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Episode 56  |  23:27 min

How Will Bartholomew And D1 Training Is Helping Athletes Through The Longest Offseason Of Their Life

Episode 56  |  23:27 min  |  04.06.2020

How Will Bartholomew And D1 Training Is Helping Athletes Through The Longest Offseason Of Their Life

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This is a podcast episode titled, How Will Bartholomew And D1 Training Is Helping Athletes Through The Longest Offseason Of Their Life. The summary for this episode is: Inspired by an injury that would ultimately end his NFL career, Will Bartholomew was looking for a training facility that was made for someone like him, someone wanting to train like a Division One athlete. Not finding the right place, Will decided to start D1 Training and like a true entrepreneur, he played every position in those early days from coach to bill collector to toilet cleaner. Today, D1 Training is one of the fastest growing fitness franchisees in the country. I sat down with Will to learn more about the breadth of the D1 offering and how they are helping their members through the long “offseason” caused by COVID-19.
Takeaway 1 | 00:11 MIN
There is no place for a guy like me
Takeaway 2 | 00:09 MIN
He went from 2 pushups to 38 pushups in just a few weeks
Takeaway 3 | 00:07 MIN
You are the 4 percent-ers
Takeaway 4 | 00:07 MIN
We are living the longest offseason ever
Inspired by an injury that would ultimately end his NFL career, Will Bartholomew was looking for a training facility that was made for someone like him, someone wanting to train like a Division One athlete. Not finding the right place, Will decided to start D1 Training and like a true entrepreneur, he played every position in those early days from coach to bill collector to toilet cleaner. Today, D1 Training is one of the fastest growing fitness franchisees in the country. I sat down with Will to learn more about the breadth of the D1 offering and how they are helping their members through the long “offseason” caused by COVID-19.

Will Bartholomew: D1 is so much more than turf, and weights, and loud music. We're a community of people with character, and values, that are striving for goals, and to get better.

Dave Knox: I'm your host Dave Knox, and this is Predicting the Turn, a show that helps business leaders meet their industry's inevitable disruption head-on. Welcome to another episode of Predicting the Turn. Today, we're going to dive into the world of fitness, as we sit down with Will Bartholomew, who is the founder and CEO of D1 Training. Will, welcome to the show.

Will Bartholomew: How's it going?

Dave Knox: It is going well. I appreciate you taking time out, to chat a little bit about your story and journey as an entrepreneur.

Will Bartholomew: Yeah, thanks for having me on. I look forward to talking about it.

Dave Knox: Indeed. Well, I want to dive right into that story, because I think it's a really fascinating one. Can you give me the backstory of D1, and what was the real inspiration for going on the journey that you've been on?

Will Bartholomew: Yeah, absolutely. I have to rewind, all the way to high school. It seems like a long time ago, considering I've got high schoolers myself, right now. When I was in high school, I was really impacted by a couple strength coaches in the weight room, as well as some sports coaches. Then, when I went on to play football at the University of Tennessee, I fell in love with the weight room, that was my home. When I was having a bad day I was like, " All right, let's just go pump some iron." I knew I wanted to do something in the fitness space, that was birthed in college. Then, when I was with the Denver Broncos, I blew out my knee my rookie year in training camp. I came back home to Nashville, Tennessee, and I was training in a community center, and I was throwing around some serious weight because I was a guy with some serious goals. I was trying to get back in the NFL. I had a manager come up to me and go, " Hey, I know who you are, and this isn't really the place for you. This isn't a place where you're going to be throwing around big, heavyweights, and screaming, and yelling, and trying to get back in the NFL." I go, " Man, where is there a place for me? There's nowhere like this, there's nowhere like I had at the University of Tennessee, there's nowhere like a Division One school program, for athletes out in the marketplace." So, I opened up my first location, just in the burbs of Nashville, in Franklin, Tennessee, and started the very first one there. The whole design was to train the middle school and high school athlete, that's the core of our business, to train like a Division One athlete. That was the whole context. Look at it like athletic tutoring. You think about the kids that are in schools these days... Or better yet, today, sitting at home, in front of a computer screen, and they're either struggling in math, or they're excelling at math. Or, they're right in between. The tutor really helps those people that are really excelling, and the ones that are really struggling. That's the way we see D1 positioned in the marketplace, as someone to help that kid make the team, get a little bit more confidence. Or, someone who really needs that extra push, to that next level.So, that's when I created it, that was all the way back in 2001. Isn't that crazy? It's been a long time.

