SMART Training Gyms have curated such a successful and sustainable fitness and nutrition model that they are now training in two locations, Churchtown, Dublin 14 and Eastgate Retail Park, Little Island. SMART Training really is the smartest way to train your body. It’s a lifestyle facility for busy people with little time. They know you have to fit your exercise regime into an already-demanding schedule but commit to them and they’ll have you seeing and feeling results in no time through enjoyable exercise and smart nutrition.
As owners, operators and trainers, Sarah and Jonny Bruton know every facet of their business and what it took to make it the success it is today.
How do you begin and end a great day?
Sarah: I wake up around 8am and go directly to the kettle. I can’t do anything without caffeine and food! While waiting for breakfast – normally just boiled eggs – I will check the diary for the day and write a list affirming the tasks for the day in order of priority. I will go through my emails and ensure that there’s nothing urgent before heading to the gym for a morning workout. I enjoy training in the morning, as my motivation levels are at rock bottom by 5pm.
The end of a great day involves more tea – this time decaffeinated – cosy loungewear and my couch. We are expecting our first baby in February, so that’s literally as good as it gets these days!
Jonny: I wake up at 8am and start with a large mug of coffee. I make a conscious effort not to look at my phone or emails for the first 20 minutes after waking up. I will sit and read and drink my coffee until I am ready to get the day started. After I’ve checked in with staff and checked my schedule for the day I will head to the gym for a training session.
The day normally ends on the couch watching some reality TV show Sarah watches – which I pretend to hate but secretly enjoy – along with some Lindt Dark Chocolate!
What was your mission from the beginning?
Sarah: Our mission at SMART Training Gym is to create a community where clients can train in a friendly, fun, welcoming environment with the knowledge that all of the exercises they are doing are tailored specifically to ensure that they reach their personal goals in the fastest amount of time.
We believe that time is the most important commodity we have and most people don’t have the time to waste in a gym messing around for hours. They don’t have the time to research a good programme online for building muscle or dropping body fat or improving cardio or increasing strength or assisting with their rehab from an injury.
SMART Training Gym is a place where clients can switch off and follow the instruction of the excellently qualified trainers, with the knowledge that they are taking steps towards reaching their personal goal in the fastest amount of time.
Jonny: Fitness and nutrition are so over-complicated these days. There are so many buzz words around fitness and nutrition. Eat superfoods, do hypertrophy training, eat carbs, don’t eat carbs, do metabolic training, do cardio for best results, avoid cardio for best results. It’s a mess and no wonder people get confused and jump from plan to plan.
Our mission has always been to do the work of simplifying fitness and nutrition, so that our clients don’t have to. We work with busy professionals with little time on their hands, so our priority has always been to ensure that, based on the clients’ goals, their time in SMART Training Gym is the most efficient use of their energy in moving towards those goals.
To what do you attribute your success?
Sarah: Hard work, tenacity and commitment to others. We opened our first gym at 24 with a very small bank loan and three clients. There has been plenty of late nights, early morning and at times more sleepless nights than I thought either of us could manage. Hard work is important to be successful, yes, but tenacity and the ability to weather the storm is, I think, paramount in business.
Failure can be a tough pill to swallow but it’s important in those instances to get back up, refocus, look at the lessons you have learnt, while all of the time moving forward.
Finally commitment to others is necessary for success. I genuinely love seeing the people on our team succeed. As a manager I try to ensure that the people who work at SMART Training love working at SMART Training and I do my very best to create an atmosphere for them that they will enjoy. Committing to others and helping them feel fulfilled and appreciated has always returned to us tenfold.
Jonny: For me, I attribute our success mostly to my good fortune. Sometimes you find yourself in the right place at the right time with the right people and at those times I have capitalised on the opportunity. I feel blessed to have played hockey at an international level and representing your country is something which can open doors. My faith has led me to conduct myself in business in a moral and honest way, which has meant that people trust me and therefore trust our business.
What do you wish you knew in the beginning about setting up your own business and working for yourself?
Sarah: Well, as I said we were 24 with little to no experience in business and even less knowledge about working for yourself. I can genuinely say that I knew nothing about the adventure we were just about to embark on but sometimes naivety can serve you well. In our situation I think knowing absolutely nothing and having no expectations of us, meant that we had no fear of failure and a real hunger to prove people wrong.
Jonny: There is nothing I wished we knew in the beginning. That’s not because we knew it all. Quite the opposite. We were completely naïve. We made so many mistakes and have had quite a few failures. I imagine there will be many more over our lifetimes. Each mistake, however has taught us a valuable lesson. While these lessons were costly, we have never made the same mistake twice. This has meant that we are constantly developing and growing as managers and entrepreneurs.
What drives you to keep going when things get tough or stressful?
Sarah: Jonny and I nearly never get stressed at the same time. Jonny is genuinely the most creative, imaginative, optimistic person you could ever meet. Even in failure he looks at the positives. In times of stress, he reminds me of how far we have come and all the things we still want to achieve. Setbacks always seem temporary when you work with someone like him.
Jonny: I think I manage stress quite well. I know that the situation is temporary and that it will eventually become less hectic. I like to solve problems, so in difficult or stressful times, I focus on the solution and get to work.
As a leader, how do you motivate your team/employees?
Sarah: First of all, the coaches we work with are excellent. They have excellent qualifications and lots of experience, are incredible motivators but most of all they love what they do. These types of people are easy to motivate. We simply try to support them and ensure that we create a positive workplace for them, so they can help others.
