Josh Peacock: Alright, Ben. Welcome to the Gym Heroes Podcast. If you could before we start, introduce yourself and your background in business.
Ben Ludwig: Totally. It’s glad to be here, Josh. Thank you so much for having me. Yeah, my name is Ben Ludwig. So, I’ve been in the fitness industry for a little over 15 years. I currently serve as the chief operating officer for Attraction Group. We own a multitude of F-45 training studios across the US. I also am on staff Crosspoint Network of Churches. I do a lot of leadership training and development and then I contribute quite a bit across the globe to trainings, business fitness articles, things like that. So, yeah, it’s been a wild ride for sure.
Josh Peacock: Awesome. So, I brought you on here because you have a really great perspective on leadership and how to at the actual mechanics of how to manage through tough times. Especially really hard changes. So could you give us an overview of the ups and downs of your career like well, let’s start there and then we can kind of dig into specific principles after that.
Ben Ludwig: Yeah, absolutely. I think a lot of the negatives of people’s careers are the things that we try and hide. They’re the things that we don’t talk about, right? But personally, in leadership, I think it’s really important to be able to talk about our failings. Because number one, that’s where we learn and then number two is man, that’s what made us who we are today, right? So, I’m a big believer in being able to speak to those things. So, I’ve been through a lot of really hard changes. Even when I first started in the fitness industry, my very first personal training job, I got tossed a price sheet and I get waved to good luck. It’s kind of my ongoing.
Josh Peacock: Yeah.
Ben Ludwig: Started in the industry that way to where it was just like, hey, better figure it out. So, and then most of my career was like that. I ended up getting hired on my first regional manager job was with a company that was acquiring a bunch of huge full-service gyms, but they were a high-volume low price or HVLPs as we call it in the industry. So, the model didn’t really work. So, it was, we were dealing with what was our demographic. We were trying to figure out cost or apex of all these huge gyms and how we’re going to pay the bills with $10 memberships and it was, oh my gosh, it was tough. Then my next step was I opened up a few gyms with a friend of mine in the Houston area, where we didn’t really know what we were doing. We kind of had to figure out the systems and we were calling people asking their opinions. And then from there I moved to Dallas and opened up some gyms for an investment firm where again the acquisition had just happened when I came on board.
So, you want to talk about a bunch of negativity. I mean nobody believed that this huge investment firm was going to be good for the company or the members. There were people talking bad about us and I remember Josh one of my favorite stories that I like to tell in in mindset training is from that company. I actually walked in, met with the general manager, met with the assistant, met with the fitness manager, just had all these meetings with these people. Try to get an idea of what their mindset was and figure out my game plan on how I was going to turn around this gym and I was there for about 7 days. I came back the following week to an empty gym. Everybody had quit all at the same time. There was a note on the general manager’s desk saying my fault that everybody had quit like this like good luck. I mean that’s just one of so many stories that I could tell in my history. So, I won’t bore you with all those stories. But Josh, for me it’s been a wild ride and I’ve had probably more failures than I’ve had successes and I think that’s why it’s important that we talk about those things.
Josh Peacock: Absolutely. So, I guess the first thing I have to ask is, how you identify hard situations and then how you plan for them?
Ben Ludwig: Yeah, well I think the first thing to remember Josh is most people try and avoid hard situations. When it comes to bad employees or when it comes to underperforming staff members or when it comes to a member issue that seems really complex and dates back. I mean there’s all different kinds of situation that we deal with in the fitness industry. I think the most important thing to remember is the fact that man, there’s not one right way to address all of these situations. So, because of that people tend to either push them off or try and brush them under the rug or try and smooth them over without dealing with the situation or worse. I think one of the bad, really the worst things that I see in the fitness industry as far as bad ways to handle these situations is people make assumptions or they start to slight people. So, they start to consider their staff bad employees because they’re underperforming but never really addressed it or they never really talked through the thought process or they’ve never really faced the employee in a coaching manner to help them through the tough situation.
