A Marine Corps veteran is using his skills to capture clients in the highly competitive fitness market.
Sean Armstead, who launched personal training facility Phenomenal Fitness 16 years ago, says a love of fitness has been his key weapon against much larger players.
“In the Marine Corps, in the infantry, fitness is a big part of preparing for battle and for warfare training,” says Sean Armstead, 50, who served in the Marines for eight years and was a mortar platoon commander in the Persian Gulf.
“As an officer of the infantry, you really have to be a leader of fitness and have a high level of fitness to be able to guide your troops [to be] the best. You’re taught how to do small-unit instruction and small-unit development. I felt from my leadership experience, my passion and training that I had a nice set of skills that could launch me in personal training. “
The company, which Armstead runs with his wife, Maria, employs 12 people and has more than 250 clients, he says. He projects it will generate nearly $800,000 in business this year.
He started as a one-man personal-training enterprise, leasing space and building up a client base. He then teamed with his wife, also a trainer, to buy an 8,000-square-foot building, giving the company a new South Loop home.
At the start, the couple knew little about running a business. But to get savvy, they’ve taken advantage of entrepreneurship training programs at the Chicago Urban League and the U.S. Small Business Administration.
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“Our most effective marketing has been to intimately and consistently connect with the [client] in front of you,” Sean Armstead says. “Because they in turn go out and bring us people that are similar to them — not people that come in and don’t readily recognize our value or come in for a flash workout — but people that want to team up with us to help change their lives.”
They say competition makes the fitness environment extremely challenging, making it all the more important to have well-run enterprise.
“When we first got in the South Loop, we were the only thing around,” Armstead says. “Now there are tons of fitness-related facilities. I don’t hate on that. What it does is motivate you to differentiate.”
Phenomenal Fitness, which offers lifestyle-based personal training, cardio coaching, fat loss and weight management programs and assists clients with muscle and joint restrictions, sets itself apart with a focus on biomechanics and a staff with deep yet broad fitness knowledge, Armstead says.
By understanding the complexities of human movement, the company’s staff can assist clients in “de-aging their bodies, not just in looking good, but helping them reach back to get more youthfulness out of the body,” to feel, perform and look their best.
He adds, he doesn’t take staff or clients for granted.
“I’ve got to come in for everybody like I’ve got to earn your trust and respect that day,” he says. “Yesterday is over. It’s what have I done for you lately.”
Photo of Maria and Sean Armstead by Heath Sharp