Ryan James via Startup Savant
Nic DeCaire is a fitness expert and founder of Fusion Fitness, a fitness center where members not only work out together, they do business together. Nic is an enthusiastic, philanthropic and results-oriented small business owner dedicated to improving the health of Delaware residents.
He is a natural problem solver, who is adept at building connections and bringing people together for the benefit of the community. Nic is also a versatile communicator with experience in print, video and online media.
In this interview, Nic shares how his background in fitness drove him to start a business of his own. He shares the mission of Fusion Fitness being not only a fitness center but a community where people can do business together. Keep reading for helpful insights from Nic, ‘the hands-on owner’ and how you can apply his thoughts to your business!
His advice to anyone starting a business:
If I had to give any advice, I would tell them, “The devil is in the details.”
WHAT MOTIVATED YOU TO START FUSION FITNESS? DID YOU SEE A WAY TO SERVE CUSTOMERS BETTER THAN YOUR COMPETITORS?
I started Fusion Fitness because I did not want to sell insurance.
I had been in the fitness business for about eight years when the gym I was working at announced it was closing. I was 25 years old. I needed to make a decision.
I could go work for the family business and sell life insurance. Sure, I would be making great money from the start but that did not motivate me. This was the safe road to travel. Who wants to go down the path where you already know the ending?
Instead, I decided to take a leap of faith and open my own fitness center. It had been my dream since I was a teenager and worked at the local Gold’s Gym. It’s not an exaggeration to say this was a life-changing experience. Working there exposed me to the world of weightlifting, and I ended up competing in bodybuilding and powerlifting for most of my teenage years and into my early 20s. I saw what the sport did for me physically and mentally and I knew it could do the same for others. Plus, it didn’t hurt to be in really good shape on the dating scene.
With the closing of my employer, there was no local fitness center. I saw a need. I figured that with no other competition, a community that includes the University of Delaware – home to 20,000 students – and an equal number of residents, it was sure to be a success.
WHEN DID YOU KNOW THAT YOU HAD A BUSINESS ON YOUR HANDS AND NOT JUST A ‘GOOD IDEA’? (THE ‘AHA!’ MOMENT)
Opening Fusion was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I couldn’t afford to hire a contractor so my good friend Robbie and I literally spent three months working 14 to 16 hours a day every day fitting out Fusion so that my dream could become a reality.
I remember many days when we would be working and people from the community would stop in and check out the progress. “When are you going to be open?” they asked. They were just as excited as me.
After three months of construction, I knew I had a business. But one of the first times it actually felt real was when I was walking down the street to get lunch and I saw a member wearing a Fusion Fitness t-shirt.
It was one of the coolest feelings to see someone representing the brand that I created. At that point, I knew we were becoming bigger than just weights and treadmills.
MOST BUSINESSES EVOLVE OVER TIME. IS THERE A WAY THAT YOU SLOWLY EVOLVED THE MISSION OF FUSION FITNESS TO SERVE YOUR CUSTOMERS BETTER?
The mission of Fusion is to change lives through fitness. We have evolved over the years like many small businesses do.
Ten years ago, we had a thriving business with hundreds of University of Delaware students. By year three, however, this started to dwindle. This was right around when the economy started to go downhill. I assume parents stopped giving their children extra spending money after paying $20,000 a year for them to go to school.
I knew I needed to change something fast. We shifted from a fitness center that focused on selling memberships to a results-based facility. People who truly want results are willing to pay for them. They know they can’t do it on their own, so they are willing to spend money to feel sexier.
We focused on working more closely with our clients through personal training, team training and nutrition. After finding out what our clients need, we design custom workouts for them. They meet with our nutrition coach to talk about food. We also get them involved in our community so they feel a sense of belonging.
Community is a big deal to us. We have used Fusion to not only serve our customers better but also to serve our neighbors better. We have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the surrounding community through fundraisers and fitness challenges. Right now, we are working on building an adaptive playground in our town.
