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Jazz Shapers

Shaper: Matthew Januszek

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Welcome to the Jazz Shapers podcast from Mishcon de Reya. What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however music has been cut or shortened due to rights issues.

Good Morning, this is Jazz Shapers, I’m Elliot Moss, it is where the Shapers of Business meet the Shapers of Jazz, Soul and Blues, right here on Jazz FM. My guest today, I am very pleased to say, is Matthew Januszek, Co-founder of Escape Fitness, a global fitness equipment and services provider. Matthew developed his passion for fitness aged 15, and after a roller skating tumble left him watching Pumping Iron, a professional bodybuilding docu-drama, on repeat apparently, he realised it was the first time he had an interest he could develop further. He left school at 16 years using his sole qualification in woodwork and metalwork to make squat stands and an adjustable bench for his home gym. Escape Fitness was founded with his father, Richard, from their garage in 1998. “There was no sophisticated business plan” he said, “there was no market research. I had a passion for fitness and that was enough to get the business off the ground.” Well their passion and talents have grown to a $33 million, £20 million business, give or take, chosen by big brands and independent fitness professionals around the world. We will be talking to Matthew very shortly about all of this and about innovation and escaping your limits. You will find out what that means pretty soon too. Also on Jazz Shapers today, we’ve got some brilliant music from Kool and the Gang, Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Smith, one of my all-time personal favourites. But before all of that, here’s Duke Ellington Trio with Kinda Dukish.

That was Duke Ellington Trio with Kinda Dukish. My Business Shaper is Matthew Januszek and he is, as you heard before, the Co-founder of Escape Fitness, not a business I’d heard about and then when you get reading, as usual, you go ‘Wow, that’s… they’re the people and that’s what they do’. Hello.

Matthew Januszek
Hello.

Elliot Moss
How are you?

Matthew Januszek
Very well thank you.

Elliot Moss
He’s very well built by the way Matthew. I mentioned before that he was a bodybuilder. He still looks very trim. We’re almost exactly the same age. I always say this – 1970 was a vintage year Matthew.

Matthew Januszek
It was, it was a great year.

Elliot Moss
And you’re still looking good. Tell me about this young man that set this business up, because it was a while ago?

Matthew Januszek
Yeah.

Elliot Moss
What possessed you at that point? I mean obviously I talked about earlier, how you were passionate about fitness but transforming that or translating that passion into the world of business is a very different thing?

Matthew Januszek
Yeah, absolutely. The name of the business is quite relevant to it, because when I was younger, I was a bit of a, I guess, not troublemaker but I used to take the wrong paths in a lot of cases and so I was a doorman in the evening to make up some extra money and then to make up some more money at the weekends, we used to run parties in nightclubs. I guess the idea… I was sitting outside of this nightclub, a party that wasn’t going particularly well or not as well as we would have expected. We didn’t make as much money on the door and we sat outside with a friend and we were saying “look we need to come up with a better idea than running parties in nightclubs.” I said well “let’s come up with a name of a business” and I said to my friend, Tim, you know “what do you think we should call it?” and he said “we’ll call it ‘Escape” and we had this conversation and I said, “well why ‘Escape’” and he said, “Well look we just want to escape from where we are, this place, you know, this lifestyle” and so I think what drove me when we started to do something, was just that I didn’t like where I was, I wasn’t particularly educated, talented. I just didn’t want to be where I was and I think that was the sort of fuel within me that kind of pushed me to you know, to do something and get involved in business.

Elliot Moss
And at that point, then, from that moment on, how long did it take for you to create what was the beginning of this business now in terms of… when would it be recognisable at that point after that moment of going ‘Do you know what, we’re just going to do something?’ How long did that take to get it going?

