Grit and Gratitude Owner Rachel Black Graves was a corporate technology sales executive who loved her job—but not the anxiety and health-related issues it caused. At 26, when the stress nearly caused her to have a heart attack, Rachel knew she needed a life change.

MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Rachel about her transition and embracing a new lifestyle as a business owner and entrepreneur.

NAN PRICE: Your website describes you as “an ex-corporate warrior turned fitness professional, mindset coach, and entrepreneur.” Tell us about the transition.

RACHEL GRAVES: When my health got out of control, I knew I had to make some adjustments. I started working out and became close with the owner of a boutique fitness facility. I also started a gratitude journal, which is a huge part of our program at the gym. Over time, I got my health back and I knew corporate wasn’t for me anymore.

I wanted to do something that would make more of an impact and help people like me get healthy in a sustainable way. I started looking at different business models, got my fitness certification, and, in 2014, I started a Fit Body Boot Camp franchise.

NAN: How did you chose the location?

RACHEL: I had looked at some other locations in more affluent areas and didn’t feel like I was connecting with the folks I would be working with. In Bloomfield, I just felt at home. I felt like it was an underserved population that I was supposed to serve.

NAN: How has the business evolved since 2014?

RACHEL: When we opened the doors, it was just me for a year and a half. I was owner operator, coach, janitor, all the things. I remember sitting in the parking lot thinking: What if I just blew my life savings and walked away from my cushy corporate job? And what if no one comes?

But they did. And then more people came, and they told their friends, and it started to grow.

In June 2019, we broke away from the franchise and became our own brand. We did an overhaul based on our values, our population, and who we wanted to be when we grew up. We quadrupled in square footage and I brought on coaches and a nutritional specialist. It’s amazing what it’s grown into.

NAN: How has the business been affected by the COVID-19 quarantine?

RACHEL: We had launched our virtual offering in January before any of this happened, so, it was easy to seamlessly move all our in-person clients over to our virtual platform because we had a structure built. We’ve enhanced it over the last couple of months and added things like corporate group offering.

With our virtual group training, we offer livestream workouts throughout the day. It’s been fun to see our members loosen up and connect in new ways. The focus is a little different now. We focus on daily movement, showing up, keeping your sanity, and controlling what you can control.

We also started doing weekly charity workouts. I always brag about our community and the way they show up. But, especially during this time, when people are so uncertain about their own financial situation, the way our members have shown up week after week donating money and giving their energy is unbelievable. We’ve been able to make an impact every week by choosing a different local charity.

Giving back has always been important to us. So, that’s something we’re going to continue to do for the foreseeable future.

NAN: As a business owner, what have you learned from this experience?

RACHEL: When your back is up against a wall, you have to do what you have to do to save your business. As a small business owner, I’ve been inspired by watching other small business owners come up with solutions and programs overnight to get creative for their communities and their customers. They’ve astounded me with their creativity, their resiliency, and their grit. I have so much adoration for small business owners and I’m so proud of so many of them in my own life.

With this situation, you learn a lot about yourself as a leader in terms of what you say you stand for, what you do stand for, and how you continue to keep your community together. For me, my team was my biggest focus—taking care of them from a mental health perspective, making sure they weren’t scared, and they knew they still had jobs.

I wasn’t sure how we were going to swing it when we had to close our physical location. I’ve learned to look at different ways of getting creative and see how things go and then tweak where it’s needed. I think that’s what being a small business owner is—learning to be adaptable and figure it out as you go.

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