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The Start Of a Gym Career

Updated: Sep 12, 2020

1995 I had just graduated college in San Juan, Puerto Rico where I earned a B.A. in Marketing. I lived with 9 surfers in a huge house, divided into 3 separate apartments. After school I had some seasonal jobs, including bartending (I was terrible), and working on yachts that my friends worked on. 

(220 Fitness a brand I created 25 years after my start)

A real close childhood friend of mine, Mike Ward who unfortunately is no longer with us, recruited me to come work for him in California. I had known Mike since I was a young kid, as we grew up just outside of Oakland, California. Mike and I would always hang out as kids, he actually used to give me a ride to high school on his scooter. He had a light blue scooter, with a basket on front that always had a basketball in it. Mike was an incredible basketball player, and I was very good for my size, but not at the level of Mike. The job was a sales position, selling memberships at a very popular gym, in the middle of the origin of fitness, Venice, California, 1 block from the beach. 

PowerHouse Gym was my gateway into a fitness career, that I did not plan, nor was it my aspiration. 25 years later I'm still in the industry, and have had the most amazing run imaginable. I moved with my girlfriend, from 3000 miles away where we were on an island, into the second biggest city in the USA, LA, California. The funny thing is I would've never made the move if I would have really known the truth about the position I was offered. I was told how fun it was going to be, and that I was going to be hired day 1. I believe I arrived in Venice, on like a Thursday or Friday, and I was with the understanding I would be starting work on Monday. We of course partied through the weekend, and Monday was my big day, finally starting work. 

I showed up at the gym, my friend was there, and when I walked in he said, "Ok you just need to interview Johnny before you start". I was like "Say What", I thought I was already hired, apparently not. I went into an office to interview the Owner Johnny Sanguinetti. Good looking, muscular guy, who looked like My Cousin Vinny. He had thick black hair, slicked back with heavy gel, smelled of Drakkar cologne, wearing sweats, and a shirt that his arms were blasting through the sleeves. He was a young guy, especially for where he was in his career, already a multi gym owner, and had a confidence about him, he carried a swagger about him but not in a cocky way. He was very nice, but also very direct, he was not going to just hand me a job, a guy that had no previous gym experience. He said Matteo, I believe in you, and if Mike referred you to me, I'm sure you have talent. However, I'm going to be honest, we do not have room on the team right now. I have another guy who is very good named Aaron Tolchin, and another guy who is a "Grosser'' named (Tad Kirkpatirick). At that time I had no idea what (Grosser) meant, later would find out it meant big Producer. Johnny says, I also sell memberships if I'm here, and of course we have Mike who is the King of sales.

My jaw hit the floor, here I was thinking I'm landing a job, just need a shirt and a pen, and boom I'm off and rolling, not the case. Johnny did though offer me a lifeline, he said: "You can work here but you will not get a salary, you can not sell to anyone that just walks in, however if you get someone to come to the gym, and you sell them a membership I will give you double the commission". I was so naïve and excited to just have a job, I happily accepted. 

Literally, this is how my gym career started, it is unheard of now due to employment laws & regulations to employ this way. Looking back it worked out exactly how it was supposed to, and I'm grateful for what it taught me. I think if we have to much coddling we lose the fight and hunger inside us. The fear of not making the team, not producing and losing my job was enough motivation to give me the hustle needed to perform. Now many years later I have a different perspective working all the different positions, and finally owning my own gym. I can see how things have changed, there's pros and cons from both sides. Folks coming into the fitness industry now will have much more structure, many proven methods and resources to follow. Like any industry the fitness business is no different, it continues to evolve. What was common practice 25 years ago no longer exists now. What hasn't changed and has only grown is the fact we all need fitness, now maybe more than ever. Keeping our immune systems in tact and healthy seems to be the wave of the future, and that's a good thing.

Lastly, I must say this was my start which was rough, but I learned so much about myself and what I could accomplish with changing my perspective. The lesson here is having the drive and commitment to succeed, most of the time we just have to sink or swim. There's a video in the middle of this article that shows what I created (with a great team) 25 years later, and ironically one block away from where I started at Powerhouse. 220 Fitness was an amazing experience and so many stories about the business good and bad, many hard lessons of owning a fitness business. My hopes are to motivate others, help folks from any potential pitfalls, the highs & lows, and how to get to profitability. More will come later about 220 Fitness, and many discussions about something that's dear to me, and that's "Getting back up" on my upcoming Podcast called "Mandatory 8". The plan is to cover many topics, in many different industries with an emphasis on life itself, whether in business, personal circumstances, and with our health, we all get a "Mandatory 8" count where we have a short time to get up, and get back into the fight.

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