As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Shaun Grove.
Shaun Grove is the President of Club Pilates, the largest Pilates brand in the world. He has been in the franchising industry for more than 12 years as an attorney, a franchisee and a franchisor. Prior to becoming President of Club Pilates, he was General Counsel for both LA Boxing and UFC GYM, where he was also a multi-unit franchise owner.
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 have always been an athlete and been interested in fitness. I played football in college, and after completing my undergraduate business degree, I played football professionally in Europe. After returning to the U.S., I went to law school, thinking that I’d either be a sports agent or go into the FBI. After completing an internship with a sports firm during my first summer of law school, I realized that wasn’t the career path for me. After an internship with the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) in my final year of law school, I graduated and began working as an attorney for a large securities fraud class action law firm. I spent a few years there helping to litigate the massive Enron and WorldCom securities fraud cases in the early 2000s. I had a friend who wanted to start a franchise business and asked if I could help him structure the company and form the franchise business. In the process, I met several franchise law attorneys and became fascinated with franchising as a business concept. I practiced franchise law for a couple of years and then took a hiatus to fulfill a dream of becoming an FBI agent. I resigned after a couple of years and took on the role of General Counsel for LA Boxing, which was ultimately acquired by UFC GYM. In 2015, I joined Anthony Geisler, former Founder and CEO of LA Boxing & President of UFC Gym, in the Club Pilates endeavor. Since acquiring the company in 2015, we have grown Club Pilates from an obscure fitness franchise company with 25 open studio locations, to the largest Pilates franchise company in the world, with over 900 territories sold and more than 620 open studio locations in the U.S., and we have international agreements in place to open hundreds more across the world.
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?
The funniest life lesson type of mistake that I can recall making actually occurred in law school, but I think I learned more from that mistake than any that I have made in my professional working career. In law school, you are given a lot of reading assignments. You are asked to read legal opinions and be prepared to discuss the facts of the cases, the legal standards that were used by the judge to decide the cases, and be prepared to argue both sides of the arguments at issue. Given the volume of the reading, and the number of students in the class, there was a good chance that you were not likely to be randomly selected by the professor to discuss the case. I played those odds quite often in my first semester of law school — and one day got caught. The professor called on me and I had not thoroughly prepared to discuss the cases. The professor made me stand in front of more than 100 students in a large lecture hall, and wasted an entire hour-long class allowing me to fumble and bluff my way through the cases before he used me to make his point … you must always be prepared. From that day forward, I have always made sure that I am prepared, many times over-prepared, for any call, meeting, negotiation, etc. It was an extremely embarrassing lesson, but one that I have taken to heart and used to ensure that I am always prepared.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
There isn’t a particular book, podcast or seminar that I can point to as being overly helpful in the development of my career. I have always been fascinated with learning and acquiring knowledge. When I was a child, my mother bought a set of Encyclopedia Britannica and I swear that I read every volume cover to cover. I believe that this is what set me on the scholarly path and opened my eyes and mind to so many topics of interest … and filled my head with tons of useless facts. I have read many books on management and leadership and team building, but none of them have had as a profound impact on me as the mentors and athletic coaches who I have been blessed to learn from over the years.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Anthony Geisler and I never anticipated the level of success Club Pilates has achieved. We believe that the Pilates method is great for everyBODY. It is a fitness modality that has been around for more than 100 years, but it has traditionally been taught in very small facilities and generally offered at inconvenient and limited times and at a high cost that prevented most people from trying it. The purpose behind Club Pilates was to bring the Pilates method to the masses — which is exactly what we did. We saw the opportunity to create a distribution channel for our incredible Pilates product and simply wanted to bring Pilates to as many people as possible at an affordable price because we knew how great the health and wellbeing benefits were for everyone. There wasn’t a strong Pilates franchise company in the fitness industry, especially Reformer Pilates, and we saw we could meet the demand and create a successful franchise system through our tried and tested franchising model.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Trust your team, empower them to succeed, always believe in yourself and never be afraid to ask for help. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. You would be surprised how many successful people are out there and willing to help if you’d only ask.
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?
