Someone once told Gary Swarni that he wouldn’t be able to make a career in fitness. But fitness was in his blood. And now, all these years later, he can look back on that moment with pride at how far he’s come. He now knows it’s possible to have your dream life in this industry.
Gary currently runs two successful businesses separate from personal training facilities: he manages gym construction projects and is the President of Gary Swarni Inc., a business/leadership consulting practice.
Gary has been seriously involved in business/ life coaching, business development, leadership programming and sales throughout his entire working career. He has broad leadership experience with people across a wide variety of business sectors.
Gary has been married for 15 years to Jill and has two children, Christina 13 and Jackson 9. He and his family live in Fairfield County Connecticut. He is an active Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner with a passion for staying healthy and being active with his family. He took a few minutes with us to chat about his journey, the ups and downs along the way, his plans for the future — and he shares with us some valuable words of wisdom.
How did you get started in the fitness industry?
I started cleaning the floors for World Gym when I was 17 years old. From that point, I was hooked on the industry and have worked in it ever since.
How did your career evolve?
As I said earlier, I started cleaning gym floors when I was in high school. When I was in college and someone told me I wouldn’t be able to make a career in fitness, I believed him. Right after college, I took a job in sales outside of fitness. Then, before I knew it, I was taking a train from CT to NYC and I was a project manager for a major commercial construction company. But during that time, I never stopped training on the side.
On the train ride home, I would get changed into my training gear in the restroom and go train at the local gym until 11pm. Fitness was in my blood. However, I always heard that voice saying that I would never be able to make it.
After a few years dabbling in training, my wife said, “You need to take the leap.” So I did. I left my well-paying job in NYC and became a trainer with three clients. Two weeks later my wife got sick and was on bed rest with our soon-to-be-born daughter. I thought, ‘Oh sh**, what do I do now?’ At that time, I read every book and knocked on every door. I needed clients to pay the bills and support my family but I also wanted to learn how to open and run a successful gym. Crazy times.
My wife, Jill, and my sister in-law Deborah and I opened Elevate Fitness gym in 2008 just one month before the financial crisis. Another crazy time.
In 2012, I still heard the voice in my head saying that I would never be able to make it in the fitness industry. So, on the weekends, I went into NYC in the mornings and took investment banking classes. I did this for many months until I earned my investment banking certification. After I earned the certification, I convinced a private equity company that invested in health and wellness companies to hire me part-time. So, once again I was splitting my time. I would train at Elevate Fitness in the mornings, then leave and work on financial models in the afternoons. After some time, I realized that I had to FOCUS on one thing. That one thing that always made me happy — fitness. So, I went all in on Elevate Fitness.
It has been a ride to say the least. I have hated it at times and loved it other times. I would not change a thing. The knowledge of health, business and human behavior that I have learned is priceless.
Since then, I’ve started a construction company that builds gyms for homes, schools and commercial buildings. I have also focused a lot of my time on helping others build and scale their businesses with my consulting company. I have a unique set of skills because of my background and I want to be able to bring that to others.
Now I know how to make the fitness business work. I know now that you can have your dream life in this industry. I want to share that with the world.
Have you had a mentor or someone you’ve looked up to? If so, how did that particular person help?
I have had so many mentors along the way. Todd Durkin is my dear friend and mentor who has taught me so much. If I had to choose one thing it would be “the way you do one thing is the way you do everything.” Chip Baird, founder of North Castle Partners, is truly the reason I am here today. He took me under his wing and taught me about business. He told me “people try to be efficient — forget that — you need to be effective.” That changed the game for me. I have viewed time differently from then on.
I’m also a constant learner. I am always reading and questioning everything. I love the idea of constant growth. I am incredibly happy, but not content.
Was there ever a time in your career where you felt like you were just spinning your wheels? If so, how did you get through that and on to something better?
There have been so many times. The most significant was one day in 2012. I vividly recall sitting on the floor right by the front desk when I told Jilly that I don’t know what to do with this business. I felt like we were getting nowhere. She told me to lift my head up and use my resources. She said, “You train the top business people in the world. They would love to help you.” I thought to myself, “Why would they ever want to help or talk to me about business?” Boy was I wrong. From that point on, I have leaned on so many individuals for all areas of life and business.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made? How did you remedy that mistake and how has it made you better?
I think that the more mistakes you make, the more you learn. Needless to say, I feel like I have learned a lot. The biggest mistake I think I made was not having a clear enough plan. I knew that I wanted to help people. I knew that I wanted to create amazing relationships and have some type of impact on the community, but I wasn’t 100% clear how to do that. At the beginning, I really didn’t take the time to write it all down. Once I started to get super clear on myself and the business, things started to change in a good way. I understood the direction. Did I veer off course? Heck yes I did, but I knew how to get back on because I knew the vision.
What’s the best thing you ever did? How did the decision to do that one thing re-route your career?
This is easy. I opened up and started to talk to mentors. I asked for help. I have learned so much about health, business, training and life just from talking to people. I’m naturally a shy guy so at first it was super hard for me. I really don’t like social events or things like that. So, I would send emails. Then get on the phone. Once I was able to build those relationships, the nerves calmed down a bit.
How do you balance the demands on your time and the opportunities that come your way with family time, time for yourself, time to work out, eating right, etc.?
Balance is a hard word for me to understand. Here’s why. I know what is important in my life. I know that family always comes first. I know that I have to be in great health. I know that I want an amazing business. Because I know those things, I know what to focus on.
When I’m at home that is where I am. When I’m in the gym that’s where I am, and so on and so forth. I, by no means, am perfect at this but I always want to be where my feet are. I think it always comes down to understanding what you want out of life and what your priorities are.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self — 5, 10, or 20 years ago — what would it be?
That nothing is going to happen overnight. NOTHING. Trust the process and if you’re going to do something do it to the best of your ability. Also, don’t compare yourself to others. That’s going to get you nowhere because you have no idea what their story is.
What do you think is the greatest opportunity in the fitness industry right now? What do you think is this industry’s biggest deficit?
I think the biggest opportunity is one-on-one coaching. We are in a different time period where individuals have different needs. People need that individual love and connection now more than ever. I also believe that virtual training is what people want and need. Going back to the basic need of understanding and helping the individual. Biggest defect: comparison. Instagram and social media are great for so many things but I believe that some people think that’s all real life. It’s not. Work hard and be yourself.
What is in your future one year from now? Five years from now?
The future is always a funny thing to me because you can plan it out but you never know what’s going to happen. My plan is that one year from now my FOCUS coaching program is going to be mainstream. I want to help people in all areas of life from the knowledge I have acquired. I have been using this methodology of coaching for years and now I want to bring it to the world.
Five years from now... my wife and children will say Gary/Daddy said he was going to do “X” and he always followed through to make that happen. I want to make my family proud and teach my kids that hard work and loving people are great things.