July 31, 2020
Breaking a Sweat in Business

Ed Nakfoor

  1. Schedule clients, teach classes, make meal plans.
  2. Engage on social media, work the front desk, motivate employees.
  3. Sign checks, stock merchandise … unclog a toilet.
  4. Oh, and get in a workout. 

When you’re a gym owner who’s also a trainer, you’re also chief marketer and human resources boss, you’re bookkeeper and buyer, too. To know a bit about the pipes certainly helps. And, of course, you have to workout. After all, you’re the best advertisement for the business. 

The goal, then, is to plow through the seemingly endless to-do list and greet the day enthusiastically, even when the alarm pierces the quiet at 3:00 a.m. and the car is covered in fresh snow. Sure, it can be exhausting, but when you have great zeal for what you do, when it’s your life and not merely your livelihood, you make the sacrifice. You break a sweat, too, and not from sprints or burpees. 


George Shaouni, Jr. co-owner with his father of Powerhouse Gym in Troy, runs a fast-moving, bicep-bulging, calorie-burning operation. He’s also been my trainer for seven years. The success of the business is due in part to Junior – no one calls him George – being a popular trainer and the face of the business. Junior’s challenges are due in part to him being a popular trainer and the face of business. And therein lies the conundrum … one that requires flexing the brain to solve.  

Personality and Partnership

Junior grew up in a home dedicated to health and fitness; his dad bought his first Powerhouse franchise in 1989. Junior played sports and was a gym regular from a young age, so it’s no surprise he followed in the family tradition when it came time to begin a career. Junior, 27, also studies martial arts: he’s a black belt in sabaki, a brown belt in ashihara, and a blue belt in jiujitsu. He’s boxed for 15 years as well. 

And he has an outsize persona. His personality, and expertise, keeps me, and dozens of other clients, lifting and jumping, pulling and pumping … long before the sun rises. When he’s not at the gym, though, there’s a noticeable difference. There’s a bit less energy and the classes sometimes aren’t as busy.

“Ours is a personality driven business. People join a gym because they feel comfortable, they work with trainers because they feel comfortable,” he said. However, “not everyone relates to my personality.” He added, “My trainers and I have different styles … and that’s a good thing. It’s good, from a client’s perspective, to mix things up a bit, to experience a different style.” But, still, when he’s out there’s an attitudinal shift. 

Yet, to train the trainers in the same mold isn’t the answer. “My only regret is that I can’t clone myself. So, my goal is to lead by example and encourage our trainers to bring a similar energy in their work … I want to be a partner in their success,” he explained. “At the same time I don’t want them to lose their personalities. It’s a fine line to walk.”  

So, he does just that, lead by example. Junior shared a story that taught him a lesson about setting the bar. Fifteen or so years ago George, Sr. chastised Junior when he asked why his dad was cleaning a toilet in the men’s locker room. “My dad stood up, he was annoyed, and said, ‘You don’t ask anyone to do something you wouldn’t do.’” Lesson learned. 

Mentorship and Muscle Building 

Other lessons learned have come from his trainers. “This has been an education,” he said. “My greatest lesson has been discovering our trainers aren’t me. And for them to be as motivated as I am … to care about the business, to grow their individual business, they need to be motivated by a motivator.” He explained, “if a fighter is also a coach, he still needs to be coached for a fight.” 

GS 2

Further, Junior credits several mentors, besides his father, for coaching him. He counts many small business owners as clients. “I appreciate the one-on-one time. We share ideas, offer solutions to problems, from payroll systems to employee retention … and learn from mistakes. In between sets it’s a time to vent and get creative.” Junior noted, too, that no matter the longevity of a business, certain challenges are a constant. “Guys twice my age talk about a lot of the issues I run into. It’s comforting yet disheartening. But I accept that’s the nature of business ownership. I don’t get discouraged because I love what I do.” 

Finally, Junior said, “I’ve read books on management style and motivation, listened to TED talks … nothing compares to hearing stories from other small business owners. I’m fortunate that way, to be part of a community that not only supports one another but genuinely wants each other to succeed.” 

As we wrapped up the conversation, I wondered: what motivates the motivator? “Family, my clients …” Junior thought a bit then said, “I’m extremely competitive, I’d rather have my legs break before I quit.” Spoken with the same intensity he used to describe that morning’s workout. 


Edward Nakfoor is a Birmingham, Michigan-based freelance writer and marketer for small businesses. How do you motivate your employees? Contact Ed at edwardnakfoor@gmail.com.

Follow Junior @junior_powerhouse247

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