Everything related to this pandemic is entirely new to all of us, and navigating this landscape has created problems and challenges for all of us that we never really anticipated. Personally, and I’m sure not unlike other parents out there, the most difficult challenge I’ve had to deal with is educating and caring for my seven-year-old daughter during this time. Luckily, her school was able to transition to virtual, or online distance learning, which at least created somewhat of an organized platform. However, I had to quickly become a first grade teacher and supplement everything that she was no longer getting from attending school in person. I had to become her P.E. coach, her math teacher and her playmate to help her continue that growth and maturity process that is so pivotal during these formative years. I’m hoping that she’ll be able to return to school in the fall, but I’ve planned to hire a teacher to work with her and a couple of her classmates daily, and in person, should they be forced to continue with distance learning.
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?
Consistency and structure is the hallmark of any great franchise system. One of the biggest challenges we’re facing is the ever-changing landscape of the pandemic, the lack of legal and operational consistency across the country, and what that means for our franchise partners in their businesses. We have had to be very flexible and navigate all of the local and state mandates and support our franchise partners across every state accordingly. For example, we have several states that have allowed our studios to reopen but at limited capacity, others that have been allowed to reopen but only if utilizing specialized medical equipment and cleaning protocols and others that have still not been permitted to reopen in their state at all. Internally, we have around 200 employees at our corporate office and all of them have been working from home during this pandemic. Having to support a system of our size with this approach is a new challenge for us given that we follow a very structured franchise-model that requires a lot of personalized attention, so a new level of creativity and dedication from our team and our franchise partners is in play right now.
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?
The news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic has definitely increased people’s fears and heightened their stress and anxiety levels. We are living in a very confusing, challenging and uncertain time right now and the worst thing we can do is give in to our fears and panic about the unknown. I encourage people to stop for a second, breathe, and think logically about where they are and what they are experiencing when they feel anxious. I tell them that they don’t gain anything from stressing; it’s completely wasted energy. I encourage them to focus on the facts and what is within their control, to stay positive and know that things will get better. I truly believe that we will all come out of this stronger, more resilient and more grateful for having weathered the adversity.
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?
I definitely wish I had a crystal ball and could predict what we are going to see in terms of the economy rebounding and potential opportunities. We are staying very close to the data we track in our studios performance, and working with others in our industry to try and be as proactive as possible right now. I personally believe that there is going to be an increase in demand for fitness related businesses and services in the Post-Covid world. I believe that this pandemic has brought a heightened awareness of the need to maintain your health and your immune system and many people who previously took that for granted will be looking to do everything they can to get into better physical and mental shape — which is obviously a great opportunity for us in the boutique fitness industry.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Post-COVID, people might want to take a closer look at what really matters to them, how to enjoy life more and what that looks like for time management and budgets. I think health and fitness will remain a priority for people beyond the pandemic because this period of time has highlighted how important maintaining or regaining your health is. Surveys are showing there’s a demand for boutique fitness and the sense of community it fosters. Our strategy and how we operate will likely change though, starting with our significantly adjusted cleaning and safety protocols, and extending this as we learn more about the necessary safety requirements across each state. Other parts of our business may need flexibility too to allow people the best experience in our studios, like keeping some live streaming classes available for people who want to stay connected to their local studio instructors but need the flexibility on how they engage with them.
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?
We were lucky to remain pretty well intact at all stages of the pandemic. We maneuvered and transitioned quickly to a virtual fitness company until we were able to begin reopening studios. We still have many studios across the country that are embracing the virtual offerings. At the corporate level, we never laid off any employees and we’ve continued to grow the business Post-Covid. We had very lofty goals for 2020, and while we might not be able to achieve those goals, we a going to continue to strive to return to our Pre-Covid studio performance levels, to grow our footprint domestically and internationally and take advantage of opportunities that exist in our industry to further supplant ourselves as the boutique fitness leader.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
Make sure you have a game plan that maximizes your current resources. Think through how best to leverage your talent and the steps to take to getting your business back on track. From there, you can approach scaling. Ultimately, you’ll need to be creative and adaptable.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
The quote that stands out is one that I first saw, or read, in high school. It was a quote from the great football coach, Vince Lombardi — “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” I have always been a perfectionist and as a kid, I struggled at times when I wasn’t “perfect.” This quote puts that into perspective for me and helps me to understand that I can never be perfect, and that’s ok, but if I continue to strive for perfection, I might just be excellent — and that’s pretty damn good.
How can our readers further follow your work?