How Founder Of Fit Body Boot Camp Went From Poor And Homeless To Successful Businessman.
Growing up in USSR-ruled Armenia during the 1970s, Bedros Keulilan lived a lifestyle centered on the farfetched ideal of the American Dream. His father, who lived a relatively comfortable life in the Communist Party, saved his money with the goal of declaring his family as political refuges in Italy.
After arriving in Italy, Bedros’ family then traveled to America, but minus all of their savings, which they had used just to escape.
Bedros’ parents and siblings started a tailoring business to support themselves. Still, Bedros often found himself digging through dumpsters for food to feed the entire family. Through these early experiences, Bedros absorbed the value of hard work. He knew that despite his family’s hardships, he was fortunate to be in America.
In high school, Bedros figured he would become a mechanic, as he always had an interest in cars. However, he started to focus on working out and nutrition after meeting a girl that he didn’t have the courage to ask out. Although he never got the date, Bedros developed a passion for fitness and became a personal trainer.
Bedros had to pick up jobs as a busboy and bouncer to support himself early in his career. Times were tough and for a time he lived in his 1979 Toyota pick-up truck. He failed to get his personal trainer certificate three times and went into debt to the tune of $120,000.
His business took a turn, however, after one of his clients, Jim Franco, became his marketing advisor. Franco helped Bedros realize that he knew nothing about business, and he began teaching Bedros how to market himself and his business.
Franco also helped Bedros realize that he loved being a personal trainer because he was passionate about empowering people to pursue their health and fitness goals.
Today, Bedros is the CEO and founder of Fit Body Boot Camp, an indoor boot camp franchise that has a spot on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest growing companies of 2016. The franchise also won FranchiseRankings.com Best Fitness Franchise for 2016 and was placed in Entrepreneur Magazine’s Top 15 Franchises for 2015.
He’s also appeared as a host and expert on Spike TV’s Gym Rescue, and he’s also known as the “Hidden Genius” behind many coaching and consulting clients on hit TV shows featured on ABC, NBC, and Spike TV.
As the fitness industry’s leading consultant for marketing, business systems and development, Bedros continues to influence physical training around the world. Here’s our interview with Bedros…
to this interview by X: THC.
Bedros, Please tell our readers about Fit Body Boot Camp. From our understanding, your clients are women and fitness training professionals that you teach to become successful?
Fit Body Boot Camp is an indoor fitness boot camp franchise for women who want to get in shape without sacrificing the time they need for their careers and their families. We offer them convenient, 30-minute fat loss workouts that are guaranteed to produce results, and we offer them the nutritional guidance and personal accountability they need to keep the weight off for good.
For fitness professionals, opening an FBBC franchise is a fantastic opportunity to make a great living and still focus on what they love most: training clients. We offer done-for-you marketing and selling systems and show you the exact process you need to open your boot camp quickly and operate it with extremely low overheard.
I also personally offer a suite of books, info products, and coaching programs to help fitness professionals across the industry increase their income and attract more clients.
You had some tough times trying to establish yourself as a fitness trainer. You lived in your truck, and had to take odd jobs to support yourself. How did you overcome the struggles you faced at the beginning of your career?
Even back then, when I was working as a personal trainer, and a bus boy at Disneyland, and a bouncer at a gay bar all at once, I took my work seriously. That might sound obvious, but that’s the one crucial piece that you must have. If you don’t take the work seriously, there’s nothing anybody can do to help you.
Even as a busboy at Disneyland, I took pride in my work and even timed myself to get those dishes off the tables faster and faster each day. I came up with smarter ways of stacking them in the bins so I could clear out more with each trip.
Was it my passion to be a busboy at Disneyland? Was that my ultimate dream for my life? No, but I still took it seriously. The amazing thing is, that whole experience taught me valuable lessons that I still teach to my team today. That wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t taken the world seriously back then.
The other most important thing is that I had a coachable mindset. I learned important lessons from my shift manager at Disneyland about discipline and customer service, and I had to be coachable to learn those lessons. And of course, there’s no way I could’ve learned everything I did from Jim Franco if I hadn’t been coachable.
