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Our Business Owners of the Year, Mandy Haugstad & Jordan Rudolph of Unity Fitness in La Crosse, WI


Each year, members of our VIP Platinum Coaching and Mastermind Group submit essays on why they should be one of the finalists in our Business Owner of the Year contest.

Here’s the essay our winners, Mandy Haugstad & Jordan Rudolph of Unity Fitness submitted for consideration, along with their award-winning video presentation!

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This year indeed has brought its fair share of unforeseen events. It left business owners in a position to pivot and adapt, or quite frankly, die. It forced us into closure, testing everything that we’ve been building over the birth of our business to now. Systems, culture and community, staff, operations, and leadership were all areas tried and tested over the last seven months and counting. I think one of the biggest concerns is that we don’t know how long this will truly last, but what we’ve learned about running our business up to the start of the pandemic to now, and beyond, will be the same thing that holds true for the weeks, months, or perhaps years to come.

It’s because of the entire RFU Community that I’m even able to write this essay. In fact, I feel like every single business in the RFU Community should be writing an essay this year because to my knowledge we are all still in business. That fact says a lot about our RFU Community and our leaders in that community. With our “new normal” becoming the everyday norm, it’s what we’ve done with what we’ve been handed that matters and will truly stand out above the rest.

Alwyn and Rachel not only coached us to pursue very specific avenues, even before COVID-19 struck, but highly recommended to follow through on each of them as a better way to run our businesses. Investing in the companies Naamly and BridgeAthletic were two of those avenues. Implementing the Profit First system is another, as well as being very attentive and aware of any local (county or state) and national (federal) grants or opportunities for us to apply for. I write this under the assumption that every owner in our RFU Community was advised to pursue each of these and implement into the systems that we currently have.

Therefore, this essay isn’t necessarily about what we did, but how we did it.

It started with two statements that have been stuck in my head for quite some time, one from Rachel and one from Alwyn. Rachel’s statement was made before the pandemic even started. During one of our coaching calls she said, “You’re already a leader, just keep doing what you’re doing.” It was that spark that lit the fire underneath me to KEEP GOING and pushing our business (and our lives) to new heights. This virus struck fear into the world. It also left us with the unknown. I look back on what Rachel said, and her reassurance to me during a Mastermind call earlier this year as she touched on the “transformation” that she’s able to see happen in me, that really helped me realize that now, more than ever, our members, staff, and community NEEDS leaders. And leadership starts with core values, which is exactly what I’ve stood by since the beginning of the pandemic.

Brendon Burchard says to stay focused, make sure to “keep the main thing the main thing.” Our main thing was getting net +30 members by the end of the year by securing +90% renewals and acquiring new members. We came into the March Mastermind with a solid plan, shared it with the group, and were ready to put it into action. We were invigorated as we could feel the momentum shifting in our favor. Then March 11th happened as we sat at a sushi restaurant in Santa Clarita with some of the RFU crew as President Trump appeared on every television screen. Everything changed after that, but we still had our goal to achieve.

As Mandy and I approached the LAX terminal to head home on March 16th, I texted the team and said we’ll be closing Unity Fitness the next day. Emails and Facebook posts will be made right after we land. The virus hadn’t really spread to Wisconsin yet, but looking at the rest of the world, we knew it was only a matter of time. This is where our core value of “Being proactive, not reactive” shined through. Which brings me to Alwyn’s statement when he said, “Control the narrative. Control what you can control.” We knew a closure was going to happen, but we let our core values lead the way by proactively closing our doors and making a massive pivot to implement Naamly and BridgeAthletic into our systems. We intentionally closed our doors on March 17th and in less than 36 hours we had both Naamly and BridgeAthletic fully operational within our membership. On March 21st the Governor of Wisconsin made the order to close all non-essential businesses. Our proactive closure gave us time to plan and lead, rather than to react and panic – we were moving ahead as others were struck in disbelief.