So, for me, I think you know it’s important for me to identify those types of situations in the fact of, alright, I need to figure out how to best plan for the future. I need to best prepare my staff on how to handle when things don’t go as expected because 90% of the time they don’t go as expected. And then when we come across those situations it’s important for me to be in heavy communication with my team, so they don’t feel like they’re doing it alone or they don’t feel like they’re just trying to have to figure it out. They feel like they have some support there. So, I think Josh to answer your question more directly, when it comes to identifying hard situations it’s not that you have to kind of pick them out of the bunch. You know that they’re going to come. So, I personally believe that it’s important to prepare people for them always and then know they’re going to come. It’s not an if, but when.
Josh Peacock: So, how do you start to plan for that? For example, you mentioned problems with employees. How can you start to address that before it occurs?
Ben Ludwig: Yeah. So well first thing I think Josh is as a company or even if you’re just overseeing a department, you have to decide what your core values are and what you want to see in your staff and you have to hire for that. Now does that mean you’re going to be perfect and you’re always going to hire the right people? Absolutely not. But it’s really going to pare down the amount of bad hires that you have, because you know what you’re looking for in the interview process. I’m also a big fan of, “hire slow fire fast”. And I get a lot of push back on that. It’s like, no, no, no. When I find the right person, I want them on my team, that means everybody else is buying for them, well, that’s true but if the right person is the right person, then the right time will come. And in order for me to be able to show you that we’re the right company, I’ve got to invest in you on the front end of this relationship. So, I think that’s first.
Second thing, when it comes to figuring out how to identify or deal with these bad situations, I think you have to really coach your team members on what to expect. So, for example, if you’re looking at fitness sales as an example. Well, I know for a fact that every person on a sales team is going to be a high achiever. So, how do I handle the high achievers and then, how do I handle the under performers? I have to have a process for that. So, there’s got to be a laid-out process that I can coach my team on how to be able to address under performers and how to be able to address over performers. So, there’s got to be a system there. Even when it comes to coaching. So, if I’m looking at class experience or member experience in like a boutique setting. In those sorts of cases, again, I’ve got to have some expectations that I’ve very clearly outlined for the staff and then I’ve got to be able to address that with them in a one-on-one setting in evaluation form.
So, again, there’s so many businesses that I’ve consulted and worked with that really didn’t have any process in place at all. So, that’s the Downfall is if we don’t really truly set an expectation then I’m just assuming that you know everything that I expected you and you probably don’t. So, it’s really on me as the leader to make sure that I set those expectations.
Josh Peacock: Excellent. So, what are the most common difficult situations that you see in the industry?
Ben Ludwig: I think the easiest one for me to bring up Josh is just bad attitudes. I mean for me being such a glass half full person. It’s probably more easy for me to recognize bad attitudes really quickly, because I see opportunity everywhere. I mean if there’s not a system in place, okay how can we systemize this? That’s like my first thought. If there’s an under performing and we’re not getting as many of our leads into our gym as we want to. That’s an opportunity. Look at all these people that we haven’t got in yet. Let’s figure how to get in contact with these people and entice them to come in. So, I see all the opportunities but I’ve also been in so many situations where I see people that only see obstacles.
Well, the problem with that mindset is the fact that if you’re always looking at the obstacles, then, you’re never seeing the vision. You’re never seeing the future. You’re never seeing what you can accomplish and because of that, most people that have bad attitudes tend to always be under performers. So, I think that’s the first thing that you have to be on the lookout for is you have to watch out for people that just see obstacles but don’t help figure out ways to get beyond those obstacles. That’s really the biggest one for me. Another one that I’ve seen a lot is again no process of development for people. The fitness industry is no different than any other industry and the fact that people want to grow. People want to they want to feel like, they’re good at their job. They want to see career progression and career progression I know there’s some stigma behind that but career progression can mean so many different things for people.
