As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing James Williams, co-founder of the Mayweather Boxing + Fitness concept. He has been serving as CEO since its inception in 2017. Previously, James was a co-founder and Principal at Ivy Venture Partners, where he partnered with Floyd Mayweather and Beyoncé to develop each of their various business ventures. He is a former strategy consultant at premier global consulting firm, Bain & Company; and a former corporate lawyer at the global Magic Circle law firm, Clifford Chance. James has a BA from the University of Leeds, a J.D. from Nottingham Law School and an MBA from Wharton Business School.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was born in England and earned my law degree in the United Kingdom and an MBA from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. I then worked for eight years as case team leader for Bain & Co. Inc., first in London and then Los Angeles. That laid the groundwork for moving into my own business helping entertainers and athletes build businesses beyond sponsorships and endorsement deals. I’ve previously worked with other major clients, including Beyoncé, married couple athletes Laird Hamilton and Gabby Reece, and Floyd. When Floyd was nearing retirement, we began discussing the possibility of creating his own fitness franchise. Floyd was always passionate about sharing his secrets and tips to maintain health and fitness with everyday people around the world, as well as providing entrepreneurs like himself with an opportunity to open their own business. Mayweather Boxing + Fitness was an obvious business for us to go into that had huge opportunity for scale for Floyd, our franchisees and our members.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Right when we started franchising, I was really worried about how we were going to attract high caliber franchisees and what marketing tactics we were going to use. Floyd was always not worried about it and right when we were ready to launch, Floyd posted on social media one time and we had 5,000 applications …
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
Gabby Reece’s podcast. She has an amazing podcast with great business people on it. More than that, I spend a lot of time with her and her husband Laird at her house, where we do sauna and ice bath. Being in a sauna just opens up people’s communications. Being there and listening to her podcasts is so valuable for both life and business.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
When Floyd and I started Mayweather Boxing + Fitness, we knew that our goal and purpose was to deliver the elite training regimen that made Floyd an undefeated champion to the everyday person. We wanted Floyd’s hard work, dedication and family support to be the founding pillars of our gyms. No matter who you are or where you’re from, you can come to Mayweather Boxing + Fitness and let off steam, burn calories and be welcomed into a family. Unlike other fitness concepts who start off corporate-owned and only later decide to expand into franchising, we were clear from the start with the intention of opening up this opportunity to entrepreneurs around the world. This has allowed us to create a sustainable infrastructure and winning support system for our franchisees and truly provide them with the best franchise framework out there.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Floyd’s common mantras, ‘Hard Work. Dedication,’ and ‘Tough Times Don’t Last, Tough People Do’ has truly guided us throughout our journey so far. Just as Floyd was born into a difficult environment in Grand Rapids, Michigan and rose to legendary status, we want to remind our members that anything is possible through hard work and dedication. We want to empower our members that there is no goal out there, whether it’s health and fitness related, professional or personal related, that is unattainable. Similarly, as we have navigated operating a business during COVID-19 and other unprecedented events, we have fallen back onto the ideas that through focus and determination we will continue to adapt, evolve and come out on top.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
As with nearly every business, COVID-19 has forced us to take a step back, reevaluate and refresh our business model. We have been fortunate in the sense that while many fitness gyms have been forced to permanently close their doors, we have experienced more attractive real estate opportunities for our franchisees, more favorable terms for executing leases and a hungry demand for clean, safe workout environments from consumers. As a boutique fitness concept, our smaller floorplan allows us to maintain the highest level of sanitization, and our new studios provide a newer, cleaner feel for our members. We have refreshed the layout of our studios by tearing down the lobby wall and creating a more open layout, to increase airflow and available space between members. In order to comply with the wide variety of safety guidelines and state mandates across the country, we have adapted our programming to accommodate social distancing and a contactless experience with other individuals. Finally, for our staffing model, we have shifted to fewer employees in volume but more full-time hours, which helps not only with our payroll, but also with the high level of buy-in and commitment from our staff. From a corporate standpoint, we have been expanding with extremely valuable talent from across the fitness industry. Despite the obvious challenges of 2020, we are extremely lucky to be seeing franchise sales thriving, studio utilization booming and grateful members.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The biggest challenge we have encountered during the pandemic is just being willing and quick to adapt. For example, in California, we are still under city mandates to remain outside-only for gyms. Rather than simply temporarily closing, we put turf down in the back parking lot and brought all of our equipment out to provide a full Mayweather Boxing + Fitness workout to our members outside. Our willingness to think on our feet, pivot and act quickly has proven to be the key ingredient in thriving during COVID-19 times.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Right now especially, maintaining your mental health is just as important as staying physically healthy. Staying active for me is a huge way to stay motivated, positive and feeling good, both physically and mentally. Whether that means doing an at-home workout, getting outside for a walk or run or making it to the gym, I always recommend that you get up and get moving during these hard times. Using this time to reset your overall goals and come up with a plan of attack is extremely beneficial, as well. The reason we have seen such a high volume of franchise sales in the midst of COVID-19 is that people have been able to use this time to reevaluate their passions and purpose and see the bigger picture in taking control of their own financial wellbeing by owning a business. While it’s easy to be scared in uncertain times, it’s important to remember that when others are timid, it is the best time to be bold, make a move and reap the benefits.