He was a hugely successful entrepreneur who came to me as a training client. One day he took pity on me, took me aside, and told me that I absolutely sucked at business. He told me I didn’t know how to sell, didn’t know how to market myself, didn’t know how to set my prices, and only got him as a client because I “took his order.” Ouch. See, if I had let my ego take control back then, I probably would’ve pushed him away to defend my pride.
Instead, I was coachable. I accepted those tough truths and I followed his instructions when he was generous enough to share advice with me. When he said, “go listen to these Tom Hopkins tapes” I listened to the tapes religiously, took notes, and implemented everything I learned as fast as I could.
I realize this may not sound like “specific steps” but trust me: if you feel stuck right now, these are the most important things you can master to turn things around. The specific steps are going to change depending on your situation and where you want to go, but these are things you can improve in yourself right now to make a difference in your life.
The only other thing I would add is establish a vision for your future. It’s not enough to say “I want things to be better” or “I want to get out of this bad situation.” You need an emotionally compelling vision of your future that’s going to catapult you forward and cause you to take massive action. Dig deep enough and keep asking yourself the “Why?” behind your actions and you’ll find that vision.
After your client, Jim Franco, became your marketing advisor, he helped you realize that you had no idea how to market yourself. How did he help you ignite your business?
You know, I think the most important thing about Jim back then, even more important than the advice he gave me, was that I got to see him in action. When you see images of success in TV and magazines, or these days on the Internet, it’s so easy to turn cynical and say “That’s all fake.” Jim’s not fake. Jim is the real deal.
I’m still great friends with him to this day. And he blew my mind back then with how cool he was. I got to see him roll up in his fancy cars and rock his expensive watches, and you could tell he loved what he did too. Plus, he would literally walk up to women in the gym who were complete strangers and sit on their laps. He would sit on their laps, chat them up, and they were into it! They didn’t even mind!
But at the same time, I could see that he was still human. I’ve even seen Jim brush his teeth. There’s something so powerful about seeing someone you respect operate at a high level right in front of you, and then still turn out to be human. To me, that was just the perfect proof that I could achieve great things too, even with my own flaws and weaknesses.
How were you able to open your first gym, and then how were you able to expand to five fitness gyms after all that struggle you had gone through establishing yourself in the business?
I got the money for my first location by asking Jim Franco for a loan. I promised to pay him back and that he would get his cut as my business partner. From there, it was a matter of dialing in my scheduling so I could get more clients in at one time. I had a reputation as a great trainer, but the reality is you can only make so much money training 1-on-1 sessions once per hour (unless you charge obscenely high prices). So I tested a few different models, ended up with 30 minute group sessions, and that gave me the leverage to scale up my business.
The thing I did with that first gym is the same thing I tell every entrepreneur and small business owner to do: start with your market. I looked around my community, found the people who I knew I’d want to train with, and I researched them. I had conversations with them, I went to the same businesses that they went to, I read the same magazines they read.
I did all of these things so I could figure out what their deepest needs and desires were, and so I could get a sense of what the daily conversation in their heads sounded like. After that, I designed everything about my business to cater to those needs and desires.
That’s how I structured everything from my training to my marketing plan. From that point, opening the next four was really just a matter of selling enough training until I had the funds, then replicating the same model I had in the first gym.
So many startup businesses fail in the first year. How were you able to get past the initial “make it or break it” period in the growth cycle of your five gym businesses?
You know, I’m not even sure I thought of it as a “make or break” period back then. I don’t think that’s a healthy attitude for entrepreneurs to have. Instead, I like to share this great quote I heard once, I believe it was from Dan Kennedy, that goes like this: “Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in one year, but underestimate what they can accomplish in five years.”
So I say, don’t worry about making your first year great. It isn’t going to be great. You still have a following to build up. Instead, use that first year to lay the groundwork for a mind-blowing breakthrough in year five. Take the time to dial in your systems, hire the right people, and refine your own marketing and selling skills.
Enjoy the process. The more you focus on the process, the more effective you’ll be and the more sales you’ll get. When you get too caught up on instant gratification and obsessing over the big wins instead of consistent performance, that’s when you can make some pretty nasty mistakes.
