Fitness giant Orangetheory opened its first Canadian location in St. Albert, Alta., in 2012 after Blake MacDonald bought the national franchise rights to Orangetheory Canada in 2011. Prior to that, he was a professional curler and worked at a series of fitness-related companies. As president of the chain’s Canadian operations, Mr. MacDonald has overseen the company’s expansion to 87 locations across the country.
Why have you stayed in the fitness industry for so long?
I got involved in the industry with my business partner David Hardy in 1999. We realized very quickly that it’s something that we love because the product is changing people’s lives. Anybody can go make money selling cigarettes. Doing something that you’re passionate about is the most important thing and getting involved in companies where you have the ability to have that level of impact on people is just awesome.
How has competing as a professional curler for 14 years affected your business mentality?
Being an athlete, you learn a lot of hard lessons that you can transfer to your business life. There’s a lot of transferable skills from sports in general. The first is that work always trumps talent. You can be talented and smart, but if someone’s willing to work way harder than you, they’re going to be more successful in the long run. The next is knowing that the top of the mountain is never as high as it seems. When I was curling, it always felt like a lofty goal to want to win a Brier, but when it happens and you’re at the top of the mountain, you realize that it was never that impossible. You can’t worry about the end results, only the process.
What would you say to a young entrepreneur interested in getting involved in the fitness business?
Do the research, understand what you’re getting into, understand who is and isn’t successful. If you think you’re going to come up with the entire model on your own, you’re not. There’s too much money in this industry and there are too many smart people already involved. You have to build off successful models. Going in with a model that you thought up in one afternoon … that’s where you see a lot of these new businesses fail.
Do you think traditional education can still play a role in breaking into the industry, or do you feel like it's a business that you have to learn on the job to find success?
University is great at teaching you a lot of general business concepts. It provides the documented evidence as to why certain things work or don’t work. When you come out of university, you have all these ideas of what you want to do with a business. Then you get into the world and you finally implement some of these ideas. But what you find is that you end up implementing some of the things that school warned you to stay away from. People come out of university thinking that sales is a dirty word. What you realize is that everything is sales. From talking to customers to selling your employees on the why behind what you’re doing. It’s something that’s practically a must-have for success.
If you had someone shadowing you for a week, what would you want them to learn from you and the way you work?
It’s funny: There’s a picture of an iceberg that shows 10 per cent above the water and 90 per cent below. The 10 per cent above the water is what people see, the success. The 90 per cent represents the hard work, the stress, the pressure, the indecision, everything you go through as someone in this industry. People just don’t see that. I think if you spent the day with me, you would see that. If you’re not going to enjoy the challenge of the bottom of the iceberg, then you shouldn’t strive for success of the top.
If you were able to talk to a younger version of yourself, what would you want to tell him?
I would tell myself not to worry so much. I spent so much time worrying about things that didn’t matter. Some things just don’t matter versus putting yourself in a position to have great opportunities and letting your character take over to help you achieve the goals you want to accomplish.
How do you deal with setbacks and failures?
Every mistake I make is something that I learn from. I’ve failed in other businesses. You have to have the fortitude to learn from those failures. The mistakes that I make are painful in the short term, but if you have the resilience and character, those mistakes will be your biggest contributor to your success in the long run.
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