For some people, it’s more free time and less work. For other people, it’s more money, more responsibility, higher title but that’s not everybody and I think for me, what I have found is that it’s more important for me to be able to figure out what my staff wants out of their career so I can help them take steps towards what it is that they’re looking for. If it’s career progression in the fact of more money, more higher title, whatever that may be, great. Let’s figure out how to make you success at those next levels. I can coach you and teach you how to do that but if it’s I want to be more effective with my time and be able to have more flexibility, great. Let me figure out how to be able to help you be as efficient and effective as possible while you’re here so you can spend more time away.
So, I think that that’s another thing that I’ve seen is a lot of companies don’t have any sort of process in place to where they truly set goals for their staff or truly try and figure out how to be able to help the members of their team progress, whatever that means for them.
Josh Peacock: Cool. So, we’ve talked about helping prepare in regards to people who work for us, employees, and things like that. What can we do ourselves to prepare for hard times? Because I know there’s more than just employees. So economic downturns and things like that. What can we do to prepare ourselves for those things?
Ben Ludwig: Absolutely. Yeah, I mentioned mindsets a few times already Josh and I think that in order to be able to find people with the right mindset. I’ve got to know what I’m looking for and in order for me to know what I’m looking for I’ve got to be able to have that mindset myself. So, I think committing to growth yourself is one of the things that I believe that I’ve done in my career that’s really helped me get to where I am today is, I read a lot. I have a lot of friends in the industry or people that I’ve been successful that I seek advice from, that I ask their opinion on the industry or structure of business or styles of management, leadership development. I mean I really want to learn and grow. So, by doing that myself I believe that two things are going to happen. I’m naturally going to attract people that have that same mentality in my mindset and then number two is I’m going to become a better leader myself. So, to use the terminology of John Maxwell, I’m raising my lid as a leader, right?
So, I’m trying to do my best to be able to be a more effective leader so I can bring people with me when it comes to that. So, I think that’s the first thing that I would absolutely recommend. Then the second thing that I would recommend in leadership Josh is as a leader, you have to be committed to getting to know your team. You’ve got to start to understand your team better which helps you manage them better. I can’t just read a leadership book and then all of a sudden, bam, I’m a great leader and I know how to lead everybody. I mean, we’re all human and all of us are different and the way that we perceive the world is our reality. So, I as a leader, have to understand that not everybody’s going to see the world the same as me. So, the more that I get to know my team, the more I start to recognize when they’re stressed but they don’t want to tell me or when they’re, they don’t really understand something but maybe they’re embarrassed to open up the fact that they don’t understand the why behind the what’s or I start to recognize those things. So, I can start to be proactive and then really dealing with those type of situations which man, that is a huge leadership tool.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people come to me or call me or have a conversation with me after a conversation like that and say, “Hey, thank you for addressing that. I wasn’t really sure how to ask but you brought it up and that made me feel like really confident in how you explain it. So, thank you for that”. So, it really just the more you get to know your team the better and more effective of a leader you can be for them. Because it’s not about your leadership style. It’s about what leadership style they accept. So, I’ve got to be good at understanding how to lead people in what they’re going to respond to.
Josh Peacock: So, this is like anything this is going to be like a skill. So, what are some first steps to start practicing how to manage your team through hard times? How can you approach that?
Ben Ludwig: That’s good. I think the first thing as I mentioned earlier is you have to identify what your core values are. So as a company, as a business, or even if you’re a sole entrepreneur that really is just trying to figure out how to be able to hire on employees, you’ve got to figure out what your core values are of your company that you’re going to look for and manage your staff to hold to it to that standard. Once you do that, I think then you can start to figure out exactly how to manage people. Another thing that I think is important is figure out your systems. So many businesses just don’t have systems. I’ve talked to so many entrepreneurs especially in consulting that they know how to do it well. So, there’s one of two things that happen. They either just strap themselves to the business because they don’t know how to teach anything that they know. They just know how to do it. Or the other thing I see happen is they try and step out but don’t know how to train and develop, so the business starts to drop and and then it just becomes this cycle of, I can’t find the right people, man hiring is hard and I can’t figure out the right compensation plan. I can’t figure out the right pricing. But they’re missing the point.
