Small Business Spotlight: Anthos Training Clubs Brings Personability to Personal Training
“Two things really set us apart from other gyms,” says Shaka Mitchell, co-founder and company director of Anthos Training Clubs in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood. “First would be our understanding of the science behind working out and second, is our ability to connect with people.”
To illustrate his point, Mitchell describes the first day for new members of the training facility he started with business partner Clifton Hempstead in January 2019.
“You walk up and the first thing you’ll see even before you come in the door is a big sandwich board with your name on it, so you automatically feel welcome,” said the Polsky Small Business Growth Program participant. “Once you walk in, one of the staff greets you and introduces you to all the trainers and any members currently working out.
“From there, we have what we call a strategy session where you sit down one-on-one with a staff member to get to know you as a person, discuss your goals and preferences, take your measurements, and conduct a functional movement assessment.
“We use this information to create an individualized program based on your goals, personality type, body type, and physical capabilities.”
Members download an app where they receive personalized workouts that they complete during group training sessions. A trainer oversees each session, offering motivation and ensuring proper form for an effective experience. It’s a style of training developed by Anthos and named “community personal” training.
The style seems to resonate with its members. The club earned the title “Best Gym in Chicago” in the Chicago Reader’s latest “Best of” issue, where winners are determined by popular vote.
“It meant a lot to get that validation, especially for being a small club,” Mitchell said of the honor. “I’m proud that our members enjoy coming here and I’m proud of the impact we’ve had in their lives, and how they’ve impacted ours.”
Finding a career path in Korea
Mitchell hadn’t always planned on becoming a small business owner. He attended Southern Illinois University on a full Presidential Scholarship and graduated with a degree in finance. He realized after an internship with GE that finance was not the career path for him, though.
While an undergraduate, he had also earned a black belt in taekwondo and had competed in tournaments. He enjoyed the sport and wanted to see how good he could become – and in the back of his mind was the idea of teaching the sport or opening his own training studio.
With that intention, he headed to Yong-In University in South Korea and enrolled in its prestigious Master’s in taekwondo program. He continued to compete in U.S. collegiate and national tournaments during his three years there. In preparation for the national tournament one year, he decided to supplement his martial arts training with personal training. The addition of strength training helped him achieve a second-place finish at the 2015 AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) National Championships. The improvement in his performance helped him discover his vocation.
“I realized that I enjoy teaching and having an impact on people’s lives,” Mitchell said. “Only certain people want to do martial arts, but everyone can benefit from strength training. I thought personal training would be a great way to reach a lot of people – that was more important to me than the vessel I used to get there.”
Clearly defined goals
With his career path more clearly defined, Mitchell began earning certifications in strength and conditioning and nutrition. He secured a job as a personal trainer at a fitness center, where he met Hempstead. The two worked together for a couple of years before discovering they both harbored ambitions of owning their own gym. The two began discussing their training and business philosophies and found multiple similarities.
“We had slight differences, but the ‘why’ behind everything aligned,” said Mitchell. “And we saw that when we put our two minds together, great things happen.”
When they launched the gym in 2019, the co-founders split the business and training aspects of the gym 50/50, resulting in nearly 14-hour workdays. They also both sacrificed paychecks for the first six months to get the business off the ground.
Fast forward a year, business had begun to pick up and they had hired their first employee. Then, the pandemic hit.
“We were feeling good and having some of our best months right before COVID hit and we had to shut down,” Mitchell said. “There was a little bit of panic, obviously, since we were operating at 13% of the previous month’s revenue. We weren’t really sure what to do.”
One beacon of hope was an emergency program the Polsky Center put together to help small businesses navigate the pandemic. Anthos participated in the program and gained valuable guidance and ideas on how to pivot during this time.
“We were really thankful for that program,” Mitchell said. “The information they provided helped us make adjustments and we essentially become a more efficient business as a result.”
Now, for instance, the founders have specific areas of focus instead of splitting business operations equally. Mitchell handles the business end and Hempstead the training. This not only has led to smoother operations, Mitchell said, but has also returned personal time to the owners.
Anthos, which today has five employees, now has a goal of entering corporate fitness management. By bringing their trainers to on-site gyms at corporations, the training club gets to spread its message of community and health to a broader audience, Mitchell said.
“It’s an opportunity to bring people together, to connect someone in an entry-level position with a C-suite executive in an organic way,” he said. “It also gives our trainers exposure to different training environments. We are very big on inclusion and the more people we can get into health and fitness, the better.”