Before he was an owner of a gym that builds people, Duane Johnston built houses.
For 18 years, Johnston had his own home building business called Accolade Homes — a name he had chosen partly due to knowing it would have a high position in the phone book. He was also a member of a gym; however, he had become sick and tired of the lack of cleanliness and the fact equipment was never fixed.
So when he walked in one day and the manager told him the gym was for sale, Johnston immediately contacted the owner. Three weeks later on March 1, 2009, he closed on the gym. Accolade Fitness in Colorado Springs, Colorado, would soon open, retaining the name of his home building business. “It was a positive name and I had a great reputation as a home builder, so the name fit right in and certainly fits with the gym lifestyle and what we’re trying to accomplish,” recalled Johnston.
Going on five years in its west location and three years in its south, Johnston said there are two things he wants in a gym: clean equipment and working equipment. “The unfortunate thing with gyms is if something is broken and the gym isn’t profitable, they don’t fix it,” he said. “Well, that’s why the gym isn’t profitable and that’s why the gym isn’t functioning and clean, and so they aren’t getting new members that way. So we kind of changed the philosophy on that: As soon as anything breaks, we order the part immediately.”
He said successful gyms listen to and care for their members. Being a small, family-run gym, Johnston said it’s easier for Accolade Fitness to have that personal touch. “One of the true pleasures of this, being a small family-run gym where we only have two operations, we’re in the gyms every day. We see our members, we know them by first-name basis,” he said.
Johnston also shared how the community at the gym makes a difference. In 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fires occurred in Colorado Springs. Out of the hundreds of homes burned down, 135 of those belonged to Accolade Fitness members; each was given six free months at the gym. Johnston said he remembered being at their south location when one of those members came in to just walk around and see some of her friends. “Her house was one of the ones that had burned down,” said Johnston. “I just started crying. And then I realized that was the importance of the community and what we had created, and again, one of the joys of being a small gym.”
It’s the community and taking care of one’s customer that Johnston said are most essential. Another key aspect? “We learned a long time ago not to try and be everything to everybody,” he said. “We don’t sell supplements, we don’t have a juice bar, we don’t sell water, we don’t have a day care.”
Instead, Accolade’s focus is the gym itself. “If you aren’t running your main business right, you can add all the sidelines on you want, and you’re still not going to be successful,” said Johnston.
Since the move from home building to running a gym, Johnston has not looked back. “In the home building business, I’d see eight people a day, and seven of them were in a really bad, vulgar mood, whereas in the gym business I get to see 800 people a day and 799 are in a fantastic mood,” he said. “So it’s a pleasant business, it’s a fun business, it’s a rewarding business. I’ve been to the other side of the fence and I certainly like the gym business a heck of a lot better than what I was in before.”
By Heather Hartmann