and learning from them, changing direction when things don’t go to plan, and always looking to make things better.

“A successful entrepreneur needs to surround themselves with people I refer to as ‘hand brakes’. People who dot the I’s and cross the t’s and follow through with the vision in a structured cohesive way.

“Entrepreneurs often are off thinking up the next big idea when the last one hasn’t really got off the ground, so having those people around is paramount to the success of any idea.”

What would you do differently from what you have done in the past?


Aaron Smith, founder and Chief Executive of the KX Group
The KX Group is a unique boutique high performance fitness company specialising in Pilates, barre, yoga, cycle and retreats


“Straight out of High School I lost $20,000 (my total life savings) on a nutritional business trying to push weight loss products which I absolutely hated and made me realise that selling products was not the path I wanted to go down!

“After that I studied Exercise Physiology at Monash University and at the same time as doing my Personal Training certificates when I was 19.

“I became passionate about the fitness industry and what drove me was the ability to help clients achieve their goals and reach their full potential. I had a real impact on peoples lives.

“Working in gyms in Melbourne and briefly as a research scientist at Deakin University, I realised I wanted more out of life and that personal training was a saturated market.

“I wanted to find something fresh and new, so at 21 I started my search I began travelling; first to the USA back and forth for two years and then onto London for three years.

“It was in London where I stumbled across Dynamic Pilates and I fell in love with this new style of training inside of a boutique studio environment.

“I watched one studio grow to 15 in the three years I was there so I made the decision to bring this style of exercise back to Australia under my own brand - KX.

“I also saw many gaps in that business I wanted to improve so I set out on my mission and started KX Pilates, with the first studio opening in 2010.

“We are now up to 17 Pilates, four Barre, a Yoga and a Cycle studio and are growing quite quickly, with current studios in Melbourne and Sydney but soon to be in all Australian states in 2016.

How would you describe your success in business?

“I set out my business goals in the first three months of opening the first studio to take KX around Australia and allow as many people as possible to experience the KX difference, where we treat clients like a human and not a number.

“We love our clients (and) I'm still on track with my goals today. I'm so fortunate to work alongside passionate and incredible people who are smarter than me at most things!

“But the one thing I have gotten good at is delegating out to people who can do things better than I can. I absolutely love what I do. Each day I come across a new challenge and I love working with passionate people to create a real difference in peoples lives. The day I stop having fun is the day I get out, but we have a lot more work to do yet!

What do you need to be a successful entrepreneur?

“The desire to succeed. Success in business was never an option for me, but was a choice. I knew KX was going to be a success as I was never going to stop until it was.

“Giving up was also never an option, although in the first year I thought about it almost every day. “You also need to surround yourself with positive people and get rid of all negative influences in your life.

“Get around successful people who will get you where you want to go, with ‘been there done that’ experience and who can pick you up on the bad days and tell you that there is light at the end of the tunnel and congratulate you on the good days when the tall poppy syndrome of Australia is trying to bring you down.

“You should always be trying to improve and never stop learning. I started KX and soon after joined the Entourage's Young Entrepreneurs Education group, and now am a member of EO (Entrepreneur's Organisation) and am constantly looking to better my knowledge and skill on a daily basis. And finally, don't be afraid to fail. I just call failure an expensive lesson!

What would you do differently from what you have done in the past?

“Start ups are extremely hard and the first 12 months are an absolute grind, so I always wonder if I will do a start up again or just buy into a business and expand it from there. I would also tone down the ambition (as It was out of control in the beginning) and make sure that the figures match up before going out and starting something new.

“Not everything will work, but if you can increase your chances for success from the beginning you would be silly not to. Put together an amazing team quickly and don't be afraid to give up equity to have a gun be by your side for the long run. Understand what you are good at and focus on that, and get people in quickly to do what you suck at. Trust me, it will save you a lot of time!”

Mel Faull, Director, Sportybots 
Sportybots is leading fun play based multi sport and motor skill development programs for children 


“After completing a Bachelor of Economics I spent a few years in the direct sales industry as a manager and trainer.

“I started my first business in 2004 which focused on the screening of tutors and establishing regulations in the tutoring industry. Sportybots was my next business which I founded in 2006 after not being able to find any sports based activities for my three year old daughter.

How would you describe your success in business?

“Initially Sportybots filled a gap in the children's activity sector which was lacking sport based motor skill programs for preschool children. Once competitors began entering the market it was key for us to increase our market size quickly which we were able to do by reinvesting our profits back into the business.

“Effective advertising is also key. Knowing who our target market is and their behaviours allows us to advertise in places that give us the biggest reach to our market and hence greater return on advertising spend. Having a business plan and updating that plan annually is essential. It allows us to plan out the future direction of the business and the steps required to achieve this. It helps you to always be looking forward and not becoming stagnant which can happen when you get bogged down in the everyday running of the business. Lastly, persistence and belief in your decisions. Not everyone will agree with your choices or direction all the time. Many people thought I was crazy when I talked about growing Sportybots through a licensing model. By having conviction in my decision, the business now operates in 13 countries.

What do you need to be a successful entrepreneur?

“An understanding of all aspects of their business. I have worked at every level of Sportybots from running classes, answering phones, training licensees to corporate negotiations. By having an understanding of what each job and department involves I understand how growth and changes impact these areas and our key stakeholders within those areas.

“I believe being able to think outside the square is one of the strongest traits entrepreneurs have. Coming up with solutions and ideas that are new to the industry or business have great impact on the growth of a business.

“Being able to delegate the right tasks to the right people. Utilising the skill sets of the people around you. If someone can do something better than you, it makes sense to let them do it.

“Having a great support network both in your work life and personal life.

“It is important to surround yourself with people who understand the pressure and long hours running your own business can have.”






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