Jeff Scott had been a personal trainer for 16 years before opening the doors to his own gym in North Minneapolis. Looking to leave a 25-year career in financial services, Scott opened ME&I Fitness & Performance last September. He hadn’t been dreaming of owning a gym — or any businesses. It was simply an opportunity that presented itself.
When he saw construction for Thor Corporation’s Restoration Acceleration Center on Penn Avenue North, Scott thought, “Wow, that’s a great building going up, and right now it’s a building in the community. It’s not a building for the community.” So, he decided to give the community a way to use the building being constructed in their midst.
The North High School graduate said a fitness center is something he never saw in his North Minneapolis community growing up. He said a gym in the community helps the community to focus on being healthier.
As a registered provider for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Pre-Diabetes Program, ME&I is helping the Black community tackle the diabetes epidemic and lead their way to healthier lifestyles, one push-up or jumping jack at a time.
The fitness and performance center also offers health outreach to youth and senior citizens. Through its partnership with SilverSneakers, ME&I provides a fitness program for adults over 65, as well as training programs for student-athletes from as far away as Cottage Grove.
Here, we talk with Jeff about his gym and future plans.
MSR: How does your business impact the community?
Jeff Scott: Members come through daily and say, “Thank you for opening this gym. This is much more convenient than having to travel a mile or two away.” We get people who say they’ve been making up excuses not to go — but four blocks away, there’s no excuse.
It’s becoming a nice location for people to get out of the house and into their community and meet others in the community. Many people don’t know the African American Museum is in the building, and they’ve gone upstairs before or after their workout to muse. The gym was the catalyst of them recognizing what’s here.
MSR: What would you consider your business’ hero service?
JS: We purposely said fitness because most people aren’t trying to be bodybuilders, they just want to be more fit and have a healthier lifestyle. Often times, we see providers of information. It’s great to have the information on what to do, but If I don’t have the tools to take the action, all we’re really having is a conversation.
What we’re providing are the space and the tools that will allow people who are serious about changing their lifestyle [to do so], whether for themselves or being the model for their children.
I had a woman once tell me that healthy eating is expensive, and I told her, “It’s still cheaper than insulin.” This membership is cheaper than insulin — so our hero service is our presence.
MSR: What has been your biggest challenge in owning a business?
JS: Members are needed in order to pay the rent. They first have to know that you’re here. We don’t have signage on the building — we’re working with the County and everyone to address that issue. Unlike the big boxes, as a Black-owned business, you get stereotyped expecting it to be of lesser quality. But we have the same equipment you’d find at any other gym, maybe even better quality.
We have six trainers, all independent contractors, so as an outside trainer we welcome you bringing your clients. Many of the big boxes don’t allow outside trainers, which makes them bounce around to various clubs to train their clients. Here we created an environment where, as a trainer, you can have a home gym and make a steady income.
MSR: What has been the most rewarding part of owning your business?
JS: Wonderful support. Thor Corporation has made us part of their tour when showing clients the building. The CEO of NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center, Stella Whitney-West, invited us to attend the annual staff meeting introducing the gym to 400 staff members. Which in turn got us working with Dr. Paul Erickson, the medical director at NorthPoint, where we’re creating programs for the staff and the patients.
MSR: What’s your vision and goals for your business?
JS: To grow this to where I’m not paying for this out of my pocket, and to become a focal point for the neighborhood. In the future, a manager will be brought in and the gym will be branched to other states.
MSR: What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
JS: Know your business. Who are your business competitors? Understand current demographics that will impact your business, and future demographics. Recognize your strengths and weakness — where you’re weak, outsource. Be willing to partner with others and use their strengths.
Lastly, consider how much time will be spent in the business doing the work, but also consider the time spent on the business. Spending time on the business is figuring out how it will continue to grow, how it will keep up with changing trends and business models.
ME&I Fitness and Performance Center is located at 1256 Penn Ave. N. in Minneapolis. The gym membership provides access to the gym and a few classes, like the Saturday Boot-camp or Lunch Time Power Half Hour. ME&I Fitness and Performance also has employer healthcare reimbursement programs.
For more info, visit meandifp.com.
Jonika Stowes is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.