Two years in: an open letter to our community

An open letter to our community of Hammer family, Hammer friends, Hammer originals, Hammer newbies, Hammer fans and future Hammer friends.

I pen this on the eve of Hammer Athletics’ second anniversary. While this piece serves as an opportunity to reflect on what we have achieved together, it also looks at where we seek to go from here. You’ll also be given an intimate insight into our business model. While this is certainly not considered best practice, it will allow you to see the challenges that lie ahead.

Our Vision – where it all began

When I started coaching 12 years ago I was working with clients in a fairly impersonal commercial gym. After a year, I moved with a colleague to a more personalised private PT studio. This introduced me to what I still believe is the best way to achieve results with clients. As the months and years passed, the little studio I was involved in because hugely successful, so much so that it out-grew its space and expanded in to small number-capped membership gym. The great thing about it was that while it became a little bigger, the owners vision meant that it still kept a very personalised approach and it cultivated a really good community. I loved training clients in this space and I know that our clients loved it too. All of the coaches I worked with shared the vision for the place, were educated, competent and friendly. There was no competition amongst trainers but rather, colleagues learning from each other. It remained a truly unique facility in an industry where personability was rare as the big commercial gyms drove cheap memberships without accountability or personality.

Over time the facility became a product of its own success, and to capitalise on increased membership interest the owner sought an opportunity to take over a large commercial gym. While we all worked tirelessly to maintain the original vision, over time it did lose its culture and personality. Not through the staff’s lack of trying or even members not wanting to interact, but more through a sheer lack of proximity that was created by the massive new space. In my time at the smaller facility, I found that close proximity forces people to interact and get to know each other. Furthermore, the increased overheads and need to hit greater targets saw the place take on a different business model and start to favour numbers over personalised service the welfare of both staff and clients.

Over time it became clearer that it wasn’t what my clients wanted and it wasn’t what I wanted so I sought to create my own version of what I thought was a great fitness facility. I wanted it to be a place that I enjoyed coming to, training  in and more importantly, that my staff wanted to participate in and clients enjoyed. I wanted to create a facility that separated us from the way I feared the industry was heading, which I believe disregard the welfare of clients.

Are we there yet?

In short, no. Of course not. It would be naive to think that in two short years we’d achieved what we’d originally set out to. Furthermore, our original vision has evolved in a few ways. I’d like to share this with you all because I feel that transparency is everything in this industry, and we don’t believe in a totalitarian community – you’re all a part of it so you should know how we’re going.

Areas for improvement

When I look out over the facility, it irks me that we don’t have the best equipment. There is so much more that I want to do to make it great. I want more state-of-the-art sports science equipment. I want more barbells and rigs and weights and… the list is extensive. Furthermore, we certainly don’t have a faultless back-of-shop. Our software has glitches, we don’t have a full-time admin and we don’t have endless resources to oversee the smooth running of events.

This is all largely due to the fact that we haven’t quite figured out how to make our vision fit into a financially attractive business model. The service that we deliver is personalised and therefore isn’t cheap to deliver but we refuse to waver on this.

Our ‘personalised’ model

  • Everyone who trains here has a program specifically modified to achieve their goals.
  • We aren’t afraid to tell clients what they need to do to improve, even if it’s not going to be fun. This sometimes alienates people, and we’ve lost clients this way.
  • Coaching clients are constantly tested not only to see the success of the program (for our benefit) but also to see progressions in other important avenues of strength and conditioning.
  • Coaching clients receive a personalised report every quarter so they know exactly where they are at. It is usually accompanied with either a good kick up the arse or praise for their efforts with areas for improvement.
  • We will not fudge the results. We report the facts. If we haven’t done as well as we hoped, then we suffer the consequences, just as we will accept the accolades if we’ve done exceedingly well.

This gives our clients purpose and aspirations which affords a better overall outlook on health and wellbeing. The challenge for us is to find a way that encompasses this personalised approach but doesn’t price us out of the water. We’ll work it out. Or maybe someone reading this will have a lightbulb moment and solve all of our problems. Do tell!

Areas where we’ve nailed it

By far the greatest thing that we’ve achieved so far is the culture that we have established. Most of our clients know each other. No one is afraid of saying ‘hello’ or passing a dumbbell if needed. Every clinic we execute has decent participation numbers and the party afterwards is always in great nature. So many of our clients have become great friends and interact outside of the gym environment. It is quite rare to have a facility where almost everyone works well together harmoniously (to my knowledge anyway). For this reason we love coming to work.

The other factor is that: our staff are legends. They’re talented, they’re experts in their field, they share our vision and they produce some of the best banter you’ll ever get on a gym floor. You love them, we love them. We wish we could keep them forever. We promise we’ll try to figure out how.

Our programming. The results speak for themselves. Even with the limited equipment, we’ve created a program that works. Our challenge will be to innovate within this space to ensure the training is enjoyable and not just a repeat of last year.

