Interview with Pat Rigsby
As far as I can remember I was definitely sports guy. I played a variety of sports growing up, but the main thing was baseball. I got to continue on at a pretty inauspicious post high school career with dabbling in college and even a little bit in the independent professional league where I think I figured out pretty quickly that my future was not in playing baseball.
At that same point in time I got to figure some things about more of what I wanted to do professionally, that I wanted to be involved in things that I was excited about. I grew up learning a lot of the takeaways that I got in what I think was the scholastic point of my life, most of the real lessons that lasted along the way came from sports. I wanted to stay involved in that sort of stuff.
My dad had a small business. He still has it to this day, a garage/auto repair business. I grew up doing everything from serving as the janitor sweeping the floors to some really elementary repair work. What I figured out was I didn’t like it at all. I watched the clock the entire time I was there. I just was counting the minutes. I knew from spending so much of my additional time involved in sports that I wanted to spend my time doing things that I’m excited about. I want to spend my time working in things that I don’t just tolerate. This whole watching the clock all day and just trying to get through the day in order to make money seems like a really miserable way to exist for the next 40 or 50 years in a work life.
“I want to spend my time doing things that I’m excited about.”
So, I stayed in sports. I took a job with a minor league baseball team as the assistant general manager and oversaw a lot of the behind the scenes stuff from sponsorship stuff to even the promotions during the game. I doubled up and even played the role of an assistant coach at that level too. I was really immersed there. I was trying to build a resume in the sports world because I knew that’s what I was excited about and really it was a crossroads for me. I had finished my bachelor’s degree, and sent out about 40 letters to different college baseball programs just looking for a volunteer spot on a staff or a graduate assistantship. I had been a student assistant at the university where I got my degree and played for a while and there was just not going to be any longevity there. There was no real job opportunity to continue in that role. Of the 40 letters that I sent out, I was 0 for 40. I probably got 5 letters back thanking me and wishing me luck. The other 35 didn’t even bother to write back.
About that time, the job came open at the university where I had gone to school. The coach, who had been my high school coach and ascended up and took this role, actually came and sought me out and said, “Look, I’m leaving. You should apply for the job. I’m not happy with the direction the university’s going. They’re downsizing the athletic department. They’re actually taking away the scholarships and they’re going to be non-scholarship, so it’s an uphill battle I don’t want to fight but it might be a good stepping stone or an early opportunity for you.” I applied. Somehow I got the job.
It seems like an eternity ago, but I got the job on September 14, 1995. I was a shade over 23-years-old and was the youngest baseball coach in the country for my first two seasons.
It probably should be mentioned that the starting salary to be the head coach at this university was $3,000. You can imagine that I had to couple that with any number of other things. I already had a personal training certification and kind of served as the strength coach for the minor league baseball team before and for a couple of the teams at the university in my senior year.
I did everything from announcing volleyball games, to training a few people on the side at the sports center, to eventually getting a certified pool operator credential and managed part of the fitness facility. That’s when I transitioned and said…look I’m going to pursue the things that are important to me, the things that I learned a lot about, the things that I’ve studied—that interest me, and I’m going to make that my career path. Instead of just taking the traditional job route I think so many people pursue by default and I think that my parents probably wanted me to pursue early on.
“I’m going to pursue the things that are important to me.”
During my last couple years as a coach there was a lot of friction between me and the administration. I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity those first couple years, but then the stuff that drove the previous two coaches away: the limited resources and the lack of administrative or university-wide support for the program—it just seemed like a dead end street.
So, I started to embrace a lot of the things that manifested themselves in my business career later on. I started to study marketing because I needed to figure out how to recruit more effectively. We didn’t have as many resources to sell, so I needed to figure out how to sell what we had better. I had to figure out how to position us, how to brand us as something unique, as something different. In truth, I had to hustle like crazy because I had to make up for the limited resources we had, but these are all things that I think didn’t fit inside the box of the job that I was in. I don’t want to suggest that every coach doesn’t hustle, but I mean I was in a unique spot where I didn’t have a family, kids or a wife so I could just pour everything into that instead of trying to find some semblance of balance in a life that didn’t really need it at that point.