Obviously, we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
There are a few, and one of them is real estate availability of prime locations. A year ago, we had a huge demand of franchises and we had franchisees looking for locations, but the process got slowed in the availability of prime real estate. There was a lot of competition for spaces and a lot of great centers were already at capacity. COVID unfortunately for many business owners has been super tough, and they’ve gone out of business, which leaves landlords looking for tenants and opportunities for new business owners to sign leases. We’re also seeing it with being able to get better deals in terms of circumstance like lower base rates and longer free rent periods. Secondly for us, again unfortunately for many business owners, they have been faced with permanently closing. For the fitness gyms that have closed, their members still want to work out, so they’re looking for new gyms to join. For us, we’re already seeing a huge upswing for our presale memberships. When a new franchisee starts presale and a gym closed across the street or across town, and members now see ads for Mayweather Boxing + Fitness popping up, or drive by our new studio, they sign up for memberships.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
COVID-19 will permanently impact people’s behaviors in several ways. For one, they are more health conscious than ever before. This will manifest itself in a multitude of ways, including their demand for clean and safe places, as well as holding themselves accountable for maintaining their own health levels. At Mayweather Boxing + Fitness, our smaller footprint makes it much more manageable to keep the highest level of sanitization throughout the entire space. This helps ease the minds of the post-COVID consumer and truly does help us do our best in keeping our community safe and comfortable. Additionally, a variety of articles and studies have come out regarding the connection between physical fitness and internal health, particularly in terms of combating viruses and illnesses. COVID served as a wakeup sign for many people on how they can get in better shape and protect themselves from potentially harmful diseases. We have already seen, and expect to continue to see, the direct correlation between increased health awareness and the attractiveness of boxing fitness. Boxing fitness is empowering, fun and effective. It’s the perfect way for people to stay fit, let off much needed steam and feel more in control of their wellbeing. That’s why fitness will be booming in 2021, as people really understand the benefits of working out. That’s why we have so many franchisees signing up now, to be able to open next year and be able to take advantage of that upswing.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
As stated above, the great thing about this time for us, is that we didn’t have to rebuild. We have seen significant growth in this period. For us, it is about continuing to grow on that foundation, growing our team, bringing onboard experienced operators to become franchisees and taking advantage of the big opportunities that are going to be coming in the market. As I said, we’ve already seen smart investors making those moves, and there will be many more coming next year.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I would encourage everyone to follow our lead at Mayweather Boxing + Fitness and remain openminded. I have found that certain businesses have pigeon-holed themselves in a rigid model and have therefore not found success in adapting during these everchanging times. It’s important to always keep your mind on your end goal, and be locked into that ‘why’ for your business more than ever, but don’t get stuck on the ‘how’.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Tough Times Don’t. Last Tough People Do.” Floyd has always used this quote, as he has overcome impossible odds and has made himself the undefeated champion. Floyd knew his journey wouldn’t be easy, but he pushed through all signs of adversity and remained locked into his ultimate vision and goal. I have seen his hard work and dedication firsthand and I absolutely believe that pushing through adversity and never giving up is the key to success in life. Here at Mayweather Boxing + Fitness, the entire team holds this quote close to our hearts as we strive to become the greatest fitness concept in the world.
How can our readers further follow your work?
You can follow Mayweather Boxing + Fitness on Instagram @mayweatherboxingfitness, as well as visit our website, mayweather.fit, for the latest news and info.