We have created three non-profits over the years. The first, the Friends of Newark Police K-9 Fund, has purchased 3 K-9s for the local police department, along with equipment and training for the officers. We have raised about $130,000 for them in the past 10 years.
More recently, we started fundraising for Preston’s Playground, an 8,400 square-foot adaptive playground to be built in the city of Newark. We have raised $440,000 so far. We also started Fusion Inclusion, an organization that provides adaptive running chairs in the community so everybody has the opportunity to cross the finish line. We have raised $25,000 toward that effort.
WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER THE BIGGEST MILESTONE THAT YOU HAVE HIT WITH YOUR BUSINESS? WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST THING YOU DID YOU GET THERE?
We just celebrated 10 years in business. There were a few times I didn’t think we would make it. Most small businesses fail in the first couple of years.
I can honestly say the only reason we have been able to beat the odds is because of our loyal members and the community. We had a pretty rough couple years in 2011 and 2012. Because of my relationship with local banks, I was able to get a loan to help recover from some bad business decisions. Without the relationships I have built over the years, it would have been hard to secure the money. But they believed in me.
I had this dream when we reached 10 years that we were going to throw the party of all parties. We ended up having a black-tie affair as a fundraiser for three non-profits we support. This party was not about Fusion, though. It was about the community who helped us achieve this milestone. We recognized those organizations at the event and used the proceeds to donate money to their causes.
It was amazing. Having members celebrate a milestone of 10 years with you is special, let alone getting them to put on a tux and fancy dress. Normally, we see these people in sweat pants and dirty t-shirts. I even walked past a couple members wondering who the hell was crashing our party. It was a night I never will forget.
YOUR DAYS NO DOUBT CAN BE PRETTY CRAZY. WHAT ONE THING WOULD YOU SAY MOTIVATES YOU TO KEEP PUSHING FORWARD?
During the week, I wake up and help get my daughters ready for school. I check email while I am making their lunches and make sure nothing has changed in the day’s plan.
I drive my daughter, Josephine to school every morning. It’s special because we spend some uninterrupted time together and talk. Heaven forbid, I check my phone at a red light because she will scold me. This is time I need to get mentally prepared for the day’s challenges.
Soon after arriving at Fusion, I am either working with a client or jumping right into the day’s tasks in the office. (My staff will tell you that I often get sidetracked by a member and spend some of this time talking.)
My morning is so jam-packed with clients, meetings or budgeting that I usually don’t take lunch and wind up grabbing a protein shake. At 3, I‘m out the door to pick up Josephine from school. She and I run a couple errands then we pick up my other daughter Grace at daycare. We get home and I start making dinner.
I usually work from home in the evening, put the girls to bed and then head back to the gym to close for the night. I have closed almost every night for the past 10 years. We hire a lot of University of Delaware students for the front desk and I want to make sure our team feels safe at work. I know they are probably fine to close on their own but I feel as an employer it is my duty to make sure.
When I get home – again – I answer emails or write while trying to watch some crappy television show. During all of this, I find time to work on my other company, Fusion Racing, and the non-profits we have.
So what motivates me to have a crazy schedule like this? My family. I want to be able to provide a good life for them financially but also have them be proud of what we have accomplished. My daughters love coming to Fusion and dancing in the back room or “training their clients.” They are proud to be a part of it, which in turn makes me proud of what I have built.
The second thing that motivates me is the community. Over the last decade, we have been able to change many lives. We call it the “ripple effect.” I have a saying that I reference a lot: “Toss the stone and create the ripple.” To me, it means never be afraid to make a splash and see what comes from it.
When you toss a stone into the water, what happens? It creates a ripple that keeps going and going and going. When you create a ripple in the community, the good deeds keep going and going and going – not necessarily by you, but by what you created.
I often stop and think that if I never opened Fusion, where would some of these people and organizations be? I want to keep moving forward so I can change more lives. Leave a legacy, not regrets. One day when I have moved on or am gone, I want people to be able to see the positive things I did in the community, not just that I owned a fitness center.