It was my proving ground for business except there was a degree of security because the framework was already there for me. I just had to go and build and do whatever. It was a lot of fun. It was a neat experience. I get asked all the time, “Well, would you be a better coach now?” I’m like, “No, I wouldn’t because I’m smarter now, I would like to think. I’m more experienced, but I wouldn’t be willing to put in 100 hours a week to do it now.” There’s something to be said for that.
Early stage entrepreneurs or coaches, in that case, because I really ran it that way but then what I found was that it wasn’t a business. It was a university supported athletic program. It had very limiting constraints. It had a lot administrative bureaucracy, and so those last couple of years I knew I needed to move on.
You don’t know what you don’t know. I didn’t have any idea what I would do after that. This was truly my identity. I had done a radio show there. I was on billboards. I was on a commercial. I was known as “Coach” and that was it. That is what I viewed myself as. I knew that I wanted to stay in something that I enjoyed, something I was passionate about. I knew that I was willing to work as hard as I worked because it was something that excited me. I wouldn’t have been willing to put in those types of hours had I been turning wrenches at my dad’s garage. I would have been hey, the minimum required work here is 45 hours a week? Then that’s what I’m doing. I knew that I needed to be committed to something that excited me.
“I was willing to work as hard as I worked because it was something that excited me.”
For me, the only thing that fit that criteria were sports and fitness. That’s what I liked. I had always gravitated to the fitness and strength and conditioning world because I was an undersized athlete trying to get bigger and stronger to be more competitive and really studied the history of it. I was reading books about the history of physical culture when I was in high school. I would call up people who were kind of legends in the field—guys who wrote books. And I’d ask them questions, and they would be kind of shell-shocked like “how did this kid find me?” and they talked to me. I did the same thing with baseball. I studied everything about it. It wasn’t just like this surface level interest. To this day, I can recite the most absurd amount of random baseball trivia anybody would ever hope to know.
I was like…I need to build my career around this stuff because it’s what I believe I should be doing. I should be working on something that if I’m working extra hours on it then it doesn’t seem like work, I’m excited to learn. I’m excited to pour myself into it.
In theory, all of that sounded great but I didn’t know what it looked like and I had never run a business. I loosely knew the field but I wasn’t 100% committed to detaching myself from coaching. I was unsure. I interviewed for a job or two every year for the next two or three years in baseball. I was offered a few jobs and just never really felt like I needed to go back on that route. Somebody along the way, I think, threw me a bit of a lifeline. I resigned and got a decent severance because the vice president was so eager to be done with me, and so it gave me a few months of runway to figure out some stuff.
I was offered the job running a baseball and performance facility in Ohio, in a different part of Ohio but in an area that I was pretty familiar with because I had recruited there. A lot of my better players came out of that general region. I moved there, turned around this facility that I inherited in the spring. The previous summer they had lost $70,000 over the course of the summer because of seasonality. They would clean up during the winter but then when kids would go off to play their games and play the spring season or the summer season it was like a ghost town.
I came in and they were paying me more than I had made as a college coach, and they gave me some incentives. They offered me an equity stake if I met certain benchmarks. We actually were minimally profitable that summer. We were less than $100 in the black but we were actually in the black. You’re talking about a $70,000 swing in a year and it was great. I realized that I could do this.
“You’re talking about a $70,000 swing in a year and it was great. I realized that I could do this.”
I figured out some the business stuff. I didn’t necessarily understand a lot of the financial side of it, but I knew how to market. I knew how to sell because I had been running camps and getting clients forever. I was figuring out some of that other stuff as I went and it was starting to make sense and it was exciting to me because there was this competition. Here’s what we did last year on this month, so year after year here’s what we’ve got to do. It still fulfilled that competitive drive that I had had as a coach and as a player and I was still in that world, that baseball world that had been my identity for so long.
