“Do you want to get patted on the ass and told you’re doing a good job if you weren’t trying that hard?”
This is not a hypothetical question. It’s an everyday reality for Dustin Martin, the co-owner of Barry’s Bootcamp, along with fellow Charlestown resident Brian Weller, where hundreds of sweat-seekers take grueling classes every day and leave exhausted but hungry for more.
Martin doesn’t look like the type of guy who doesn’t try hard. What he does look like is ... well, the type of dude who might own and operate a popular downtown Boston gym, all calves and biceps and a smile that might fool you into thinking that he won’t absolutely annihilate you once one of his class starts.
But while he’s undoubtedly got the whole brawn thing covered, it’s his business savvy that’s gotten him to where he is today.
Martin was an investment banker at Lehman Brothers during the financial collapse, grinding through stupidly long days for a career that promised him mountains of money but not much fulfillment beyond that. He stuck with that path for years, eventually meeting Weller at Barclays after they bought out Lehman.
“Pretty early in that initial career I realized it wasn’t really what I wanted to do,” Martin told me. “But it’s what my friends were doing. It was the hot career in 2004.”
But it was not the career for him.
Martin and Weller became restless in the treadmill of corporate investment banking. They needed a change, and they found one in a shared passion for fitness.
“How can we stop working for the big guys and do something on our own?” he recalls them thinking.
They tried several different classes before finding Barry’s. “We thought it just had a ton of legs. It was in its infancy stage of expansion and they were opening franchises,” he said.
That was early 2012. But October 2013, they’d opened Barry’s Bootcamp on Chauncey Street, quickly making it one of the city’s hottest workout tickets.
But it didn’t come without its challenges.
“The learning curve to opening your own business is massive. And it’s something we never anticipated,” Martin said. “I think we knew we’d make mistakes with the first one. We’ll make mistakes with the second one. We’re making mistakes today. Brian and I are just brutally honest with ourselves. We learn from our mistakes.”
They’ve hired the wrong people. They’ve hired the right people at the wrong time. They underestimated how much much effort, and money, it takes to keep a business like theirs clean and sanitary., They’ve come to understand that customer service is just as, if not more, important than that day’s workout regimen. That someone will always leave the class thinking something could have been just a little better.
They’ve realized you can’t keep everyone happy all the time. But it’s never stopped them from trying.
“The line is constantly moving between having a policy, being stern and valuing your customers who are good to you,” Martin said. “Adult tantrums happen all the time. Managing customers is one of the hardest things.”
But managing their own people is something else entirely. Trainers at Barry’s are treated like family, and with good reason: They’re the most critical touch-point to the brand. You might love Brian and Dustin, but if your class with one of the company’s other trainers wasn’t great, that goes out the window.
“I think it comes down to identifying who your key people are and making them happy,” said Martin. “Money isn’t everything. You need to keep employees happy from other perspectives. If you value your employees, how can you make them value you?”
Martin doesn’t have a secret sauce that keeps this whole thing running smoothly; he’s a classic to-do list guy. He’s a planner, never jumping into a decision without first calculating its risk and reward ratio. Were he a carpenter, he’d be slow and steady, living and dying by the refrain, “measure twice, cut once.”
“Just because it feels right doesn’t mean you should do it,” he said of the decision to leave Corporate America and become his own boss. “I have zero regrets. I’m organized. I’m a planner. Brian and I thought this through.”
That sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Just think things through and you’ll be okay. But it’s a key to the success of Barry’s. It’s a main reason Dustin and Brian are in the process of expanding their own franchise to one or two more locations.
They think everything through. They learn from mistakes. They assess, reevaluate and iterate. Then they do it some more.
“It’s not a trend,” he said. “It’s not some funky thing. It’s a tried and true method.”