Chris Stevenson is a dear friend of mine, and also my husband Phil’s. We both belong to his gym, Stevenson Fitness, in Oak Park, CA. Chris’s small business success story is particularly inspiring to me because I’ve known him for a long time. When I first met Chris, he was working as an employee, a trainer and instructor at other gyms, but he decided to venture out on his own starting in 2003 with a small personal training facility, and in 2010 he opened his current endeavor and is doing better than ever!
Stevenson Fitness is a full-service boutique health club, offering an exercise facility, complete with locker rooms, showers, classes, personal training, martial arts, physical rehabilitation, childcare and kids’ classes.
Chris Stevenson founded his business in 2003. His mission: to offer something better than what the big chain fitness clubs could. “I had worked for other gyms doing fitness training and teaching classes, and I came to the point where I felt like I could do a better job myself, not in an arrogant way, but I just wanted to provide top-class facilities, top-caliber fitness instruction, and without the hassles and headaches of dealing with one of the big chain gyms,” said Chris.
Chris Stevenson is a world-class martial arts athlete who has worked as a Hollywood stuntman. Starting his own business was the next step in challenging himself. “Part of my reason for starting a business was to prove to myself that I could do it,” Chris said. “I’m from a pretty modest upbringing, raised in a blue-collar community in Ohio, and not many people where I’m from are entrepreneurs, so this world of starting a business was new to me. When I moved to Southern California in 1999, I began meeting some really successful people who had done all kinds of cool things, and it inspired me to reach farther for myself as well.”
Asked what he loves most about running a business, Chris Stevenson says that the feeling of empowerment tops the list. “I have gone from being simply a trainer at a gym to being a business owner,” said Chris. “I grow as a businessman every day; I’m constantly learning, and I feel more empowered and fulfilled than ever before. I don’t mind putting in long hours and taking work home, because I also enjoy a higher level of freedom that goes with being the business owner.”
Running a business has taught Chris Stevenson the importance of setting goals and “managing by the numbers,” as he calls it. “If you want your business to be as profitable as you want it and need it to be, you need to work backwards,” he said. “First, set your financial goals and figure out when you need to hit them. Then work your tail off to hit your goals!”
Chris said that one of the most surprising challenges he encountered in starting his own business was that there was no clear blueprint for success. “Getting started was harder than I expected,” he said. “We really had to make it up as we went along; all the different aspects ranging from design to marketing, from running a pre-sale to employee training.”
In the process of going from being “just a trainer” to running a business of his own, Chris learned to create systems and repeatable processes to manage his business, so that it wasn’t 100% dependent on him. “As a trainer, all that I had that was valuable was my own time,” he said. “Now that I’m a business owner, I’ve been able to create systems that make the business great, without me having to be personally involved on the floor at every minute of the day.”
Stevenson Fitness has been in business for 8 years, and as it has grown, there have been new challenges for Chris to overcome along the way. “The biggest challenge that I’m learning to deal with now is how to cater to a larger membership base as we’ve grown,” he said. “We try to keep as many people happy as possible, with everything from the choice of music to the schedule of classes. Another challenge is finding the right employees. I’m fortunate to have great employees, but hiring is always a challenge. As an entrepreneur, you need to remember that not everyone is going to be as 100% excited and committed to the business as you – although fortunately I have a lot of great people who are!”
Chris Stevenson set up a manager-managed LLC for his business. “We chose an LLC to limit my personal liability, and I wanted it to be manager-managed because I’m the manager,” he said. “I wanted to be able to make decisions quickly and live and die by my own sword!”
I’ve been really happy to watch Chris’s journey from employee to thriving entrepreneur. No one is more deserving of success! Asked what advice he would offer to people thinking of starting a business, Chris Stevenson said: “Take the chance! If there’s something you want to do, ‘Just Do It’ as Nike says. If you’re passionate about your product or service, you know how to manage by the numbers and you work your tail off, you will not fail!”