During his 20+ years working in the fitness industry, Steve Pirt had two key realizations.
The first was that fitness facilities were operationally poor and antiquated in their setup. They relied too heavily on human resources to complete repetitive tasks, like checking people in and managing the space.
The second realization was that fitness professionals were not afforded the opportunity to be their own boss. Big corporations restricted them to work in a way that was not optimal for them or their clients.
This led Steve to the vision of FlexWerk, the first coworking space specifically designed for fitness professionals. Steve’s mission is to empower the world’s fitness professionals to be their own boss. He intends to do this by building an international franchise network of over 3,000 FlexWerk locations in the next ten years.
Creating a truly innovative offering to address a very specific problem requires thinking about outdated systems in a new way. Here are five inspiring key takeaways from our conversation with Steve on what it means to truly innovate.
“Our mission is to empower the world's fitness professionals to be their own boss. And in order to do that, we had to create what I call the world's first coworking spaces specifically designed for fitness professionals.”
1. Look for a blue ocean
In 2004, Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne introduced the concept of Blue Ocean Strategy to the world. Blue Ocean Strategy maps out how to identify untapped market opportunities by focusing on the blue ocean, or the underserved markets yet to be discovered.
Over the course of 14 years, Steve talked to more than 12,000 fitness professionals about their wants and needs. It was clear that fitness professionals and space operators wanted the same thing – to get more people in the door, whether that’s clients or gym goers. Yet, everything about the fitness experience was designed to serve the ones operating the space rather than the ones providing the service.
This is how Steve identified his blue ocean. It was the otherwise ignored fitness professionals who needed someone to invest in their success. With this approach, Steve was able to find the demographic who would benefit most from what he had to offer, while creating something that the market had never seen before.
“When I envisioned the solution originally eight years ago, in the napkin of the AHA moment, operators, clients and professionals all had the same wants and needs. For me, it's clear to us that fitness professionals are a third tier franchisee without the responsibility.”
2. Seek inspiration in other industries
Steve didn’t want to just create the best offering in the fitness industry. He wanted to create the best offering, period. To do this, he looked at the best of the best in other industries to inform how he designed his business and his space.
He created his company off the backs of Silicon Valley tech startups, opting to raise funds for his franchisee model and deploying a lean strategy focused on operational efficiency and workflow optimization.
Now when it came to mapping out the FlexWerk user journey, Steve was inspired by some of the most thoughtfully designed entities in the world: casinos.
Casinos are designed to take you on a very specific path. Restrooms are tucked away behind shopping stalls and slot machines, and there isn’t a clock to be found on the casino floor. The layout takes patrons effortlessly on a path of the casino’s choosing without feeling intrusive.
Steve wanted to do the same thing. He mapped out the user experience from beginning to end, and designed it so that any person considering FlexWerk would be taken on the same, thoughtfully curated path. The funnel is mapped out from beginning to end with clarity, and his team knows how to support customers every step of the way.
“I knew that if I started from scratch and thought about the experience of the consumer, whether it was the guest or the fitness professional, I could reverse engineer it and build out the building and the equipment so that the experience feels easy.”
3. Use technology to serve your experience
Once Steve knew the journey he wanted users to take, he got to creating what he refers to as, his “friction-free ecosystem”.
The friction-free ecosystem is powered by the right technology partners, working with one another, and deployed at the right time. But instead of using technology to remove the human experience, he uses technology to enable it.
The thought is that by using technology to automate the menial tasks that an employee has to do each day, it frees up their time to do more meaningful work – like building relationships and empowering their guests.
So Steve designed an ecosystem of intentional technology partners who all work together to create an effortless experience for the end user.
Guests sign up for FlexWerk and complete their profile via the FlexWerk app powered by Optix. They get access to the space via Kisi. Each room’s lighting, sound, and video are all automated and seamlessly interconnected. By the time a guest walks through the doors, their team already knows everything they need to know about them.
With the help of technology, Steve’s team has the time and data they need to create a personalized experience for every guest.
“Fitness is about connection and connectivity and people at the heart of it no matter what. I wanted technology to enable the human capacity.”
Learn more about how Steve is building an integrated and automated technology ecosystem with Optix.
4. Never stop experimenting
As thoughtful as Steve has been in planning and executing his vision for FlexWerk, he recognizes that it is an educated guess. He has adopted an experimental approach to ensure that what FlexWerk offers fully aligns with what the market needs.
Take the equipment, for example. The FlexWerk location in Carmel, Indiana started with a unique piece of equipment called Lever Arms. It’s popular amongst athletes and is great for filming unique fitness content, but can be intimidating for some.
Steve found a slightly different piece of equipment, the Smith Press, that serves a similar function, but is far more approachable for the fitness novice. He then decided to switch one of the Lever Arm machines out for a Smith Press in hopes of increasing equipment utilization. He plans to continue this layout for all future locations.
By looking at the data provided, Steve is able to quickly make changes to his business, whether it’s changing equipment materials or user onboarding flows. Decisions are data driven and experimentation is used to move the business forward.
“I have a good vision, but that doesn't mean I know it all, and I don't need to know it all. The way we grow successfully is by validating the customer's needs and solving a solution, plain and simple. Make your guesses, observe, and then take action.”
5. Make building trust your number one priority
The fitness industry has long been known for its difficult user experience. Signing up for a gym membership requires a lengthy one-year contract, while canceling feels nothing short of impossible.
For that reason, Steve has been hyper focused on building trust with his target audience. People have been conditioned with the way the fitness industry has always operated, and it can be challenging to get people to think about things differently.
By being transparent about what they offer and relying on social proof from others who have achieved what they set out to achieve, Steve can paint a picture of what it can be like to run your business out of a FlexWerk. This is absolutely invaluable in his marketing efforts.
“I think the biggest commodity we're building right now is trust, because we're still blowing people away.”
Going the extra mile
Steve Pirt’s journey in revolutionizing the fitness industry through FlexWerk exemplifies the power of innovative thinking and a commitment to addressing specific industry challenges.
Regardless of the industry, his approach serves as a blueprint for entrepreneurs looking to disrupt traditional models, and emphasizes the importance of understanding and addressing the needs of both service providers and customers.
As Steve continues to pursue his mission of empowering fitness professionals globally, the FlexWerk model stands as a testament to the transformative potential of thinking outside the box. Steve has shown what it means to be a true leader and drive change in an otherwise unchanged model.
We’re proud to be a partner of Steve and FlexWerk, and of the incredible work they’re doing in empowering fitness professionals!