My Passion for Fitness: How I Turned My Passion into a Multi-Million Dollar Business

"Entrepreneurs take note — when someone says you’re insane, that’s when it’s time to double down."

As a young kid who was really into sports, I naturally found myself in a gym. I was a big kid growing up I loved athletics, I loved working out, but even more, I loved being physically fit. From the very first time I stepped into a gym that was it, I knew — I was a gym guy.

I took my first job at a gym when I was 14 years old. At the time I couldn’t afford a gym membership and I worked out with sand weights in our family basement. My mom told me if I got a job at a local gym, they’d give me the membership for free. So I walked to the local gym and came back with a cleaning job.

I soon realized that I loved everything about gyms, I could stay there all day long. The smell, the rubber, the dumbbells, the noise, the music — it’s all so stimulating. Granted my job was scrubbing toilet bowls, cleaning urinal cakes, wiping down the facilities and cleaning all the weights. It didn’t matter what the work was, I was working out for free, and I loved it.

Learn As Much As You Possibly Can

I wanted to soak up as much information as I possibly could, so I started doing as much research as I could to learn all that was available about fitness, nutrition, and gyms. I started reading every fitness magazine I could get my hands on, cover to cover. I went to health food stores to study nutrition and read every supplement label.

When a personal training certification opportunity came up in my gym I jumped on it. With all the work I’d been putting in, I passed with flying colors. The only thing I didn’t tell them was my age. You had to be 18 to get certified at the time, so I lied. At 15 I was a certified personal trainer.

"People saw how passionate I was and they wanted to pay me to train them."

People saw that I was so passionate about lifting and nutrition and living a healthy lifestyle, that they wanted to learn how to do it from me. I had neighbors, friends, and people who saw me lift asking me for tips and if they could train with me. It was awesome, and it inspired me to try and open my very first gym.

A few years went by and I went to college for Exercise Science. But my heart wasn’t really in it. I was learning more from actually being in gyms, working with the staff and soaking up all the info I could. So I left college and took a personal training job at a gym in Staten Island.

In a short time I broke every sales record in the training department and transitioned to the sales department. Soon I broke every record in the sales department. I spent my lunch breaks with the bookkeepers to learn everything about credit card processing, who the gym processed with. After the gym closed I stayed and worked out and walked around with the custodian. I learned about what products to use on the facility, how the weights were cleaned, what was the best process. I took meticulous notes on everything. I learned the ins and outs of every gym position and function.

I was finally ready.

Opening My First Gym

A friend of a friend contacted me to create our very own gym, and at 23 years old I had done it. I secured an excellent location, and with a $120k downpayment and co-signors we had our very first gym.

Even after the considerable knowledge I learned from my previous work, owning and operating a gym wasn’t easy. I was lucky to have a great location and a great business model, because I made a ton of mistakes early on. Notably, a $50,000 mistake from one word missing in my rental lease. But I learned so much from those early mistakes. Making a mistake is, after all, a learning process. Because of those early mistakes, I’ll never repeat any of them.

Pretty soon I started getting the hang of it. I turned our first gym into two, and then two became three. I went from making $7 an hour as a trainer to owning and operating three gyms — I absolutely loved it. But my passion for my fitness and sharing my wealth of fitness knowledge wanted more.

Taking A Risk

Three gyms wasn’t enough. I wanted to scale. I was running out of my own bandwidth, but I truly believed in my business model. I talked to some friends and colleagues, and I realized that franchising was a great opportunity to scale the business and really be able to do it at a level I wanted to for the company.

However, my partner did not want to scale. In fact, he told me I was insane. Nearly everyone told me I was insane.

"Why would I willingly sell my first successful gym to open a new gym in order to franchise?"

That lit a fire under me. “Do you really want to do this,” I was constantly asked. There was never a doubt in my mind.

So I risked it all. I sold my original gym and opened an entirely new franchise. That new gym was Retro Fitness.

Founding Retro Fitness

Retro Fitness started franchising in 2006. Today we have over 150 Retro Fitness clubs serving 500,000 plus members across 17 states. We’re creating around 20–30 new gyms built per year and if we continue to grow at this rate, we’re projected to grow into 250 gyms by 2019.

It didn’t happen overnight. It started with a single gym, and the drive to work and build on that each day after. It was a grind, and with that grind, came a lot of learnings along the way.

I’ve realized many things since that day in 2006. Many things about myself, and my team, and the way I’ve run my company. But the most important lesson I can leave with that has inspired me is this:

"If you’re not truly passionate about what you do, then find something else."

Check out my Podcast HERE

Eric Casaburi