What is your full name, title, and business name?
Dave Ulmer, Gym owner, CrossFit IPA
Give us a summary of your business in 200 words or less.
At CrossFit IPA, we want to help you reach your personal fitness potential—whether it be getting stronger, hitting a weight loss goal, overcoming an injury or becoming a more well-rounded competitive athlete. Every one of us is unique in our motivations, abilities and interests. You show up ready to work and we’ll give you the guidance, support and environment you need to achieve those goals. We want your time in the gym to be the best part of your day.
CrossFit classes combine movements from various domains such as gymnastics, weightlifting, powerlifting and endurance activities like running, rowing and biking which aim to develop fitness across the board: endurance, strength, stamina, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance and accuracy. Our goal is also not only to help you get stronger and faster, but to help you move better. Classes are taught in a group setting because support from the coaches and other members alike is a very powerful motivator for improvement. Working out with others helps push you to do your very best and hold you accountable.
If you’d like to take the plunge, contact us or stop by and check us out!
How did the idea for your business come about?
Well, I began doing CrossFit on my own at a local gym in Rochester, NY in 2007 by just following the main site workouts. I eventually joined a CF gym in Columbus in 2010 after moving here in 2008. I did not intend to start a career coaching CF, but after being a given a chance to do some part time coaching after earning my certification, I found I had a knack for coaching and I really enjoyed what I was doing. I had been coaching full time from late 2011 until Spring 2016 when I realized that I had two options: I could continue to work for other owners, or I could start something of my own. I felt I had enough experience in the operations of a gym that I was comfortable to take on the challenge of running my own business. I had a couple friends that were interested in being a part of this new gym, and so we worked hard during the summer of the 2016 to open our CrossFit IPA doors on August 16th of that year.
What prompted you to earn your CrossFit instructor certification?
I forget the exact details, but some time in early 2011 when I was training at Rogue Fitness CrossFit Gahanna (which eventually moved to Grandview and became CrossFit Grandview) there was an opportunity to attend the L-1 certification in town. I had expressed an interest to the owners that I’d like to help out coaching, so they were able to hook me up with a spot that April. I passed and started coaching the Sunday 5pm classes and we had a lot of fun those nights! I had already been doing CrossFit for a while and had an extensive background in athletics so I had pretty solid understanding of what to teach others. It seemed like a natural fit for me, I just needed to work on all the little nuances of coaching and gain experience.
What was the turning point for your business? Was there a moment you knew you had something special?
We are still relatively young, so these are still the grind years. It takes some time to catch your stride, to figure out what works and what doesn’t, and to build a strong membership. We are still growing, but I feel we have really special members that have helped us build a great community and our members entrust us with their health and wellness fully.
What does it mean to you to be an entrepreneur and business owner?
Owning a business comes with a lot of challenges, but more importantly it gives me a great sense of purpose, autonomy, self-worth being largely in charge of my own destiny. As an entrepreneur, you can’t control everything that happens to your business, but you are the captain of the ship. Every up or down of my business could stem from my direct actions; that’s a lot of pressure. But ultimately this business has forced me to learn as I go, embrace any mistakes I make in the process and fight to succeed.
What does the city of Columbus mean to your business?
Everything! We are a brick and mortar business; we are not selling exercise videos for folks to do elsewhere. We need to create an environment where the people of Columbus want to be here and train with us. Our members come from near and far and everywhere in between, but they are all Columbus residents.
Are you from Columbus? If not, please explain what brought you to here and ultimately what made you stay.
I grew up outside of Rochester, NY. After graduating college in Pennsylvania, I moved back to Rochester for about 4 years. At that time, I was not sure what I really wanted to do with my life and I didn’t really have a job that I saw going anywhere. I was still young and single, so I decided that I wanted to move and explore a new city. I had visited Columbus a couple times prior because my sister and her husband lived here at the time. Having some family here and knowing a couple other friends in town, I decided to venture out west and I haven’t looked back. I have spent 10 years in Columbus and I can’t believe all that has happened in that time: I found a dog, a career, a wife, 3 more dogs, a business, a house, and more friends than I could ever believe. I guess I’ll stay here;)
What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to anyone wanting to start a business?
