Natalia Pérez and Sybil Topel
We’ve all been through it — starting off the year with lofty fitness goals, hitting them hard for the first few weeks (if at all) and then letting them flicker out after a while. Maybe work gets too busy, we have too much going on with our families, or maybe we don’t feel we have the support needed to fully and truly commit to our health in the ways we strive to.
Onsight Fitness was designed to help navigate these hurdles. Founded in 2016 by Christine Hagemeyer, Matthew Averyhart and Josh Johann, Onsight Fitness offers a five-step approach to personal training, designed to help clients finally take their fitness into their own hands by offering personalized exercise prescriptions, the chance to work alongside an exercise physiologist, track health metrics and ultimately grant their clients the tools to feel confident exercising on their own, wherever they are.
This week, we sat down virtually with the Onsight Fitness team experts to chat about their business mission, goals, growth and how they’ve navigated the pandemic.
Trend: Where, when and how did the idea for the business take shape?
Onsight: Onsight was founded right here in Chattanooga. Our first studio was located in Red Bank on Dayton Blvd. It wasn't much of a looker, but it got the job done and we were proud of it.
Our idea took shape out of necessity. We saw so many of our friends and family members wanting to start exercising, but they had no clue what to do, and no access to someone to help with their specific needs.
Trend: How do most of your new clients discover you? Word of mouth through an existing client? A physical therapist or physician referral? Other ways?
Onsight: Most of our clients discover us through our partnerships with physicians and physical therapists throughout the surrounding Chattanooga area. Lately, our press and social media have helped clients discover us as well.
Trend: You’ve talked about ‘evidence-based’ training. What does that mean?
Onsight: That means we are following the science behind recommending exercise. You can rest assured that the exercise physiologist is following the evidence that will maximize your success.
Trend: Do you advertise? Why or why not?
Onsight: We DO NOT actively advertise Onsight yet.
Many people in the fitness space are selling an unachievable look. Competing in this space is expensive and we cannot compete with their approach. We follow an academic model and have strong morals and ethics. We want to sell our product on the merits that you can achieve. We believe the important issues are things like pain relief, better movement, looking better in clothing, decreasing your risk of getting sick and most importantly having a fun and active life.
You can achieve these goals by training with us. We feel that physical therapists, physicians and chiropractors are working with a patient population primed to take that next step. The health professional will provide treatment for a specific ailment and once that treatment has been completed, you are ready to get your entire body working in an optimal fashion. Therefore, to date we have focused our efforts in this space. However, everyone is welcome at Onsight.
Trend: There are jobs where people must remain fit to perform. I’m thinking about ballet dancers, for example. Here in Chattanooga, did you have any clients that fall into that category?
Onsight: We actually do have a client that is a professional musician and came to train at Onsight to keep up his strength and endurance while performing. The pandemic has caused performances all over the city to be postponed or cancelled, so musicians find themselves being less active. Now that we are back to allowing some performances, musicians are looking to get back into shape to allow for optimal performance.
Trend: How do you compete with larger gyms, you know, that type that offers everything from swimming lessons for children to Zumba? What differentiates Onsight from other workouts?
Onsight: We continue to stay in our lane. Our goal is to take individuals that are hesitant to start an exercise program and teach them how to move better. We instill physical confidence that will lead to exercise independence. The person that was scared to walk into the Zumba class can now walk into such a class with the confidence that they belong.
Our workouts are different in that we personalize everything to you and your goals. Everything is geared to your short and long term success. After a few months of training with us, you are able to complete an exercise program on your own. This is actually unique in the fitness industry. Most gyms and trainers try to keep a person for life. Not us, if you want to continue training with us, great. However, we also consider success to be continuing your activity journey with knowledge and skills we have provided you.
Trend: What personally drives you to keep this business open and successful?
Onsight: We have an amazing team, a highly skilled team, that each day strives to help our clients succeed in health inside and outside of the studio. It’s our team and our incredible clients who inspire us each day, that’s what drives us to keep Onsight open and successful.
Trend: What is your greatest joy in your work?
Onsight: Onsight provides us with so much joy, it is a bit overwhelming:
1) It is providing the community with a product that will help people live happier and healthier lives.
2) It is providing exercise science students with a college degree a job.
3) It is a collaborative environment where we are all equals and bring different things to the table.
4) It is the love and respect we have for our goal of helping people and for each other.
After meetings at Onsight, we leave with joy and excitement. We work together to figure out ways to improve. We determine problems, analyze the problem, develop a solution and then implement the solution. As an academic it is exciting to see theories being tested and implemented. The marriage of academic knowledge with a commercial business has a unique opportunity to change lives and (hopefully) move the physical activity needle in Chattanooga and beyond. This gives our lives and professional careers greater purpose.
Trend: What were your business goals before the pandemic?
Onsight: Our primary goal is to help you move better so you can enjoy a more active life. Improved movement will decrease your chances of injury, pain, disease and disability. Our training is geared toward helping you develop exercise confidence and independence. This circles back to enjoying activity.
