It's All Working Out: Former NFL QB Calls the Shots at His Retro Fitness Gyms
Pittsburgh, Jan. 5, 2008, Heinz Field--With the Steelers ahead 29-28 and 1:56 to go in the 4th quarter of the 2007 NFL Wild Card Playoffs, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard, facing 4th and 2 on the Pittsburgh 43-yard line, took off for a 32-yard gain that set up the Jaguars' game-winning field goal. Final score: 31-29, Jaguars.
Today, at 38, Garrard still works out every day, but he's not just pumping iron in his post-NFL career--he's pumping profits from his two Retro Fitness gyms. "I had always known there would be life after football and worked closely with my financial adviser to prepare for that day," he says.
Garrard spent nine seasons with the Jaguars before getting released just before the 2011 season. He signed with the Miami Dolphins and later with the New York Jets, but in 2013 nagging injuries forced him to hang up his cleats.
Operating his own business was always his post-football goal, he says, "But it had to be the right opportunity." When his adviser brought him the Retro Fitness option, he immediately liked what he saw. The fitness segment is hot--and though it's highly competitive, Garrard was sold on Retro Fitness and signed on. He's opened two locations in the Jacksonville area with a third coming soon.
Garrard and his wife Mary live in Jacksonville and are active in the daily operations of the gyms. They are also busy raising three children. Beyond the financial motivation, operating gyms made sense because, he says, "I work out every day anyway."
Working out and helping others attain their health and fitness goals has become a passion for Garrard, who says opening his own gyms was a natural progression both personally and professionally. The Retro Fitness model allows the Garrards a flexibility that's important to them as parents. "It's given me the chance to be home more and see my children growing up," he says. That's very different from life on the road in the NFL.
Garrard is careful to point out that although there are some similarities to leading a football team and leading a business, he didn't come into franchising knowing all he needs to about running the business. "I listened early and carefully to what people were teaching me about the business world. I was not hard-headed," he says.
Retro Fitness founder and CEO Eric Casaburi, he says, did a great job explaining how the business should be run every day and the importance of following through. "Franchising uses a game plan, that when followed, results in a business model that works," says Garrard, who plans to remain an active franchise owner. "I'm looking at potential future sites, talking to and negotiating with landlords, and promoting my existing locations," he says. "I'm always going to have a hand in it."
Looking ahead downfield, he says, "We want to leave our kids a business that's profitable. People are becoming more and more fitness-oriented, so the industry is going to continue taking off as more people appreciate the benefits of exercising and living a healthy lifestyle."
Name: David Garrard
Company: Retro Fitness No. of units: 3 Retro Fitness (2 open, 1 under development)
Family: Wife Mary Garrard, three kids (Justin, Makena, Sydney), 1 Yorkie and 1 cat
Years in franchising: Just over 2
Years in current position: 2
My dad owned his own construction company and was a big influence.
NFL playoff win versus the Steelers in 2007 and becoming a business owner.
Biggest current challenge:
Marketing has been a big challenge. One of my locations is kind of out of the market and not close to other Retro Fitness gyms. Not everyone knows about Retro Fitness, so I've been marketing like crazy. It cost a lot of money just to market so people know who you are, as opposed to people knowing who you are and coming in to sign up.
Next big goal:
Getting more Retro Fitness gyms open.
First turning point in your career:
I'm still on the uphill slope and haven't really had my turning point as a franchisee yet.
Best business decision:
Having a business-savvy wife. She handles a lot of the administrative work, while I'm more about morale, concepts, ideas, etc.
Hardest lesson learned:
Opening two gyms at the same time.
Five days a week. I'm supporting my staff at both clubs.
I usually get a workout in before I start the work day.
Best advice you ever got:
Never be anxious for anything.
What's your passion in business?
To grow Jacksonville out into a major enterprise. My passion also lies in the fitness industry. It was the perfect transition for me. I've always been in the fitness industry and I figured opening a gym is a better way to give back to the community than a restaurant or fast-food place.
How do you balance life and work?
Family always comes first. Don't bring work home, keep it separate.
Any and all food, especially Thai and ice cream.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
What do most people not know about you?
I have a green thumb. I love planting flowers.
Not looking someone in the eyes when talking.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
A football player in the NFL.
Person I'd most like to have lunch with:
My mom. She passed away from breast cancer when I was 16.
You get out what you put in. Management method or style:
Having two gyms so early in my business career. Having to juggle two different franchises is hard. You want to spend enough time at both and give each of them 100 percent, and it's tricky to balance them.
How do others describe you?
An easygoing, nice guy.
One thing I'm looking to do better:
Know the numbers.
How I give my team room to innovate and experiment:
Meet once a week and ask if anything new is on their minds.
How close are you to operations?
Another area I want to get better at.
What are the two most important things you rely on from your franchisor?
What I need from vendors:
To continue to be innovators and come out with new items. The fitness industry depends on that--people want something new that challenges them in a new way. Also, when something goes wrong, I need my vendor to respond quickly and efficiently.
Have you changed your marketing strategy in response to the economy? How?
It's always changing and becoming more social media based.
How is social media affecting your business?
Greatly. We learn more about social media every day because it is so huge, especially in Jacksonville, where we're seeing a lot of change from print to digital. Everyone has a device in their hands. You need to target to them right, and you do this by using social media.
How do you hire and fire?
My general manager handles HR-related issues.
How do you train and retain?
My GM handles this as well.
How do you deal with problem employees?
My GM handles this. He was recommended to me by Retro corporate and does a great job. Everyone has a smile on their face when I'm in the gym, so I really count on my GM to keep me in the loop about what is really going on.
Fastest way into my doghouse:
Missing work or being late repeatedly.
What skills/experience from sports have carried over to operating a business?
Being confident in all situations.
Which do you find more competitive, sports or business?
Business is much harder.
Why did you choose franchising as an investment option?
They already had the game plan, I just follow it.
How did you transition from sports to franchising?
I had a business partner who helped.
What was your greatest achievement in sports, and what has been your biggest accomplishment as a franchisee?
Winning the starting job with Jacksonville, and getting my gyms open.
More than $1 million.
We want our first gym to break even. In 2017, I want both of our gyms to break even.
Growth meter: How do you measure your growth?
Vision meter: Where do you want to be in 5 years? 10 years?
In 5 years, I want to have 4 Retro Fitness clubs open. In 10 years, I want to have 9.
How is the economy in your region affecting you, your employees, your customers?
It's fine. The economy is pretty good. People are able to spend. Our members are actually spending twice the amount of their membership. We do have a few people that are delinquent, but not many.
Are you experiencing economic growth in your market?
There's great opportunity in our market. The economic growth is standard.
How do changes in the economy affect the way you do business?
We try to go with the market and adjust accordingly.
How do you forecast for your business?
The gym business has different seasons within the industry, so it's somewhat easy to prepare for them.
What are the best sources for capital expansion?
The best way to get capital is to have your gym making money. Nobody wants to put capital into something not making money. If you have good relationships with banks, seek capital through them.
Experience with private equity, local banks, national banks, other institutions? Why/why not?
If you're making money, this is not a problem.
What are you doing to take care of your employees?
I offer incentives whenever I can.
How are you handling rising employee costs (payroll, minimum wage, healthcare, etc.)?
It's tough, we do what we can.
How do you reward/recognize top-performing employees?
Employee of the month along with an incentive, such as a gift card.
What kind of exit strategy do you have in place?
Building up the company enough to receive an offer we can't refuse.
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