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    Saturday, July 20, 2024

    Drab, McCoy and 25 years of small business success

    If beautiful shoreline views and two world class casinos are our corner of the world’s primary attractions, then pizza joints and fitness centers are our primary examples of market saturation.

    Seriously. Whatever weight we might gain from the zillions of basil and tomato specials could be burned at Planet Fitness, Snap Fitness, Anytime Fitness, various community centers and private facilities.

    And this is what makes Advantage Personal Training’s recent 25th anniversary so noteworthy. All these menu options later, the modest room with which Groton natives Greg Drab and Calvin McCoy began in 1999 has spawned into virtual fitness warehouses in Mystic and Niantic.

    “When we started,” Drab was saying recently, “personal training was considered more of a side hustle job. When you’d say you’re a personal trainer, the next question would be, ‘And then what else do you do?’”

    A primer on Drab and McCoy: They attended the same high school (Fitch) together. They played the same sport (football). Their sons also attended Fitch together (graduating earlier this month). Their sons played the same sport (football). They have the same college degrees (master’s in exercise science from UConn). And now they have small business success together.

    Drab and McCoy have turned the living room into the fitness room, having trained professional athletes and regular Jimmys and Janes alike with a professional yet flexible and amenable approach.

    “I always held to the idea of a great environment,” McCoy said. “A place where I’d want to work. Don’t mistreat people. Cultivating culture. On the front end, we always wanted to be empathetic to the people coming in and meet them where they were at, not trying to do too much with them too soon. It wasn't about us. It was about them.”

    Drab: “Our mission statement is that we want to be the best part of our clients’ day. For a lot of people, exercising is not the most fun thing to do. It's kind of a chore. And it's like the last thing you want to do is create an environment where they're made to feel bad. ‘Hey, you're late. You have no energy today.’ You want to create an environment that's fun. To feel like the ‘Cheers’ concept. Everyone knows your name.”

    Indeed. Advantage has trained former New London great and NFL tight end Jordan Reed. Drab and McCoy trained former NFL defensive tackle Jacques Cesaire. Among the 25-year highlights was a workout with Cesaire and then-San Diego Chargers punter Mike Scifres. There was Cesaire running around trying to control a long plumbing pipe filled with water, while Scifres lost his breakfast.

    And then they’ve trained everyone else, too.

    “Back in the 90s, personal trainers were usually laid out for celebrities, professional athletes, not the everyday person. The population we've seen boom the most is the over-50 people,” McCoy said. “Gyms weren’t really designed to cater to that demographic.

    “The client now is a little more well-informed. Maybe 25 years ago, people were reluctant to join a gym thinking they didn’t need to win a bodybuilding contest. ‘I'm not an athlete anymore. So what's the point?’ They're more educated now. Studies are showing time and time again that you can remain pretty active, fit, disease free and resilient well into your later years. It's important to start and carry those habits forward.”

    And so what began with a fitness idea from Groton-based chiropractor Dr. Chris Deveau in the late 90s has morphed into a small business success story. Maybe the best part: It’s happened with the unspoken value of constant effort.

    “One of the keys to this is that the owners have been involved in the business,” McCoy said. “We made a ton of mistakes but our ability to keep grinding, we were able to outwork the mistakes if that makes sense. We’ve adapted to how the industry has changed.”

    Drab said: “We started with private one-on-one personal training. We got into small group training after that because at a seminar, a couple of people shared how training was becoming popular. We were small enough of a business where we could adapt to change, because if we were a corporation you'd have to sit through a board meeting to make these changes. Calvin and I meet for coffee and say, ‘Hey, what do you think?’”

    Full disclosure: I’m a former client, too. Based on my expanding midriff, I should channel my inner Gen. MacArthur and deliver a triumphant “I shall return.” It’s always been a welcoming environment.

    “As we got going, it seemed like we really captured a market and touched a nerve with the community,” McCoy said. “And it’s still going 25 years later.”

    This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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