Matthew Januszek
Well we started off selling ladies’ clothes, which is why Escape hasn’t got anything to do with fitness. It’s totally unrelated, but… so we started, I came up with this idea of selling ladies’ clothes into Poland which was totally weird, and the only connection was my Dad always had this idea that there were business opportunities in Poland. At the time it was a closed country so you couldn’t easily trade in and trade out. So he always used to tell me “Poland is the next place to be”, you know “think about Poland.” And then I had a girlfriend, kind of a girlfriend, and her father was selling ladies’ clothes, and I just put them together and I thought ‘okay ladies’ clothes/Poland’ and I bought a bunch, saved a bit of money with my Dad. We bought a bunch of clothes, we drove all the way from England to Holland, through Germany up to Poland and got in and sold all these ladies’ dresses, to you know, literally knocked on the doors of shops and sold them. But I realised that it wasn’t a sustainable model. You know, after doing it once, I thought ‘this is hard work’ and then sort of came back and regrouped and thought you know we need to come up with a better idea than this. So…

Elliot Moss
So version 2 which then became I suppose the beginning of this business, when did that emerge? How quickly did you say this one isn’t going to work?

Matthew Januszek
It was something that was constantly on my mind at that point, so it was this obsessive thought but probably around one to two years. You know, I had a friend who had a gym who we got talking, you know, we were out, we used to go out to bars and clubs around London. We always used to talk about ideas, you know, coming up with these crazy business ideas and we sort of narrowed it down to this dumbbell. You know, could you make a dumbbell. So we started off with, you know, I went back to my Dad because he was an engineer and asked him if he could make these chrome dumbbells that my friend was looking to buy. And the dumbbell went to a disc and it was really just me thinking of some ideas, going to my father who would get on the phone to long-lost aunts and uncles who were still kind of loosely related in Poland, and I even remember his Polish because he didn’t talk it since he was a kid, he had to brush up on business Polish because all the words that he could speak were children’s words, and he didn’t realise that when you were in business that your vocabulary needs to be different. So he used to be reading in the evenings and speaking to people on the phone, trying to make a connection and eventually we kind of started to find contacts that we could go after.

Elliot Moss
And then the business now, as I mentioned earlier, over $30 million US revenue. You’re in hundreds of different places, your things. Just give me a quick snapshot of the sorts of things that you now make, and it’s 21 years later. And where are they made? Are they made in Poland?

Matthew Januszek
We started manufacturing there and we do do some manufacturing that’s really where things started but then, over time, we have sourced in Germany and then we set up some manufacturing in China and then probably about sort of 6 or 7 years ago, my father still believed that we should manufacture in England so we sort of bought some machinery from a company that went bankrupt and now we are manufacturing a lot of our well a big percentage of our equipment in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire. And sort of despite what people say about, I guess, British manufacturing, we export a huge amount of that product to America, which is quite interesting when you look at how business generally goes. People moving more and more things to China and yet, we kind of found, that you could make a good product here even with all the costs associated with manufacturing in England and we could be quite successful in one of the biggest fitness markets in the world, where there is a lot of local manufacturers actually producing.

Elliot Moss
And when did the business start to really take off? Because obviously here we are now, 20 years later, where there the very tough years? Was it, you know, do you think of your life in chapters… Chapter 1, I was in ladies wear. Chapter 2, I realised ladies wear wasn’t going to work and I moved into the… you know how long was this first part of the business when it was tough? Was it a long period?

Matthew Januszek
Twenty years! We kind of have these… I suppose it’s kind of like these little zigzags and what I’ve learned in business, is that you know, whenever you get to another level, you move into different stages of different breakthroughs that you have to make. So I think, when it started both my father and myself were doing other jobs so we, you know, would come back in the evenings and in the day, and we would be getting this going. So we used our day job to sort of fund our lives and then this was on top. So I think the first breakthrough was when we could both actually leave what we were doing in the day and then move to the business, because it grew pretty quickly. So I think that was the first one. And then, I think you know, for us it wasn’t suddenly we woke up one morning and it was a huge success, it was just gradual progressions, you know, as we sort of pushed ourselves to go into Poland. We set up distribution there. Then we pushed ourselves to go into Germany and set up a company there and a warehouse. That was another stage forward. And then we did the same in Thailand and then more recently into the US. So, for us it was just lots of small steps. Not necessarily one big breakthrough unfortunately.

