Gurvinder Singh is, in many ways, a "normal" 24-year-old guy. A former wrestler, he's into martial arts and spends an inordinate amount of time training in the gym. Despite his high energy level, he can go "couch potato" with the best of them, and he loves TV (his favorite show is "Lost"). He also loves cars, and jokes that the health of his business can be measured by the impressiveness of his ride.
At the same time, Singh is a busy multi-unit franchisee who works with three different systems--Gold's Gym, Holiday Inn, and Country Inns & Suites. Four of his Gold's Gyms are in his native India and one is near Santa Cruz, Calif. The Holiday Inn, which he runs with his father and uncles, and the Country Inns & Suites they're building are in Roswell, N.M. He travels from California to New Mexico to India, where he tries to schedule a long visit each year.
Born in Jalandhar, India, in the state of Punjab, Singh says his father came to the United States in the late 1980s to work. His mom and the three children--Singh is the oldest--followed in 1995. His father founded a trucking company, in which Singh also works.
In 2003, his father purchased a hotel for the family to run. He sold that and purchased a Holiday Inn. "Two years ago, I pushed the family to try out Gold's Gym," says Singh, "and we ended up doing four at once in India." In India, he says, exercise clubs and gyms are "more of a luxury. We provide high-end gyms with big plasmas everywhere. One gym is on the seventh floor of a building in the middle of the city."
Although he enjoys working with the hotels ("We love having businesses in different sectors."), running the gyms "is my heart," he says." I find it so satisfying that I can make money and, at the same time, help people change their lives. Fitness has always been important to me. I was a wrestler in school, a gym rat. It comes naturally to me. And with the rise in obesity, I feel like I'm doing something important."
The elder Singh taught his gregarious son early about relating to people on different levels. "My Dad taught me that if I'm sitting with a politician or a street person to relate to them on their level. I find it easy to connect with all kinds of people," Singh says.
With the gyms and hotels doing well, Singh says he'd like to expand the family business to include a "nice restaurant" and a movie theater. "I love movies."
Name: Gurvinder Singh
Companies: GFF Inc. (Gold's Gym), Homeland Hospitality (hotels)
No. of unit, by brand: Gold's Gyms, 5 (4 in India); Holiday Inn, 1; Country Inns & Suites, 1
Family: I work with my father and two uncles in the family trucking business, A&I Express in Santa Cruz County. I have two siblings still in high school.
Years in current position: 3
Years in franchising: 6
Key accomplishments: Establishing four Gold's Gyms at one time in India.
Biggest mistake: Not using the banks enough, using my own money too often.
Smartest mistake: I wasn't sure about doing a gym in California, but it seems to be going well.
How do you spend a day, typically? In the morning, I'm immediately on the phone and computer. Then I exercise and go into the office. I also work at the trucking firm.
Work week: Whatever it takes
Favorite fun activities: TV, I'm a couch potato.
Exercise/workout: I'm a wrestler so I'm always working out at the gym. I'm also into MMA, mixed martial arts fighting.
Favorite stuff/tech toys: I'm big on tech toys. I get a new laptop every six months or so. My favorite toy is always whatever's newest.
What are you reading? Fitness magazines
Do you have a favorite quote or advice you give? I've always liked this one by Warren Buffet--he's a cool old guy. "Prepare for the worst and hope for the best."
Best advice you ever got: Stay in school, although I'm still undecided about going back.
Formative influences/events: My father probably influenced me most.
How do you balance life and work? I have lots of energy. I do okay at balancing things.
Business philosophy: Work hard and enjoy yourself hard, too.
Would you say you are in the franchising, real estate, or customer service business? Why? Customer service is at the top of my list. My goal is quality first. If you give quality, even if your price is higher, people will come. But I enjoy being a franchisee because I get to use the help and systems of experts in the business.
What gets you out of bed in the morning? My morning workouts.
What's your passion in business? Helping people, making money, and living good.
Management method or style: I'm pretty laid back. I believe in setting the rules and then rewarding people for what they do. Every Friday I bring lunch for the employees to let them know that I know I can't do it without them.
Greatest challenge: Managing so many employees (total, in franchises and the family trucking business, approximately 200).
How close are you to operations? I'm 110 percent hands-on.
Personality: High energy but at the same time, laid back. Appearance and being fit matter to me.
How do others describe you? They say I'm easy to connect with, easy to work with. I can work with anybody of any race, rich guys, poor guys...
How do you hire and fire? I don't do the firing because I don't like to fire people. I tend to like other HR and management duties. And I love hiring. My favorite part is interviewing, grilling people. So far, my judgment's been pretty good.
How do you train and retain? Fortunately, the three systems have training programs in place. In the gym industry, we train our employees every three months on what's new in the business. And to keep people, I reward them and let them know what can happen for them if they stick with me a while.
Annual revenue: $4 million (gross)
2009 goals: Expand and expand
Growth meter: How do you measure your growth? (Tongue in cheek) By what car I drive. Right now I have a Land Rover; by the end of the year, my goal is to be in a Maserati.
Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years? Where I am now--holding my place, just managing it better. I don't want to be a billionaire. My plate is full and I like it here. I just want to fine-tune the businesses and keep the cash flow secure.
How is this economic cycle affecting you, your employees, and your customers? I have big goals. I want to do 10 more Gold's Gyms in the coming years. However, at the moment, I'm stuck on the first one in the States. With my customers, I notice they are spending less on clothing and accessories, and they're especially holding back on personal training, which is keeping us from growing right now.
What are you doing differently in this economy? Other than waiting and holding on to see what happens, we're in price wars for everything we buy.
Where do you find capital for expansion? The banks.
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