How this Franchisee Built 5 Successful Tribes in Nashville

Blog
Sarah Cook
September 16, 2019

Jamie Warren was first introduced to the Iron Tribe concept while on a mission trip in India with ITF Founder and CEO Forrest Walden. From the beginning, Jamie knew Forrest was on the cusp of something great, and he wanted to be a part of it.

Through many business decisions, successes and some failures, Jamie now dominates the Nashville market with five thriving Iron Tribe gyms. Here’s how he got to where he is today, and how he continues to grow and learn within the Iron Tribe model.

 

 

Q. How did you meet Forrest? Tell us about the early years of working out at Iron Tribe.

Forrest and I (and our wives) met in 2001 when we joined the same Bible study group at church. He was one of few guys I knew who actually worked in the fitness business. While we had our faith and similar family dynamics in common, I was impressed that a guy in his 20s was already very successful.

He and Mendy came over for dinner one night, and when he saw all the books on the shelves in my home office, his eyes lit up! Our relationship jumped to the next level when we learned that many of the same authors and content had influenced us. We started trading books, CDs (back before podcasts!) newsletters, articles—any content that we thought would help us further our ambitions to be Godly husbands, fathers, friends and business guys.

Forrest introduced me to Fitness Together, and I became a member at one of the studios he developed near my home. I also joined the same Vistage group as Forrest after a guest invitation in 2006. I owned a marketing agency during this time, and a brand new non-profit called Neverthirst needed some graphic design and branding work for its early fundraising projects. So, in 2009 I volunteered some company resources and a week of my time in India for Neverthirst (along with photographer Jason Wallis) to capture video for its efforts.

On that trip, I walked out of my hotel room one morning and I saw Forrest at the other end of the hallway doing burpees and double-unders! I walked over to him and asked what in the world was up to. He said, “come to my garage when we get home. I’ll show you something new I’m doing.”

On that trip, I walked out of my hotel room one morning and I saw Forrest at the other end of the hallway doing burpees and double-unders!

The rest is history. I got hooked.

I fell in love with functional fitness and saw results in my mid 30s that I’d never considered possible. My wife and I were at ITF Homewood— the Mothership — the day it opened in February, 2010. 

Q. What prompted you to open your first gym?

I mentioned that Forrest and I were in the same Vistage business owners’ group. He and Jim Cavale presented the franchise marketing plan to our monthly meeting in early 2012—simply to get feedback. Being a raving fan Iron Tribe athlete, I was intrigued by the business model.

Forrest didn’t know it at the time, but I had made an investment in 2011 (along with three other silent partners) with two energetic guys who wanted to open a functional fitness gym in Nashville. Being an ITF athlete, I understood what they were attempting. After hearing the ITF franchise presentation, I had to convince everyone involved that the gym in Nashville should be an Iron Tribe instead.

We not only invested more to do this first location, but committed to a multi-unit development plan in the market. We became the brand’s second franchisee in July 2012. ITF Belle Meade opened in February 2013. 

Q. Walk us through how you grew from one Nashville gym to five. 

ITF Belle Meade enjoyed some early success, and we quickly found the site that would become ITF Belmont—which opened in January 2014.

The challenges of operating and growing two Iron Tribe locations became clear rapidly. Our operating partners needed more help, so I began spending more time supporting them and traveling to Nashville.

In the summer of 2014, the owners of ITF Brentwood and Cool Springs, approached me about our interest in acquiring those locations. They had been the first franchisee in the ITF brand and also chose Nashville to develop their locations.

In a whirlwind six-month period, my partners and I acquired ITF Brentwood and Cool Springs — doubling our number of locations and team size; I sold my 11-year old marketing agency to a long-time colleague; and the partners voted me CEO of our franchisee company.

Iron Tribe in Nashville has been my full-time professional endeavor since January, 2015. By the end of that year, former owners had left the business to pursue other opportunities. I had several potential real estate locations for future gyms fall through. Through providential timing in late 2015, I discovered the location that would become ITF Downtown Franklin. Permitting and construction took an entire year from signature on the lease to opening day. The Franklin gym opened in April, 2017.

Q. What have been some of the biggest obstacles for you? How did you overcome them?

I think anyone in the ITF brand would tell you that what’s actually been required to be successful is different than what we all thought initially. When we grew from two to four locations overnight, the consistency of our product was a real focus. Embracing the excellence standards for the brand and the regular grading of our operations really helped that.

We had to improve the athlete experience before any major investment in promotion or marketing. Then, we had to focus on acquisition and retention simultaneously through a series of real estate, vendor and technology challenges. All this while recruiting, developing and retaining the absolutely best team we possibly could.

building a strong culture and really talented team has been vital to our staying power.

I think we’ve succeeded because my partners and I have a similar work ethic and are passionate about building an enterprise that changes thousands of lives. Approaching all the challenges creatively and with a sense of innovation has also served us well. But, building a strong culture and really talented team has been vital to our staying power. I’ve also continually had to scale and refine the focus of my role. The business took a dramatically positive turn when I took personal responsibility for (and put equal focus into) both recruiting and marketing.

Q. What’s your best piece of advice for someone who wants to pursue a similar path as you?

The Iron Tribe model—or any boutique gym business—is like a garden. Internally for your team and athletes and externally for the public, it requires owner-level attention, hands-on focus, cultivation, weeding and protection. It’s not a machine, so don’t ever treat it like one.  

Sarah Cook

Sarah oversees social media and internal communication for Iron Tribe Fitness. Her goal is to share the mission of Iron Tribe so others can be transformed by the program, and ultimately become the healthiest version of themselves.