CrossFit gym owner reflects on business start-up

By Meghan Hosely


Members of FitElite warm up on the open gym floor prior to their class. © Meghan Hosely

Members of FitElite warm up on the open gym floor prior to their class. © Meghan Hosely

The first time Dave Hildebrandt walked into a CrossFit gym and looked around, he didn’t believe he would get a good workout in 15 minutes without any free weights in sight.

By the end of the workout, Hildebrandt said, he worked harder in that short time than he ever did in a conventional gym. The camaraderie in between everyone in the class also had him hooked.

“The community aspect was phenomenal,” Hildebrandt said. “All these people knew each other and they were laughing; it was so different than the conventional gyms where you put your headphones on and you do dumbbells and curls.”

After his first workout session, Hildebrandt went home and told his wife he was going to open a CrossFit gym in Eau Claire. In 2009, Hildebrandt opened FitElite, a CrossFit of Eau Claire gym. Now the gym is a gathering place for people to attend CrossFit classes or have one-on-one training sessions.

CrossFit, founded in 2000 in Santa Cruz, Calif., is a core strength and conditioning program. It’s a workout designed to enhance physical endurance through exercises such as squats, shoulder presses and deadlifts.

Now, the FitElite gym sits in a warehouse-like building off of Mall Drive. Around lunch time, the space is a little empty, save for a few members of the gym waiting for their one-on-one with their trainers.

One of the trainers, Shane Beck, has been a part of FitElite since 2012, when Hildebrandt asked him to be his business partner.

The pair met at CrossFit Essentials, a program designed to teach the fundamentals of CrossFit. Beck introduced himself to Hildebrandt, but, it was Hildebrandt who proposed the partnership.

“I had been thinking about doing something in the fitness industry, and I just asked him how to get started, and he said, ‘You just kind of go and do it,’” Beck said, laughing. “Within six months, I was partnered with him here.”

Beck said it was the common passion for fitness that bound the two together, along with their differences that fill each other’s gaps. His accounting and finance degree, Beck said, is a good balance to Hildebrandt’s corporate exercise management degree.

“I have a lot of the business background, and he didn’t have a lot of that,” Beck said. “But from a coaching and performance background, he had more of that. I can learn from him, and he can learn from me.”

For Hildebrandt and Beck, learning is constant. Like many start-up business owners, Hildebrandt said, he had to overcome struggles and has learned a lot about owning a business within the last year.

“I’d say in the last year to two years, I’ve learned a lot more about the business aspect,” Hildebrandt said. “Understanding the systems in place in order to be successful, and if you don’t have them in place, then that’s why businesses tend to fail.”

In the last year, the two have developed problem-solving solutions, so if something happens when they aren’t around, staff know what to do right away.

The result, he said, has been increased membership. More people have signed up to participate in FitElite’s classes or one-on-one sessions in the last year than before.

Jessica Valentino joined FitElite in September 2014. She said she initially went in for her consultation because she saw CrossFit on TV and wondered what it was about. While Valentino works one-on-one with Beck on a semi-regular basis, she said she’s been impressed with how Hildebrandt interacts with her in the gym as well.

“Dave is always there to greet you,” Valentino said. “I don’t think I’ve ever gone into the gym and he wasn’t there to greet me.”

Hildebrandt said the best part of owning FitElite is affecting people for the better, and watching lives change. Not only does Hildebrandt see single lives change, he sees it carry over into entire families, which he said, is rewarding.

“I know it’s truly why I want to do it and continue to do it and why I won’t just take myself completely out of it and sit behind that desk all day,” Hildebrandt said. “That’s part of what fulfills me in life, is being down there and helping people, for sure.”

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