In all honesty, I don’t know what would have provoked me to leave there in the immediate future because the job was getting better. I was getting paid more. I was gaining a little bit of equity and would have gained more over time. Then the people who owned the business owned the building and the building was actually two streets over from a mall. They ended up selling it for a huge profit, and so they just nixed the whole baseball facility.
They, like many people who open businesses like that, had gotten into it because they had kids that were younger, in baseball, their kids were graduating, playing college and so they weren’t really motivated to go down that path anymore. They were like “yeah it’s profitable now but it’s not as profitable as the insurance agency we own or the real estate company we own.”
I took a little bit of a bonus check when they dissolved the company for what my equity was and had a couple of opportunities to open my own facility. People, like clients of ours, that liked what we did said, “Hey we’ll back you and you can open a facility.” For whatever reason I just didn’t feel like I was there yet. I wasn’t necessarily ready to go spend somebody else’s money to open a business because I felt like I probably only knew 50% of what I needed to know to start.
So, I took a job running the personal training department in a Gold’s Gym. By that point, I felt pretty good about my ability to sell and to market. Selling some personal training just didn’t seem like a daunting task considering the fact that I had been selling or persuading parents to entrust their first born to me for the next 4 years. They gave me this lagging training department. This gym that did like $7,000 in personal training sales the previous month did like $18,000 the next month after I arrived. The next month we did like $36,000. By that month, I was running the training in all the Gold’s Gyms in the state of Kentucky and even a couple of them into southern Ohio.
“This gym that did like $7,000 in personal training sales the previous month did like $18,000 the next month after I arrived.”
At that point, I went from having a staff of 5 trainers in my gym to having a staff of 75 trainers. It started to kind of fill in the blanks in the areas where I wasn’t as good. Frankly, I didn’t enjoy the way that training happened in that big box club, and I’m sure there are other big box clubs that do it much, much better.
I think that if I do have a knack for seeing things it’s like—okay, this is simple—here’s where we need to focus our time to get the biggest bang for our buck. If I look back at baseball all these guys were really worried about edging the baselines on the field or this or that. And instead, I’m focusing on getting better players. That’s kind of been a recurring theme in my career.
So, I did the Gold’s Gym thing. I literally had written down in my planner that my plan was two years there and I was going to treat this as my doctorate. I had gotten a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and I had enrolled but never actually started classes in a doctoral program. So instead, I treated this as my practical doctoral type of experience. I just put my head down and started down this path, but really less than a year and a half into it I was presented with an opportunity to go with a partner and open up a business.
At the time, it was kind of a big trend, health clubs were outsourcing their personal training departments to subcontractor like companies. Instead of just letting independent contractors one by one come in, they would outsource the whole thing to another company and charge that company rent. There was this opportunity to step in, have the rights to the training department and to all their retail. When I walked into that town I knew zero people, literally, and in 18 months I had 420 clients.
“When I walked into that town I knew zero people, literally, and in 18 months I had 420 clients.”
A lot of people want to know how I grew it so quickly. It was more or less a combination of three things. The first one was that we did it differently than other people. We were bringing in something new and different to the market. There were a handful of people in that town who, it certainly wasn’t dense with personal trainers, had always done things in the old standby way. Like, a 12-pack of personal training sessions for $480 and then when that runs out I’ll sell you another 12-pack. Instead, we sold 12 month contracts and 30 minute sessions. People were billed monthly so if somebody bought a 30-minute session for say $30 a session, if they’re doing 3 times a week I think it was $4,320, but broken up it’s $360 a month.
What works in health clubs? What works when people buy a car, when they do a mortgage? They want to know what their monthly payment is. We did it differently so people could fit it into their budget so it seemed like you were getting more value but for us we were getting a consistent client for the next 12 months. We did things differently and that was a big step in the right direction for a town that was not the most affluent town. It wasn’t like an economically depressed town or anything but it was just a middle of the pack town in central Kentucky.