WHO HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST INFLUENCER ALONG YOUR ENTREPRENEURIAL JOURNEY? HOW DID THEY SHAPE FUSION FITNESS?
Probably one of my biggest influencers would be my father, Xavier DeCaire. From a young age, he showed me how hard work and giving back to the community make for a fulfilled life. He always made time for me and my sisters when we were younger. I try to do the same for my family.
When I was just starting, people I met who knew my father always made mention of what a great man he is. Actually, I still run into people who knew my grandfather and they tell me what a great man he was. Both my grandfather and my father had a strong desire to help others. They always put other people first. I am just trying to live up to the family legacy.
Years ago, when I told my father I was dropping out of school to pursue my dreams I thought he would be angry. He wasn’t. He understood when I explained that I was bored in school, falling asleep in class from working so much as a personal trainer and also making more money as a trainer than I would when I graduated. I didn’t want to waste his money.
He supported me and told me I was making a good decision. Even though in his heart he might have felt otherwise, he never let me believe I was making a mistake. Realizing how important education is, I returned to school and earned my degree from Wilmington University.
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST THING YOU STRUGGLE WITH AS A BUSINESS OWNER? DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR HOW FUTURE ENTREPRENEURS CAN OVERCOME IT?
The biggest thing I struggle with as a business owner is time management. I have a hard time saying no. I am a people pleaser. Because of this, I get roped into a lot of projects that sidetrack me from my businesses.
They are all great projects, but I have learned saying yes to everything leaves me little time to work on my own business. Without my business, I cannot help others. So I am getting more careful about what I say yes to now.
My advice for a future star is to take care of yourself first. If you don’t take care of yourself, how can you take care of anyone else?
HOW DOES BEING AN ENTREPRENEUR AFFECT YOUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY?
This can be challenging sometimes. If your friends work a 9 to 5 job and collect a regular paycheck, they may not understand the struggle and stress of someone who has to earn their living daily. They may not understand the long hours or meetings.
Owning your own business will show you who your true friends really are. Luckily for me, I have very few friends. They understand that sometimes you might not hear from me for weeks or a month but when you do it will be just like old times.
Family relationships can be tough. You want to spend as much time with your family as possible, but the business requires long and different hours all the time. You have to find a balance for both. My wife, Anne, has supported me through every venture. She is also not afraid to tell me when enough is enough. I am a dreamer. Anne is able to bring me back to reality.
WHERE DO YOU SEE FUSION FITNESS IN THE NEXT 5 YEARS? ANY NEW PRODUCTS IN DEVELOPMENT?
Fusion has evolved over the past couple of years, and I don’t want to own multiple facilities. Owning more does not always mean more money, it just means more expenses and more headaches.
But we continue to add to the Fusion brand. We recently launched a sister company, Fusion Racing. We are an event management company for road races. In less than a year, we have managed more than 30 races and own four of our own personal races. Fusion Racing has grown faster than I could have imagined. We recently held a one-mile race for the police K-9 unit that tripled in size from last year.
I really want to connect the running world to the fitness world. I’ve discovered there is a separation between people who run and people who lift weights. We train several runners who have found the amazing benefits from strength training.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OUR READERS WHO WANT TO START A BUSINESS IN DELAWARE? WHERE SHOULD THEY START?
Before I opened my business I had a meeting with one of my dad’s friends who is a very successful business owner. He asked me what I wanted to do with my life and gave me some good advice.
At the end of the meeting he said, “Nic, the devil is in the details.” At that time, I really didn’t know what he meant. Ten years later, I do.
I didn’t do my homework when I opened up Fusion. I had the mentality, “If you build it, they will come.” It worked for Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams,” right?
By the time construction was done and the doors opened, I had $300 in my checking account and had to make rent in two weeks. Ten years, later the doors are still open and we are still changing lives. I think I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out the details.
If I had to give any advice, I would tell them, “The devil is in the details.”