Creating Opportunity Maddie Ecker  | September 6, 2018

Stronger Together: How This Power Couple Broke into the Fitness Industry

How do you make every day count? Chris and Alex Perrin, co-founders of Cut Seven in Washington, DC, found their answer through their business. The power couple runs a gym that specializes in high-intensity, boot-camp-like workouts with an emphasis on team culture. Over the course of a week, they work each muscle to the point of fatigue.

Along the way, they learned that becoming the boss requires some heavy lifting, too.

“This was six or seven years in the making, prior to ever opening our doors,” Chris said in an interview. “We were teaching classes outside, and every time it rained and we weren’t able to teach our class it was even more motivation to start our business and make sure it actually did happen.”

More than a decade ago, Chris moved from Boston to D.C. to pursue a PhD in Economics, where he worked as an accountant and personal trainer while studying. Eventually, he dropped school and spent the next few years working full-time as an accountant and building a base of personal training clients on the side.

Enter Alex, who asked Chris to help her accomplish a major weight loss goal. After seeing results, she encouraged him to start teaching group fitness classes. One year later, Chris had built a following for his biweekly group fitness sessions. He also started dating Alex, who began teaching her own classes all over the nation’s capital.

Already deeply immersed in the fitness world, Alex expanded the couple’s collective reach by teaching classes for different companies and wading deeper into the management side of the industry. It was then that the idea of building a fitness business together came into focus. Six years later, in January 2017, the couple officially opened their 3,500-square-foot studio.

We caught up with Chris to learn what it takes to get a gym off the ground, how his hiring strategy feeds Cut Seven’s culture, and the lessons he believes will help the business continue to grow stronger.

How did outdoor exercise classes become a serious fitness business?

I started working on the business plan right after our honeymoon and about 2-3 years later, we were open. We had never started a business before, so we didn’t really know how things were done. We basically Googled it and did all of the things that we thought we were supposed to do—or we thought we did all those things.

Every single time we hit a roadblock, we thought, “Well, what are we going to have to do it make it work?” We just figured it out. I think there was a lot of luck involved but at the end of the day it was more us kind of refusing not to give up. We had already gotten so far that it was impossible to think of us not finishing it.

How did you finance the business early on?

After finishing the business plan, we applied for a Small Business Association loan and were approved. Then, we found a broker and our broker helped us out immensely in finding the right location and sharpening up our business plan to make it even more attractive to the SBA folks.

 What was one of the hardest challenges you overcame and how?

The burnout that happens in the beginning. We were doing it all ourselves. Alex was pregnant when we first opened. I was constantly at the gym and still doing accounting so we could pay our regular bills. We were kind of burning it at both ends. We never took a break.

I think the learning lesson from hitting that burnout point was figuring out how to run on it. I think you have to figure out how to take breaks mentally. I got into meditation, to unwind and put my mind at ease. I couldn’t go and sit on a beach for a week, but I could definitely sit down and give myself 10 minutes to breathe and center myself and just release a little bit of stress. There were so many days where I was like, “What are we doing? Is this the right thing? Maybe I should be an accountant. Maybe I should go back to school. This is so hard.”

But once you take a second to step back and breathe, things come into picture and you’re like, “I can do this, I’ve done worse. I’m just freaking out. Just breathe.”

What lessons have you learned in going through the hiring process that you wish you knew when you were making your first hire?

Alex and I were doing all of the coaching in the beginning, and it was tough for me personally to give up some of that because I was so close to it. I was creating the workout and someone else was going to be giving it. Letting go was very difficult but in the end it was such a great lesson, because if you don’t let go, you’ll never leave and you’ll be stuck to it and the burnout thing is even worse. Now, we’re looking for even more trainers and we’re trying to grow.

When you’re hiring coaches, what’s a go-to interview question and why?

It’s not really a specific question, but it’s a specific vibe that we get. We’ll learn about their experience and knowledge from their resume or from going to one of their classes. But to find out if they’re the right fit and the right personality, that takes a conversation.

We are a family business. It’s Alex and I and were essentially letting people into our family. We have our trainers over to our house often, and we had a lot of athletes and the trainers over for Christmas this year. We’re just those kind of people, so we have to make sure we’re bringing on those kinds of people.

What’s next for Cut Seven?

The next thing is another location. At our current location, some time slots are at capacity. The community has gotten so big that people just can’t get into classes sometimes.

What lessons have you learned from opening your first studio that you’ll carry into your future endeavors?

We have a blueprint now, we learned a lot from opening our current location. We had no idea what we were doing going into it. Now, we still don’t know, but we know a little bit more than we did in the beginning.

The biggest lesson is, we can start smaller than we first anticipate and, since we’re a small business, no one really has an idea of what the finished product is supposed to look like. I think as long as we can provide a great customer experience with what we have then we can open another location.