Brikitta Kool-Daniels has spent most of her working life in the fitness industry. From instructor to manager and now business owner, she’s turned her love of sport into a successful career and is a motivating force both for her clients and her team.
“The industry chose me more than I chose it; and thankfully it did."
Brikitta recalls always being sports inclined at school and never really knowing what to pursue at university.
“Naturally all the sports lead me to something in fitness. I already knew for sure I didn't want to be a teacher so I went to Footscray Institute of Technology (now Victoria University) for a brand new course - a two year fitness diploma that focused on everything in fitness. It was the most perfect course."
Near the end of her course, Brikitta secured her first full time job as a gym instructor at the five star Regent Hotel in Collins Street Melbourne.
“They were the first to open a gym in a hotel which sounds bizarre now 20 years later when hotels and apartment blocks all have a piece of equipment in a room.
“It (the job) was boring as in all honesty. It was an exclusive gym for hotel guests only so I’d only see them at 6.00am; hardly anyone all day long, and then at night if I was working the evening shift.
“What you didn’t want was the weekend shift as it was all the honeymoon packages. All I did was change towels because everyone was in the spa. Forget gym instruction. I was laundry girl.”
But it was during that downtime that Brikitta learned the most important lessons in business which she implements in her club daily.
“All those little jobs taught me unbelievable customer service, attention to detail, and how to be part of a meeting. The word customer service 20 years ago was the be all and end all. You hope it still is and people still appreciate it. It has been ingrained in me and one of those things that if I wanted to lose it, I probably couldn’t.”
Running the gym is a team effort for Brikitta and her husband Ricky. The journey began when Brikitta became manager of Lifestyle Fitness, as it was originally known, in 1999 before purchasing the franchise in 2004. The couple later changed the name to D-Club247 Fitness Bendigo.
With the support of Ricky, Brikitta found the confidence to go from manager to owner.
“I don’t think it was my confidence but a shared confidence with my husband.
“This is where it’s great when two kinds of personalities are quite different that it works. Ricky could see something I didn’t. I never said no but I was certainly nervous signing the final paperwork. He assured me that no matter what, it would all work out.
“Everyone needs that someone in their life who is positive. Even if they are not financially involved in the business, you need to surround yourself with positive people or doers, the ones who will say, ‘Give it a go. What’s the worst you can lose?’."
When asked how she works with her husband every day, Brikitta laughs and comments, “in two separate areas of the gym”.
“That’s more his choice. I prefer to be close to him because he is not a huge communicator. So if I can hear what he is working on we don’t have to have discussions too often.
"It's worked quite well for us for many years as we had separate departments that we managed based on our fortes and expertise.
“The lines have become a little more blurred now that we've been in business for so long and understand each other’s areas. So we are impinging on each other a little more often.”
After more than 10 years in business, Brikitta says learning the numbers is essential to making smart business decisions moving forward.
“The first 10 years I probably worked out of instinct; you are in your business all the time. We didn’t have a business plan in the traditional sense.
"In the last five years, I have absolutely taught myself to work with the numbers; from statistics, how many members, what do they pay, expenses, return on investment, all of it.
“Because we have been in business so long now, you have to make strategic moves based on the numbers, and good data to work with to make the right decisions.”
At times, staying positive and motivated in business requires you to dig deep and often be emotionally resilient.
“When you first start out, you are all about the yes to every customer because that’s what you believe will make the business successful; and still I think that’s what you have to do initially. But on top of that you have to have strong enough shoulders to know that you will be disappointed by people around you who will take advantage of you, and that hurts everybody at some stage.
“Does that hurt make you give up or make you more resilient? In my case definitely more resilient.
“Opinions matter to me and I like to talk to a lot of people to get their thoughts but I’ve had to learn to let go; I can’t please everybody, not everybody will like me. Even then when I think about that a bit deeper, it’s not right or wrong; it’s just different personalities. And that is why you surround yourself with certain groups of people."
Brikitta emphasises that it’s important not to get hung up on the negatives and become jaded.
“I really struggle with the constant overuse of the phrase balance. My personal challenge for balance is in business; to juggle the right decision or priority at any give time or situation.
“How do you maintain an offering of kindness, empathy and understanding when you may have been challenged by deceit, business financial decisions and the constant challenge of customers wanting more but only willing to pay less? All I can say is I probably fail often.
"To try and gain some perspective, my go to is a quick 30 minute run in the bush. I seem to come back from a run with my jumbled thoughts a bit clearer, and what the best priorities are in a stressful situation.”
Combining shared business duties, home life and sporting commitments of their three boys, Kai, Dyson and Dash, has its challenges.
“If we do go back to that word balance, I never felt guilty as a young mum. Not sure why but probably because I was doing my passion (the business). The kids were healthy. I fully understood that I needed to be selfish for them to be happy.
“It is so much more challenging and difficult now they are older. The guilt hits me more now about either I’m not running the business well or I’m not running the family well.
“It’s the simplest things from decent meals on the table to the fridge being empty or being behind in washing. For me, when those things are out of control I feel unorganised and then I cannot concentrate 100 per cent when I get in the business to do professionally organised things for a team that need it.
“But I take a breath and reflect that they (the boys) are doing so well. They are on the journey of their dream that we are trying to help them with which is, number one, to get to the US for a scholarship in basketball, great education and, for me, to become well-rounded men in this society.”
For business advice, Brikitta keeps it simple.
“Number one is not to get sidetracked. Concentrate 70 per cent on what you do well and then 30 per cent with your finger on the pulse of what’s going on out there with your competitors.
“If it instinctively is not sitting right, you should always say no. It may not have been the right thing to say no to, it may just be the timing is wrong and you weren’t going to put your passion into it.
“Keep up your networking. If you are not around, people think you have disappeared.
"You have to know what you are different at, what you are first at, what you are best at. If you’re not spruiking it, your team don’t believe it, and the people walking into your business won’t know what you are about.
“You cannot be everything to everyone in business.
“Don’t procrastinate, don’t wait, don’t time waste. If you’ve decided to do something you have to do it. That is half the problem with people not achieving their dream. They just don’t get up and do it. They are not disciplined, and have all the excuses.
“Finally, don’t give up when the knocks come.”
For this fitness lover, there have been moments when she has thought of quitting the game and doing something else.
“I received some good advice from mentors of mine and that is when you feel like quitting, you need to go on a holiday. It only takes three or four days for me to come back around.
“I absolutely understand as a younger person the grass can look greener, and I recommend it (doing something different). When I tried those different things it highlighted that I actually do enjoy fitness and where I was.
“In hindsight, I’d say the worst thing you could do is stay in the same thing for 30 years and not know, ‘Did something else pique my interest? Could I be better?’. In my case what I discovered was, ‘No I really love fitness, I’m going back to it’."