Learning from his experiences helped Shaun Chambers, CEO and Founder of BODYROC FIT LAB, build a better, stronger vision for his plan to “ROC” Connecticut.
Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price spoke to Chambers about his entrepreneurial ambitions.
NAN PRICE: Have you always had an entrepreneurial drive?
SHAUN CHAMBERS: I always wanted to work for myself. Funny story: When I was 4 years old, my mom asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I told her I wanted to be a football player—but I also wanted to be a doctor so that if I got injured, I could fix myself.
I played Division I and Division II football, but I got an injury and I wasn’t a doctor, so I couldn’t fix myself. Instead, I followed my passion for music. I worked in the corporate world long enough to save up and move to New York City. When I got there, I didn’t know anyone. I got signed nine months later as a songwriter.
I guess the push was always to be self-employed, to have my destiny in my own hands, not the hands of a company. I always felt like I thought outside of the box, that I had something different to offer. And I always hated the fact that I was being paid by someone else for my talents—they got to decide how much I made for what I brought to the table versus me being able to benefit from what it is I have to offer.
In all of my endeavors, whether it was music or fitness, it was always about creating some sort of situation where I can develop something that belonged to me.
NAN: That is very entrepreneurial. Tell us about the transition from New York City to Connecticut.
SHAUN: I spent 10 years in New York City as a songwriter and in the fitness industry. I felt like I had finally learned everything I needed to learn in New York, as far as swimming with the sharks—everyone coming into the city and being able to develop whatever they felt was innovative to them.
It was time to bring my innovation somewhere else and I felt like: Why stay in a melting pot of zillions of things when you can come somewhere where there’s a lack of and thrive? That’s just business 101. If you want to stand out, be somewhere where they need whatever it is you have to offer.
In addition, overhead was always a big factor. Why pay New York City prices when I can come home to a place that I know, get a better start, and spend less money doing it?
NAN: So you’re originally from Connecticut?
SHAUN: I’m from Hartford. Born and raised.
NAN: You returned in 2015. How did you develop the business concept for BODYROC?
SHAUN: It’s a combination of my respective careers: fitness and entertainment. Most of my clients in New York City were in the music industry and they are all artists. They’re all artsy and innovative and creative, which really helped me to develop my skillset for differentiating myself.
When I decided to open up the business I thought: How do I take some of the things my clients love so much and turn it into a business where I can get more people in and not have to sell it. I wanted to make it sell itself.
That’s what brought me back to music. Everybody loves entertainment. People pay for fun and you don’t have to sell it to them. It sells itself. I’m very keen on making sure that people understand the BODYROC workout is one of an entertaining nature. We don’t have to so much push fitness, which is what everyone else in the market is doing. We do fun. The workout is intense, but it’s more about having a good time and less about dragging yourself through a workout.
We get the draw because people love what it is. We don’t really have to force them to do something they don’t want to do.
NAN: How are you building a customer base?
SHAUN: Before I even made the move to Connecticut, we did bodyweight bootcamp with gloves and mitts. It was really interactive. We brought the DJ in to kind of simulate the vibe a little bit. I just rented places wherever I could find them.
NAN: So they were almost like pop ups?
SHAUN: That’s it. We did social media posts on Facebook and Instagram and posted flyers. The first pop up we had about 35 people and we just continued to build up until we were in West Hartford’s Blueback Square with about 80 people.
Then I realized, if people will pay $20 to come do this workout as a one off, I’m sure I can open a facility with state-of-the-art equipment. So the business made sense then and we found the space on New Park Avenue in West Hartford. We opened in October 2015.
NAN: What’s the best thing about your location?
SHAUN: Diversity. You’ve got young people, got older people. You’ve got people of all races and different fitness levels.
A lot of people are gravitating toward downtown Hartford, the West End of Hartford, and West Hartford because there are so many things developing—and we’ve got CTfastrack right across the street.
There’s so much potential for a startup where we are, at the beginning phase, and there’s so much progress to be made. Why not come into an area with so much development happening and just grow with the area?
NAN: How have your past experiences helped as you planned to launch this startup? Any specific challenges you’ve overcome?
SHAUN: Funding was really tough. Prior to moving back to Connecticut I went into a partnership in New York. I had a business venture there and I lost $40,000. It was my life savings. It took eight years to get it to where I wanted it and it took eight months for it to just come crashing down.
