As the creator of one of the fitness industry’s most recognisable pieces of equipment, the TRX Suspension Trainer, you would think Randy Hetrick would be well set to coast into early retirement.
But not this former Navy SEAL. For over a decade he’s been itching to launch an outdoor mobile training venture, a franchise business that would draw on the expertise and know-how accrued since setting up TRX from Stanford Business School in 2004.
“Ten years ago the technology was just not there,” Hetrick tells Welltodo from his ranch in Marin County, California, shortly before TRX released two new additions to their training range, including the TRX Bandit and TRX Dumbbell.
But then came 2020. With the pandemic raging across the US and indoor fitness facilities beaten into submission, opportunity struck. “I’ve had lots of headwinds in my career,” he continues. “This was the first tailwind. It took it from being a good idea, to in my view being *the* idea.”
Out of the crisis of COVID-19, Hetrick launched OutFit, a spinoff concept he said would “bring the ‘TRXperience’ to life in the fresh air of the great outdoors”.
A mobile training franchise of “gyms on wheels”, OutFit has been conceived to deliver convenient, affordable and expertly coached personal and group training to neighbourhoods across America, with international expansion earmarked “within 24 months”.
A self-professed “startup guy” – whom Entrepreneur Magazine listed as one of the 50 Most Daring Entrepreneurs in 2017 – we asked Hetrick how much easier it is to launch a wellness business the second time, what he wished he had known first time round, and what he thinks will be the lasting legacy of the pandemic on the global fitness industry.
On turning an idea into a business…..
With TRX I came up with the idea on a deployment with the Navy SEALs in South East Asia to take my jiu-jitsu belt and some webbing used for parachute harnesses, tie it together and throw it over a door. That was the first predecessor to today’s TRX. I never thought of it as a business. It was a fun thing I came up with that the guys liked and a few asked me to make one for them. That was it until I left the Seal team to go to business school. I ended up using the second year as an incubator, then launched a year after graduation and we’ve been rolling since 2005.
On getting the timing right…..
Ten years ago at TRX we ran a brand activation that we called TRX on Tour. We ran this tripped out sprinter van around the country, just to show the TRX experience in big outdoor bootcamp workouts. People loved it and asked if we would franchise it but at the time it was pre social media and pre geolocation. The technology was just not there. But over time, as geolocation evolved with things like Uber and as social media rose up, I started realising there was an opportunity to develop an outdoor mobile training franchise.
On turning crisis into opportunity…..
It’s an old military adage, that out of every crisis comes opportunity. Well, about the time I was working on this mobile training concept along came the pandemic. A whole bunch of real talented folks got pandemic-ed. All the gyms closed. Everybody got laid off. Suddenly I had the opportunity to find some really great people who wouldn’t have been available or interested in a little rabble scrabble startup had they not been run over by the pandemic. It took us the best part of 2020 to put the team together, refine the concept and raise a few million bucks to capitalise the business, then off we went. We launched in March 2021 in south Florida and it’s really fun and exciting.
On launching a spin-off venture…..
I can tell you, it’s a little easier the second time around, with a network and brand you can point to. I worked out with my new partners that I would spend a significant chunk still on TRX. I still lead our product development. I’m a brand ambassador and sit on the board. But I wanted to free up time to work on this mobile training concept. The comparison I had in my head was how independent coffee shops have been around for a couple millennia, then along came Starbucks. Suddenly they brought a lot of sophistication to a balkanised landscape and ended up building a big successful brand. I thought we could do that.
On the buzz of startup life…..
I’m a startup guy. Part of being a good leader and successful entrepreneur is figuring out where your wheelhouse is and if you want to be successful you have to keep adding value. I kept thinking there were other people who were better equipped to take TRX to the next level, and frankly that’s not what turns me on. What turns me on is finding another problem with a cool solution and going out and building it. I’ve done it in 2004 and now I’m doing it again in 2021. I’m not sure if that makes me bright or foolish, but I had almost forgotten how invigorating and exciting and challenging bootstrapped startups are until OutFit came along.
On empowering fitness trainers…..
I see OutFit in the southern half of the US and I believe we will be in Europe within 24 months. TRX has certified over 350,000 training pros over the last 17 years but building a career in training is a difficult business under the current model. We want to create an opportunity for trainers to build a business they own, instead of being sharecroppers on somebody else’s farm, so they can make a very good living in an environment they enjoy. We created OutFit to give trainers the opportunity to be entrepreneurs. The business scales brilliantly on paper. Now we just have to go and prove it.
On competition with gyms…..
We really don’t view ourselves as a competitor to the gym. We’re going where gyms aren’t. We’re out in the neighbourhoods, we’re going after people who haven’t belonged to gyms. In the US it’s only about 10-15% of the population that belongs to a gym or uses a trainer. The 85% that don’t are the opportunity that I really want to go after and serve communities in their neighbourhoods and offer something that’s not just another competitor in the same space. We want to make something new.
On the legacy of COVID-19…..
It’s not all doom and gloom but someone who thinks everything will go back to the way it was might be in for a disappointment. Over the past 18 months, consumers have been trained to do things differently. Convenience is huge. Now people need to integrate virtual training technology into their businesses. One of the great things to have evolved out of the pandemic is that sub-scale operators and individual trainers don’t have to build virtual technology. They can license it and expand their business and make them pandemic resistant.
That’s a very healthy evolution of the industry. It creates more convenience for the customer, a little bit more resilience for the practitioner and allows them to expand beyond the constraints they experienced just a year earlier.
On virtual versus in-person fitness…..
I don’t believe virtual is going to replace gyms. If I thought that then even a company like OutFit would be doomed. The virtual space fills a niche. It adds some convenience.
But if you’re a trainer thinking about starting a business you do need virtual built-in. Some creative ways to do that are to set up an area on the floor of your group fit room that is filmed. There you’ve created something new. You have a physical class going on but also a virtual broadcast that’s borderless.
On TRX Training Club we have regulars all over the world that are signing into these classes. They like particular personalities. They like to work out at odd times and they can consume the workouts on demand which allows us to capture content and redistribute it over and over.
On lessons learned since 2004…..
The lessons that really stick are the ones that sting. One thing I wish I had done differently was thinking that the business of TRX had to grow fast, that it had to hit $100 million in revenue in five years or it wasn’t going to be worth anything. Being obsessed with how fast we grew and our competition was a bit of a mistake.
The way it manifests is you end up raising more money than you really should or raise money with partners who aren’t right for your business, who have diverging interests. I wish I had focused more on growing a really great profitable business in the early days rather than how big and fast we could get there.
On staying above water…..
You’ve got to be pretty careful about who and how you bring people into your business as an entrepreneur. Early-stage businesses should be miserly with your treasure and grow within your means. When you’re profitable the clock ticks more slowly, the pressure is infinitely lower and running and building a business is a lot of fun. When you invert that and get yourself underwater where you’re beholden to somebody else that pressure can be unrelenting. That takes a lot of the fun out of the game.
On finding investors who share your passion…..
With OutFit I really felt equipped. The first time around you’re trying to find anybody you can to write you a cheque for your crazy idea. You can imagine what it was like raising money for TRX with this kooky strap on the back of the Dot Com implosion in northern California. It was not easy. But the key is finding angel investors who share your passion and ideally have built a business in a relevant area. It can take a long time to get a little business out of obscurity. Fortunately, with OutFit our timing was right with the pandemic and our offering is unique. It’s really taking off.