Elliot Moss
And the numbers of the people that work in the business today?

Matthew Januszek
We’ve got over a hundred. I don’t know the exact number but, you know, sort of hundred and sort of, hundred and five, hundred and ten something like that.

Elliot Moss
It started in the garage and now there are too many people for that garage for sure. Stay with me for much more from my guest, it is Matthew Januszek and he is coming back in a couple of minutes but first we are going to hear from one of our partners at Mishcon de Reya with some advice for your business.

There are loads of ways for you to enjoy all our former Jazz Shapers and indeed to hear this programme with Matthew again as well. You can ask Alexa to play Jazz Shapers and then you can hear many of the recent programmes or if you pop Jazz Shapers into iTunes or your preferred podcast platform, you can enjoy the full archive. But back to Matthew, Co-founder of Escape Fitness, a global fitness equipment service provider. I want to ask you about, you talked about the stages just before Matthew. What made you think you could take this business internationally, because often we hear about domestic success and you actually said also about America. America is one of the largest fitness markets in the world and here is a British manufacturer, a British business sending their produce over there as it were. But Thailand, Germany, all these places, that says to me that you had serious ambition and no fear. Is that fair?

Matthew Januszek
I think so.

Elliot Moss
Or you just didn’t know? You didn’t know how difficult it was going to be?

Matthew Januszek
Well, it was probably a combination of both. Probably blind stupidity and a belief that we could actually take on the world at a very young age, you know, in terms of young age of the business. Yeah, I think we always had this sort of belief that that was possible but then the closer you got to it, it was wow, you know, is this really possible? I think probably the biggest one for us was America, because I had always had a dream of doing that. And it was a dream but whenever I went over there, it always seemed extremely impossible because it is such a competitive market you know. In my mind fitness was invented in America so why would they buy something from this little company in England, you know, in Peterborough in England of all places. And I think, the way, you know the way that it happened is I remember one time I went to this big, the biggest fitness show in the world at the time, called IHRSA, and I met with a friend of mine who used to be involved in the industry with me in the UK, a guy called Ken. I had a meeting with him outside and I remember sitting outside this little café and we started talking and I said to him, you know, “do you think Escape would work out here?’” and he said to me ”yeah, I think that would work out here. Yeah, I think you’ve got nice products.” So I kind of translated that conversation and I remember going back to my father at the time and said “I’ve had some great meetings. You know, I’ve met this guy and he thinks we can do really, really well in the US. We should start a company there.” So I kind of took that sort of little bit of truth and sort of expanded it and managed to convince my father and the rest of our shareholders that we should open a business in America. So, if I had done it to, I guess, any serious business people they would just have said, “look you’re crazy. That’s nothing to base a decision on.” But I managed to get people behind me and we did it and it kind of worked.

Elliot Moss
It looks like you managed to get people behind you quite a lot though Matthew. That’s the thing I sense about you. And, you know, people talk about different management styles. Is your style to just be, you know, the chief enthusiast and the chief ideas guy in the business and do people generally go ‘it’s another crazy idea from Matthew’, or do they generally go ‘that might work’?

Matthew Januszek
I think it’s a bit of both and it’s… the thing with me and my father is he, I guess, he has a lot of belief in me. So you know, this would never work just with me on my own you know. My father was sort of like the opposite of me. He was the, I guess, the sensible one. He was the one that basically used to follow my crazy ideas and make, you know, everything happen to facilitate that. And I think on the flip side, he probably didn’t have those crazy ideas and didn’t see what I saw. So I guess together we made a great partnership and then he would basically work with, you know, my mother and brothers and sisters and then kind of, you know, line everyone up behind us. So I think it was really a partnership and that dynamic seemed to be a successful one.

