This episode of Palm Harbor Local we got to sit down with local gym owners Angela and Melina. They are owners of Tarpon Barbell Company which offers power lifting, HIIT (high intensity interval training), personal training, nutrition classes and kids classes here in Tarpon Springs, FL. Angela and Melina are passionate about creating a welcoming environment at their gym. They felt that sense of community was lacking from gyms and is one reason why they welcome all different fitness levels to come in a train with them. They are also a newer gym, opening their doors last year during the COVID pandemic which presented its on challenges of being a business owner. Listen in as we talk with Angela and Melina to learn more about why they decided to open a gym and why they are passionate about the community.
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Angela & Melina | Tarpon Barbell Company
Welcome to another episode of the show. I want to talk a little bit about how this show came to be what it is for any of our new readers out there. I’m extremely passionate about inspiring people and communities to fulfill the life of their dreams and reach their full potential. We sell ourselves short more often than not. Whether it be because of social media, we’re comparing to ourselves other people on social media, the news, the circle of friends or influence that we are around, or that Imposter syndrome that we all have from time to time. I enjoy helping people push past that, achieve their goals, and help them reach their full potential.
You might ask how do I do this. I’m able to connect people to their dream homes and their local communities through this show and through my real estate business. I get to meet all different kinds of people from all across the country, people in the local community, people who are moving to our community. I get to help these families buy and sell real estate.
I wanted to say thank you for supporting this show. For any of you who have tuned in to it or supported it in any way, please continue to share it, promote it, and invite your friends and family to tune in to it as well. If you’re interested in any of my real estate services, then you can head on over to my website at DonnieHathaway.com or you can follow me on Instagram @Donnie.Hathaway. You can schedule a quick discovery call from any of those locations. We’ll see if we’re a good fit to work together.
In this episode, we sit down with Angela and Melina, Owners of Tarpon Barbell Company here in Tarpon Springs. I’m excited about what Angela and Melina are doing over at their gym. It’s a little bit different than some of the other gyms that you’re going to get in the area, but they’re passionate about creating that sense of community and family within their gyms so that everybody is welcome to the gym. They’re a CrossFit and HIIT-style training at their gym. They have one-on-one personal training and group classes as well. They also have kid classes.
Your first class is free. If you want to go try it out, you can go check it out and see what they’re all about. It’s cool to see what they’re creating and what they’re about at Tarpon Barbell Company. It’s about the community and the family-style atmosphere they’re building that everybody is welcome no matter their fitness level. We’re all at different levels depending on that life cycle. It’s cool to see their growth and what they’re doing at Tarpon Barbell Company. They’re now moving to a new location as well. They have exciting things in store for them. Let’s jump right into it and meet Angela and Melina.
I appreciate you guys taking the time to sit down with me. You guys have a couple of businesses. I’m excited to learn more about you guys and your business and your goals for the business, especially some of the stuff we’ve been through in 2020 being a business owner. It has been challenging. Why don’t we start off by telling everybody a little bit about the gym that you guys have here in Tarpon Springs?
It’s a boutique-style gym where we do a lot of high-intensity interval training and boot camp-style classes. We also have a really robust powerlifting program. Our powerlifters set state records. They do a great job representing us. We’re located off of the main strip in Tarpon Springs. It’s a great location. There’s lots of visibility. It keeps our community strong.
What made you guys choose Tarpon Springs?
We live here. When you’re in Tarpon, you like to stay in Tarpon. An opportunity came up where there wasn’t going to be a fitness facility like this in the area. It was something that we were both passionate about. It gave us a chance to come in and share that with the people that are part of our family.
With your local neighbors in Tarpon too.
We also try to pay homage to Tarpon Springs by having the sponge diver as our logo. We’re trying to give back to the community as well.
What made you want to open up a gym in the first place? You guys opened in 2020, right?
Was it before COVID or right as COVID was happening?
We opened up three days before they shut all the gyms down. It was quite an eye-opening experience for us. As far as us wanting to open a gym, we all came from a different gym that left the area. We wanted to open up something that created a positive environment for members to come in and learn how to get fit, but also how to live a healthy lifestyle without having any guilt or feelings. If they can’t perform to a certain level, they can still come in and still get a good workout in.
A lot of times when you’re in a certain fitness facility, there’s a lot of pressure that you can’t come in as a beginner or that you have to look a certain way to perform a certain way. That’s not a reality for a lot of folks. Especially in this area, we have a very wide demographic of people. We wanted to have a place where average people can come in and they can still see improvement, be physically fit, and get guidance and nutrition if that’s what they’re looking for but without that pressure that you have to measure up to this mark and anything below that is unacceptable.
That’s the kind of community that we’ve tried to build here where it’s more of a family. These classes have a culture that’s involved in them that helps people feel really involved, which goes a long way to accountability too. People want to come in and work out. They want to do these things because it’s fun. They get to see improvement every day and get their sweat on, and then they can go home and don’t feel like they didn’t do a good enough job.
I want to touch on what you guys talked about with creating the culture of family and that people enjoy coming here. I worked out at Camp Gladiator for a while. That was one of the big things that kept us coming back. The friends that we made there worked out in the mornings and putting in the work. We were showing up for them more so than ourselves. It’s cool that you guys have done that and created that as well.
Even if I want to take a day off or Melina wants to take a day off, our members are texting us and asking where we are. We’ve created the cheers environment. Everyone knows your name when you walk in the door. Everyone says hello and good afternoon to you. We created a good culture. We have a good community base here. We did a fundraiser too. It showed you how much money we were able to raise because they enjoyed seeing the pain, but also, our members want to give back to the Tarpon community as well. That’s something we’re trying to instill in them. Come in, create that culture in here, but also bring it with them outside to when they leave the gym and into their daily life of walking around Tarpon Springs.