Jonny: The coaches we work with became personal trainers to help people reach their personal goals, whether that be getting ready for a big occasion or getting fit for a run or improving their mobility or assisting in a client’s injury rehab. Seeing a client reach their goal is what motivates them. These types of people are motivated by the mission of our business. They know that we are all working towards a collective goal – helping the client reach theirs. My job is to simply ensure that our coaches have the support they need to do their jobs to the best of their ability.
What do you love most about what you do?
Sarah: I love that I am working in an area that has brought me so much joy. Fitness is my passion. I train for the purposes of mental health. I love that I work in an area that can bring so much to others, whether that be physically or mentally.
Jonny: I love that I get to see changes – big or small – in people every day. Whether that be a client who is now able to play football with their kid without getting out of breath or a client who has lost 20 pounds and feels more confident in themselves.
What advice would you give those wishing to make a successful career in fitness/wellness?
Sarah: Get experience and plenty of it! Experience is important in our industry but what’s more important is to be authentic and always yourself. Try not to imitate other personal trainers or coaches, people will see through you. Be yourself!
Jonny: Firstly, define your vision. Know exactly what your mission is and how you envisage getting there. It’s important to understand exactly why you are doing what you are doing. The fitness industry is a tough industry. You will have to work very hard to be successful and you need to know exactly why you are doing what you are doing. When you wake up at 4:30am after being in the gym late the previous night with clients, you need to know why you are doing this. Figure out what your purpose is, and then remind yourself of this when times get difficult.
What’s the best thing you ever learned from the worst boss/coach you ever had?
Sarah: I think the most important thing I have learnt from the weak managers I have had is to handle emotional distances with staff. I have worked for managers who motivate through fear, show no interest in their employees and do not invite excitement, laughter or fun into the workplace. I believe people want to work in places they feel valued and ultimately that affects talent retention. I have also worked for managers who completely blur the lines between boss and employee to the point that I knew intimate details of their personal lives. These managers often found it then difficult to enforce new rules or practices in the workplace and became more of a friend than a figure of authority. For me, I try to balance between these two managerial styles, so that I know the people who work for us well but that I can still lead.
Jonny: I’ve never had bosses really, I have always been self-employed. I have had plenty of coaches over my playing career. I have had coaches who I excelled under and those who I found very difficult to work with. The worst coaches have taught me self belief. If a coach chooses not to select me for an international match or a big tournament, after months of hard work, sweat and sacrifice, I chose not to let their opinions alter my self belief. Being dropped can be a difficult thing to manage for an athlete and it’s very easy to get depressed and feel useless. The coaches who didn’t believe in me have fuelled me to succeed even more.
Has a successful career in sport affected the way you do business?
Sarah: Jonny is the sportsman of the family. What he has accomplished in his career, the places he has travelled to with his sport and the titles he has won, is something that inspires me. I find anyone who plays a sport at an elite level inspirational. I have played hockey for most of my life and while this is the first year I have not been able to play, sport has taught me the greatest lessons in life: teamwork, how to handle a loss, how to motivate others and how to work under pressure.
Jonny: I played international hockey for Ireland for eight years. I have a European bronze medal at home where we beat England in England for the medal, which has to be my career highlight. I was also part of the team that helped the first Irish team in any sport get to the Olympics in over 68 years. I have played team sports all my life, so teamwork is certainly something I have learnt from hockey. Tenacity and the ability to take a loss and keep working is also something which I have learnt from sport.
What would you do with SMART Training Gyms if you had unlimited resources?
Sarah: Gosh. I don’t think I would do much more than we are doing right at this moment. Our lives are really good right now. Most of the time, gyms like ours, that are successful, eventually evolve into an open commercial gym model where the goal is quantity not quality. While that might be tempting from a business perspective, because customers pay for a membership that they never use. For us, our model works. We don’t enjoy working out in big commercial gyms, so we definitely don’t want to own one.
Jonny: I think I would up our marketing budget and hire more staff. This would allow us help more people. Apart from that, I am more than happy with where we are right now and the things we have accomplished.
What are the benefits and difficulties of working with your other half?
Sarah: I’m not sure what the overall benefits of working with your partner are. Balance between your home life and work life is something I did worry about before I started working with him and most of my friends thought I was mad to work with my husband. The thing is, my husband is exceptional at his job. I don’t like working with Jonny because he is my other half, rather I like working with Jonny because he is hard working, tenacious and optimistic, and while it sounds cheesy, he inspires me. He has many skills that I do not, which means as a team we work well together. The difficulties are obviously that balance is difficult to come by and that the separation of work and home is near impossible but I don’t think I would want it any other way. It works for us.
Jonny: I love working with my wife. The big benefit is that I enjoy her company and I get to spend more time with her because we work together. While we work on separate parts of the business, our roles often intersect and so we have learnt to communicate really well, which obviously helps in our marriage. My respect and admiration for her has grown enormously over the last number of years working together. She is excellent at her job and seeing her work so hard to build our business in something that inspires me every day.
The difficulties of working together is sometimes that our business becomes our baby. We have a baby on the way, so I am sure that will change but sometimes we find ourselves discussing work in bed or over dinner and we have to check ourselves. We don’t want to be consumed by work, so having a balance can sometimes be difficult.
SMART Training Gym
Unit 40 Eastgate Drive, Little Island, Cork
087 430 7752