Elliot Moss
And working with your Dad, and I don’t know if he is still involved in the business, you probably speak to him often and maybe he is a shareholder too as well I am sure. But what’s it like? How do you distinguish between you the son, and you his business partner? Or don’t you need to?

Matthew Januszek
Yes. It’s very difficult. Family businesses are very difficult and you have to, I guess, I see it almost like a marriage, you have to, you know you don’t just get married and then it’s fine, you have to constantly work at it to make it a success. And it’s very much like that and the challenge is that I’m always, you know, I am the son so you know, in some situations, you know, my father wants to take on the father role, particularly when things are difficult, you know it’s ‘okay I need to step in and be the Dad’ and that’s a difficult dynamic so you have to kind of get that balance, to almost separate… ‘look you know we are business partners and let’s have these conversations’. I think over the years we’ve, you know, we’ve done a pretty good job at doing that, particularly in the later years as the business is now a lot bigger and we can’t operate like that. But in the younger you know, in the younger years of the business it was, you know, there was a lot to work out in that respect. And my advice to everybody if they’re going in to a family business is to, sort of, you know, set it up. Although they are your family and you get cheap free labour, is to kind of set it up from the beginning with those rules in place and rules and responsibilities in place, because it can get a little bit, you know, cloudy if you’re not careful.

Elliot Moss
You’ve mentioned your Dad a lot and obviously you have a very close relationship. Where do you sit in the pecking order in terms of your siblings?

Matthew Januszek
So…

Elliot Moss
What number are you?

Matthew Januszek
…I’m the eldest.

Elliot Moss
Ah.

Matthew Januszek
So that, you know, that kind of explains things. So quite a bit older. There’s 13 years difference between myself and my youngest brother. So there’s quite a gap there.

Elliot Moss
Yeah. And I read somewhere that you said, you talked earlier you left school, I mentioned that you left school early and you said apparently “I didn’t like people telling me what to do and that created a lot of challenges for me.” It sounds like you listened to your Dad though?

Matthew Januszek
Yeah. And I think, I don’t like people telling me what to do, I guess but there’s you know, I guess in everything there’s ways.

Elliot Moss
No one puts baby in the corner!

Matthew Januszek
Yeah, it kind of gives me a reason to sort of react but there are ways of doing it and I have got a lot of respect for my father and I guess we’ve just sort of developed that as we’ve gone on. There are times where he’ll say something and I won’t agree and it’ll come… you know, it will go into a big argument. But the good thing that we have is that we can have a huge argument and then we just forget about it. You know, it’s almost as though it doesn’t happen. I think that’s important for whether it’s business partners or people, you know, if you are passionate and emotional which we are, you know, very passionate but for the right reasons. You know, you can see a lot of that passion in our products, everything we make, you know, it’s passionate business and if you know, that’s how we express ourselves, you are going to have these you know, things going on but I think it is important just to be able to leave it, leave it at the door and move on, otherwise you know you just carry all this stuff with you. I think that’s probably the success in our relationship.

Elliot Moss
In terms of your own, you were a junior bodybuilder, your own sporting and I know you didn’t become a professional or anything but obviously you did take it pretty seriously. I imagine you, because you were actually in the sports world, you see a lot of parallels between the discipline that you need in your business life because of the fact that you were training so hard. Do you think about that or was it just… is your sporting background just that? Or does it still inform the way you think about discipline and focus in your own working life?

Matthew Januszek
Yeah it is very related, in fact, a lot of the lessons that I learnt in the very early days with my bodybuilding, I still use those today in terms of sort of being able to motivate myself, the discipline, the routines, the habits and the mind-set. I think they are all very important and even today, as I am moving close to 50, they are things I continue to work on even now, you know, to get better. Because I think a lot of, certainly for me, a lot of businesses it’s a solitary you know, in a lot of cases it’s quite a solitary experience if you’re at the head of an organisation, you know, there are certain things I don’t like to necessarily take home with me or also, you know, it’s difficult to necessarily share those things with other people. I know different people have different ways of dealing with it, I like to deal with it in my head. I think a big part of that is to be able to, kind of like, you know, have the mental discipline to kind of work these things out and to think rationally about what you are doing and to be able to sort of be in a good place mentally, regardless of what’s going on and I think exercise and mind-set are hugely important.

