From opening his first studio with no pre-selling of memberships, no CRM, and a turnout of just 24 people on opening day, Air Locker Training’s founder, Roman Brady has been on an intense learning curve, complete with its ups and downs, over the past four years. The altitude training brand has soared in popularity despite launching during one of the fitness industry’s toughest chapters.
I had a candid chat with Roman about the journey from humble beginnings at Air Locker Newcastle, to the end of 2023 with the business at 33 locations and expanding overseas.
The Early Days of Air Locker Training
“It was never my dream to open a gym – it was the engineering project of creating an altitude training environment that I was interested in,” says Roman.
As often happens in life, the existence of Air Locker Training (ALT) as we know it today has been an evolution. Driven by his area of expertise (mechanical engineering) and his love of fitness, ALT Newcastle was born. Despite having no signed members on opening, and no marketing strategy in place, ALT Newcastle was well received from the get-go.
“If I’d opened the first one in Sydney or Brisbane, it never would’ve worked”, says Roman. “I was still working as a CEO for a mining company, I had other businesses and a family… it worked because it was on my doorstep in my home town and I could be there.”
Roman was inspired by a friend who was involved in a large fitness franchise and decided to go all in, taking the bold leap of faith from his paid job and giving everything to Air Locker. An avid journal keeper, Roman had documented every step of the ALT process up until this point, but now began putting his thoughts onto paper about what he envisioned Air Locker becoming.
“There was this big glass table in the foyer area. From August to November 2019, I would sit at that table and just write and write. There are four massive journals from that time and they literally contain everything that Air Locker is. The culture, the specific design of the workouts, the breathwork.”
Air Locker Finding Growth in the Pandemic
It would be fair to assume that any business offering indoor group exercise that launched within six
months of the global pandemic hitting our shores would look back on that period as an all-time low
point. Maybe it’s his background in gold mining, but I was surprised to hear Roman’s thoughts when
he reflected on COVID-19 and how it affected the business. “Due to the timing, COVID was the best
thing that happened to the business. We actually grew in membership numbers during that time, because we were able to put together such a great experience for our members and they started referring other people.”
The pause in operations also gave Roman a chance to address areas of the business that he had skipped over at the beginning and shift his focus to putting systems in place that would contribute to further success.
Systems and Culture at Air Locker
Roman places a lot of emphasis on having watertight systems in place. These include briefings within each studio between team members both before and after the day’s classes. These briefings help staff identify new members, as well as members who might need extra attention, and take on ‘assignments’ for the upcoming sessions.
The debriefs revolve around ‘personal accountability’ and provide an opportunity for team members to reflect on whether they carried out their assignments successfully. Roman relates this back to his days of playing professional footy, where players would take ownership of any actions they carried out during a game, where they knew they could have done better. These briefings happen twice each day, in every ALT studio, and records of each meeting are sent to HQ to create compliance and help identify any issues.
As the franchise grows, and the span of control gets stretched, Roman believes that systems are key to maintaining a standard of expectation across the brand. The ALT culture is also something he holds close to his heart and he tries to attend as many opening weeks of his new studios as possible, to set the tone and support his new studio owners. ALT Wollongong co-owner, Ruby Clarke said, “We feel so supported by Roman. As the CEO, he’s so busy, yet he’s come down to see us through VIP week and it’s been so amazing to have him here for it.”
Reflecting on the ALT journey so far
Roman is frank about the challenges of getting ALT to this point and admits he was naïve early on, about the intricacies involved in establishing a franchise.
“If I’d known how hard it was going to be, I’m not sure I would’ve done it.”
Along with his business expertise, Roman’s perspective on life and finding balance has grown.
“Life’s a juggle, but some of those balls in the air are made of glass and you can’t afford to drop them. Family is one of those.”
It’s obvious from the way he speaks about Air Locker that he is still just as passionate about the business as he was in the beginning. “There’s all the science behind altitude training – the extra calories burned, the increased fitness, etc… that’s not what Air Locker is about. It’s the mental training – focus through fatigue – and how that can be brought into every aspect of life. That’s why altitude is for everyone.”
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