When some people face adversity, they tuck tail and run. Not Victor Poma, a Fitness 19 franchisee who owns 23 locations in California. In any situation, no matter how difficult, he always rises to the occasion.
This is because nothing in life has been handed to Victor. Everything he has, he’s earned through a relentless mindset, work ethic and determination — products of his childhood being raised by a single mother who worked multiple jobs just to keep the lights on and rent paid.
“This turned out to be such a blessing, as it instills a drive and determination in you that few people can relate to,” said Victor. “I was the man of the house at a young age. This experience made me grow up fast.”
It also instilled in him the value of hard work. In elementary school he mowed lawns every day after school. He bred mice, crickets and other animals and sold them to pet stores — as well as countless other entrepreneurial endeavors.
Victor’s drive carried him all the way through college, where in addition to taking classes he played football and worked at 24 Hour Fitness. At age 19, and just two weeks after starting with the company, he became the No. 1 salesperson and was promoted.
According to Victor, his early success in sales can be attributed to the fact he truly believed in the product. “When it comes to selling fitness, it’s something I believe in and feel passionate about, so sharing that with others is easy when it’s coming from a truly authentic place,” he explained. “I believe you really have to love what you do in order to fully commit and give everything that will be required to succeed at a high level. You must commit to never getting out worked.”
Motivated by his early success in membership sales, Victor “hung up his cleats” and devoted his focus outside of school to the fitness industry. He worked every day at 24 Hour Fitness except for Tuesdays — during which he attended classes from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
His focus paid off. In addition to graduating from school, Victor kick-started a successful career at 24 Hour Fitness, which saw him set a number of records at the fitness brand. Accolades included becoming No. 1 in sales in the company, the youngest to achieve $1 million in sales, the youngest to become a general manager, and the No. 1 general manager in the company, consecutively.
At age 23, Victor decided he wanted to make an even bigger impact. In 2006, he opened his first Fitness 19 location — a high-value, low-price club boasting 7,000 square feet and basic fitness amenities.
Although Victor was excited about the prospect of owning his own business, the path he’d chosen wasn’t an easy one. He and his wife, Christie, worked every day that first year and even rented out their house so they could move less than a mile from the club.
“It was such an exciting and unforgettable time,” recalled Christie. “From scrubbing toilets to selling memberships, we’ve done it all. What kept me going was Victor’s vision. He has an uncanny ability to see what others can’t, and then make it come to fruition.”
After opening their second location, the couple began living out of hotels and buying out under-performing gyms across California. With each purchase they did extensive remodels, brought in all new teams and implemented all new processes and systems — resulting in a successful turnaround with each investment.
Around that time, Victor also began working on a newer, much larger club model under the Fitness 19 brand.
“With the complete absence of concept mandates [for Fitness 19], I was really able to build out exactly what we wanted as compared to a typical franchise,” explained Victor. “As such, over the years we have really been able to create our own unique brand within the brand. Everything from the equipment, the look, feel, finishes, club design, size, amenities offered, vendors used — everything down to the branded scents used is unique to only our group of clubs.”
According to Victor, this autonomy has allowed the business to adapt and innovate at an extremely fast pace — critical in today’s ever changing, ultra competitive environment.
Victor’s Fitness 19 locations have now tripled in size from the first club, loaded with full-service amenities such as cycle studios, aerobics rooms, locker rooms, showers, saunas, kids clubs, tanning, massage, retail pro shops, dedicated functional training areas and much more.
This shift is driven by a need to differentiate through value — not just price. “Price used to be a big differentiator for us, but now price is table stakes,” said Victor. “It’s expected, so you now need to provide more value.”
As a result, two years ago Victor launched a “right sizing” campaign to expand or relocate many of its smaller-format stores. Just this year they’ve successfully completed three transformations.
“The product and value we are able to offer the members is far greater, and it much more closely aligns with our mission of having a bigger impact on the lives of our members,” explained Victor. “It allows us to offer much more value, all at our low price point. We know there is no competitive advantage in a satisfied customer. No word of mouth, no loyalty, no buzz. You have to over deliver and our new larger format stores with more amenities allow us to do just that.”
However, Victor explained in order for the larger concept to provide true value, it must have the right people supporting it. The “human element,” he explained, is crucial.
“We know people buy with their hearts and not their minds,” continued Victor. “People connect with people, not companies, brands or products. We are not just selling a gym membership. We are selling a relationship and an experience. Our true value proposition is emotional connection, and that starts and ends with each and every person on our team. They are the true heroes that are changing lives.”
With this in mind, Victor strives to ensure he has the right people, all in the right seats — from the front desk to upper-level management. In leaders, he looks for those who share in his beliefs of hard work, innovation and a relentless mindset.
Victor’s extremely talented, hardworking team is what truly positions his clubs to be “the best of the best” in an increasingly competitive industry — where again, competing on price is no longer enough.
In addition, Victor explained he strives to create a culture where great ideas are encouraged, recognized and rewarded. “Some of the best ideas come from team members on the front lines,” he continued. “They are the ones interacting with our guests and members on a daily basis. We want them to have a voice and know that we’re listening. No one person has all the answers. I believe in tapping into the collective power of all of our brains.”
Moving forward, Victor’s drive and focus — and that of his team’s as well — are fueling aggressive growth for Victor’s Fitness 19 locations. Currently, the brand is on track to expand its store count in key markets throughout California and the U.S.
As with Victor’s first location, this stage of growth may present challenges that need to be overcome. But like before, he’ll find a way.
“I have been fortunate enough to experience both the struggle and success,” said Victor. “And after you experience the struggle it makes you truly appreciate success. The real challenge is to keep your light lit and never stop doing all the things that made you successful in the first place. I am a big believer that you never really own success, you rent it, and the rent is due every single day.”