I took a year off. I wanted to keep the brand going in a positive light while I was trying to figure out my next move. I figured, what better way than working with the kids and giving back?
I went to the low-income areas in Brooklyn, New York, and found a charter school that was looking for fitness instructors. I created a curriculum from my brand and they loved it. That was the start of the forward progress of the brand.
From there I had something to show investors. I could say: This is what I’ve been doing, this is what I did first with the business, I took it to this lane, this is my next business venture, and this is how it’s supposed to look. I was able to get three partners coming into this business, which was amazing because I hadn’t ever had my own brick-and-mortar.
NAN: Were you reluctant to have partners again or do you feel you’ve learned from your prior experience?
SHAUN: I learned from it because coming into this startup I let the investors know they were silent partners. This time it was going to be about my vision and how I wanted to bring it to fruition.
The other partnership really didn’t work because they wanted me in their space versus allowing me to do whatever it was that I wanted to do.
NAN: It’s working! BODYROC recently won Best Place to Work Out in Hartford Magazine’s Best Of poll.
SHAUN: It’s awesome. We’re not even a year in, I was just blown away. And now we’ve been nominated in three categories in the Best of West Hartford Awards: fitness facility, personal trainer, and sports retail. So apparently people like the apparel too, which is super cool.
NAN: What are your plans for the future?
SHAUN: We want to ROC Connecticut. This is home.
NAN: So you plan to open other facilities?
SHAUN: Yes. We want to take the fitness market by storm and create something awesome that becomes a destination in the area. We want to build it up and make Connecticut an area people seek to come to.
NAN: Do you have your eyes on any other sites right now?
SHAUN: Farmington Valley. We’re looking at properties on Route 44. And then The Shops at Farmington Valley, which is in Canton. The Glastonbury area hopefully will be next, if not South Windsor/Manchester, and then we’ll figure out what happens after that. We want to keep the facilities close enough that we can piggyback off of the momentum.
Once we’ve expanded throughout Connecticut, we’ll see where else we can go on the northeast region and then hopefully we can become a national powerhouse. We’ll open up shops as corporate while we’re here in Connecticut and then maybe get into a franchise model once we really lockdown our expansion process.
NAN: I saw a class where you collaborated with Tainted Inc., another local startup. Do you have plans to collaborate with other local talent?
SHAUN: Yes. We’re looking to do a collaboration with NoRA Cupcake Company.
NAN: Okay, so fitness and cupcakes?
SHAUN: Entertainment, entertainment. That’s why you keep it broad as entertainment, because then we can bring in all sorts of other fun. When it’s fitness, it’s very rigid and that is against everything I stand for. Party hard, work harder.
We may do a passport with The Yoga Shop. The class pass is big in major metropolitan areas. In smaller demographics it can be harder to get businesses to collaborate because they feel like everyone is fighting for clients, which is not necessarily true.
There are 10 fitness facilities on this strip on New Park Avenue. When I came people asked me why I would want to be number 11. I said: It’s fitness-related traffic. We’re doing something different so why would it deter people from coming?
Each entrepreneur has their own spirit and what they feel works. I’m all about collaboration. If we can help build each other’s brand, it’s just what it sounds like, we’re building each other up.
NAN: Do you have any advice for others who are starting out?
SHAUN: Have a solid plan. Don’t be afraid to execute what you feel like works for you, but also know that along that path there will be things that divert you and sometimes in order to move forward you have to go left or right. Don’t be so stuck in your plan that you’re not willing to make edits to it.
NAN: Embrace the pivot.
SHAUN: Yes. For most entrepreneurs, you’re dedicating not only all of your time and energy but all the money you have. The majority of us don’t plan on going back into a corporate structure. So it’s like: If this doesn’t work, I don’t have anything—except for my entrepreneurial mindset, which will hopefully put me onto the next path for success.
But I think the biggest thing is to stay the path even if you’re forced to divert from it.
NAN: Define your life as an entrepreneur in one word.
SHAUN: Relentless. There is nothing in this world that can stop me from being successful. And we’ve hit every possible snag. Like I told you, I lost everything. Yet here we are in a better situation with better feedback, with a better business, with amazing clientele and great support in a better area.
Everything happens that’s supposed to happen, which is why you can’t stop.