As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Wendy Shafranski.
For 17 years, Wendy worked in marketing with clients such as the United States Army, the Truth campaign, Mead Johnson and Disney. In a turn of events that included following her passion, Wendy began the process of becoming a coach and opened a fitness facility in 2009. Vero Strength + Conditioning is now a leading gym in the Southeast, impacting the general public, churning out high-level athletes and serving as the founding gym for Sunday Strong, a non-profit that delivers no-cost fitness classes for adults with intellectual disabilities. Wendy created CharityWOD, a signature Vero Strength + Conditioning event that raises money for local charities annually. She has also received “Volunteer of the Year” accolades from Habitat for Humanity and Children’s Home Society.
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?
In terms of fitness, my story began in junior high where I realized I loved the feeling of lifting weights. I would challenge boys on the leg press machine after school! My father, a contractor, built a fitness center in the 80s and we had a free membership there. Growing up, I was always involved in sports; then after college, I bounced around between gyms, running a marathon and, eventually, finding obstacle course competitions and becoming a CrossFit athlete. It was years before I realized that this recreational passion could become a viable career.
My college education is in Advertising and I spent years in the marketing field, much of my early career in cause-related marketing (like stopping teen smoking or increasing organ donation). I’m at my best when I feel a sense of purpose.
In 2009, my husband, who has an entrepreneurial spirit and a lifetime of fitness training and knowledge, said “let’s open a gym,” and we went for it!
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?
Nothing particularly “funny” comes to mind, but I think that I never thought big enough. When we opened, we had one service offering. For the first five years as a business owner, I was still working in marketing while my husband handled the gym. I wasn’t able to give 100% to my own business. I wish I would have gone all-in fearlessly from the start — the comfort of a regular paycheck held me back.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
No single book or podcast stands out, but I am a big believer in looking outside of your industry for inspiration. I read Fast Company, I subscribe to retail newsletters, I watch Bloomberg, I follow physical therapists, nutritionists and homeopathic doctors, I read about leadership and mindset. Within the industry, my go-to fitness podcasts are Mind Pump and Industrial Strength by Joe DeFranco, both provide a wealth of knowledge but also have heart.
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 my husband and I started Vero Strength + Conditioning it’s because we loved fitness and saw an opportunity to share our approach to training with others and, of course, help people. I would have never anticipated how much our work transcends the walls of the gym. The gym is a tool…it connects us to people, allows us to deliver workouts. Those workouts make people feel better, achieve things they may have never thought possible. That carries over into nutrition…they make the connection that what they put into their bodies matters. It allows them to connect to others they have never met. All this positive influence allows them to be better for their families, their jobs. It allows people to meet and connect with those that are different than them. I have to say that my proudest moments are seeing people diversify their lives and minds through these connections.
I am not only a coach, but a concierge, therapist, motivator, sounding board. There is a huge sense of purpose.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Win today. It’s a quote that I used to have programmed in my phone to come up as an alert every morning. It pumps me up to get a win every single day, no matter the situation.
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?
In terms of a family-related challenge, probably not being able to see my mother during the pandemic is the toughest. She lives in an older community and they are on lockdown. I lost my only sibling a few years ago in a car accident and my mother really relies on me. Thank god for technology, as we speak every day. I can’t wait to give her a big squeeze.
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?
Upon having to close our doors, our biggest challenge became: how do we continue to add value to lives and keep people on track remotely? Gyms were among the first to be mandated to close and, at this time, we are still among the last to be able to reopen. It’s frustrating that the government devalues our essential role. But, here we are. This type of situation only fuels me.
In a matter of 48 hours, we quickly pivoted from an in-person coaching service to remote/virtual. We’ve retained most of our members, delivering two complete at-home programs for them to knock out each day. We upload daily demo videos, we perform regular check-ins, we give nutrition advice, we talk about mindset, we prescribe mobility work. As a consequence, we’ve had many “success stories” of people working through physical limitations, losing upwards of 20 pounds, and just overall focusing more on their health.
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?
My mantra has been “control what you can control.” We are ALL in this, no one is singled out. You can lament the fact that you “didn’t sign up for this” or you can crush your new normal.
Sure, you need to mourn your old “normal,” but you have to move on, too. You can look back and be proud that you made progress or you can regret your decisions. Choose wisely.
Read a history book! People have survived unfathomable situations with less resources, freedom and technology.
Acknowledge the silver linings in all of this — are you spending more time with family? Are you able to cook more? Are you able to focus on self-care? Do you have time to meditate? We may never have this opportunity, yes OPPORTUNITY, to have this much time.
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?
Although I wish I owned a company that makes toilet paper and plexiglass, sadly, I do not! But, with the launch of our virtual service, we are open and available to work with clients anywhere in the world. Pre-COVID19, we were working on a service offering to help gyms with intelligent programming, but that never officially launched. Now, we can reach individuals on a larger scale, which wasn’t something we hadn’t necessarily focused on before.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
We saw, after 9/11, the concept of “nesting,” where people spent more time at home. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a trend again.
I think people will focus more on health. Many people have started working out during this time, as a strategy to stave off boredom and they are realizing it makes them feel good. More meals are cooked at home, so many are realizing the value of whole foods and nutrition.
I think people are appreciating their relationships.
I do hope we can eventually get back to hugs!
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’ve already launched a new, virtual program that can be done anywhere. We’ve even won back former members during this time. And, we already have a backlog of people wanting to join our gym when we return. I’ve never felt so hopeful for our future.
Of course, we will continue to take a closer look at expenses, but we won’t hunker down and try to conserve every penny, as we want people to know what we offer and what we stand for. We put a big emphasis on educating our audience and will continue to do so.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I am a member of several gym-owner and coaching groups online and the thing that turns me off the most is when people complain incessantly or they break the laws, for instance opening when they aren’t allowed. So, my advice is to lead by example and with class. If you spend time and energy on action and innovation vs. complaining, things get done.
I’d also task these owners and coaches to expand their education. If you don’t have the creativity and knowledge to serve your members during a shut down, that’s distressing and not a good reflection of our industry.
Lastly, don’t give away your program for free. The free workouts I see online is free for a reason. Value what you do and others will, too. Then, go above and beyond from a service aspect.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Truth be told, I am not one who is motivated by quotes. But, I recently told my members, “Remember your why.” I think that’s a valuable life lesson to keep you from veering too far off track.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Visit verostrength.com to get a sense of our programs and approach. We don’t publish our workouts for free. Anyone can work with us. We onboard new clients first with a movement assessment, then personal training. This can be done virtually. Follow us on Facebook and Instagram @verostrength.