From the Situation Room to the Cycling Room
An Interview with Chris Dickinson, Owner of Applied Fitness Cycling.
RR: Tell us about your career prior to launching Applied Fitness Cycle in Manassas, Virginia.
CD: I was born in California and joined the U.S. Air Force when I was 18 years old. I left my house with a backpack on and spent 6 years stationed in Hampton, VA. I later worked as an Aircraft Mechanic and then, returned to school to earn my degree in Engineering while working at The Pentagon. This led me to a different job at Fort Belvoir supporting Special Operations. From there, I was presented with the opportunity to work at The White House in The Situation Room, where I supported the President of United States and the National Security Staff for 3.5 years.
RR: Tell us about your job at The White House?
CD: The Situation Room is the Crisis Center at the White House. I started the day after we radio-silenced Bin Laden. I was there for the attack on Bengassi, the Boston Marathon bombings, any sort of national disaster, hurricanes, you name it. We have access to everything and my job was to organize meetings with top officials, including the President on a daily basis. It was an exciting job. Days were long, 12-14 hours, and weekends and holidays did not matter. I was responsible for hundreds of crucial communications each day, including running up to 40 meetings per day. In a job like this, when you make a mistake, it can be critical on a global level.
RR: You decided to transition out of that job. What was the turning point for you?
CD: I thought it would be the coolest job ever and on many levels, it was. I thrive on high-pressure situations, and there was a great deal of appreciation always coming from the people I worked for, which always made it worth it. But, after a few years, I had enough. I wanted a job with greater flexibility, one that allowed me to be closer to home and pick my own hours. The final push was when my brother got into a snowboarding accident and broke his neck. That day, on the snow kneeling beside him, I realized life was way too short. He is paralyzed from the chest down and that could have been me. He is also a very large part of what inspires what we do here at the studio. They say, nobody leaves the White House, but I simply wanted the family time.
RR: What was your biggest take-away from working at The White House?
CD: I got to listen to thousands of meetings, hear some of brightest people in the world speak on a daily basis. When you're sitting with 4-star Generals and the President of the United States and you see how they conduct themselves during extremely high-stress situations, how they collaborate for the greater good…I saw everything at the absolute highest level. All of this taught me how to be a better leader.
RR: How has this helped you as a business owner with your Co-Founder and wife, Sarah?
CD: How to conduct myself as a leader in any role, truly… Whether it’s as facility owner, as a husband, as a father. I learned how to stay calm under pressure. I've always loved pressure. As a new business owner, I want every person to buy something when they walk out. It's important to bring my A game every single time I teach. It's hard on the body, and can be tough on the spirit when you’re first starting out. When you have less than $1,000 in bank and payroll is coming up, it’s all about holding your bearings and not freaking out.
RR: You lease your space within the building of a Gold’s Gym. That Gym closed down their indoor cycling program and members take cycling classes at AFC. Tell us how this partnership works?
CD: The key word is “partnership.” The owner of the Gold’s Gym just doesn't see us as a rent check. He believes in what we are doing and how we are changing the way indoor cycling is done. We have a very open and communicative relationship built on trust, much like a great marriage. We both have the understanding that we are a team and helping one another achieve the greater goal will in the end makes us both more successful. As far as memberships, we offer a full, unlimited ride membership and full-access to Gold’s Gym is included. Single or class packages do not include access to Gold’s. Conversely, if you’re already a Gold’s member, you can join AFC by paying the difference between your monthly membership rate and our monthly-unlimited class rate. Selling an AFC membership with a full Gold’s Gym membership is the best deal for members and allows us to keep the price on the high end of our market. We also offer cross-training classes each month and co-teach with a Gold’s Gym Trainer.
RR: Give us your top 3 tips for fellow fitness facility owners.
CD: Number one, invest the time. Don't get frustrated with how much time it takes. This is not a "if you build it, they will come" project. I don't care if you have the best studio, the best instructors who teach the best classes, you have to invest the TIME to grow the business, build relationships and listen to each person's goals and pain points. Every single member counts.
Number two, celebrate your successes with your staff. Your staff is everything. Give them constructive feedback, but also, point out their strengths and give them some creative freedom. Incentivize them to help you grow the numbers and hold them accountable. Good instructors are hard to find, but it’s not impossible.
Number three, you have one shot with each new person. Set the expectation bar low for riders who are new to the RealRyder Bike. Explain to them they’ll get stronger in 2-3 rides. Have your instructors explain the bike in every class, every ride. Assure new riders that you’ll help them reach their long-term goal, but today is day one, and it’s going to be tough. Acknowledge them during and after class--make sure they leave feeling successful.
RR: Why did you select RealRyder Bikes for your business?
CD: I will never buy a stationary bike that doesn't have a RealRyder decal on it because of what these bikes can do. I did a 125-mile race with 17,000 feet of climbing recently, and did 95% of my training on the RealRyder. I held 20 MPH for a 100-mile race as well. When I do races or simply ride with other outdoor riders, I’m not only keeping up, I’m blowing by them because of the RealRyder. I love everything this bike does for my core. I had back surgery when I was 30 years old…this bike helps my back stay loose while cycling indoors. Overall, people don’t truly realize the physical gains from this bike until they hop back on a stationary bike—it sucks, it hurts and just doesn't feel right.