The second thing was that we sold. I never got bogged down with the fact that my job is just training clients or my staff’s job is just training clients. We did sales training on a weekly basis and with some people we were doing sales training 3 times a week if they were going to take a higher volume of sessions. We knew that selling was the first domino. It was the thing that made the world go ‘round. It was really ingrained throughout our culture. I think that so many people find selling to be something that they tolerate. For me, I think I’ve always felt like it was just very much like recruiting in sports. It is the catalyst for everything else. Without effective sales you don’t have anything else. Without recruiting good players you’re never going to be successful. It was just something that I think permeated everything we did.
“Without effective sales you don’t have anything else.”
The third thing was that we had a really straightforward and simple scoreboard where we set goals. We set them up and we knocked them down. We incentivized people and we highlighted them all the time. Goals for the number of people we were going to sit down and do what we called an “introductory session” (something we might call a success session now). We basically said look here’s the business on a dry erase board. We’ve got to go out there and hit targets. My entire sports life everybody’s measured by a scoreboard. The beauty of a lot of the stuff that goes on in sports is it’s not that subjective. I mean the scoreboard is going to tell you…did you win or lose today?
And I think there were a lot of other smaller things. We did a good job with retention. We had a community and culture. All those things I think we did ahead of our time in many, many ways there. When I look back at it now, things that people are doing now we were doing that in 2005.
At the same time, about a year into that location, I opened up a health club. It was almost exactly a year to the day, I opened up a health club about an hour and half down the road. Originally, I had a third business partner who was the acting manager in that club but then bought him out after about a year and grew that like crazy. It was the fastest growing club in that franchise, it was an Anytime Fitness. I’m sure there have been hundreds of them that ascended faster after that. Everything just kept moving forward, and it was always tied to health and fitness. It all went back to those strengths that I think I was developing at the beginning of my professional career when I was 23 and took over as a baseball coach.
From Brick and Mortar to Online
I think coming from a small town—Portsmouth, Ohio, where I think a lot of the things that happen where somebody has professional success they’ve adopted something from a bigger city and they brought it back here or whatever. Most of the towns I was around early on, they were smaller towns. They were like this really forward thinking, progressive place. There was some charm in that but obviously there’s some limitation to it. I guess the only thing that I ever thought was possible to grow was just bigger location, more locations. That’s it. There are 2 options. That’s it. I just always assumed more. I had had this loose goal set in my mind of having 12 locations within the next 5 years, which seemed pretty aggressive but with the early stage success that we were having I believed it was possible.
“I mean the scoreboard is going to tell you…did you win or lose today?”
We were going around looking at real estate, we’ve got a guy who even indicates an interest in investing and this guy now is the biggest franchisee of Planet Fitness in the Midwest. Obviously he can back up any talk he might have thrown out then, and it got really close on 3 different locations and I kind of put the brakes on. Some of it didn’t feel right. Some of it didn’t really shake out the way that we expected.
Not too long before that, we had gone to a conference, The Ryan Lee Bootcamp in Connecticut. When I say we, it was my business partner, my wife Holly, and 3 of our employees. There was 6 of us piled in a van and drove up and stayed at a Super 8 motel to save money since we had multiple people tagging along with us. I see these folks on stage and all I could think about was that we should be the ones up there. People are talking about business when they’re on stage that have 50, 75, or 80 clients. The whole way back I’m saying man we need to be doing this.
Ultimately, that was the precursor to me launching my first product in collaboration with my friend, Eric Ruth—it was called the Personal Training Money Machine and it basically just documented our business model. That went over pretty well. Then, I created a second product, an ebook called Fitness Riches. This is all happening at the same time that we’re scouting these other locations, but frankly, I saw the info product stuff and the online product stuff at that time as a means to an end. I saw these products as a source to fund some cash for us to scale quicker, for us to add more locations quicker, to pay for build outs, to buy equipment, and to pay off some student loans. I didn’t see it as the end itself. It didn’t seem tangible enough to me.