They’re trying to change all these extraneous variables, when the problem is they didn’t set up a system of what they did to begin with. So, I think once you establish those core values then you have to set up systems around those values as to what your business needs to accomplish and then within those systems, I think it’s also important that you hire the right people and be willing to be open about the fact that you’re going to make mistakes when you hire those people because again, culture is one of the biggest determinants of success long term. I can hire a unicorn of a manager to run my studio for me but what if they get a better offer in a year. Well, then what? The unicorn’s gone and now I’m back to running the business, right? But if my systems make sense and I’m constantly looking for developing the right culture, well, that’s really Where the long-term success of my business lies.
Josh, one of the things that I pride myself in is 80% of our promotions are internal. I mean, that’s a lot of what we pride ourselves on and I say that statistic because we do our best to develop our people to be leaders. So, if we can do that well, that means we’re not constantly posting on job boards and trying to find the best manager and looking for that unicorn as I mentioned. We’re raising unicorns, right? So, we’re trying to Develop those people within our business. And look man, again, since we’re talking about hard times, well, not every single person is going to rise to the challenge, not every, people are going to step into that role or they’re going to be, yeah, I want to be the next manager. Then they’re going to get into that role and go, oh my gosh, this is not what I thought it was, and that there’s going to be so many times that you’re going to raise up the wrong person, that people are going to realize it’s not for them, that there’s going to be miscommunications. And oh my gosh, there’s just so many different ways that even if you have everything perfect, things are still going to go wrong.
So, I think that’s why it’s so important for you to prepare yourself for what those hard situations are going to be because man, you just have to take a step back. Allow yourself to be imperfect and go, okay, I hired the wrong person. Man, that really stinks, but you know what? I’ve got to move forward. What are my options from here? Do I have people in my business that I can raise up to the challenge? Do I have anyone that I’ve been training in this process? Hopefully, I do because I’m assuming that I’m not always going to have Everybody on my team forever and then can I put them in that role? Can I train them or work alongside them to raise them up to be that leader? So, I think those are the way, those are really the three basic things that you need to do first to be able to make sure that you’re setting yourself up for long-term success.
Josh Peacock: Excellent. Yeah. So, you talked about having systems around everything that you do because especially in the fitness industry, retention of employees is terrible and even if you’re a good business, you’re still going to have turnover and like you said, it’s not everyone’s going to rise to the occasion. So, what is the role of training in that equation? You mentioned it once. How should operators approach their training programs?
Ben Ludwig: I think there’s two things that I consider training when it comes to staff. I think first and foremost you’ve got to figure out what your economic drivers of your business are and then create your trainings off of that. So that’s one form. So, for example if retention is a huge part of my fitness business. Maybe I don’t have a ton of members but my retention is really where I create my success. Well, if that’s the case, then what’s my process of retention? How many touch points do I have, what are those touch points sound like? When someone starts to drop off in their usage, what are those phone calls? When do I reach out to them? Am I offering them anything to bring a referral to be able to increase their stay because now they have external accountability?
So, I need all of that that I’ve mentioned, that’s all part of the process and again, I can’t just have this all on a spreadsheet and expect a manager to be able to understand all that. So, maybe part of my training is we’re going to go over low-usage phone calls. That’s training, right? That’s training on the economic drivers of my business. So that’s one portion of training. The other side of training and this is something that I really like is more strategic planning. You need to be open to training your team on how to be able to think about the future. So that’s where I invite my team members to be a part of learning about leadership with me. Something as simple as like a book study. Getting everyone on your management team to read a book together and talk about the book say once a month. That’s something very simple that you can do that will help people to get out of the daily grind every so often and really challenge them to learn about something that they probably want to know about, but just don’t make time for themselves.
The same way that most clients don’t make time for exercise and we have to have accountability for them. The same exact analogy applies to this to our staff. All of our staff wants to be better leaders. They want to be more effective. They want to do as much as they can in their role to be successful. That that’s they want, right? But how many of them are actually taking time away from the daily grind to make that happen? Are they reading books? Are they a part of masterminds? Are they connecting with other individuals in similar positions to them and asking what they’re doing? Are they studying other brands to see what everybody did?