I would ask, “Are you absolutely sure?” I would talk to other people who have been in the same position and ask about their experiences. You won’t be prepared for every eventuality, but the more prepared you are and the more you know ahead of time, the better off you will be. I would ask yourself if you really love what you are about to do, because when things eventually get tough and the hours are long and seemingly unrewarding at the time, you will need to persevere. Usually everyone that starts a business has extensive knowledge of the main service or product that the business is selling, but not completely educated in the other facets involved in making a business successful. Make sure you educate yourself in those areas as much as you can and get a supporting cast to help you if needed. And make sure to train yourself in any software or systems needed to operate your potential business. I’d also make sure you have a good lawyer and a good accountant whom you trust to work with you as needed.
What do you wish you knew about entrepreneurship before starting your business?
I did not have a lot of business, management or financial experience before starting. Other than coaching and fitness, my other strengths are right-brained creative skills, so half of things involved in the actual running if the business were fairly foreign to me at the outset. Sometimes you have to learn on the fly or from you mistakes. In hindsight, though, I wish in the beginning I had more of the knowledge to do now.
How do you recommend people learn more about business strategies if they don’t have any prior experience?
Hopefully you’ve been around an industry directly for some time before you decide to open your own business. From that experience, you will likely know most of what you need to do before you start. For the other areas of running a business, consult as many resources as you can: family, friends, other business owners, and/or consultants. If you know any accountants or attorneys, they can help with issues that are beyond your understanding as well. I’d also suggest finding a mentor that wants to help up and coming entrepreneurs succeed. Develop a relationship with them and use them as a resource. Many successful people really do enjoy sharing what they’ve learned with others.
You’re also not going to know everything regardless of how you prepare, so I guess there is some comfort in that! Allow yourself some grace.
What’s the most challenging part of your business (i.e, what keeps you up at night)?
Balancing my personal and business life. My wife helps out A LOT with the business and the gym wouldn’t be where it’s at today without her. And as a business owner you are always working to some extent; you can’t just “check out of the office at 5pm.” So learning to have a marriage that involves mutually working on a business together 24/7 can be challenging. I also find myself laying in bed at night fearing that I will fail. That whole thing about me being the captain of my own ship…it’s very rewarding in many ways but can be stressful. I don’t know if I ever would have pictured myself in this role 15 years ago, but I’m learning how to be a better business owner all the time, even if I make the occasional mistake.
When you started the gym did you anticipate going into it with your wife?
Yes. When you first start a small business it’s all hands on deck, so we needed her to play a large role as well. She has been around CrossFit about as long as I have and she’s a very good coach and athlete. Initially she didn’t take on that much, but as business grew she started to play a larger role. Her skills and personality are a little different my own, so we can pick up each other’s slack pretty well. Her schedule as a nurse is also very conducive to being part of the gym on a daily basis. I am only a piece of the puzzle, she is a big reason for the success we’ve had so far.
Every business owner has a flaw. What’s yours?
I am my own worst critic and I can very hard on myself. I am learning how to manage and cope with stress better as well. Truth be told, I can have trouble looking at the bright side. So, I’m learning to appreciate everything I have done so far, the lives I’ve impacted and potential to come.
Why do you think most business owners fail? What has made you different?
I could probably name a few reasons:
-You begin to doubt yourself and affects your running of the business
-Things get tough and you stop working as hard as you need
-Not being able to pivot or shift your approach if the market isn’t responding to what you are doing
-Being too stubborn to learn from your mistakes and keep making them
We’ve avoided doing those! We also place great value on taking care of our members to the best of our ability. When our members feel great about coming here, they sell the gym for us. “If you build it [and earn a good reputation], they will come.”
