To most of its customers, Victor Fitness is a gym: a collection of weights and machines, group fitness classes and one-on-one personal trainer time. But when Bill Victor looks at the business he founded 10 years ago, he sees a second act to his professional life and a source of personal satisfaction.
This was not how he envisioned his life would turn out.
When Victor entered the workforce, he was more interested in securing a big paycheck than finding happiness, so he took a job selling medical equipment to hospitals and surgeons.
“I was on the corporate rollercoaster, and I had those golden handcuffs that come when you are paid well,” Victor says. “I settled for what the corporate world offers, despite the fact that it wasn’t what I enjoyed.”
Then, after 22 years, he lost his job.
“I never woke up a day in sales and loved what I was doing,” he says. “My wife suggested I try something I love.”
So in 2004, Victor – who holds a master’s degree in exercise science from the University of Nevada at Reno – rented a 10-by-10-foot room in Ridgefield, and established a gym.
“I had a little rack of dumb bells a padded floor, a fan and a bench for bench-pressing. That’s all I could afford,” he says. “It was the first time in my life I devoted my career to something I had always enjoyed doing.”
Since that small start, Victor has moved his gym three times, first to 700 square feet he leased within a physical therapy clinic, then to a 1,300-square-foot space in Vancouver, then finally to the location of Victor Fitness today.
From a small room with weights, a fan and a bench, the business has grown to 3,500 square feet, with equipment and classes that rival any gym in the area, Victor says. He started as a one-man operation, and now employs five fitness trainers.
At a certain size, gyms lose the ability to compete on equipment and class offerings – “differentiating one’s product is a little difficult,” Victor says. “We are the product. We have a tremendous service-first mentality that begins the minute you come in the front door. It’s important to address everybody by name and we make a point of knowing everything we can about them.”
Large chain gyms succeed by constantly recruiting new members, to make up for the churn as old clients shut down their accounts. Victor says he wants his service-first approach to reduce churn at his gym, so that he can grow without recruiting at the same frenzied pace as the competition.
Corporate clients also play a role in the gym’s retention strategy. Vancouver and Evergreen School District bus drivers and Silicon Forest Electronics employees all have reduced-rate access to the gym through their jobs.
Victor also said he strives to build a welcoming environment – one where professionals say hello as they run side-by-side on treadmills, and where people of all body types and fitness levels are represented.
“It’s been one of the greatest joys I have, seeing my gym busy, seeing people have a great fitness experience, and seeing people talking together and networking when they’re here,” he says.
But as he looks to the future, Victor says he’s taking a cautious approach.
“I don’t want to misrepresent the challenges I’ve faced,” Victor says. “I’ve gone through all the ‘education’ that occurs when a person is growing a business.” And he notes that he’s still not earning what he made as a medical device sales rep.
“Overextending too soon can cause catastrophic business failure,” he says. “I could expand the size of my physical space already, but right now my focus is on creating as much traction at my current location as I can, getting it as close to capacity as I can. The good news is we still have room to grow.”
Editor’s note: Victor Fitness is a member of the Vancouver Business Journal’s Strategic Partnership Program. To learn more about the program, contact Irene Pettengill at 360.448.6013.