Business Loans: 7 steps to total business fitness
Dave Mulqueen, from Marino, and James Swan, originally from Santry, opened ‘The Edge’ personal fitness studio in Clontarf, Dublin 3, in 2009. They now employ seven staff, have launched their own range of health supplements and opened their restaurant, ‘Fuel’ in 2015.
1 The Warm-Up
Dave: We met around 14 years ago, we were working in a commercial gym together so that’s where we first set eyes on each other <laughs>
James: Pretty much, yeah <laughs>
What’s it like working so closely as business partners?
James: We’re married!
Dave: We see each other more than we do our wives and girlfriends. I think James kind of gets the short end of the straw there. He’d be more laid back and mellow and I’d be… …not so.
James: But it’s about getting used to each other. We are around each other a lot. At the start you might have a conflicting personality – and we did!
James: But the end goal…
Hold on, what did you argue about?
James: Can’t tell you.
Dave: James eating an apple was our first row!
James: It’s the little things. But we both compete in different sports and obviously Dave has kids so we know the things in our lives that are important to us. So when we come in here we get things done. We’re friends in here so that makes an enormous difference when you know you can get on with someone. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and now instead of arguing we know he does his thing I do my thing and we complement each other and that’s what works for us.
So no screaming rows then?
James: No. Not for a while.
Dave: There hasn’t been one in a long while. There was few but not in a while.
You’re not sick of each other?
Dave: No. I said to James when we opened the restaurant, Fuel, that I wouldn’t do it with anyone else so I think that’s testament to how well things have gone between the two of us.
2 Lift off
When did you think about setting up your own place?
Dave: It was something that was brewing in the background for a couple of years to be honest and it was a combination of factors in the end that led us to opening our own place. The right time, the right location. And then loan approval from Bank of Ireland was important. The three of them all seemed to happen around the right time for us.
James: So we made a decision on the Friday and by Monday we had signed our lease and by Tuesday we had building work.
What was like on the day you opened up?
Dave: yeah, it’s a big difference. I think when we first opened up we’d borrowed dumb bells from a friend of ours and we had bits of equipment here and there just to get us off the ground really at the start. But the responsibility of it and the excitement at the time was awesome and it’s what still drives us today.
James: It’s enough to keep you working 12-14 hour days. And at the start we never really took a day off at the start. We have little or very little time off at the moment. We’re kinda getting better, you know, we take time off now. But the passion is still there to drive the company even further.
Did you always believe The Edge would succeed?
Dave: I think our mentality and our approach would be very much we’ll make it work, one way or another.
James: We had no other (option). We both us don’t come from wealthy backgrounds. So I have no financial backing, he has no financial backing. So it was, as Dave says, at the start it was a ‘do or die’ situation where we had to make it work.
3 Individual work
Describe The Edge to me
Dave: We primarily a personal training studio and we have a class schedule so that‘s essentially what we do. We do one-on-ones, two-on-ones, small group training and then we have a general group class schedule, a weekly class schedule.
We’re very focused on our clients we have been since day one. Without our clients there is no Edge, there is no business, so we’re very client focused. We focus more on retention than gaining new clients that’s always been our main focus making sure that we keep clients, keep them happy, making sure they get what they want and they get the services that they expect. And, from there, word of mouth will grow our business. That’s kinda been our approach since the very start.
4 Strengthening the core
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?
Dave: I would say for us, where we are at now, I think you’ve different obstacle at different stages of a business. As the business grows or progresses the challenges change all the time. So at the start it was probably financial. Capital at the start to get going, then creating business but now at the moment our biggest challenge is our staff because our front line staff are our business.
We put a lot of time and effort into developing them so that the clients that are coming are all receiving the same standard of service. Everybody’s singing off the same hymn sheet. That’s really important for us. It’s probably one of the most time-consuming parts of what we do but at the same time it’s probably one of the most enjoyable. To see lads progress from where they start off to where they are now – how they change their own personalities as they grow as a person as they become more knowledgeable and more educated. So staffing, both recruitment and development is where we would spend most of our time.
5 Crunch time
What has been your darkest hour?
James: I wouldn’t say darkest hour as in the world was going to come down but it’s more…
Dave: …fear of the unknown.
James: …knowing what to do with money. It sounds strange but knowing how to spend money. Like accounts. For me, personally, accounts was something I had no dealings with. Knowing the different tax rates we have for different services. The difference between our net and our gross. Knowing what we had to spend.
Dave: Just budgeting.
6 Personal bests
What are you most proud of?
Dave: I think just the business in general as a whole. We went from just me and James the two of us opening up to having seven staff working for us at the moment with a view of maybe an eighth by the end of the year. How the business has grown, how well it runs. On top of the day to day, what we’re doing with clients and getting results. Just the team. To have built such a strong and steady business from where we were to where we are now.
How did you get your name out there?
Dave: For the first few years we never spent a penny on advertising and marketing at all. We relied purely on word of mouth and our clients spreading the word about us. We spend a little bit now on social media but James would be the man looking after all that.
James: Facebook is great for us. We get a great response out of Facebook. We have upward of 9,000 followers at the moment.
Dave: The newspaper…
James: The newspaper did nothing for us. The posters. We did a campaign through An Post…
Dave: That was actually one of the most successful.
James: Predominately, again, it’s word of mouth but second to that it’s Facebook it’s a sure bet for us.
You’ve also opened up a restaurant
Dave: Two years ago we launched a health food restaurant, Fuel. We saw the opportunity with a premises and we went for it. Same set-up, really, as with here. It was something that James, particularly, always had his eye on. He always had his eye on something in the food industry, more so than me.
James: We kinda thought of this triage effect because the hardest thing we come across is finding places where people can eat real food that we want them to eat. And that was the driving force behind what we wanted to do. The food industry is a very very different industry. We had absolutely no idea how hard it would be. Obviously, having a product that goes off in a few days is hard to get your head around. I have a client that’s in the food industry and his saying was ‘if you want to make a small fortune in the food industry start with a large one’. And we did that! But we’ve learned a lot, we’ve learned a huge amount.
Main photo: Naoise Culhane. All other photos: Neil Cubley.