Starting a Fitness Business

By Tony Dreibus – July 1, 2015

After working eight years as a diver on a special warfare and operations group in the U.S. Navy, Jesse Garule wasn't quite sure where he wanted to go when he left the military.
What he did know, however, was that he wanted to do something that involved fitness. In addition to his regular intense training routine, Garule had managed to find the time to finish two Ironmans, three half-Ironmans, 10 marathons, and numerous other races while in the Navy. Because of the fitness-focused culture of Austin, he decided to make this city his home.

A certified personal trainer and triathlon coach, Garule moved to Austin from Hawaii in 2014 and started a business called Hermes Athletics. His goal was to help people reach their fitness goals—whether that meant finishing a full distance triathlon, completing a half-marathon, or losing unwanted pounds. But starting a new business wasn't as easy as he had expected.
"The start-up costs were a little rough. [I had to] create an online presence, purchase professional and liability insurance, register with the city, and buy workout equipment," Garule said.

"It's a big step to take when you're trying to start a family and a new life after the military. There was a lot of uncertainty."

Such is the life of starting a small business in any market. But in the ultra-competitive world that is the fitness industry, the struggle is especially real. 

Often, would-be business owners find their dreams dashed before they even get their feet off the ground. Garule found it challenging to balance building a new business while simultaneously managing the workload of his full-time job. The lack of time he found to dedicate to Hermes Athletics was only compounded by the rising cost of insurance and gym equipment. 

Michelle Seaman, 27, the owner of Michelle's Paleo in Austin, also discovered that starting a new company in the health industry can be a daunting task.

An Austin native and Texas A&M grad, Seaman had worked in marketing in San Francisco before she decided last year that she wanted to step away from working in the tech industry. 

After living in England for a summer with her husband Joseph, a world-class rower, the couple moved to Austin last fall. Shortly after moving back, Seaman decided it would be the perfect time to start her company—one she'd been planning to start ever since she was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, a condition that caused her to experience severe gastrointestinal issues. After experimenting with several diets to see which one would least upset her stomach, Seaman had finally landed on the Paleo diet, which allows people to consume meat and vegetables, but no grains or dairy.

After learning more about the Paleo diet, she developed several of her own recipes, often using her husband as a culinary guinea pig. She realized there was a growing market for the products she made in her kitchen and soon began producing Paleo granola and Paleo fudge to sell as a side business.

As with Garule, Seaman encountered time constraints and found that a lack of resources was holding her back from fully developing her business.

Although it's not easy to start a company in the fitness and nutrition industry, it can be done. And it can be done successfully. Case in point: Epic Bar.

The Paleo protein bar business officially launched in Austin in 2013 and the company’s owners, Taylor Collins and Katie Forrest, a husband-wife duo, seem unstoppable. Both are endurance athletes who do everything from long-distance trail running (for Collins) to the Ironman World Championships (for Forrest). The couple lives, breathes, and—of course—eats endurance sports.

Epic bars are made from bison, turkey, beef, chicken, pork, and lamb. They are Paleo-friendly, gluten free, and low in sugar—the perfect combination for someone who's going to be running, riding, or swimming for hours on end, Collins said.

Epic Bar's bison bar is the sixth top selling energy bar in the country, and the company has seen their revenue triple each year since they started. But it didn't start out that way, Collins said. When the duo first pitched their idea of a nutrition bar made of meat, retailers and consumers balked. 

“It was a struggle for people to understand it," Collins said. "When we first launched, people were weirded out by it.”

After sending out thousands of samples, doing promotions, and educating consumers, now people tell him they “use the bars all the time” and “can't believe nobody thought of this before.”

While Seaman and Garule both strive to be at that Epic Bar-level someday, for now they remain persistent in the hopes that one day their hard work will pay off and their business dreams will become a reality.

Seaman is starting to refocus her efforts. Along with developing products for sale, she wants to work with families and teach them how to eat better and live healthier lives. She knows the road to success will be long and fraught with obstacles, but she acknowledges that moving forward means moving up. 

“Because it takes awhile to get going, you have to go at it with all you have,” Seaman said.

For Garule, his next step in building his business is to get a degree in health and fitness management from Texas State University to supplement his experience as a Navy diver and endurance athlete. Ultimately, he said, his goal is to own a company that covers the entire spectrum of fitness—from running and swimming to nutrition and weight training.

Until that day comes, Garule said, he's happy running organized boot camp classes in city parks as a way to build name recognition for Hermes Athletics (named after the god of travelers, sports, and athletes).

“Hopefully within five years, I will have a solid presence here in Austin with the running and triathlon community. But I know that will take a lot of time. I'm definitely going to take it slow,” he said.

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