What tool has helped you the most for your business (invoicing, accounting, shipping, plugin for website, etc.)?
We use a few different systems for running our gym (Wodify, Quickbooks), but from a pure marketing standpoint social media is the name of the game in the fitness world. Facebook and Instagram are great platforms to advertise and make your presence known. Providing content that is engaging, and often free, will hopefully attract more and more interest in your business.
When did you know it was time to expand your business, make your first hire, etc.?
We are still in the growing stages so we have not expanded things too much yet. My wife and I did most of the coaching for the first year or so, but as our membership has grown we have been able to bring on some other part time coaches and invest more into the business for such things as advertising and equipment, in addition to more coaching personnel.
What was an idea that you spent a lot of time on or thought would make a big difference in your business that didn’t pan out?
Besides trying to grow our regular adult membership base, we have really wanted to build a youth/teen program and try to work with some local youth sports teams as well. We have had a lot initial interest for the times we’ve attempted to do this, but I think it’s difficult to get a lot of parents to fully commit their kids to regular program because they are often busy enough with school obligations or other activities. It’s not a fruitful venture to do unless we have a good number of participants. However, it is something we will continue to revisit as our gym grows because we think it is very important that we teach and show kids from a young age the importance of fitness and overall health.
What is something that your business spends a lot of money on that’s worth it?
Targeted advertising done well can yield some very good results for the money you invest. If you are not producing results, you often have to tweak your message, your audio-visuals or audience. The Facebook ad platform changes often and can be a very intimidating tool when you first approach it, but when you narrow it down to only the specific tools you need, it gets easier to manage. I’d suggest anyone new to using Facebook ads watch a tutorial of some kind or get help from someone else who uses it. You don’t want to waste your money on fruitless ads.
What is something you’re working on now that you’re very excited about?
There are a good amount of CrossFit gyms in Columbus and it’s a friendly competitive arena. I think we are always looking for ways to offer something different, to separate ourselves from the rest of the pack so to speak. We’ve got some pie in the sky ideas as our gym continues to grow.
What form of marketing is the most valuable for you?
Social media is very helpful. Also, for our industry, your members in a CrossFit gym are honestly your biggest advocates. If you make them happy and give them results they will do their best to convince their friends and family to be a part of your community (hopefully! That is why retention is so important). If you have a good reputation in general, and hopefully get folks to give you great reviews online, that word of mouth will spread in the local fitness community.
Who do you vent to when you have a business problem?
Because my wife is so tied into the operations of the gym as well, we often have to discuss a lot with each other. At times though, we both need that balance and need to separate our personal lives from business, so I will often to look to other friends and family. Having a network of other business owners you know is a great resource too. Discussing issues and strategies with other entrepreneurs can really help bring about solutions. Collective and objective feedback is invaluable to success.
What other entrepreneur do you look up to most?
Brandon Couden, owner of CrossFit Grandview. I started training and coaching at his gym back in 2010 and we have remained friends since. He and his wife have grown a gym that was once under 100 members to a hugely successful CrossFit gym and nutrition consulting business in Grandview. We are about the same age but he has years of experience and knowledge that I call upon now and again.
I think as a business owner you are always looking to other successful leaders to gain more insight on what it takes to be great. You can find a lot of talks and interviews online with successful entrepreneurs and leaders, in addition to numerous books. I also found that the “How I Built This” podcast is a good resource as well. I admire the leaders most that sincerely value their employees, are mindful of the environment, fairly modest and humble about their own success and also offer a quality service and/or product. A company like Patagonia and Yvon Chouinard come to mind.
If you had to tell a visitor one thing to do/see/eat in Columbus, what would it be?
Oh, the Arnold Classic Sports Festival for sure. It only happens one week a year, but it’s a must if you are visiting. I remember being new to Columbus years ago and going to this for the first time. It’s pretty nuts.