In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept 15 – Oct. 15), we are spotlighting Chicago's Train Moment and its co-owner Nikolas Rodriguez, who identifies as Mexican American. Keep reading for Lively's interview with the entrepreneur, and learn about his commitment to the Latinx and Hispanic communities, as well as what he would tell his younger self today.
Lively: Let's start from the beginning. How did you first get into fitness?
Nikolas Rodriguez: I've been around sports and training since the age of four. My athletic career culminated with playing Division 1 Collegiate football at the prestigious University of Notre Dame, where I graduated Magna Cum Laude, double majoring in marketing and psychology. After three years working in major advertising firms in Miami and Detroit post-college, I yearned to find a career I was truly passionate about. So, I got certified as a personal trainer and moved to Chicago in Spring 2012, where I began working at five different styles of gyms, where I functioned as a personal trainer, group coach, front desk worker, manager and cleaner. This helped me learn the ins and outs of operating major fitness brands (Flywheel) in addition to various mom-and-pop shops. Within 18 months, I went from an unpaid intern to owning 25% of a high-end personal training boutique in downtown Chicago (Hardpressed).
I ran the studio as General Manager for 12 months, taking the concept from the red into profitability and doubling revenue by mid 2015. I got an opportunity to create my first business from the ground up (Strive Village) in March 2016. Strive Village was quickly successful and grew into a $1 million dollar revenue business (28% profit margin) in just 30 months under my leadership. Closing out 2018, my partners parted ways allowing me to switch focus to finalizing the dream of my own concept. My business partner and wife, Kati, helped me bring the vision (Train Moment) to life. We launched it in November 2019. I currently manage all financial and fitness programming aspects of the brand. I plan to grow the business both in and outside Chicago after a successful launch during the COVID-19 pandemic. Train Moment's second location is opening in Milwaukee this November!
L: In your own words, what does it mean to be Latinx – especially in the fitness industry?
NR: Being Latinx in the fitness industry truly makes you feel like a minority, but we are ready to change that! Wellness through traditional exercise is often not prioritized in many Latinx cultures. Accordingly, in nearly every gym across Chicago, you will clearly notice that we are severely disproportionately represented as trainers, consumers and owners. However, we make up nearly 1 in 5 people in the USA.
I am here to change that one client and one gym at a time. In fact, one of my biggest sources of pride in Train Moment is the beautiful, multicultural community we have been able to build.
L: What was a monumental obstacle you faced and how did you overcome it?
NR: Let's go with navigating our start-up fitness concept, Train Moment, through a global pandemic. My wife and I were blessed to open our doors in November 2019, but we did not know that four months into operating we would have to shut our doors for nearly three months.
I like to say that the COVID-19 pandemic made us "grow up fast" as an organization. I believe in our first 18 months; we refined our operation to the point that would have typically taken three or more years. We had to get really good, really fast. From the day we had to cease operations in March 2020, we asked ourselves how we could continue to provide service to our clients and anyone seeking an outlet through exercise. Our answer was providing complimentary live digital training multiple times each day which we did for the entire time we could not operate. During this stressful and uncertain time, we were grateful to be able to provide this service to our community and beyond. We received kind emails and letters from all over the country! As a result, we were able to build and reinforce the awesome community and culture that we were building.
Overall, the focus on "the little things" has been a major factor in our ability to stay ahead in this challenging business climate. We practice what we preach in our ethos statement: "We are creating a community and atmosphere to inspire everyone who walks into our doors to always be ready for the big moments by preparing in the 'small' moments. We do not misconstrue 'small' to be less. In fact, we believe that these moments in between – the seemingly more significant moments – define our lives."
L: If you could tell your younger self one thing about where you're currently at, what would you tell them?
NR: The path to success is paved by challenges, losses and disappointments. These obstacles happen to us all, but it's how we respond and move past them that defines our story. Keep pushing and never give up. Now that I think of it, "Never Give Up" was the theme of a speech I gave at my high school graduation. I guess I was wise beyond my years!
Photos: Courtesy of Nikolas Rodriguez & Train Moment