Released: Feb 01, 2023

In today’s episode of the Gym Owners Growth Zone podcast, our host Andres Escobar interviews Jeff Skeen to discuss Skeen’s INCREDIBLE journey of failure and ultimate success.

Skeen’s Beginnings

  • Skeen comes from humble beginnings. His parents came from the farmlands in Kansas, his father was in the Navy, and his mother was a homemaker. Skeen didn’t grow up with any entrepreneurial influence.
  • Skeen’s father, however, taught him a few VALUABLE lessons: You’re entitled to nothing, life is about people, work hard, and money isn’t everything.
  • When he was 11, Skeen began his first business. It wasn’t anything elaborate, however. He and his brother would save up their allowance to buy candy bars, then sell them to other kids at the bus stop.
  • From selling candy bars, Skeen would go on to get his degree in finance, with a minor in accounting. His ULTIMATE goal was to become the CEO of a publicly traded company.
  • After graduation, Skeen would work with a few different companies. He pulled one OUT of bankruptcy and sold it, then got into software sales.

Starting At Gold’s Gym

  • A PIVOTAL moment in Skeen’s life, however, came in 1991 when he was diagnosed with occupational depression.
  • Although he had been hustling HARD in his career, all of his focus drew Skeen away from family and friends. He viewed it as a message from God, telling him to step away and reset. So that’s EXACTLY what Skeen did.
  • Skeen’s involvement in the gym industry began after this. Because of his depression, he got into fitness. His friends founded Gold’s Gym, and he was given a membership. After working out at the gym, one of his friends asked if Skeen would partner with them, but he was initially hesitant.
  • Skeen told his friend he would partner with them IF they could meet a list of criteria. This list included: Skeen needed a paycheck, he couldn’t work 7 days a week, and he would need his wife’s approval first. All of the criteria was met, so Skeen started working for Gold’s Gym.

The Beginning of Gold’s

  • When Skeen first began at Gold’s Gym, there was only a single location. At the beginning, both Skeen and his wife viewed this job as a mental health break. The original idea was for Skeen to work for Gold’s for a year, before returning to his normal job.
  • Skeen focused on one CRUCIAL thing when he began at Gold’s: Establishing value with his customers. He did this through various means, but perhaps the most impactful was having the workers at the front greet customers BY NAME whenever they walked in.
  • Alongside adding value, Skeen made sure not to neglect his team. Instead of trying to make profits off of the back of the gym employees, Skeen made sure everyone was EQUALLY valuable. If management went out to celebrate, so did everyone else. Although everyone had different roles, they were all CRITICAL for Gold’s to keep operating.
  • A common issue buyers have being unable to resolve issues. When they try to contact someone, they get lost in the innumerable layers, ALL the way up to corporate. Instead of making things stupidly complex, Skeen made general managers the HEAD of each individual Gold’s location. This allowed Gold’s to expand RAPIDLY and profitably.

The 2008 Recession and the Future

  • By 2006, Skeen was the CEO of Gold’s Gym. He wanted to CONTINUE his gym’s rapid expansion. To do this, however, he had to find a private equity firm. He wanted to find a firm; however, that SHARED his values.
  • As 2007 came to a close, Skeen managed to pay off all of the debt he acquired during Gold’s expansion. However, timing wasn’t on his side as the 2008 recession kicked into full swing.
  • As the recession began, profits started dropping for Gold’s Gym. Banks refused to do business with Skeen. His resume had looked INCREDIBLE, but now looked terrible with the failure of Gold’s Gym.
  • To help recover from the recession, Skeen did one single, but MONUMENTAL thing. In the past, memberships had been sold for $50 a month. This price was cut down to only $10 a month. This single change SKYROCKETED the amount of memberships sold.
  • After the recession, Skeen walked away with a few lessons. The main lesson he learned was: Don’t rely on branding. Focus on actually providing customers with a VALUABLE product and being helpful. Branding is important, yes, but genuine value trumps it.
  • Something else Skeen focused on, post-recession was boosting consumer HEALTH. Prior to this, Gold’s Gym was predominantly a bodybuilding gym. Not everyone, however, cares about aesthetics. This caused a HUGE attrition rate for personal trainer clients.

The Fast 5

Who is an influential person that you had in your business journey?

  • Skeen’s father and Jesus Christ

What’s one thing you wish you had known when you began your business?

  • Knowing he wasn’t in control

What’s a book/show/video/podcast/etc. that has positively impacted you?

  • The Bible

Do you have a favorite online tool?

  • Keep

What’s one practice or habit that you believe EVERYONE would benefit from?

  • Reading the Bible and exercising

We’d like to hear what you hope to get from this podcast! You can email Andres at or connect with him on Instagram under reviewbiz. Whether you love it or hate it, drop us a comment or suggestion!

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