Dave Knox: That's awesome. So, I want to dive into that tutoring aspect, because D1's really unique in the range of your audience, because you actually train everyone from NFL draft picks, following the path you went on, to families as well. Why is that range so important to D1? How do you think about differing the offerings, to do such a broad audience?

Will Bartholomew: Yeah, it's funny. If I go back to right when I started D1in 2001, I had a 2500 square foot, little gym. I hand-rolled the patio carpet turf out, I hung the speakers on the wall, I assembled the racks. I was the coach, I was the bill collector, I was the toilet cleaner. When I first started training athletes I was like, " Man, I'm going to help the stud kid get into the D1 school," and I had plenty of those. Then, I had a kid sign up, his parents, they were friends with one of the stud kid's, and this kid has never made a team, had never been an active participant. The family recognized, " Hey, if we're going to give him any shot to start, or have a sports career, or have sports in his life, then we need to give him an advantage." So, he started training with me, and after about eight weeks, he went from... I tell this story to my franchisees all the time. He went from, literally the first day, I tested him, he could do two pushups. Like, two legit pushups, and then would fall out. I was training a lot of stud athletes, they could do 100. This kid, in a six week period, went from two pushups to 38 pushups. The confidence went off the roof, his discipline on what he was eating, his parents are calling me going, " He's being more respectful." That was when I was like, " Man, this business is not for just the stud kid, it's for this kid. It's probably even more so for this kid." I really wanted to bring that D1 mentality to the community. Because of just my relationships, and contacts, and people knowing what I was doing, all of a sudden, I was getting all these calls from these guys that are going in the NFL, and playing in the NBA, and major league baseball and going, " Hey, I want to come train like this, because I don't feel comfortable at the community center." That was where it was all birthed, and we started growing it from there.

Dave Knox: That's very fun. When you look at the breakdown, then, of the business, there's a lot more of the kid you talked about that was the story, versus the potential D1 athlete How do you see the shift in your business, in that way?

Will Bartholomew: Yeah. Right now, if you just look at it on a macro level, 61% of our revenue comes from scholastic athletes, that high school, middle school, grade school kid. Then, the other 39% is actually adults, that are wanting to train like Division One athletes. We don't even throw the Pro sector in there, just because when we service the pros we love it, but that's not who we built the business for. When you look at that, man, we just feel really blessed that we're able to help out these communities and help these young athletes' lives have a great experience. I will say this. The underlying message at D1, the underlying core value of the business is not just to get bigger, faster, stronger, do more pushups, or run a faster 40. The underpinnings of who I am as a man is not an athlete, or a businessman, or a CEO, or a founder, it's the character in which we live by. One of the things we are very intentional about at D1 is instilling what we call D1 character, which there are 12 words spray-painted on every wall of every D1. Those words are integrity, perseverance, discipline, fearless, and those are the type of character words that we're trying to instill in our athletes, not just training bigger, faster, stronger. As we know, during this crazy time that we're going through as a country, it is more important to have that values and character, and persevere through what we're going through, versus being able to just run fast.

Dave Knox: Perfect. Fitness is an industry that is constantly evolving. There's the latest trend, the latest fad, everything popping up. How are you amplifying D1 Training's business model, compared to these other niche fitness concepts, as they pop up, over the last 19 years you've been doing this?