Elliot Moss
The other thing obviously, when I was doing my research, Matthew, I noticed that you have your own podcast and you talk to people in the fitness business and not just that but some pretty high profile people who are connected to motivation and other things. Have you, I assume that was just an idea to generate some interest in the business in general? What have you discovered as you have spoken to people, as I am lucky enough I do this every week but you have been doing it quite a lot too. What have you picked up that you have actually then taken back into the way that you do business?

Matthew Januszek
Two things. One of them is I think you know, we’re guys okay and guys generally don’t talk a lot about what’s going on in their head. You know we, I think in a lot of cases, I’ve learned that there are a lot of other people like me, guys don’t like to talk about failure, guys don’t like to talk about, you know, if they are having difficulties in their mind. And it’s amazing when you start sort of going into it, and sharing stories with people that a lot of people struggle from similar challenges to yourself. So one of the things I’ve learned is that there are other people like me, with similar challenges and by talking about it you kind of help a lot of other people that are, you know, in those similar situations. And that was, kind of the reason why I did it because when I was younger, 15/16, I didn’t really have a lot of people around me that were necessarily inspirational to me. What I wanted to do with this podcast, because I do meet lots of wonderful people around the world and I wanted to kind of share those stories, to say “look, they weren’t born like that … they started in a very basic place and there are certain things they did and they made lots of mistakes and had lots of failures, but they picked themselves up, they got over it and they moved on and this is why they got on.” So the reason for the podcast, is just to kind of, I suppose, shine a light on that and to help a lot of people, you know particularly in our industry, to hear those stories. And also for me, it kind of reminds me that, you know, actually some of the things you are going through at the moment, is normal. A lot of people have been through it and it kind of gives you a little bit of a boost to say ‘Yeah, you know… go on and move forward’.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me for our final chat with my guest, Matthew Januszek, and plus we’ll be playing a track from one of my favourites, as I said, Mr Jimmy Smith. That’s all coming up in just a moment here on Jazz FM.

That was Jimmy Smith, wasn’t he good? On The Sunny Side of the Street. I’m with Matthew Januszek just for a few more minutes and we’ve been talking about all sorts of things; about sharing, about the fact that entrepreneurs go through very, very similar things to each other because of the nature of what it is. They fear failure, they have failures, they move on, you dust yourself off. You talked about discipline, which I think is really important as well. What we haven’t talked about is money. You’ve built this business now. You left school young. It’s done exceptionally well. Does the money drive you? Does the idea of creating value drive you?

Matthew Januszek
Creating value does. You know, having been a multi-millionaire, billionaire, it’s… although sometimes I think that’s nice, it isn’t what drives me you know. I think one of the challenges we have as our business becomes a lot more professional, a lot of the decisions that we’ve made, probably if you’re managing the business from a spreadsheet you would say ‘well why are you doing that?’. Whether it comes down to sort of the lengths we go to in developing products, the things we invest in, like we talked about off the microphone, in terms of investing in the podcast. You know, there is a lot of non-logical things we do because we believe in just making the best product, providing the best value and as a result, that’s probably why we’ve stood out in a very competitive marketplace. You know there’s a lot of people can go to Asia and buy what we do for a lot cheaper, but it’s you know, our belief about, you know, about adding a huge amount of value I think is what drives us. I think the money is important and, I guess, you know, for anyone thinking about it, you know looking at our company, you know, you can’t ignore the bottom line but that can’t be the only thing that drives you and I think if you do, certainly in our sector, I think, it can be quite difficult to stand out from everybody else.

