Bouncing Back From Failure, a Fitness Business Gets It Right

Bouncing Back From Failure, a Fitness Business Gets It Right

Muscle men: Matt Cubbler (left) and Jason Griggs of MaxOut.

Image credit: Christopher Leaman
This story appears in the August 2015 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Pessimists might say MaxOut Strength Systems is cursed. Optimists—including Royersford, Penn.-based Jason Griggs and Matt Cubbler, who are launching a franchise based on the unique weight machines—would argue that the third time’s the charm. Despite two false starts, they believe they’ve got what it takes to get the fitness world pumped, and they’re ready to put their money where their muscle is with MaxOut Strength Studio.

The MaxOut system was developed over a 13-year period by orthopedic surgeon Michael MacMillan at the University of Florida in Gainesville. The machines allow users to lift weights at one resistance and lower them at a higher resistance, a technique that builds muscle 20 to 40 percent faster than working with conventional strength equipment.

In 2007 MacMillan opened a gym based on the system, and though it attracted NBA players as well as high school and college athletes, it wasn’t enough to keep the lights on. Griggs, a real estate developer; Cubbler, a police officer; and a third business partner purchased the equipment and technology two years later and brought the concept to the Philadelphia area.

“We had some nice success, and our third partner encouraged us to expand the brand locally, so we opened two other locations,” Griggs says. “Our partner was the business guy, and we were essentially investors. We put a lot of faith in him. But there was a lack of attention, and those two locations took a bit of a tumble. Then our partner just disappeared.”

That was 2012, and Griggs and Cubbler were left with a messy lawsuit, two failing units and a fitness brand that was quickly losing its way.

“We had a choice,” Griggs says. “We could let this thing go, or we could take the things we did really well, consolidate, and rebuild the brand and reemerge.”

Now, after several years of rebuilding, MaxOut Strength Studio has partnered with Texas-based developer Franchise Foundry and is ready to expand, with two new units in the pipeline.

We talked to Griggs, who serves as president and CEO, about how he and Cubbler got their business on track, and why youngsters are such a big part of the equation.

How did you refocus the brand?

We closed our two failing units and decided to take a humble approach—to go out and deliver a good experience to our clients. We had a “come to Jesus” moment, and we committed to one another and to the brand. We realized we were really good at connecting with young people and that we should focus on that strength.

How do you cater to your young clientele?

The majority of our clients are young adults, ages 14 to 22. Matt, especially, has worked with a lot of student athletes from day one and has mentored them through situations with coaches or school. We’ve done extensive work with kids to help them find out what they’re good at. In fact, we have lots of kids who come by after school even on days when they’re not working out to talk about issues.

Up until now it’s been very informal, but recently we’ve implemented a leadership and mentorship program that we developed at the gym. It gives us a tremendous amount of satisfaction, seeing the transformation in the health and wellness, the appearance and the confidence of young people. We want to help them be better students, family members and teammates.

Why did you decide to franchise?

At first, since we make the MaxOut equipment, we were going to focus on building and selling the machines. We weren’t going to say the F-word—franchising. In 2013, I thought we could find someone to sell the MaxOut Strength Studio concept to, and then we could supply them with the proprietary equipment. Matt went out to sell the concept and came back with Paul Segreto from Franchise Foundry, and we decided to stay involved in the brand. Paul does what he does best, which is setting up franchise systems. And we do what we do best, which is refining the concept and mentoring kids.

Why have you chosen to be so open about your missteps?

We’ve mastered what we do in our studio cold, but we’re taking baby steps as a franchisor. We want to make sure we do everything right. We’ve made 95 percent of the mistakes you can make, and we know what not to do.

A lot of things became clear to me last year. I was almost killed in a snowmobile accident, and at that point I found out what’s really important. I got smacked in the face by reality. My purpose is to help other people. It sounds like a cliché, but if the struggles I have been through—whether physical or through growing our business back from extinction—help other people see what’s needed to achieve their dreams, then it’s all worth it.

Edition: October 2016

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