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  • Hilary Young

Lady Bosses I Love: Heather Gunn-Rivera

I was introduced to Heather through a mutual friend (another featured Lady Boss, Amanda Alappat!), and I love what her business is all about: taking the intimidation factor out of working out and making the gym a more supportive, community experience. Despite her background as a physical trainer, Heather is truly an entrepreneur at heart. In addition to the Grassroots Fitness Project, she has founded 5 other organizations!

Heather Gunn-Rivera: Grassroots Fitness Project

What is the name of your company and what do you do?

Grassroots Fitness Project. I am the co-founder, current owner and personal trainer. Our approach to fitness is about building a foundation of movements that can be easily accessible to our members, regardless of their fitness level. By focusing on these movements, we can modify and progress our workouts to meet the needs of our members, whether they are looking to improve their general fitness or working on a specific fitness goal. Grassroots Fitness Project exists to be the conduit for your ideal lifestyle and for any fitness project you are working on.

How long have you been in business?

Over 16 years!

How did you decide to launch your own business?

My husband and I worked as trainers at NY Sports Club back in the day. I started in 2001 and he had started working there many years before that. He was the one who hired me as a trainer--I was just 20-years-old

He told me that I had to get a certification and build a clientele in 90 days. I ended up building the largest clientele base at that location. In 2003, he was done trying to “make the numbers” every month as a manager, and said he wanted to be a trainer again, but wanted to work himself, and I said, “let’s do it!” I was young and didn’t see failure as something that was scary, because I saw all of the potential in being able to offer our clients a more intimate community environment. Our vision was to provide clients with one-on-one and small group training with an emphasis on building a community.

What challenges did you face in the process of launching your business?

The biggest challenge was having to pay 5 years in back sales tax, 5 years into business. At the time we went into business, sales tax was not collected for personal training, the rules clearly changed, but were not enforced. Our accountant even had no idea! The government unfortunately made us an example. Finances always put a strain on relationships. And working with my husband adds a whole other element of stress--being married and business partners can confuse the "work/love" relationship. I have learned--and am still learning--that it's super important to take time for yourself. To do something that is separate from the business and separate from the family dynamic. It's imperative to work on your own individual identity so that you don't get resentful and or lost in the life you are living. It's also important to take time to just be a couple. No talk about business, or kids. We have a standing date night where we choose something to do that takes us out of the everyday and into the realm of adventure and connection, the place where we met and fell in love in the first place. I could actually write a whole piece on just this topic!

The rest of our challenges were hindsight. We didn’t enter into our business as "business people," so we didn’t think of scaling. We didn’t think of coming up with a proper business plan. We didn’t think about retirement. We finally have all of that squared away, but I say to this day that had we entered into being entrepreneurs thinking like business people, we probably wouldn’t have done what we did. What we started didn’t make sense on paper. It was coming purely from being passionate about what we did.

Did you feel as though there were resources available to you, specifically as a woman business owner?

Not at all. And I know it's not the same, but I’m currently launching an arm of our business strictly for women and, I’m super excited! I think it's so important to give women a space to build their own communities.

Do you have a mentor?

Mentors were few and far between when we were getting started. Our friends started their business, The Everyday Athlete, in Brooklyn a few months before us, so we saw what was possible through them. I am just now gathering my mentors. I’m opening myself to be taught and learn from strong, smart women.

Are there any good business books you would recommend?

I’m not really a business book kind of gal. I don’t have much time. But, I’m always open to hearing recommendations. I do follow inspirational leaders that are in the field of health and wellness, however, like Brene Brown, and Dr. Christiane Northrup.

What do you love most about running your own business?

That I work for myself, and have the power to create!

What is your least favorite aspect of running your own business?

100% it's having to manage employees.

What is your best piece of advice for other women who are thinking about launching a business?

There's so much I could say, but my main piece of advice would be to not worry about all the how’s, and instead focus on the why's and the what’s. The how's will come if your vision is focused, from the heart, and ultimately for the greater good.

My favorite quote is, “jump and your network will appear”.

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