Then, we started getting close to having to make a decision on expansion. I realized that if I was already gone a couple days a week at this location, how am I ever going to be home when we have six, eight or twelve locations? I didn’t get married until I was 33 years old and at that point Holly had Tyler already. Tyler was 3 at the time. I waited that long to have a family and I didn’t want to miss out on it traveling between locations. So, I decided to put more emphasis on the local business stuff we already had and scale by way of growing what we’re doing virtually. We had online stuff that helped fitness professionals grow their business and starting to position what we were doing as a leader in that market. It was opening doors, opening doors for an acquisition of ownership in the IYCA, later an equipment company, and some other stuff. It was like this can be a real thing. It’s not just a means to an end. It is the end. It is the business and it just took off.
“I waited that long to have a family and I didn’t want to miss out on it…”
The brick and mortar businesses continued to do well. Over time, in fact, we were kind of a victim of our own success in one sense because the personal training business that we subleased from a health club was outperforming the health club. When it came time to renew our lease they weren’t really eager to renew the lease and we were out of a spot. We were down to just the one location. About that time was when I moved from that town to Louisville. The stuff that was Trainers Inner Circle and then eventually Bootcamp Blueprint, snowballed. We launched our first Mastermind, launched a second Mastermind, and eventually created two franchises, the first being Athletic Revolution and the second one Fitness Revolution, which none of that’s franchising anymore but at the time they were both the top ranked franchise in Entrepreneur Magazine’s Franchise 500 in their respective categories.
It just kept going. It’s funny to look back that it was all really built on the foundation of going out there and saying, “man, I don’t want to work in a garage. I want to do things that I actually like.”
Creating an Ideal Lifestyle
It was a fun ascension but like anything, there were lots of twists and turns along the way. Holly and I had our son, Alex, in 2010 and at that point Tyler was 9 years old. I didn’t want to be gone for six days at a time let alone doing that eight times a year and then feel like I’m constantly on conference calls.
I was essentially in a business where I’m the owner or one of two primary owners and we had some other shareholders in some ventures. I didn’t want to feel like an employee of the business that I’d created. It had gotten so big that I’m navigating so many other variables, everybody else’s schedules and events, and many other moving parts between that. Then, my partner had a very different vision, very much a corporate kind of thing—Fortune 500 type of vision where he wanted a very rigid structure. He wanted everybody to work in one place and in this type of office and with these type of meetings. While I’m very much entrepreneurial and like the autonomy and freedom and flexibility. There was just a bit of a tug of war. They went their way and I wanted to build a business reflective of my values and my goals and I want to coach people who mesh up with that.
“I wanted to build a business reflective of my values and my goals and I want to coach people who mesh up with that.”
I ended up in 2014 deciding to sell my stake in all of that, and actually it took until the beginning of 2015 to finalize the transition and then launch my new brand. I think so many of us have gone through something similar. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about being an employee somewhere or our business evolving into something that wasn’t really what we envisioned or even to take it out of a business context like being in a relationship that just evolved over time. I was very fortunate to be in a position where I could, even with a family, knowing there’s a little bit of risk. I was in a secure enough spot that I could start fresh and build something new that was aligned with my values and goals and what I wanted my legacy to be, what I wanted for my family and really who I wanted to work with. That’s where PatRigsby.com began and the things that we do under that umbrella from VFM to the Ideal Business Academy to the Masterminds.
Creating His Ideal Business
My expectation going in was that I wanted to simplify things. I’m going to enjoy Holly and the boys while they’re young because they’re not going to be young forever. In fact, Tyler’s taller than me now. I’ll work with people that I want to work with so I’ll be doing better work. I’ll be happier when I’m not doing work because the carry-over from work will always be positive versus sometimes people take the negative aspects of work back with them and allow it to permeate into their personal life. I think that was my expectation. When we’re doing the right thing for us with the right people then it is probably not uncommon for it to exceed expectations and snowball in a really positive way.
“When we’re doing the right thing for us with the right people then it is probably not too uncommon for it to exceed expectations and snowballs in a really positive way.”
It’s been a really rewarding time because from a financial or an impact standpoint, I’m far better off than I probably could have ever imagined when this transition occurred. Beyond that, I’m working fewer hours than I probably have ever worked in my adult life. The hours I’m working are way more fulfilling because I feel like I’m 90% of the time I’m doing the stuff that I need to be doing.
