Knockout Fitness Owner Antony Atallah spoke to Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price about his transition into small business ownership and what it’s like to launch a startup.

NAN PRICE: Did you plan to own your own business, or did it naturally happen?

ANTONY ATALLAH: It naturally happened. Growing up, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was always athletic and involved in sports. I originally went to the University of Connecticut for Pre-Med. I became interested in nutrition and then training.

When I began professionally training, I thought I could do it as a career—but it’s such a tough industry. After college, there wasn’t a lot of work, so I went into training. I was learning as I went along. But, even though it was my passion, the money wasn’t there. It was hard to survive. I worked in my family’s construction business for a while, but I wasn’t happy. I knew I wanted to be a trainer and I wanted to share my knowledge about health.

NAN: At what point did you start the process?

ANTONY: I had returned to training for New York Sports Club here in West Hartford, but I felt held back. I wanted to grow, and I was adamant about opening my own place and doing things my way.

What made me ultimately make the leap to take the risk and decide to own my own business is knowing that I have my family’s support. I know I’m fortunate like that. I work with two of my cousins. It’s helpful to have that level of support and trust in the business.

NAN: Tell us a little about the process of starting.

ANTONY: It took almost two years before I even thought about making a move. I don’t have a business background, but I did have guidance from my family, many of whom are small business owners in the construction field. Although it’s a different industry, there are many parallels as far as what you need to think about and the steps you need to take to begin.

Also, my accountant, who’s a family friend, broke things down step-by-step. I created my own version of a business plan by writing from A to Z what would go into the business what would come out of business. I knew it all started with location.

NAN: Let’s talk about location. Why West Hartford?

ANTONY: One thing I love about this area is it’s diverse and people are very willing to try new things. Your mission can be seen and embraced here. West Hartford is also very health conscious. I feel like the health industry in this area is booming. People are focused on their general well-being.

I originally made the move to New York Sports Club in West Hartford because I liked the location. And I fell in love with it. The diversity, the environment, there is so much to do here. It’s thriving. That’s why I wanted to build the business in the area. I love West Hartford!

NAN: West Hartford is saturated with many fitness facilities. What do you do differently to stand apart from the competition?

ANTONY: It is very saturated. I got that question a lot in the beginning, especially when I looked to open in this building, where there are several other workout facilities. People wondered: Why would you choose this location?

There is a market for every type of fitness facility. And we can complement one another. What we offer is an all-in-one facility, where we provide recovery with massage therapy and supplements, small classes, and personal training.

The way we set ourselves apart is simply who we are. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. You just have to stand out. You want people to come and work out with you. With this industry, people develop loyalty. They’re trusting you to help them reach personal goals—while they’re paying for your services. So, they really have to trust you.

The other way we set ourselves apart is by building and giving back to the community.

NAN: You’ve been open for a year now. How have you been marketing and building clientele?

ANTONY: A lot we do on our own, mostly through local outreach and supporting local businesses. We make sure we’re a part of local events to get our names and faces out there, whether it’s Celebrate West Hartford or the annual Pink Party at Blue Back Square.

We also do a lot of social media. We recently started working with A Little Bird Told Me, which is a West Hartford-based social media company. The owner, Kat Kluger is awesome. I’m glad we budgeted for that. It’s important. Marketing is huge. You have to get your name out there so people can come see what you’re all about.

NAN: If you could go back and do anything differently in your entrepreneurial journey, what would you do?

ANTONY: There are a lot of things. I’m making mistakes as I go. I’ve never owned a business before. I had no idea what I was doing, but it’s having the confidence in what you believe to move forward.

NAN: Some people use the phrase “fail forward.”

ANTONY: Exactly. You have to make mistakes to learn from them and grow. It’s like training someone. Everyone is different. You use trial and error. You see what works and what doesn’t. And, if it doesn’t work, you tweak it.

That’s how I feel about owning a business. No matter what you do, it’s going to be a challenge, so why not take the leap and do you what you truly believe in?

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Photo: Knockout Fitness Owner Antony Atallah (center) pictured with his cousins Matt Dahdah (left) and John Atallah (right), who are trainers at Knockout Fitness.