What was the turning point where you knew that the gyms would succeed?
Man, that’s hard to say. To be honest, I have kind of an anxious personality, so I very rarely think “This is definitely going to succeed.” For me it’s more like “If I keep working at this and I stay on my toes, this will succeed.” Although, I do remember using this test before I opened my second location, which is the same thing I recommend to my coaching clients: I took a full month vacation from the gym and told my staff they could only contact me in the case of emergencies.
I deliberately put myself in a position where I couldn’t interact with the business for a whole 30 days, aside from collecting my check. When I made it to the end of that month and the business was still running smoothly and generating profit, I knew my business model was ready for me to duplicate in the next location.
And how did you come up with the concept for your Fit Body Boot Camp?
Fit Body Boot Camp was really the result of many good ideas coming together in one complete package. You might remember a while back that boot camp workouts became this huge fad and seemed to suddenly pop up everywhere. People loved the idea of having a group of motivated friends to keep them accountable, and the whole idea just had so much more energy and fun than a typical visit to the gym, which for most people is painful and boring.
The only problem with those boot camps was that they were mainly outdoors, which led to all kinds of problems with bad weather and insurance liabilities and breaking city laws. So that was the first change I made with Fit Body Boot Camp: I decided that my boot camps would be indoors, and I created a vision for a clean, friendly, welcoming environment that would be appealing to women in their 30s and 40s.
Like I said before, I knew my audience. I noticed that there were plenty of products and supplements and box gym memberships and all these other things that targeted these women, but none of those things reliably created results for them. I knew FBBC, with the power of High Intensity Interval Training workouts, could get them long-lasting results in a very short amount of time, so I made that the focus of the training and the marketing.
On the business end, I decided from the beginning to do something that most franchise founders would consider a crazy move: I set a flat royalty fee per location for all franchisees. Now, most franchises charge their franchisees royalty fees as a percentage of their revenue, which means that the franchisee can hustle and drive up their revenues, but their income will mostly stay the same. I think this is a terrible way to motivate people.
I want all my FBBC owners to know that they control their own destinies, and the harder they work the more money they will get in return, so to this day I keep a flat royalty fee for everyone.
What obstacles did you have to overcome to make Fit Body Boot Camp a success?
You know, it’s tempting to point to some of the bad employees I’ve had and say that those were my greatest obstacles, but that’s only half true. Believe me: I’ve been through every employee nightmare scenario you can imagine. I’ve had people working for me leave and try to steal my business model. I’ve had employees at Headquarters try to hook up with boot camp owners. I’ve had employees purposefully spill coffee on top of important business documents to try to sabotage my business.
But here’s the twist, and the important lesson I learned from all that: those disasters were my fault. I hired those people. I let them be a part of my business. If I had listened to my gut at the time, I probably would never have hired them, but instead I let myself get trapped in a false sense of urgency. I thought I just need anybody, any random person, to fill those spots instead of taking the time to find the right people. Not only that, I was letting the negative people run my business! I was cowering away from the office instead of confronting those people and standing up for the values I truly believe in.
Over the past year, that’s been my biggest project: getting serious about the culture I want to create and the values I want my team to stand for. I’ve been ruthless about letting negative people go, and I’ve let my positive team members know how much I cherish them.
It’s no coincidence at all that in 2016, Fit Body Boot Camp placed on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest growing companies in the nation. That’s because of our culture. That’s because my team and I decided on the culture we wanted to have and we created it.
In so many of our interviews, we’ve found that adversity strengthens us and can actually help us become successful. Going back to your childhood, your family fled USSR-ruled Armenia, and came to the U.S. with nothing. How did your experiencing adversity as a child help you later, as an adult in the struggle to establish yourself both in business and in your life?
The most important thing I learned from my childhood is gratitude. Every day, I am so incredibly grateful to be living here in the United States where there is so much prosperity and freedom and opportunity.
Quite honestly, I think a lot of people born here take those things for granted. They don’t know what it’s like to live in a country where entire grocery store shelves are empty, and government agents can come to your house and beat you up if you say something controversial in public.
