We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Michael Hamanaka a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Michael, appreciate you joining us today. One deeply underappreciated facet of entrepreneurship is the kind of crazy stuff we have to deal with as business owners. Sometimes it’s crazy positive sometimes it’s crazy negative, but crazy experiences unite entrepreneurs regardless of industry. Can you share a crazy story with our readers?
Here’s a story for you. It’s a familiar story for gym owners but probably not for the average entrepreneur. For almost half the time I’ve owned my business I considered myself homeless.
When I opened The Movement Warehouse in Pacific Beach I was living in Crown Point. It was a 5 minute drive to work and life was easy. At the time I lived with a couple and as their relationship grew they wanted more space and more privacy. I had only opened the gym a few months prior and was definitely not in a place to pay double rent. I had a friend that lived in Chula Vista and he and his family had an extra room because his new born daughter was still sleeping in the crib in their room. I jumped at the opportunity to live with them for free. It was 25 minutes away, but you couldn’t beat the price.
I lived with them for months, waking up at 415a for my 530a classes and not returning home till well past 8p. But at those absurd hours at least I wasn’t hitting traffic. I had one trainer working for me at the time and he was a godsend. Sometimes I got the luxury of sleeping in till 6 or 7a.
I was desperate for money so I was agreeing to see clients at their home gyms. One day I was privately training a client at Civita in Mission Valley, this ultra swanky condo complex with a split level gym and all the machines and equipment any trainer would love to have. Our appointment was set for 7a, I left Chula Vista at 615a with more than enough time to make the 10 mile drive. There happened to be traffic that morning but even then I should have been fine. I Google mapped the destination and it gave me an ETA of 745a. I freaked out, cancelled on my client and knew I had to move back to PB.
The layout of the gym has 1100sf of street facing store front and 2500sf of outdoor area in the back with a separate garage. I moved into that garage in May of 2018. I had 400sf of vinyl flooring with unfinished walls and no ventilation. It was unbearably cold in the winters and unbearably hot in the summers. I set up a bed, a table, a microwave and coffee maker, a tv, a chest of drawers, some racks for clothes, a fan and a heater. It wasn’t much but the commute was killer. I got a gym membership to Crunch Fitness three blocks away to shower when I couldn’t find a friend’s place and had my gym’s bathroom for most of my daily needs. I ate out 3 meals a day even though some of my member’s had bought me an induction plate for Christmas, I just didn’t have any room to wash the pan in my gyms bathroom hand sink. Poke Chop, Bowl Eater, Chipotle, Freshii, Poke Chop, Bowl Eater, Chipotle, Freshii. Over and over again.
It wasn’t glamorous and it wasn’t ideal. Every time it rained I had to move my bed and haul out 70 pounds of soaking wet rug to dry. If it wasn’t sunny I had to stash it in the alley so my clients wouldn’t see it, then when the sun came out I’d lay it out in the back area and hope it dried before my next class. Eventually I just put everything on 2×4’s but that took me a couple months to learn and also learned to read a forecast so I could roll the rug up before the next rain. One especially stormy night I remember waking up every 15 minutes to shop vac the water collecting outside my door to prevent it from seeping into my studio. It was a miserable night and in turn a miserable morning and I’m not sure if you know this but in a service business you cannot miserable anythings. I could feel it, my clients could feel it and although I tried my hardest to hide my frustrations, it’s hard to hide disappointment and possibly a little depression. None of them knew how bad my situation really was.
I owned my own business. I had members that loved and adored me. My parents were proud of me. I was finally proud of me. But in my mind I was homeless and I still felt small and insignificant. It was definitely not where I thought I’d be at 33.
I lived in that garage for over 1.5 years. I did everything I could to keep the doors open and the lights on because I knew this was my calling. I knew this is how I was going to help the world. I moved out December 2019 and the world shut down in March. I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through 3 months stuck in that garage, but I also didn’t know I could get through 1.5 years. If your dream is big enough and you have the “why” you can get through a heck of a lot more than you ever imagined.
Michael, love having you share your insights with us. Before we ask you more questions, maybe you can take a moment to introduce yourself to our readers who might have missed our earlier conversations?
My name’s Michael and I own an outdoor class based weight lifting studio in Pacific Beach. Like most personal trainers I got into this industry because I wanted to help people. I wanted to be a doctor growing up but as college had proved, that was not going to happen. I had been working out my entire college career and kept it up while working at restaurants after. I knew that with a college degree I couldn’t work in the food service industry forever so I had to make a change.
I got the most basic nationally accredited personal training certification and somehow scored an elite internship to a highly sought after gym in North San Diego. This internship demanded very early morning, cleaning bathrooms, folding towels and learning from the best trainers in the industry. The hours were long and the pay was non existent but the experience landed me my first job with 24 Hour Fitness basically without any other questions. I learned most of what I know today from that 3 month unpaid internship.
Long story short, I appreciated failing at school because now I get to work with people on the preventative side of healthcare before they get sick instead of on the prescriptive side after they’ve been unhealthy for years. This is a much better fit for who I am and what I believe.
At The Movement Warehouse (MVMT) we believe that lifting weights is an irreplaceable part of the human experience. Being strong and having muscle are essential but most important is knowing how to move your body under load. That’ll keep you out of pain and off the sidelines of life. Studios that focus primarily on cardio are great for weight loss but that can only take you so far, then you need to lift weights and add muscle to your frame.
If you’ve never lifted weights, we’re the perfect place to start. If you’ve lifted weights for years, we’re the perfect place to push yourself. If you’re trying to add weight to your back squat or bench press, we’re the perfect place for you. If you’ve been injured but still want to workout, we’re the perfect place to rehab your injury. If you’re trying to make friends with goals and motivation similar to yours, we’re the perfect place for you. This can be the perfect place for everyone. Just give us a shot.
How about pivoting – can you share the story of a time you’ve had to pivot?
When we reopened after COVID -19 in June of 2020 we knew we had to be fully outdoors. Fortunately we were blessed with 2500sf of outdoor space. Previously, our classes were primarily indoors (which seems crazy because there is only 1100sf) and we used to pack the place with 18 people.
After we were allowed to reopen the team came up with the brilliant idea of moving the weight racks outside and creating a gate where a fence used to be to open up the space for improved traffic flow. Now, our classes are almost entirely outdoors and we never have more than 3 people working out next to each other.
I can proudly say that there has never been a case of COVID being spread through our workouts and our cleaning protocols create as safe an environment possible while still allowing maximal amounts of weight lifting. Huge pivot, huge reward.
What’s been the best source of new clients for you?
Please read our reviews on Google. Just read one of them it’ll take 35 seconds of your time.
- Website: www.mvmtwarehouse.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mvmtwarehouse/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mvmtwarehouse
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOeRNXd8U-Qz_nS2-9j9QJA
- Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/the-movement-warehouse-san-diego-4
Daniel Hernandez Brian Rokeach