Trend: How have those goals changed because of the pandemic?
Onsight: We are even more focused on addressing the fears and concerns you have about safety and virus transmission. We realize that many of you may have become more sedentary and isolated during this time. We are emphasizing how to get back into the world and enjoy life in a safe manner.
Trend: Now that vaccination numbers are going up, are you more optimistic about financial/business recovery?
Onsight: Absolutely! As more of the community receives the vaccination we are seeing a dramatic increase of people less afraid to get back out. We are also seeing an increase in people eager to get back to a more fit and healthy lifestyle. Our health is more important in our society than ever, and we couldn't be more excited to be here to help people post-vaccination.
Trend: What tools/resources were you able to access to help you survive? PPP, for example?
Onsight: We received a PPP loan, an SBA COVID relief loan and a state relief grant. All of which have helped us survive the pandemic so far. The Chamber has been an invaluable resource for us, keeping us up to date on current relief options.
Trend: Some businesses simply moved desks farther apart, instituted mask protocols and returned to work. Because your space is so limited (in the Dome Building) how did the protocols impact your capacity? Is there anything innovative you adopted that other businesses might emulate?
Onsight: We generally have ample room given that most of the exercise coaching occurs with ratios of one exercise physiologist to 1 to 3 clients. We have approximately 3,300 square feet of space. Clients have plenty of room to space themselves apart. With COVID, clients were scared and many people halted their memberships. Currently, we do not have issues with having too many people in the space.
We also practice social distancing, hand washing, mask wearing, temperature checking and constant cleaning/sanitizing. If a staff member was exposed to COVID (or had it) they were quarantined for the recommended amount of time along with having a negative test before returning to Onsight. Meetings were held via Zoom.
I would not consider any of the practices to be innovative, rather we try to be consistent and follow the guidelines that the scientific community has developed.
In terms of marketing, we are developing materials to address the community as we are being vaccinated and getting onto the other side of the pandemic. We are all experiencing pandemic fatigue. We are scared and the pandemic has caused many of us to be more sedentary. We are sick and tired of being isolated and we want to get back into living life. Onsight can help you move better than you have before and embrace an active lifestyle.
Trend: During mandatory shutdowns for non-essential workers, people working from home really missed their workouts. [And we found ourselves sitting even more in front of ever-so-many screens]. Did you offer online workouts during that time? If yes, were they successful? Did people like them and want to continue? Why or why not?
Onsight: Yes, we did offer training sessions over Zoom or FaceTime. We were able to offer options to keep our clients moving whether that just be bodyweight exercises or guiding them how to use equipment they had at home. We had some clients take advantage of this offering but once we re-opened our studio, our clients were excited and eager to get back to in-person training.
Trend: Other than the pandemic, were there challenges you didn’t anticipate or lessons learned that surprised you?
Onsight: A major challenge has been effectively communicating our product to the community. I thought that once people realized our phenomenal product, business would be flooding in. That has not happened and we are working to improve our communication. Articles like this one will help to get the word out.
Trend: What advice would you give other small businesses? (Not necessarily competitors, rather businesses of a similar size)?
Onsight: Have passion for your product. We started small on a shoestring budget. We have all sacrificed to keep this business afloat. We believe that our product will revolutionize public health and the fitness industry. It is passion, fiscal responsibility, patience and working with an awesome team that is essential to achieve success.
Trend: What else would you like to say?
Onsight: Our name says it all. It is a term used in the rock climbing community and it means seeing a rock wall for the first time, surveying that wall, developing a plan and successfully executing that plan. That is our philosophy. Work with a client to determine his/her goals. Evaluate the client’s physical abilities. Develop a collaborative plan. Successfully coach the client to execute the plan of action and reach goals.
There is a great disconnect between: the fitness industry sells an unrealistic look and the academics give vague recommendations that have consistently shown improvements in health outcomes, but are difficult to implement. This leaves the public with the knowledge that regular physical activity is good for them, but they have little knowledge on how to implement a safe and effective exercise program. The public gravitates toward the flashy personal trainer that has charisma and sells a dream. However, many personal trainers lack the knowledge to develop effective programs. This results in most people quitting the activity regimen after a period of time. Onsight wants to fix that.
We want to sell exercise on its merits. It can improve your confidence, independence and general health outcomes which include your ability to move. This leads to a happier and healthier life. We realize that many of you are leary of gyms, and you definitely do not want to go to the gym forever. Therefore, we use the gym environment to teach you how to move, the various fitness options that may be open to you, and the knowledge and confidence that you can do this on your own. Therefore, after a few months, you are ready to take that next step to being regularly active. You are able to complete a basic exercise program on your own and you have the ability to complete many of the active things that you consider to be fun. Playing with grandchildren, playing recreational sports, going on a hike or bike ride, walking on the beach, having the confidence to realize that you are attractive, going for a romantic walk, improved intimacy, and the list goes on. This is the goal of an active lifestyle. These are the moments that give our life meaning. This is what Onsight wants to help you achieve.