Will Bartholomew: Yeah. It's funny how you bring up 19 years. If I rewind back to all that first location, I think this will probably segue into that really well. When I had that first location, I had a lot of success. I was leaning on some advisors, and they said, " Hey, Will, you don't know if you have a real business until you've got multiple locations in multiple cities." So, I was just young and brash enough, and the confidence that I had, I was like, " Okay, I'll do it," and pulled that trigger, and built it to three locations. Of the three, one of them failed miserably, two of them thrived, so I learned my hard lessons. Then, took that, repackaged it, and started scaling it. From 2001 to 2015, we actually ended up doing 32 corporate gyms. Of the 32 corporate gyms, we own most of the real estate. There was this underlying asset behind the actual operations of the business. We started seeing things shift. I lived through the '08, '09, '10, owning a ton of real estate, which that was at the heart of what everybody was going through at the time. It's crazy to think we came out of that so much stronger and better, but we learned from that. We learned, and we saw a couple of needs that needed to happen. One was we had just launched in the physical therapy business, and we were helping out physical therapists, and helping orthopedic groups, and hospitals run their PT, so we saw a need there. We also saw a need for D1's actual business to be optimized, in the sense of from a unit economics standpoint. So, we did a couple of pivots, and how I'm turning this all back straight to your question, I'm not just going on a rant, is that through those hardships we learned how to pivot, and learned how to adjust the business model to thrive. When we came out of'09, '10, we got the businesses super healthy. We ended up monetizing that real estate by selling the buildings off in a couple of different ways. Then, in 2017, we had built our therapy business up, and we made a pivotal decision at that point to sell that business off. We reinvested in the gym business, which is my true hardcore passion, and we started franchising it, so we started franchising it just in 2018. We've been around since 2001, but we literally just started awarding franchises in 2018. The cool thing about that is that now that we have all these great entrepreneurial business owners out in the marketplace, running our system, we're able to pivot, like what we're going through today, which is to remote training, and online, and home training. What's really cool for us is we've seen the trends, and where things are going, so we have innovation teams in the company. Right now, our innovation team's been working, actually, at an online, remote program. We launched that taskforce back in the fall, so we were able to bring it to marketplace really quickly, almost... Everybody thought we did it overnight because when this whole thing happened with the country and the Coronavirus, we were able to launch a brand new program, that had been tested for six-plus months, almost overnight, but we had been working on it for a while.

Dave Knox: I think the aspect of the franchisees is really interesting because as you said, you started this business that was really about you doing everything. You were hanging the lights, the speakers, rolling the carpet, but you were the coach, you were the person that people were coming to. How have you thought about getting that? With your franchise, you have to find a great business partner that can work with you, but you also need great coaches, that can inspire, and do the same thing that made the success so much, in the early day. How do you balance those two, of finding the right business partners, but making sure they find the right coaches, to be out there and doing this training?

Will Bartholomew: Yeah, that's the magic in the sauce. That is, literally, the lifeblood of the business, so the one thing we always go back to is our value system. One of the things we pride ourselves on is not awarding franchises to people that don't have the exact same core values. We just did our big national summit, and how this ties in is that I had Tim Tebow, who's one of our partners at the franchisor level, standing up there speaking, talking about values, looking down at our franchisee base. I was telling him, and I told the franchisees, that the people that he was looking at were the 4% 'ers. They were the 4% 'ers. What I mean by 4% 'ers are that last year, that's how many people applied to own a D1 franchise, and we only awarded 4%, so the people that were sitting out in the crowd. We're hyper- selective on making sure they have the same value system, because we know if they have the same values, then when they're using our processes and systems, they're going to hire the right people. Then, when they hire those right people, they're going to hire the right people. Then, those people that are hired in the facility are going to attract the right type of customer. Then, those customers are going to stay with us, for the long haul. That's why I have members that have been with us, tried and true, for 10, 20 years. Well, I shouldn't say 20, 19. I've got people that trained in the original D1, that are still with us. That's what's really cool about this business, is that if you have those same value systems, you just stick with each other, and continue to improve, and get better.

Dave Knox: So, you've mentioned the app that you guys recently launched, that you get credit for doing it overnight, despite it being in the work. It's a timely moment, we're recording this when we're in the heart of this social distancing. There's been a new spotlight on the fitness industry, with gyms being forced to, maybe, close nationwide, and many people turning to at home fitness solutions. What is D1 doing differently, to keep that community, that motivation, and to really keep instilling those 12 values, when you might not be seeing somebody face to face every day?

