Young Start-Ups: It never hurts to ask!


CELEBRATING the first year anniversary of a new business has been a major milestone for 23 year old Edward Coulthard and 24 year old Dale Hansford, co-owners of Maine Fitness located in a newly refurbished industrial shed in Castlemaine, Central Victoria.

Looking around, the spacious facility has a professional feel and, even to my uneducated eye, the equipment looks of quality standard.  It’s no surprise when Dale describes the business as “a high class, professional gymnasium for all ages 16 years plus.”

While one of their 220 current members is doing impressive chin pull ups on a bar across the room, my brain is doing mental gymnastics and I’m bursting to ask the question.  How on earth were these two young men able to afford the start-up investment in a quality venue and equipment not to mention marketing to grow a membership?

Specialising in an industry they are passionate about, it appears that this enterprising pair has invested significant time but minimal capital into approaching and building the business in a smart way to make it affordable and successful.

Back in late 2014, the concept of Maine Fitness moved into overdrive when the local newspaper featured an article on local businessman and property owner, Glenn Guest.  Glenn was publicly announcing his intention to refurbish one of his properties, an industrial shed, for the purpose of a new modern gymnasium. 

Edward was devastated as this was also his vision and he had been working hard and saving for this very purpose.  He and Dale had only just started to scope out another potential site for a gymnasium.  With both young men previously growing up and playing sport together in Castlemaine, and both having worked in Melbourne in the personal training industry, it was a logical decision to pool their expertise and capital to enable them to live and work in their home town as business partners.

However; after reading the article, it seemed like their plans needed to be revised.

“I knew that it would be difficult to compete with a gym of this size,” says Edward.

That was until a game changing conversation took place.  Edward’s football coach approached Glenn on their behalf and it turned out that he was open to proposals.

As Glenn explains, “After being leased short term, our building was in danger of sitting empty and I was simply looking for a long term financial return. Castlemaine lacked a quality gymnasium and it was the ideal opportunity for this space so I made the commitment to refurbish it for this purpose. It was never my intention to be there full time because of my other business interests.”

With the opportunity to fast track their business idea, Edward and Dale quickly put a proposal together.

“Looking at what other successful businesses in the industry were doing was our starting point,” explains Dale.  “Then we took educated guesses as to how the business would progress, being as conservative as we could be but still playing the odds.”

"It could have been leased to any number of people but it seemed right to give these two young guys the opportunity." Glenn Guest

“Edward and Dale had some good ideas and the experience to run a gymnasium to the standard I wanted,” Glenn recalls.  “We’d invested a lot of money in fitting out the building and wanted it to be inviting for all ages.  It could have been leased it to any number of people but it seemed right to give these two young guys the opportunity.”

Maine Fitness was suddenly in take-off mode!

Having secured the perfect venue, the next challenge was to fit it out with quality gymnasium equipment.

“Once again, leasing was the best option for us,” says Dale.

With a tight three month schedule until the proposed opening date the two new business partners and their landlord threw themselves into ensuring the facility was ready for opening day.  Family and friends happily helped out assembling the equipment in the final few weeks.

“It was crazy,” Edwards grins.

With opening day approaching and funds flowing out of their limited bank account, they came up with another great idea.

“One really smart thing we did,” Dale says, “is that we sold memberships before the gym opened.  Sharing photos of the facilities with details of our qualifications, and offering a discounted membership got us over 20 members and created some cash flow in advance.”

Facebook has proven to be the most cost effective promotion of the business.  Now that they are operational, word of mouth recommendations are equally powerful and their membership has grown to 220 in just twelve months.

In early 2016 the Victorian Drug Free Power Lifting Association conducted a novice event at Maine Fitness citing it as one of the most successful they had held with 20 participants and over 100 spectators.

“Following this success the Central Victorian Power Lifting Championships are going to be held here on 4 June,” Edward says. “It’s going to be huge.”  Already they have secured sponsorship from another local business, Centre State Drilling, to support a local lifting team to participate.

Open seven days a week, Edward and Dale work full-time in the business sharing the duties with three employees.  With high energy levels that I can only vaguely recall from my youth, both are working long hours.  They also invest heavily in continually updating their skills attending courses all over Australia.

While feeling very satisfied with the results so far, Dale admits that he is looking forward to growing the business to the next level when they can step back a bit more. 

Reflecting on how this model business has evolved so quickly and successfully under the leadership of two young men, I can’t help but be amazed.  It certainly didn’t hurt to ask when a huge obstacle was presented to them.  A simple conversation has produced a wonderful and mutually beneficial outcome. 

If I could do a backflip or even a chin up in celebration, I would!

READ MORE about Dale Hansford's reflections as a young person in business

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KERRY ANDERSON:  A businesswoman, philanthropist and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry Anderson is passionate about rural and regional Australia.  She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace opportunities.