All these years, Founder and CEO of KX Pilates, Aaron Smith, has been advocating for physical fitness. As he went about his entrepreneurial journey, he found that he can also help people become financially fit through his business. “Empowering people to make positive changes in their lives is fantastic. That's why I got into franchising as well. I always have a general nature of helping people. Whether it be in fitness or business, it's satisfying to me, that's for sure,” he stated.
Aaron was in his late teens when he got into fitness and personal training. In fact, he majored in exercise physiology during his university years. His passion for travelling, personal training and snowboarding led him to America where he stayed on and off for two years until he moved to London. While in London, he learned of Dynamic Pilates and immediately fell in love with it. “I always had the dream to bring the style back to Australia and create my brand. So, I left London in 2009 and started KX Pilates in February 2010,” Aaron narrated.
At a young age, he already has the entrepreneurial spirit within him. He affirmed, “I knew in my teenage years that I wanted to start my own business. I was pushed by my father, who had been in business for forty-five years, that business was the best way to get ahead in life, financially. So, I set that goal that I always wanted to have my own business.”
But when he got back from overseas, he incurred $20,000 of debt from his father, who had been paying off his travel credit card without Aaron knowing it. He went back working in bars and gaming to pay his father back. “After about 3 or 4 weeks, I was sick of it. I sat my father down, asked him and told him my dream of starting KX. He was like, 'Right, not a problem.' So, he was the guarantor on my first business loan. Six months later, we opened up KX Pilates in Malvern, Victoria. It was a really interesting time because boutique fitness was still non-existent then. It was hard in the beginning,” he explained.
His family, friends and now-wife lent their support when he was laying the foundation for his business. He recalled those times on how they helped him face the ordeals of starting an enterprise. “Looking back, it wasn't very fun. To an extent, I hated it. I was waking up at 4:30 every morning and wouldn't get home until 10:00 at night. I was working seven days, teaching 40 classes per week, on top of doing everything else the business required of me, paying myself only $200/week for the first 18 months. My parents supported me by allowing me to live back at home rent-free. My Father loaned me his car, and Mum would cook and prepare my meals. Even my now-wife Andi used to open the door to her apartment only to see me standing there with a bag of the whole day's dirty sweat towels that she would help me wash and fold, ready for the next day. So, everyone was helping me out.”
Aaron cited some of the stumbling blocks he had to face at the initial stage of his business. His studio was offering a new style of fitness, while people were still used to box gyms, not to mention the rise of 24/7 industry. He also had no idea on several aspects of running a business, namely accounting, finance, and marketing. “When I opened the doors, I didn't know pre-marketing campaign! So very few even came through the doors on the first day,” expressed Aaron.
While Aaron had to learn from the ground up how to get the word out, what he knew was that people would come back after they would experience his classes. He was confident in his ability as a trainer and could provide an amazing personalised experience. Still, he did the best he could to bring people to his studio. “I did everything possible: letter drops, flyers, network with local businesses, ads in local papers. Then digital marketing was on the rise so Google ads SEO were standard. I also joined a few entrepreneur and business groups to learn as much as I could,” he recounted.
One of the groups he joined was Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) Melbourne. He was first a member of EO in Sydney, where he joined in 2014. He moved back to Melbourne when he and his wife had their first child, so he also transferred to the EO Melbourne chapter. He found great value in EO. “Just being around entrepreneurs and business owners is a great feeling, especially the positivity and the encouragement they give because they’ve been in the same position.”
Another thing he learned from EO was to focus on his strengths more than his weaknesses. As such, he devoted the majority of his time making his strengths stronger. As to his weaknesses, he hired those who are experts in those fields to do those things for him.
He admitted that finding the right people and managing those within the team was one of the hardest parts of running an enterprise. However, Aaron attributes positive attitude and vibrant personality over anything else in choosing those who join his company. Moreover, he allowed the trainers to put their personality into their classes.
It was also from people where he learned the most. Aaron imparted, “Protect and stay close to your first followers, especially the people who believe in your vision. Without them, nothing would ever have happened.” He learned the hard way that he needed to align his employee's goals with the company goals. One time, his training manager for about four years decided to have a studio of her own (outside of the KX network). While it was heartbreaking for Aaron, he acknowledged that it was important for her to go off on her own. Twelve months later, he let the past go and got her back as National Training Manager, as well as a franchisee by transforming her independent studio into a KX.
Aaron has come to adapt to the changing landscape around him, as they continue to innovate. But the compass that keeps them in accord with their goals and direction is the vision and values of the business. “I created this company with four value pillars. ‘Respectful relationships’ speaks for itself. ‘Vibrant positivity’ is about always being happy and upbeat. ‘Going above and beyond’ extends to clients, franchisees and staff. The last one is ‘evolution through innovation’ because the learning never stops.”
With a vision of becoming the most well-known boutique fitness brand in Australia for customer experience and profitability for his franchisees, Aaron and his team work together on a mission of achieving goals and reaching full potential. Still, they continue to better themselves every day.
As they are heavy on service, they provide a personalised experience for their clients to re-engage them to the brand. They keep up with the trends in the fitness industry and adapt those trends in their business. On the other hand, Aaron is now more careful with his decisions as he moves KX Pilates forward. “I was probably overly ambitious in the beginning. When I first sold my first three franchises, I had a bit of money,” he recalled. Instead of investing it back into KX Pilates, he tried opening fitness studios specialising in other things. He added, “I had all these grand plans, but I made the mistake of changing my focus even when I haven’t yet laid the foundation of KX Pilates properly. Those businesses have now dissolved or re-branded because I needed to focus on KX Pilates.”
To take this a step farther, Aaron hired his COO last year to take charge of all operations. It allowed Aaron to focus more on his new priorities. “I'm happy to take a pay cut to put the important things first, being my family. My wife and I have worked extremely hard over the past eight years on KX. It’s now time to enjoy life as a family. Previously, I wanted nothing more but only to grow KX and work in the company. Now, although I am still passionate to grow the business, I only want to be an amazing dad,” the father of two shared.
Since their first studio in 2010, KX Pilates has 47 studios in almost all states of Australia at present. Aaron has wonderful plans for his brand. He gives us a preview of what’s to come. “We're looking at international expansion. We’re all set to open in Jakarta, Indonesia in the next couple of months. We’re also looking at an education arm of the business as well as product development. It’s an exciting time!”
Through those years and experiences, Aaron has absorbed valuable lessons that made him even better as a business owner. He realised the importance of tenacity, being able to get up each day and face the challenges ahead. The first 12 to 24 months of his business was far from easy, but he kept his eyes on the prize, while he shut off voices that were telling him he was going to fail. Financial stress was also a huge burden he carried, but he kept pushing himself and never gave up because he subscribed to the adage that only people who fail are the ones that give up.
Applying the principles of fitness training to entrepreneurship, Aaron highlights the need for discipline and consistency to be able to reach one’s goals. Similarly, as he helps people to be physically healthy through exercise, his method of franchising has also provided a means of livelihood for trainers and clients.
“I'm still passionate about fitness. But when I became passionate about business, it turned into an avenue not only to grow my brand but also to get others reach their goal of owning their own business. With our brand, systems, expertise and advice, we can help people achieve their financial freedom. It’s an amazing feeling helping people grow, develop and reach their full potential, especially when even they didn’t think it possible.”
Aaron’s energy was overflowing as he shared his story with us. Indeed, he is truly passionate about helping others.