Will Bartholomew: Yeah, it's like I told the franchise system, D1 is so much more than turf, and weights, and loud music. We're a community of people with character, and values, that are striving for goals, and to get better. So, the way we're delivering that promise is we've launched a program called D1 to U, D1 to U. That is our online home solution. What that looks like is we have an app, that we've been in partnership with a company called Train Heroic. We launched that to our entire system, with all our programming, and videos, and everything in there, you can do the workout at home. What's really cool though that is we have a chat feature, and we do challenges amongst each other on a daily basis, so we're giving fist bumps, we're giving arm bashes, we're giving chest bumps virtually, if you will, through pictures, and the chatter within our program. Then, the other thing we're doing is all our members are getting, three times a week, coaching accountability. What that looks like is either a Zoom call, or text, or actual phone call, and we go through their workouts, what questions they have, what things we need to be working on together. Then, the big part of this, the other leg of the stool, is nutrition accountability. We're going through what they're doing from an eating perspective, and holding them accountable to making sure they're maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and working towards reaching their goals. It's been amazing, the response has been awesome. We launched this on Friday, we had over 1500 people sign up immediately. It looks like this week we'll get around 5000 already on our platform. It's just snowballing super fast, and we're thrilled because we feel like we're serving a need that... I call right now the greatest, biggest, probably the longest offseason of an athlete's life, ever. I can't think of when the last time there was this big of an offseason for athletes. When sports stop, that's an offseason. So, we're attacking that head-on, to make sure these athletes train because we all know, the offseason is where you win or lose games, so we want to make sure everybody's staying on track, and training really hard.

Dave Knox: On that note, hopefully, pretty soon we're going to see the season return, and we'll move offseason. But, what practices do you foresee D1 Training implementing, really, permanently, even after this current offseason passes?

Will Bartholomew: Yeah, once this passes, D1 to U was a program we were going to launch, despite. So, we feel like this is the add- on, this is the next level of training. I think training can go one of two ways. You can get in the gym, you can start having some goals, and then you go eh, and then you wane off, we see that time and time again. That person, they start good habits for a couple of weeks, and then it's tough, it's tough to stay in the grind, non- stop. We always saw D1 to U as a platform to keep our athletes engaged, no matter where they are, or what they're doing. Our tagline is, " Anytime, anywhere." We want D1 with you anytime, anywhere. We looked at it right now, just going, " Man, we feel like this is definitely a need that needs to happen right now, but that needs to be a part of people's lives for the foreseeable future." That way, they can constantly be reaching goals, constantly resetting goals, and having a coach hold them accountable to make sure they maintain, andget to that next level.

Dave Knox: So on a slightly different note, over the years, you mentioned the move of adding franchises, but you've also been adding new services, new partners, and other things to your system. How are you ensuring these new offerings are complementary to what D1 has always stood for?

Will Bartholomew: Yeah, we're constantly evaluating that. The barometer is our core values. So, we have four core values, we have they have to be a team player, they have to find a way to make a smart play. Isay that kind of quickly. Find a way to smart smart, not dumb play, a smart play. They have to have passion for our work, they have to be really passionate about our industry. And, they have to have D1 character, which is those 12 words. Those are our four barometers. Yeah, so we look at our partners and make sure we evaluate them amongst our core values. If they have those, then we're all about it. Our big thing is we want to be a great partner as well, so we always look at it and go, " What can we help our vendors and our partners do better?" We're an interesting group. Anytime you're working with athletes that strive, and keep pushing, and keep wanting more, it's really fun to work with, so we attract those types of people. Our mentality is constantly we can accomplish whatever we want to put our mind to.

Dave Knox: So I think that leads nicely to the final question, you mentioned the athlete mindset of you've always got a goal, you've always got something you're pushing towards. Where do you see D1 going over the next two years, with that in mind?

Will Bartholomew: You know, I see D1 positioned so well to service the competitive scholastic athlete, in the same thing that Tim Tebow, Michael Orr, Peyton Manning, those guys when through at D1 is the same service we're delivering to the middle school kid, the high school kid. So, I see D1 growing, and being in every community around the country. And I say that, through our franchising program, through our D1 to U program, through our team training, I just see so many opportunities for us to impact athletes' lives for the better, and inspire, and motivate them. I just think in this world, today, we need positive, encouraging, motivating coaches, and that's what we pride ourself in, is just having that high energy, positive mindset with those underlying values, that I think is just so needed in our country, and for athletes, just to have an unbelievable experience.

Dave Knox: Well, I couldn't think of a better way to wrap up that interview, so thank you for those words, and for sharing the story of D1. It's remarkable what you've built, and I can't wait to see what you do next.

Will Bartholomew: Man, thank you, really appreciate you having me on. This has been great. I just encourage everybody, stay strong through these times, and we'll always come out stronger on the other end.

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