I think that in both my time as a baseball coach and my time with the other businesses that I started, towards the end in both, they very much paralleled one another in many ways. Towards my end with both of them I felt like I was spending about 30% of my time in my, if you want to call it unique ability or areas of strength or zone of genius or whatever people want to refer to it as, instead of spending the 90% of my time there like I am now.
If there’s ever an endorsement for people playing to their strengths and spending their time where they’re best this is it. I’ve got a business that probably does a quarter or maybe even 20% gross revenue what my network of businesses did in the past. But, I personally make considerably more and I’m doing it 100%, I think, because this alignment of being in the right place doing the right stuff with the right people. I think if you get that right the sky’s the limit.
The people who are in our Mastermind groups have heard my talk about my three divisions of my business. The first division is basically products and things that are not really highly time sensitive or don’t require a lot of my day-to-day heavy interaction. Something like Virtual Fitness Mastermind requires the most interaction of anything that might fall into category one, but still the coaching aspect of that is largely in a Facebook group. It’s not doing live consulting, coaching days, Masterminds or phone coaching or anything like that. Division one is very much products and programs that aren’t necessarily really high volume of time based engagement.
Division two is the coaching work that I do. It might mean the Producer Challenge at the smaller six-week timeframe, up to the Masterminds, the private consulting, and the Ideal Business Academy. That’s the really coaching centric division. Now, those two divisions are 100% owned by me. I may bring in somebody to publish a product with or I may lean on someone to help me deliver that coaching or that experience in that particular program.
So, those first two are my primary business endeavors. When I set out, I’m like okay these two have to fulfill all my now financial needs and all my future financial needs, that way I don’t ever feel like I’m having to get approval or have a tug of war to make sure that my family is taken care of. I know that my experiences, my retirement, and all of that is taken care of.
What’s so great about that is it creates so much peace of mind, autonomy and flexibility but I know how much emphasis I want to put on each. I know which are the more foundational or key parts of what I do. In fact, I would tell you that division two is the lifeblood of everything I do. The products are fine but really I’m a coach at heart. Division two is all about coaching and that’s the driver.
“What’s so great about that is it creates so much peace of mind and so much autonomy and flexibility…”
Division three is what I consider my collaboration division. Even though I’ve had a number of business partners through various ventures in the past and I have sold those interests and moved on, a lot of people probably would assume that I don’t want to collaborate. But it’s just the opposite. I love putting my head together with somebody else and figuring out how we can do something at a high level and create something or add value to the market, but I wanted division three to be something that existed where if I’m going to take on a project the primary driver will never be money. It’s going to be because it’s a cool project that I want to do with somebody that they’ll be fun to work with. I never wanted to feel like I’m going to do this project because there’s a potential for financial gain so I’m going to tolerate what the project is or who the project’s with.
At any point in time I’m probably using that division three category to work with two or three different projects. It’s been great because I know going in that this is what I bring to the table and either I’m a fit or not. I can work with people that are great to work with. I can do things that I’m excited about and there’s not that risk that I ever feel like my family’s livelihood is at stake so I’m having to compromise. For me, I don’t know if this framework would work for anybody else but for me it does. It’s been really a lifesaver for me to categorize things and to know that it’s okay to take on certain projects because other needs are being met over here so I can do this other thing that might be fun and exciting and allow me to work with people I enjoy in this other part.
“I know how I’m wired. I know what’s important to me.”
I think the biggest takeaway from something like that, from my perspective, is that you have to design your business to serve you, the way that you’re wired, what your goals are. I know how I’m wired. I know what’s important to me. I know that I want to spend my time coaching and consulting and connecting with other people and creating valuable resources that are going to hopefully enhance somebody’s business and maybe even enhance their life. I know that I’m going to set guardrails that allow me to spend time with my family and friends, and do things that I enjoy. I’m not going to let my business overwhelm me. But…that’s me. Those are my goals. Those are my objectives. I think each of us have to define that for ourselves and design or architect a business that allows us to reach our personal goals and to have the things that we want in our life.