Here’s an example of Soviet life that will blow your mind: My father was a tailor. At home, he would work on extra suits for people so he could pull together some extra money for our escape. And you know what he had to do? He had to hide those extra suits to make sure government agents wouldn’t find them.
See, the Soviets believed that if a man works too much in one day, that would give him an unfair advantage over his comrades, which under communism is basically the worst crime you can commit. Think about how crazy that is: my father actually wanted to contribute more to society, and provide more for his family by offering a totally legitimate service, and for that he had to hide like a criminal.
Don’t get me wrong, we’ve got all kinds of problems with our politicians over here, but you know what’s amazing? We all have the opportunity to work as hard as we want, and contribute more and more to society, and get greater and greater rewards for it.
Sure, there are still struggles, because life is full of challenges. Those challenges are there so we can grow. And to have the chance to control our own destinies here is such an amazing gift. That’s why I don’t sweat the small stuff. The economy can go haywire, people can try to mess with me, but whatever happens I’m going to keep moving forward, because there’s still so much to be grateful for and I have a duty to pass on the opportunities that were given to me.
What specific advice can you give to someone starting out in business that you wish someone had shared with you when you were starting out? and why is that important?
I would say this to anyone starting their own business for the first time: you must sell yourself. There is no man on the white horse who will come and do that part for you. You have to be in charge of establishing your message and making it perfectly clear why your market should buy from you and not anybody else.
If you’re anything like me, you got into your industry because you’re passionate about it. That’s where you’re most comfortable, but it’s also your area of greatest strength, which is awesome!
You should always keep sight of that. However, to succeed in business you must also master the art of selling yourself. Simply having the best product or the best service is not enough. Study people like Tom Hopkins, Dan Kennedy, and Tony Robbins and learn the craft. Trust me: the more you practice it, the better you’ll get and the more you’ll fall in love with it.
And now as you look back on your journey, how would you advise someone like your younger self on how to overcome adversity in life, as in our phrase, “fall down seven times, rise up eight”?
There are two things I want to say to any young people reading this. The first thing is that adversity is not a curse, it’s a gift. Whatever struggles you are facing right now are opportunities for you to become a tougher, stronger, smarter, more creative, more powerful person. If you just that tiny mindset tweak to see them as opportunities, you’ll find that those struggles actually unlock abilities inside that that you didn’t know you had.
The other thing is this: success is sleeping well at night. People always talk about success in terms of flashy cars, watches, exotic vacations, hot flings, and whatever else. Those things are all fun to have, and if right now those motivate you to get up and do the work then go for it.
Just remember, though, that true success comes at the end of the day, when you’re proud of everything you’ve done, and you go to sleep with a peaceful mind. And you can have that kind of success at any point in your life, even right now, if you make the decision to get your mindset right. If anything, my experience has taught me that success and opportunity comes even faster after that moment.
What’s so interesting about this interview is that Bedros is now following in his mentor Jim’s footsteps, by now mentoring other fitness professionals. Bedros’ desire to learn helped him achieve success, regardless of all the setbacks he had. When you can keep an open mind to take in advice from people who have “been around the block”, this can only help. Of course it’s up to you to take that advice seriously or not depending on what is offered to you, but the option is there.
Having a mentor was crucial for Bedros in his journey. Often we don’t recognize a possible mentor who is already in our lives, and all we need to do is ask. Take a second look at the people in your life and see who might be able to mentor you. By approaching them in a positive way and asking for help in order to become more successful, you’d be surprised to learn that many people would be happy to help you.
Special thanks to Bedros for sharing his story in such great detail. Although he had fallen so many times in his life, he kept getting up over and over again, and it paid off. Even with Jim’s mentoring, Bedros had to work very hard over a number of years to achieve the success he has now.
We hope Bedros’ journey inspires you to achieve your dream, no matter where you are starting from. You can get to where you want to be, as Bedros himself has told you, and as we do in each of our interviews. Keep getting up no matter how many times you fall.
How do you like Bedsros’ Story? Please discuss in the comments…
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