Elliot Moss
There was something you said to that point. You said, “I think, that as an entrepreneur you always want to strive for the next thing; you always think you should be somewhere else. People get caught in the trap of trying to live in tomorrow and never being happy with where they are and I think you end up losing a big part of your life, because of that.” I imagine that informs you, because do you keep it focused and do you keep in the moment as much as you can?

Matthew Januszek
I get excited about the future and what is possible. I’m sort of, you know, I love to dream. But I think as I have got older, particularly in the business, it’s like, as you’ve said there, you know, you’ve got to be careful to not always be thinking about where we are going to be next, you know, what’s the next thing. and sometimes, you know as you’ve said really well, it’s just looking at where you are today and just enjoying it because, you know, business isn’t easy. A lot of people struggle with business because it’s just relentless. You know, you’ve got so many things to think about, the competition is moving quicker, the world is changing, the market’s changing. And so it’s not easy as an entrepreneur and I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who says ‘Oh yes, that’s a doddle’. But I think to have a successful business, if you can get that balance where you actually just love and enjoy what you do, as you go through that journey it just makes your life a lot better and as anyone knows, I guess, who is in business, you know, it’s not 9 to 5, it’s a 24/7 thing, you know, wherever you go it’s with you. For me anyway, any time I go out in the street, I‘m looking thinking about it. So if you can enjoy it, I just think it makes your life much better and you can put so much of your life into it.

Elliot Moss
You still look happy.

Matthew Januszek
Yes, I am.

Elliot Moss
Big smile. Your eyes are telling me this man is a happy man. It’s been really lovely meeting you Matthew, and I’m going to ask you one more question, and that question is what is your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Matthew Januszek
Well this is, it is a John Coltrane track. I have a house in Hampstead still and when I was living in London, it was always like on a Friday or Saturday evening at the end of the week and I would just sort of put the children to bed and we would sit in the living room, nice glass of wine, me and my wife would sort of just like just sit, listen to this and it’s an emotional track. Great feeling every time I listen to it, you know, the feeling inside.

Elliot Moss
That was John Coltrane with In A Sentimental Mood. The song choice of my Business Shaper today, Matthew Januszek. He talked about his passion for the business and whatever you do, it is critical that you absolutely love what you do and that really came out today. He talked about being able to leave it when he had had an argument with his father, his business partner and that ability that they had their backs and that they could trust each other, that they could recover from any big arguments. And he talked about routines and habits associated normally with fitness training, but how he has used that as he thinks about his business and how he manages it. That’s it from me and Jazz Shapers. Have a great weekend.

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers. You will find hundreds more guests available for you to listen to in our archive. To find out more, just search Jazz Shapers and iTunes or your favourite podcast platform or head over to mishcon.com/jazzshapers.

Matthew Januszek is Co-Founder of Escape Fitness, a business committed to working with fitness clubs to deliver the best possible exercise experiences.

Founded in 1998, Escape Fitness has built a reputation for product innovation, quality and design while growing and competing through great partnerships in multiple markets worldwide.

From a garage gym to a global brand leader, Matthew Januszek is one of the fitness industry’s leading entrepreneurs. Building multiple successful businesses in the UK, Germany, Poland and the United States, he now sits on the board of directors for three companies.

Working across the globe with brands such as UFC Gym, David Lloyd, 24 Hour Fitness, Hilton and many more, Matthew wants to give others the opportunity to learn from his experiences, and those of other entrepreneurs, by hosting the Escape Your Limits podcast.

Follow Matthew on Twitter @MatthewJanuszek.

Interview highlights

I didn’t want to be where I was, and that was the fuel that pushed me to do something.

When you get to another level in business, there’s different breakthroughs that you have to make.

We didn’t wake up one morning and was suddenly a huge success.

I managed to get people behind me and it worked.

My father had a lot of belief in me.

It would never work if it was just me on my own.

Family businesses are different.

You have to have the mental discipline to work things out.

Exercise and mind-set are hugely important.

By talking about your struggles, you help a lot of people who are in similar situations.

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