The reason we got here

I know for a fact that we wouldn’t be where we are as a facility if it weren’t for a bunch of legends who stand behind us. If it weren’t for them we could very well be selling crack on the corner (not uncommon in East Brisbane). So here goes. Not an exhaustive list, because I’m pretty sure there’s a word limit on this blog…

Terry and Barry Lewthwaite and Gary and Lyn Ham, thank you for the never ending support in building stuff, cleaning stuff, painting stuff, opening your wallets or whatever it is we need in a very short time. They have been unwavering in their backing of us and literally this doesn’t exist without them.

Our families

Our families, especially my brothers Anthony and Chris, my brother in law Scotty and my best mate Scuddy and to a lesser extent, Carson (because he breaks more than he fixes but his heart is always in the right place even when his legs and arms aren’t). These guys have literally spent days with Kri and I doing all sorts of unholy shit to this place. Whenever I have a brain explosion and decide to remodel or move equipment (with very little notice) or develop an online training portal these guys give up their weekends and RDO’s. We love it.

Trina my sister has always been here if we needed a babysitter/or anything for that matter, in a short time. Her availability has always allowed us to get shit done in a hurry that might need special attention. To our other family members seeing as they are scattered all over the place are always doing something for this place when they are here and always doing it without question. You guys are appreciated beyond belief and nothing goes unnoticed.

Our team

Riley, as much as it pains me to say this, but he is literally the bed rock of this place and again we wouldn’t be worth piss on a stick without him. Dan came a year in to Hammer and took us from a facility plugging away living week-to-week to an established facility with a potential future. Riley and Dan collectively have made this place what it is today, without them I think all of our clients would leave. They have fantastic relationships with their clients and their dedication is unwavering. Their collective competency and knowledge covers almost anything we will encounter in this industry. So thank you to you two peanuts.

Belinda has known me for a long time now and has been a very close friend of mine and her gamble to come over to Hammer has greatly improved this facility and I like to think her female presence in a pretty male dominated workplace gives us a little bit of balance. And Bernie we don’t forget your efforts either mate, thank you for helping us anything and everything that we’ve ever sought of you and more.

To our newer team arrivals: Jamie, Beau, Natasha, Tanya and Indy while you’ve only been with us a short time, you already feel like a part of the furniture and have all added a lot to this business in a very short time and I feel very lucky to have found you (or did you find us?). We’re better for having you and look forward to what’s next.

Luis you took a punt a year ago and started your business within our facility and we are so glad that you did. You have been pivotal to our business and have helped our clients get through what have been some pretty rough injuries and niggles. It’s great knowing that everyone we refer you to will be well looked after.

Our clients

Now there are a few clients that need to be individually thanked.

The originals: Bretty, Natty, Anne, Norrie, Kaite and Angie – these kids have been with me from the start 12 years ago and have been nothing short of amazing. They were here to help build the gym and ensure we weren’t completely bamboozled by the leasing process. They were here in our lowest and at our highest. These guys are my friends for life and we are forever indebted to you and nothing I will say will ever do justice to what you guys mean to us.

Noble mentions for the guys who’ve followed us throughout the years: Colleen, Steve, Matt & Loz Hardy, Beccy, Chris J, Justin, Dimi, Alex, Cridda, Dan, Jodie, Simon, Ian, Brandon, Amanda, Matty S, Nathan, Darren, Chris W, Brad T, Tommy, Josh, Michele, Raefe, Clare, Alan, Donna, Joel L and Toni. Thanks for sticking with us, even when there was a big hole in the wall and we had no showers or equipment. And to our clients who’ve joined us in the last two years and become a part of the family whether you train with us once a day or once a week – you are Hammer Athletic.

Now special mention to Chris James who is our client, friend, accountant and mentor and without him, the tax department would own everything. His help with everything from business to staff management to being a sound board has been pivotal. You’re and legend and we appreciate everything.

Kelly Munro you are the reason we even legally have staff because you held our hand right from the beginning and helped us understand the do’s and don’ts of being employers. You’re always available to give us advice as we hit hurdles and we are grateful.

To Nathan, Daz and Marty – huge thanks for supporting us and getting us involved with The Hustlers. It’s been great for our business and we’ve loved being a part of your club. Not to mention Nathan’s help with getting us on google and sorting our data in hours of excel spreadsheet work.

Nishi and Cian, while you’re off gallivanting around the world right now, your influence at the start is what got us through some tough times and we really appreciate the effort you put in for no reward. Even while overseas you’re still referring business to us and helping in every way you can. You’re a special bunch of humans, our favourite top deck.

And that brings me to the end. I have this sinking feeling now that because I’ve mentioned so many people I’ve forgotten about someone. I am truly sorry if I have. Looking over this list it makes me feel very lucky. And in addition to thanking you I want to promise you all this:

We will continue listening to you, and we are and will always be community based, family owned and here to bring you the best in health and fitness – and we do all that with a stupid joke, a smile on our face and a fantastic soundtrack.

By Matt Ham

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