Today we’d like to introduce you to Andrew Essig.
Hi Andrew, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I received a Bachelor’s Degree in business from Northwood University focused on automotive dealerships. I always loved cars and knew I wanted to be my boss one day. I never played sports in school and was always in band and art class instead. But I latched onto working out when I was in college. Initially, I just wanted to build a more attractive physique, but I became fascinated by the process and the things my body could be capable of. After graduating, I interviewed at several automotive dealerships in the St. Louis area but couldn’t find a fit, so I spent my time as a bouncer and then Bart at a small venue. Eventually, I got a personal trainer job and decided I wanted to own fitness business. This was right around the time the film “300” was released. And there was a lot of buzz around how the actors got into shape for their roles. Reading about it eventually led me to CrossFit. As soon as I tried my first CrossFit workout, I knew I wanted to pursue that type of training. It was unlike anything I’d done before and far more challenging. Everything was measurable, and it always felt like an achievement to get a better “score.” Before CrossFit, I felt my only measurement was what I saw in the mirror. I was pushing to go faster, lift more, or do more reps before time ran out. It felt like I was an athlete for the first time.
I continued working as a personal trainer but implemented the CrossFit methodology. Gym goers always wanted to know what we were doing, and our little group started to grow. The gym I worked at allowed me to take over a small corner, and I could train 3-4 people at a time. Even at such a small scale, the sense of community was refreshing, and I never looked at fitness the same way again.
Using my college experience, I wrote up a business plan for a CrossFit gym and decided I’d go to a bank and try my best for a loan to start a business. My parents asked to hear my pitch before I went in, and they liked it so much that they decided to finance me. As soon as I could afford an employee, I hired my girlfriend (who became my wife) as my first coach. It seemed a good plan as I was paying the rent and taking home a paycheck within 6 months.
We started in a 2500-square-foot metal warehouse in Soulard with one bathroom and no office. When we were bursting at the seams with 150 members, we could open the wall and expand into the space next door. Then a furniture store became available across the street, and we could move into that. We’ve since moved once more and have about 18,500 square feet to use and couldn’t be happier.
What started as a group of friends training in a warehouse has turned into a 13-year-old business with a healthy track record. We have 9 part-time coaches and 3 full-time employees and can offer group classes, one-on-one coaching, nutrition coaching, and anything in between. We’ve sent athletes to the CrossFit Games and have become a go-to spot for CrossFit when visiting St. Louis.
We all face challenges, but looking back, would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
We’ve moved 3 times and expanded once. Each time has been a massively stressful experience. The financial cost is always greater than I’d ever expected. Not to mention the physical stress, loss of sleep, and general workload that comes with such a major shift. But it’s all been worth it. We’ve learned a ton about who to hire and which clients are “good” clients. Although those times are always difficult when they’re happening, we always seem to emerge stronger and more successful on the other side. Closed down during the pandemic was a bit scary, but we stayed true to our core business model and continued providing value to our members. We reopened and were back to normal operating numbers within 2 months. It taught us a lot about our business and what people like about it.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
Before I went to business school, I dropped out of art school. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I was always good at art, so I just followed that path. It burnt me out so fast that I quit. I had no purpose or end goal in mind, so there was no motivation to be creative. Now I’m in a very unartistic line of work, so I try to find inventive ways to utilize my skills. I do most of my website building and some of our graphic design for shirts and business cards. I’ve painted several murals inside our buildings, and now I’ve started to lean into video creation for YouTube and Instagram. Staffing our business has allowed me to focus on the parts I truly enjoy and hand off some jobs I don’t. Many of these touches don’t directly contribute to our bottom line, but I think sometimes the details that go unnoticed are most important. Often you end up creating something that people like without even understanding why they like it, and all those small details are the reason.
Do you have any advice for those looking to network or find a mentor?
I hired a mentor specializing in gyms about 3 years ago, and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made. Learning from others that have experience is almost priceless. It’s like a cheat code. I thought my degree and unique perspective would give me an advantage, and I wouldn’t need outside help, and I was mostly right – but bringing in outside help was more like a multiplier for the skills I already had. It helped me be more effective and efficient with my tools and pick up new ones along the way. I don’t have a lot of tips for finding a mentor, but I recommend anyone running a business find one.
- Intro/On-Ramp: $299 for 6 sessions
- Monthly Unlimited Classes: $165
- 1:1 Coaching: ~$720 per month
- Website: GambitFitness.com
- Instagram: Instagram.com/gambitfitness
- Facebook: @GambitFitness
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9i-FowXp_lRNsctjskLHaQ
Patrick Clark, John Grämlich, Andrew Essig