Meet Chuck Herman, founder of Specialty Fitness Equipment
, a fitness equipment sales company in Bedford Heights with three employees that sells commercial, medical and residential fitness equipment to a wide variety of industries.
How did you come to be an entrepreneur?
I earned my degree in exercise physiology from Ohio State, moved back to Cleveland and started as a personal trainer. But I quickly found that I had a knack for sales and started selling home and commercial fitness equipment. I went back to school and earned my MBA while working at a small commercial fitness equipment company. After 15 years I realized that I had learned a lot and worked hard to build the business, but it wasn’t my company and I had hit the ceiling as far as growth.
With a non-compete in place with my former employer, I started Specialty Fitness Equipment outside the non-compete radius of Northeast Ohio. Former manufacturers had my back and gave me credit terms that I probably didn’t deserve. I worked harder than I ever thought I could and reinvented how I did things in order to earn business in Columbus, Indianapolis, Detroit and Pittsburgh.
The hard work paid off and with the non-compete period over, I expanded Specialty Fitness Equipment in my own backyard: Northeast Ohio. My wife runs the back end of the business and we recently added an additional salesperson who had been my right hand man at the former company.
What kind of gyms do your corporate clients need or want?
Corporate clients don’t exactly know what they want. That’s where my 18 years of experience comes into play. We talk a lot about space, usage, population and future needs. Just because you see an amazing piece on The Biggest Loser
doesn’t mean it will fit into a corporate wellness facility. A lot of potential liability comes with having a fitness amenity. We want to make sure that piece of equipment and everyone using it is as safe as possible.
What is the most popular equipment you sell?
The most popular pieces are treadmills, ellipticals or bikes. They are cookie-cutter pieces, but they serve the widest range of people and are easily adjustable to accommodate different fitness populations.
What is the most popular equipment you sell that no one ever uses?
We don’t let our clients buy those pieces! We are extremely consultative and work within our clients’ needs and budgets. We try to give them the best pieces specific to those needs without wasting their time or money.
What is the biggest struggle or hurdle you had to overcome and how did you overcome it?
I know the fitness business better than any of my competitors. My clients in Northeast Ohio knew that, but with the non-compete in place I didn’t have my reputation to back me in Columbus, Indy, Detroit and Pittsburgh that first year.
Every day I was trying to prove myself to people that didn’t know me from Adam. I have played competitive sports all my life and we put everything on the line to start this business. Failure was simply not an option. It was a lot of hard work and a little bit of crazy.
How often do you hit the gym?
I am in the gym three days a week and the baseball field on the weekends.
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs in starting their businesses?
Loving what you do is half the battle. Hustle. Go with your gut. Treat every client, no matter how big or small, like they are your only client.
Can you share a funny or amazing entrepreneurial experience with our readers?
My daughter just told me that she was glad we started Specialty Fitness Equipment and now it’s finally a “real job.” I am assuming because we are moving into a local warehouse/office that it finally feels real in her eight-year-old brain, but what did she think I had been doing these last two years?