Meet Joe Schacht ’07, an entrepreneur who’s bulking up in an already saturated personal fitness market.
By Liza Darvin
There were plenty of people who told Joe Schacht that he was crazy to contemplate opening a gym in 2009. With the country still reeling from the financial crisis the year before, it hardly seemed an opportune moment for Schacht to make his debut as a business owner. In this economy—the thinking must have gone—could consumers really be counted on to open their wallets and ante up for the luxury of being put through their paces?
Luckily for the southern Maine community, Schacht knew to go with his gut. “Ultimately, you need to have confidence to choose the path you want and not let other people decide for you,” he says. In October of that year, Schacht launched Dynamics Fitness & Performance in Portland, Maine, and hasn’t looked back since.
From an outsider’s view, the venture may have appeared to be a risky move, but in talking with Schacht, the considerable strategy and thought involved quickly becomes apparent. “Our business plan is based on slow, methodical growth and cost effectiveness,” says Schacht. “You want to make sure things are as close to bulletproof as possible before you take the leap. Preparation, as in all cases, is so important.”
As an undergrad at Saint Joseph’s, Schacht made sure to utilize the resources available to him. He gained hands-on experiences through internships his junior and senior years, working at Union Street Athletics in Bangor and the former Core Solutions in Westbrook, respectively. He forged meaningful connections with his teachers and coaches. Schacht makes a point to mention Tom Dann, assistant professor of exercise science at the College. “He was and still is a valuable resource for me.”
Smart Steps, Smart Business
Post-graduation, Schacht worked with a purpose, diligently saving his personal training earnings and building up his client list.
“It all starts with having enough capital,” he says, “so I had to be very financially smart with my money for three or four years after college in order to be in a good situation. I made sure when I opened the business that I could support it with my clientele alone. If something went wrong, I wanted to know that I would still have things under control from a financial perspective.”
Despite having a good head for enterprise, Schacht earned his degree in exercise science rather than business. “When you get to the real world, you think, I could have really used some of the knowledge available to me in classes,” Schacht laughs. “Fortunately enough, a client of mine offered to become my business mentor. He helped instill confidence in me and also assisted with forming a business plan.”
That mentor is Paul Kapothanasis, who in 1984, along with his two brothers, founded the quickchange oil and lubrication chain Prompto Oil. Now boasting 23 locations in New England, Prompto Oil is based on the classic principles of offering reliable services at a competitive cost.
Joe Schacht credits many people for his success, including his client and friend Tracy Peters, who he says “thinks nothing of stopping by to help, and her ‘MacGyver’ husband, Dana, is absolutely instrumental in the location fit-ups, including engineering, making, and installing the amazing monkey bars.”
Dynamics is built on a similar foundation. “That’s key for us,” Schacht stresses. “Maintaining an excellent product on a consistent basis at a great price. We want to over-deliver in every situation, constantly.”
How, then, does Dynamics manage to not only survive but also thrive in a saturated market? (Within a few miles of downtown Portland there are more than 10 fitness centers.) The brand’s continued success has much to do with Schacht’s insistence from day one that the customer comes first. Dynamics’ philosophy is brilliant in its directness: “It’s a very black and white system where the client can get as much as they want out of it. They really can’t lose.”
Dynamics is a small-box setup where clients come to be challenged with movements incorporating bodyweight resistance, apparatuses like TRX suspension trainers, and free weights, either working in $6 group classes or individually with a trainer for $40. What’s more, there is no membership or commitment—customers can come and go as best fits their schedules. Rather than mandating that clients conform to strict policies or be hit with penalties, Schacht makes the gym work for the clients’ needs. He’s proud to note, “There is no one-size-fits-all mentality at Dynamics.”
This rings true not only for the business model but also the workouts themselves. An energetic and positive atmosphere complements the affordable, effective fitness routines. “Our aim is to challenge, not kill. I think we retain a lot of customers because we’re not pushing everyone to the limit; we’re challenging them to the point they can handle.”
After all, as Schacht points out, “If you’re not having fun, you are less susceptible to keep going.”
Personal Fitness, For Real
By giving customers what they want in a gym, Schacht has turned them into his best form of publicity. “I think that with our business model—the pricing, the quality, the credentials—we’ve retained a large amount of customers who have created our most popular advertising: word of mouth.” Reviews and friend referrals have helped to build not only a large customer base but also bring new staff to the gym. “Word of mouth got other trainers with our philosophies and passions interested in being on board and joining our team.”
With a second location in Scarborough now approaching its two-year anniversary, it’s clear that Schacht was right to strike out when he did in ’09. Of course, he hasn’t done it alone.
“I guess you’d say I’m the face, I’m the ‘in-the-trenches guy,’ but we have a very strong supporting cast. It’s a big team. There’s the bookkeeper (my mom), the website guy, the family that is constantly helping with any loose ends, and the staff that I can rely on to go to Scarborough because I can’t be in two places at once.”
Coming up on almost 10 years in the industry, Schacht has his fair share of inspirational fitness stories for what keeps him passionate about his work. There’s the attorney who lost 80 pounds, and the truck driver who lowered his cholesterol and improved his heart health. But maybe the most telling example of what sets Dynamics apart from other more corporate entities is the story of one of their own, James Hollenkamp, the current manager of the Scarborough location who started at the gym as a client. A former IDEXX sales rep who began taking classes at Dynamics to combat the effects of a desk job, Hollenkamp left his job and became a certified trainer after rediscovering a love for fitness.
“That’s the cool part of it,” says Schacht, “seeing people who had never considered exercising before who now never want to miss a workout. It’s a complete one-eighty. Stories like that make the job rewarding.”