By Sean Gagnon, Special AFS Contributor

As the CEO of a company that was founded on, and continues to build on innovation we are no strangers to copycats! When I was just starting out I worked for the inventor of the famous Ab Roller product - an innovation that sold over 10 million units and generated over $1BILLION in worldwide sales. Many people have heard of the product but what they may not know is that his innovation was copied by over 28 companies and he spent over $15M defending his patents in court.

As my career progressed, he and I became business partners and we continued to innovate. We also continued to get copied. Some people will tell you that imitation is the best form of flattery. I don’t agree with that but I understand the sentiment. If you have a great idea people will copy you. The bad news is that it is just the way it goes and I don’t think it will ever change. The good news is you still have a secret weapon - culture. You can’t copy culture!

You may be thinking to yourself - I don’t have to worry about this because I don’t have a product. I run a studio or a gym. Let’s be clear: your studio IS your product! Your training method IS your product. Your business model IS your product. If competitors see you doing well with a strategy or in a certain market you are just as vulnerable to copies as someone like me who sells physical products in a global market place.

Most people open their studios because they see an opportunity in a market and feel that what they have to offer will bring value and ultimately be profitable. Opening day comes and the high five’s abound. Then a few months in another studio opens, and another, and another! I’ve seen this in the small town I live in here in NJ - we have a massive YMCA, 3 Spin Studios and 4 personal training studios - all within relative walking distance! They all basically do the same thing so how can they differentiate themselves? CULTURE.

“No One Will Remember…..”

Last month I had the great pleasure of traveling to Miami to visit customers. While I was there someone suggested I stop in a studio called Anatomy. They have a few locations in the Miami area and are run by a gentleman by the name of Marc Megna. I looked them up online and social and was impressed by what I saw. I asked the person who recommended to me why I should go by. I was told that he’s got this amazing training method known as the “Megna Method”. Ok, I thought - another trainer who put together some routines and named it after himself for personal branding. I get it and decided to take the drive.

I got there a little early and walked up to the front desk to let them know I was there. They asked me to wait a moment and Marc would be right out. A few minutes later he came out and asked me if it would be ok if we pushed the meeting about 15 minutes because something urgent came up in the business and he had to deal with it. As a fellow entrepreneur, I completely understood and it was not an issue.

A bit later he came back to get me and we started to walk around his incredible studio. Instantly I could tell that something different was going on here. Sure it was a beautiful location, but that wasn’t it. As we walked through the facility Marc greeted every person we encountered - even if he was mid-sentence with me. He’d stop and pick up every scrap of paper - no matter how small that was on the floor. He greeted staff members as they walked by and asked them how they were doing. Not in the obligatory way that most do - but with a genuine sense of caring. I could tell by their reactions that they knew this was true.  As we continued on our tour I saw him do these things again and again - instinctively, automatically.

When the tour was over we sat down in his office and I had to ask him about what I had come to see - The Megna Method. His answer told the story of his success. (I’ll paraphrase). He said - “Look, at the end of the day no one is going to remember the sequence of exercises I put them through. No one will care how many ways I made them do a push-up. But they will remember how they FELT when they leave here. That is my goal.” Sure they will have a feeling they trained hard at his studio - but I don’t believe that is what he meant. He ensures that everyone (member or employee) that walks through his doors leaves better than when they came in - physically, mentally, emotionally. That is why they keep coming back.

I’m fortunate to visit with trainers, instructors and studio/club owners all over the world. Too often, in my opinion, the equipment and the training methods are what they focus on. I’m an equipment manufacturer so part of me loves that. However, like you, I am also a fitness professional who believes that Fitness Changes Lives! In fact, the reason my company exists - our purpose - is We Change Lives from the Core.

Much of what our industry offers is a commodity. Cycling, running, lifting on and on. It comes in many forms but anyone can copy that. They cannot copy YOU. They cannot copy CULTURE. To stand out in this crowded space focus on that. Create an experience that people want to have again and again. You will attract the right members and the right team through your culture and there will be no competition!

As Marc and I walked back to the front of the studio he said, “Hang on - I’ve got something for you”. He went behind the desk and pulled out a t-shirt and handed it to me. It read - CULTURE IS EVERYTHING! That did not surprise me!


Sean Gagnon is the founder and president of The Abs Company. He received his master’s degree in clinical physiology from the University of Florida.  For over 10 years his company has been focused on core-based functional training products for the commercial and consumer fitness markets. The Abs Company products can be found in over 10,000 facilities and millions of homes in over 40 countries worldwide. The company mission is "We Change Lives from the Core”. Sean and his team are proud to do just that every day!

Join the Conversation!