The initial closure of Unity Fitness had us outing in long hours. Mandy took the Naamly wheel and had several orientation meetings to get our new systems in play. She then helped train the staff on operations and implementation. Coach Emily (our FT coach) was given BridgeAthletic as her “baby” to grow. She uploaded programs and templates, answered any Bridge-related questions, and grew it to what it is today. I helped build programs and build our exercise library with Emily, while also taking the reins of personally reaching out to each and every member to check in on them and get them up to speed on our business transformation. Designing programs through BridgeAthletic, hosting Zoom accountability calls and coaching calls, and conducting live workouts was the new life brought upon by the pandemic. We also helped pay our PT staff by paying them to learn from our extensive list of continuing education resources, boosting their knowledge and making them better coaches.

Everyone in the RFU group knows what Profit First is by now. Even though we had started using it, we still did not maximize the potential that this incredible system had to offer until this year. The Profit First system allowed us to see where the money is and appropriately transfer funds where they are needed to be. Slashing expenses and making some other cuts throughout the business has helped too. The grants awarded to us both on the national and state level helped immensely. Using that to pay our team and rent was a godsend, but through the Profit First system we were then able to take our income and utilize it more effectively and efficiently.

It is one thing to implement the Profit First system, but learning how to fully utilize the system to run our business at the highest level possible is a game-changer, and Mandy has been the head coach behind it all. It has taken us about a year to get to this point, but through the pandemic we were able to make significant impact in several key areas of our business and personal lives:

  • Paid off 2019’s taxes with one payment to each the state and federal departments
  • Paid off the rest of our taxes from 2018’s nightmare (September 2020)
  • Have nearly $7k in savings
  • Paid down an additional six months of our initial SBA loan (+$4K)
  • Accumulated nearly $5k in profit (which has been used to help our wedding funds) • Never took a pay cut and was able to maintain paying all our staff
  • Mandy, Emily (our FT coach) and I were all given bonuses
  • Saved money in an account to pay off next year’s taxes by their due date

As we re-opened our facility in late May, it was time to test our new operating systems, more specifically using BridgeAthletic as our primary program delivery system, along with the creation of our Strength Pods. Our “new” semi-private training model went from a 4-to-1 member-to-coach ratio to a 6-to-1 ratio, which I believe is now known as the “lifeguard model”. It has allowed us to help more people per hour so we could slash some coaching hours by condensing our class schedule and semi-private schedule. This new model is possible because of BridgeAthletic and Naamly. We can deliver results and effectively communicate with our members with a few simple clicks.

Part of our new onboarding system for both the members and the coaches is familiarizing them with the BridgeAthletic app, as well as our new training model. Members now get a complimentary 1-on-1-orientation session where we can go through the BridgeAthletic app with them, familiarize them with the Strength Pod, and go over any cleaning protocols. The orientation has created a comfortable environment for the new members, in addition to helping the coach build stronger rapport. We’ve also made Bridge tutorial videos to help the members (and coaches) navigate their way around the app (thanks to Coach Emily).

Even though COVID-19 really threw a wrench into our 2020 goals, we kept the main thing the main thing, and were ready and able to adapt and pivot. All things considered, it kind of feels like we were able to take a baby step forward, despite being net -5 members at the time of this writing. We have lost 38 members that were directly from COVID-19, not by deaths, but by termination of contract or non-renewals. Looking back on our membership from March, it is about 35% of our membership, resulting in about 40% of our monthly revenue. Fortunately, we’ve also gained 33 members since the start of the year (and 0 of them came between March and May), which has put us in a net -5 spot for the year and leaving us only 35 people away from our original plan at the beginning of 2020 of gaining +30 net members. From January to October 2019 we gained 39 new memberships (not counting renewals), so our 33 new members gained this year puts us only six members behind last year’s totals through October. We are actually net +5 in total membership this year between June-October compared to 2019, and all but three of those members are on annual agreements as well (three are on month-to-month). Additionally, our new agreements are designed to be “COVID-proof” by letting people know that if officials force us to close our doors their memberships will be “flexed” to the Online Training monthly investment, which allows us to protect the business from real closure. The BridgeAthletic app investment has also allowed us to take “Non-Medical Holds” out of our agreements because we can train and coach our members from anywhere in the world. Our new agreements and delivery systems are two of the silver linings noted from the pandemic and have helped make our business stronger and more sustainable than ever before.

