CEO and Owner Alberto Ortiz didn’t like being told what to do. Especially when, in the summer of 2009, the bigwigs at the corporate gym where he was employed as a personal trainer shut down his newly minted youth boxing program. Feeling powerless and downtrodden, he told himself it was the last time he would be told what to do.
A few months later, ready or not, he opened Work Train Fight. “If it cost 10 dollars to open a gym, I had 9.” His goal was to create a home where trainers of all kinds would feel appreciated.
Hidden on the second floor of a nondescript building in downtown NYC, it wasn’t much more than a boxing ring and a few pieces of weightlifting equipment. But what the gym lacked in space, Work Train Fight made up for in enthusiasm.
Alberto was challenged by the fact that he was the youngest person in the room. He didn’t yet feel comfortable in the role of El Jefe. But as the gym began to grow, so too did his confidence.
The Early Years
Each year, since it’s inception, there has been an expansion (except for 2013, when “we needed a goddamn break”). Whether it was increasing the size of the weightlifting area, adding a women’s locker room, creating a boot-camp studio, or opening a pop-up satellite location, Work Train Fight kept growing.
However, Alberto was spread too thin. Lacking an extensive staff, Alberto wore many hats: maintenance, trainer, front desk — to name just a few. In order to influence more people, he would need to surround himself with a staff.
But, remembering his own experience, he recognized that in order to succeed, he would need his staff to be happy. And that would translate to the members.
His main objective was to create an environment where his staff felt supported, felt ownership, felt empowered. “At Soul Cycle do you know what happens to the trainers after they teach a class? They leave. They have to leave.”
Work Train Fight, on the other hand, became a place where trainers had a myriad of different opportunities every day. It became a place where trainer could stay. Where they wanted to stay.
He allowed his trainers to develop roles within the business to increase their sense of ownership. Nikki grew to become a director of product development, mentoring a new line of trainers. Kate went from training clients to designing and creating a line of apparel. Amber tackled the Social Media. The list goes on.
It paid off. The staff was happy, creating an infectious energy that only happens when people love where they work, and it kept members coming back to this hidden gem (I mean gym) month after month, year after year.
The Chelsea Debacle
In 2016, to keep up with the demand, Alberto decided he was ready to open a permanent second location. The problem with having a dream, a vision, a passion, is that other people are always going to want to tell you NO.
After being rejected by countless bankers, investors, realtors and landlords, his own belief in his vision started to waver.
That’s when he realized he needed to take a step back and remember why he opened Work Train Fight in the first place: not necessarily to change the world, but to make a world of change for a small group of people.
More importantly, he needed to remember that he’s f**king El Jefe, and he was going to do it, one way or another.
“If there’s one lesson I learned, it’s that it’s not our successes that make a good leader. It’s our failures. Recovering from failures has made me stronger.”
And stronger we grow. In the coming months Work Train Fight will be undergoing a major expansion, almost doubling our square footage, creating more space and opportunity. We still may not be the biggest gym, or have the most locations, but we have one thing: the biggest heart.
Stay tuned to next week’s blog for all the juicy details.