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Fitness business goes digital and finds success

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For many, health and fitness isn’t just a passion, it’s a calling. That’s why they find ways to turn their passion into a career.

However, there are numerous ways that you can create a profitable business in the fitness industry outside of the obvious personal trainer or exercise instructor options.

One of South Africa’s top health and fitness entrepreneurs is Camella Sanders, founder of Fit Farm Girl. This e-commerce platform is changing the way fitness enthusiasts and professionals buy their equipment and workout gear.

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The ByFitFarmGirl website offers a wide variety of workout equipment and accessories to help shoppers reach their goals. The focus is predominantly on quality items that are functional, versatile and pretty, but won’t break the bank.

How did your career in the health and fitness industry come about?

By chance I started working as a receptionist at a gym straight out of school. I moved onto a new gym and then got promoted to a manager in 6 months. I lost a lot of weight and committed to a new lifestyle, competed in a bikini show and started reading Fitness magazine. I then moved onto coaching people on the side and studied Sport and Exercise nutrition online.

How has your career and business evolved over the years?

I’ve worked as a receptionist at a gym, an instructor and a manager. I also coached clients online in my spare time while employed in another industry. In 2014 I co-owned and ran a bush camp with my (now) husband and continued online coaching for years, while also competing in bikini shows. I took a leap of faith in 2018 and opened an online store that sells fitness equipment under the Fit Farm Girl brand. I have since stopped online coaching due to my e-commerce offering, which keeps me very busy.

What industry-related or business qualifications do you hold?

I have a Sport and Exercise Nutrition certificate, which I attained via an online course. I have no formal business qualifications and I honestly believe that experience is far more valuable than a qualification.

How did you identify or conceive of your business concept or opportunity?

I found a product which was available in other parts of the world like the USA, UK and Australia, but not in South Africa. I began to research similar products that were available here and seemed popular, which is when I had my ‘ah-ha’ moment.

I had stumbled onto a material resistance band on Google and knew there and then that I had to introduce the product into the local market.

How has the Fit Farm Girl business evolved since then?

My business is now 18 months old. After becoming the the first in SA to offer the material resistance bands, Fit Bands by Fit Farm Girl, we now offer a full range of more than 10 fitness equipment-related items, accessories and an activewear range.

We have also branched out into events and have hosted two successful outdoor fitness events called mindbootysoul.

How did you fund your business initially to get it off the ground?

In order to start I needed to buy stock, so I used what I knew. I ran an 8-week and 12-week weight-loss challenge, in addition to my regular clients, and used all the money to buy stock. I then launched an Instagram page and started posting.

I planned to launch at the Fitness magazine FitAffair 2.0. Two weeks before the event I took the last of my money and a small ‘loan’ from my mother-in-law to pay for the stand and some additional stock.

Thankfully, because I sold out in two and a half weeks, all the money I made paid back the loan and the rest went back into my business to buy more stock, pay for a course to learn how to build my own website and print business cards. From there, my business started paying for itself and I have never had to borrow money again.

I truly appreciate the platform given by Fitness magazine Fitaffair in getting my products into the market.

What were some of the major challenges you faced and how did you overcome them?

Wow, I made loads of mistakes. I imported all my products and that in itself poses many challenges. But I think the biggest lesson is be careful about who you work with or choose to associate with. That goes for suppliers, local vendors, ambassadors and employees.

Managing your time as a solo-entrepreneur is a major challenge and learning to outsource as soon as you can, especially the stuff you aren’t good at, can make a major difference.

How do you continue to grow your business?

I’ve always chosen to focus on my customers, not my competition. I am my business and that sets the brand apart from the rest. I’ve used this fact to drive growth by doing things differently.

I try to give people a great experience when they purchase from us, so that they will not only come back but also tell their friends about us. The online shopping experience is very different to brick-and-mortar stores, which is something you need to consider from start to finish.

Have you started any other ventures in the industry that may have failed?

I learned a lot about platform-based digital business models during my time as an online coach and since opening the e-commerce business. I wasn’t successful as an online coach because my focus was wrong. I see value in what I do and offer now, and I run my business as a business, not a charity.

I’ve had products that didn’t sell well or at all, or I needed to have them re-branded in SA or fixed here, which meant added costs. While the mistakes I’ve made are very specific to my business, there’s still a lesson. Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone gets back up again – that is up to you.

What advice would you offer to other entrepreneurs who want to become successful in the health and fitness industry?

There’s a lot of fads in the fitness industry, so you must ensure that your brand sticks out. You also need a solid and authentic message to have credibility and be taken seriously. Stick to it and stick to the identity you create for your brand.

It isn’t good enough to have a business, you must create a brand!

And last, but not least, make sure you have fun and enjoy what you do, it will make the stressful times bearable.

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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