All of those are things that if we don’t push our people to do, a lot of them aren’t going to do. Some of them will but again, those are the unicorns. Well, I’m trying to make unicorns. So, I have to encourage them and push them to Do the things that I know that they should do. Become a student of the industry. Know what everybody else is offering. Know what their, we want you back campaign looks like. Know what their trial offers are. Understand leadership development and training and all of those things are things that I have to then train my staff or bring my staff along with me to do. So those are the two things that I believe really each business owner or manager has to consider when it comes to what’s going to create success within their staff.
Josh Peacock: Excellent. So, some of that training is very much one-on-one or its ad hoc like a book study. For trainings that everyone’s going to need to go through, is there a regular cadence that you should go through that like quarterly or how often should people do those sorts of trainings?
Ben Ludwig: Absolutely. Every business is different, Josh and so with Traction Group, we’ve got cadences set for every staff member no matter what level. So, we have a very strict onboarding guy. I mean, they go through multiple weeks of training with us when they’re first on boarded and then once they’re fully onboarded, I mean we go through everything in great detail. They sign off on everything to make sure they understand all about our business and what’s expected of them. Our management has multiple every week we actually have one on ones. And then every quarter is actually when we evaluate each lower-level staff members. So, there’s processes and systems and then we even have everything documented and uploaded in any employee’s file. That way we can always go back and review.
Number one, just to make sure that it’s happening, of course, but also number two, to review the notes. So, if there’s things that I see on an audit of an employee that sound really vague. Well, that’s a coaching point for me. I can help you become a better manager by helping you understand how to give coaching points to a staff member. If you’re a great coach to members, well, that’s a great starting point but being a great coach to coaches is something different. So, I need to help you understand how to be able to stay motivational, how to be able to give constructive criticism in a very clear format that allows the team member to feel empowered, but also feel like they got some value out of what you gave me. So, when I step into my next session, I know exactly the things I need to work on.
So, if I’m not, if my manager isn’t giving clear directives, well then, I need to coach them on how to better do that, right? So, there’s a lot of different ways in in our company that we structure that out and I encourage everyone as I mentioned to have that process. That way exactly how you’re going to administer feedback, how often you’re going to administer feedback. Number one, so the team members can be prepared, but also number two, the people that are being evaluated know what to expect. That way it’s not a surprise whenever I’ve been given some bullet points on things that I do well but also some things that I can improve on. It’s expected and when it’s expected, naturally, the level of performance rises because people know they’re going to be evaluated.
I mean, think about like the NFL, right? How many people that are on the practice squad are just there to be there. No, man. They’re trying for their shot, right? And if they get that shot on a Sunday, well, guess what? It’s their opportunity to either make it or not. So, that’s really, I think a good example of what it means to be able to really understand what it means to be evaluated. So, our staff knows again, we’re not going to micromanage them but at the same time, we trust them to do their job but we’re going to consistently give them feedback. So, that’s the balance that we have found that I recommend everybody finds to be able to run a successful business. Because two things, nobody wants to be micromanaged but everybody needs feedback.
Josh Peacock: Excellent. This is this is a lot of really, really great information. If listeners want to reach out to you and learn more about your approach to management and leadership, where can they find you?
Ben Ludwig: Yeah. So, LinkedIn profile, my Instagram and Facebook handles will be available here. And then also, if you want to reach out to me directly, you can reach me at BLudwig [at] TractionGRP.com, which I can provide you with that my email address as well.
Josh Peacock: Awesome. Well, I definitely will encourage listeners to reach out and learn more. A lot of most of our listeners I think are gym operators or they own a studio or something like that. So, awesome dude. Thanks. Maybe we can do this again sometime.
Ben Ludwig: Yeah. I’d be happy to Josh. Really appreciate you having me on the show. This is a blast.