One of the things that has helped me as a coach since I started in the industry almost nine years ago was the simple drive to not let anybody down. If I did not know the answers, I would scour the Internet or find the people that had them. Sometimes the answer still came back as an “I don’t know right now”, but it still led to my pursuit of making sure I had the client’s back. That has held true through this pandemic as well, however it applied to more than just our clients – I now had a team to worry about, specifically Mandy and our FT coach, Coach Emily (who we are 100% responsible for her income). I could not let anyone down, so I made it my full intention to make sure our membership community was fully aware of that.

I asked Coach Emily her thoughts on us applying for the RFU Business Owner of the Year this year, and this is what she said:

On March 16th I received a text from Jordan that we were shutting our doors after the end of business, moments before stepping on the floor to coach a session. By the end of the hour, announcements and emails had gone out to the members, some of whom were in the gym as they read the details. They were asking me questions I didn’t know the answers to, as we all tried to process what this meant. The level of uncertainty during that moment was unmatched. As a coach who works at a service-based, in-person, small-group training facility, I had no idea what the future was going to hold for my career. I didn’t have answers to member’s questions. I didn’t know what it would look like when we were closed or when we would reopen.

But as I got to my break between sessions, Jordan and Mandy stepped off the plane from California. Almost immediately, I was on the phone with Jordan. They had a plan; we were pivoting.

As an employee of two years, there are a handful of moments that stand out beyond others as proof that Jordan and Mandy are truly incredible leaders and business owners. This conversation was one of those moments. We talked about a few changes: filming videos and creating at home classes, selling bands and extra equipment to members, and setting up BridgeAthletic. But toward the end of the call one line stood out: “You’re still our number one priority. You’ll be taken care of.” In a day filled with questions I couldn’t answer, personal stress, and anxiety about the unknown future that lay ahead, this two-sentence reminder was needed, whether they knew it or not. It wasn’t just words. They were words that reminded me of the support, encouragement, and guidance I’ve felt for the past two years as a coach at Unity Fitness. It was a reminder that despite the uncertainty of the world, Jordan and Mandy had my back. Overnight and without falter, they implemented daily phone calls and open lines of communication to replace in-person conversations. Weekly staff meetings moved to Zoom. BridgeAthletic replaced Excel to further teamwork and collaboration, as well as enhance the membership experience.

Above all, Jordan and Mandy were open about the business; a strength I’ve always admired, but was further amplified during this year. I knew I didn’t have to guess about what was happening regarding loans, grants, membership status of individuals, etc. As I heard stories of friends in the industry losing positions and being laid off without warning, I knew that I wouldn’t join them being blindsided. Over the last seven months (and counting), Jordan and Mandy displayed a level of leadership above and beyond what I could have expected, and what I believe is the average in the fitness industry, or elsewhere. The support, honesty, openness, and guidance that I’ve felt from both Jordan and Mandy during this year is unmatched. It is an absolute honor to work for them and I cannot speak highly enough about their leadership, especially during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The sign of a leader is by the new leaders he/she creates. I would not be close to the leader I am today if it were not only for the support and leaders I have, but the responsibility I take on. I think the responsibility part is something I really took to heart over the last seven months. Uncle Ben told Peter Parker that with great power comes great responsibility, even before he became The Spider-Man. As a coach, that great power gives us responsibility for our community. As a business owner, that great power gives us responsibility to our assets, which is also our members as well as our team (perhaps the strongest assets we can have as an owner).

In summation, yes 2020 has been one helluva year, and it will most likely end that way as well as trickle over into 2021. If it were not for the RFU Community and leaders, I can say that with 100% certainty our business would have failed. We have already seen four gyms and counting go under within just a few miles of us and it is said that 30% of gyms will close because of impacts related to COVID-19. Whether it was creating new systems or revamping old systems, the ideas for these came from the RFU Community. It has allowed us to keep going forward with our goal of gaining those new members to help get to a new facility, as well as continuing to meet our evolving lifestyle design needs. The transformation of our gym has also led us to open some new growth opportunities within Unity Fitness itself by expanding the training floor once again and offering new services towards golf fitness over the winter months. There have been some silver linings throughout this year, but none more than the testament to the community, systems, and the values of our business we opened just five years ago. In a sense, COVID-19 may have expedited the process for the inevitable: the poorly ran businesses will go under sooner, and the well run businesses will find a way to survive this current state so we can thrive again in the near future. I do not know what the future holds, but I know we are ready because we have RFU. Thank you!

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