You're in peak physical condition, thanks to Uncle Sam. Before civilian life starts turning all that hard to soft, maybe you can make some money off those killer abs.
Think about it. Fitness will generate $45.2 billion this year, according to market research firm IBISWorld. That includes yoga and Pilates, boxing gyms and clubs, personal trainers, fitness DVDs and online sporting apparel sales. The industry ought to be facing hard times. People have less disposable income than before the Endless Recession, and a lot of folks would rather look for a job than go to the gym. Yet all these categories still have grown over the past five years, according to IBISWorld. See what we're saying? There is real income potential here. To get the juices flowing, here are three stories of veterans who turned their fitness ideas into profitable businesses.
Who: Former Army Staff Sgt. Jason McCarthy, 33; left the service in 2008, last serving in Special Forces in Fort Carson, Colo., and now working in Jackson Beach, Fla.
What: The GORUCK Challenge, a military-style program of team building and physical endurance. "It's exposure to a slice of special operations training in a positive, encouraging way. Our cadre [of ex-special operators] build a team out of individuals through a series of missions, through the execution of teamwork and leadership," McCarthy says. For $120 to $160, participants get to carry logs, haul water containers and forge bonds of camaraderie in the process.
How it happened: McCarthy developed the idea while a student at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business, where he earned a Master of Business Administration degree in 2011. He'd already developed the GORUCK, a rugged carry-all, and the Challenge launched in September 2011 as a way to publicize the bag. How is it different? "Like others, it is very physically difficult, but the explicit goal here is leadership. We don't ask anyone to do a million pushups, and we don't brag about dropping anybody. Instead, we challenge people to overcome their perceived limitations."
How did you bring it to market? "People really sold it for us," McCarthy said. "At first, I thought it was just a great way to take pictures of the gear, but I quickly saw that people wanted to do it again — they wanted to bring their friends. People started telling people on social media, and our name started popping up everywhere."
Lessons learned: "Don't get married to a plan. You rely on people instead. If you treat them well and if you listen to them, you will succeed. You have to listen to that feedback. It's never just your way or the highway."
Who: Air Force Capt. Matt Richter-Sand, 30; a reservist in Los Angeles who previously served at Edwards Air Force Base as a communications officer before leaving active duty in 2007.
What: NX, a nutrition- and exercise-based fitness program. "You do five new workouts a week delivered via the Internet, and they are no more than 30 to 40 minutes long. There is a game dynamic; you get points for actions. It costs $29 a month."
How it happened: "I got my MBA at UCLA and was surrounded by entrepreneurs. That's where I really got the bug to do something on my own. I ran a fitness boot camp program for a couple of years in Los Angeles, and I realized I could help more people if I ran an online boot camp, where I didn't have to be there. It would be much more scalable. My undergrad was computer science, and doing communications in the Air Force included a lot of computer programming. So I built the whole website, built in the interactivity myself."
How is it different? "More than anything else, it's the team aspect. You see what your scores are, and you see your friends' scores. So it is much more of a game than a lot of other fitness programs out there. Also, a lot of programs think about nutrition or exercise, where with NX, it's about nutrition and exercise."
How did you bring it to market? "I've done Google advertising and Facebook advertising, and that has helped me target my top market segments — busy moms and traveling professionals. I'm also doing focused PR. For example, I have a contest with ‘mommy bloggers,' having them form teams and compete against each other. I'm hoping they will recruit other moms and bring them in."
Lessons learned: "We are not always right. We have a vision of what the product should be, but at the end of the day, it's not what we think it should be — it's what the customers want. I've really learned to listen to the customers and what they have to say."
Who: Former Marine Capt. Charla McMillian; left the Corps in 1990 as an intelligence analyst.
What: FitBoot strength and conditioning training for the recreational athlete. Body weight exercises, calisthenics, strength and conditioning exercises, five mornings a week for $80 a month. The six-week induction costs $395. Launched in 1997 in Alameda, Calif., the program has drawn more than 600 people.
How it happened: "I thought that I could give people fitness the way we do it in the military, with this much structure, these kinds of demands. Everybody shows up when they are supposed to, they line up, they are executing drills and exercises in cadence. Then I would add the science and the understanding behind it. We have buckets of research going on all the time, with people from Olympic coaches to professional sports teams making sure that we prepare athletes effectively. We can access that knowledge."
How is it different? "It's about science and application, getting things done the proper way. It's not about the hype. It's not what you see on infomercials. There is this idea that all you want is something that will kick your ass, you get out there for an hour and a half and it just tears you up, and that's how you get in shape. But there is just no science behind [that]."
How did you bring it to market? "I built a Web page, and it wasn't brilliant, but I started out with two clients, standing outside in the park. From there it was word of mouth, which is how it's been working ever since. I tacked up some fliers on a few bulletin boards. I do go on the Internet and post on groups and boards that I am a member of, but really I am no genius at salesmanship. It has been nearly all word [of] mouth."
Lessons learned: "Stay away from advertising. That will just break you. My partner is a PR professional, and she has told me this is exactly right. Everybody wants to talk to me about this great advertising package or that package, and it's great if you are McDonald's or Coke, because they can get that name in front of you over and over and over and over. For me, as a small business, to blast my name in front of your eyeballs that many times — I don't have the resources to do that."