It’s more than just creating a gym or a place for people to come and work out. It’s creating that sense of community, right?
Our members have started to feel more connected to the Tarpon Springs community too. These are local business owners, real estate agents, psychologists, or beer tenders. They’re all local people. It helps you feel like you’re even more rooted here because you can walk into a place and see somebody that you know. There are always connections and networking that happen from walking in the door of the gym.
Where does that idea come from? What made you want to create a gym like this?
I’ll let Melina go in a second. My idea came from after being in the military and having that sense of culture, community, and camaraderie where everyone comes together. I wanted to be able to recreate that here as well. It’s a big driver passion of both of ours to be able to have that. We all worked at a couple of different facilities. There’s always that little bit of community or camaraderie that was lacking, so we wanted to make sure that when we opened up here, we started it from the beginning, and we’re keeping it going and instilling. Melina has the psychology aspect of it as well that she can add to that.
I grew up in a small town. I’ve always loved a small-town feeling. That goes a long way. I wouldn’t call myself an extrovert either. I like to keep my group nice, small and intimate. I spoke earlier about accountability that goes a long way. If you have a group of people that you feel connected to that can hold you accountable and that you can be part of holding them accountable, it’s not hard work at that point.
Building a successful business is not be that difficult if you have a group of people you connect to and hold yourself accountable to.
Sometimes you can get lost in the fray when you are part of a bigger gym or anything big that you start to feel like you are in the background. We all like to shine a little bit here and there. It’s nice to have a small group where everybody has an opportunity to shine and isn’t so big that people feel like they’re falling through the cracks. That’s super important in keeping people motivated and coming back.
We talked about keeping the groups small. Is there a certain level where you lose that sense of community if the gym gets too big?
Angela and I would probably differ slightly on that answer. She’s talented in business and marketing. For her, and you can correct me if I’m wrong here, she’s so good at recruiting people that she sees the potential of recruiting a lot of people and building this family big. For me, and I know that part of this is who I am personally, I see a cap that would be like, “Anything more than this, we might start to lose that feeling.” We’re still new and figuring this out.
We’re still trying to find that sweet spot where people feel like they still have a spot when they come in. There’s still plenty of equipment that everybody can cheer each other on and that nobody’s getting left behind. We’ve experienced a class that is small that is like, “We need more bodies. We need more energy.” We’ve also experienced really big classes where you feel lost, you’re not enough here and not enough there, or you’re not getting the attention you need from the coach. We’re trying to nail down that sweet spot.
I 100% agree with what she said. We will be growing a lot more. My sweet spot may be just a couple of numbers higher than what her sweet spot is, but that’s okay. We’re going to figure out that middle spot. I do agree. We want to get bigger and larger. We are expanding and going into a different location, but we don’t want to get too big to where nobody knows your name when you walk in the door and you’re a complete stranger. We want it to be that whatever class you go into, people would be like, “That’s Donnie. How are you, Donnie? Drop into our class.”
Also, the coach could be like, “How’s your shoulder injury? How’s your ankle feeling today?” That’s another piece of it. If the classes are too big, your coaches can’t track your individual needs. If they can’t do that, then what’s the point of going to a place that has group classes? You could just walk into a global gym. That sweet spot is also going to be about making sure that our members are getting that level of coaching that we want them to have where the coach can track them, “We need to modify for you because this is an injury that you’re rehabbing.” We can do that instead of feeling like, “I can’t pay attention to you because I got all these other people over here that I have to manage.” That’s a sweet spot too.
With having COVID in 2020, we’re probably a year behind trying to figure out exactly where we’re going to be. It’d be a year in March 2021 that we’ve been open. We’re getting ready to move to a new location next to Silverking Brewing. In 2022, we’ll be able to dial in a little bit more as COVID figures out itself or washes out. The second year in business will give us more of an idea of exactly how far we want to go and where our max potential can go and take us.
It’s hard to gauge when you’re in the middle of a global pandemic.
We’re just trying to survive at that point.
We survived the first year. Now, we’re giving ourselves a second year while things are tapering to nail things down.
I want to circle back to that. Tell us a little bit about your background. What did you guys do before being gym owners?
I was in the military, and then I went to school and got that good, old college degree when that first recession hit. It did not mean a whole lot at that time when I graduated from San Diego State. When we moved to Florida, I worked for a couple of mom-and-pop businesses and ran their businesses. They gave me the keys to the castle and showed me how it is to be an entrepreneur and everything that we can do. It got me involved in the chamber of commerce, marketing, and networking. After doing that, I discovered that I did not want to work for people. I wanted to work for myself or work with other people. Me and my wife bought a franchise called Kombi Keg. Five months later, we jumped on the train with Melina and opened up this gym right here.
What did you get into your degree?
It was Biological Anthropology. My dream was to go live in Africa, study primates, and then the reality sets in that I’ve got to pay the bills.
I have a degree in Biology. I know what you’re talking about.
It seems so nice when you’re reading through the course catalog. That seems like a lot of fun.
It’s a super interesting topic. There are so many different avenues you can go, but I always tell people I enjoyed getting the degree, and I discovered a passion for the outdoors. That’s why I got my degree. It was worth it.
A college degree also gives you tons of life skills. It’s not completely useless. You know how to work on deadlines and write an email. I had to justify why I went to college for twelve years. I had to make sense of it. I moved back to Florida when I was twenty. That was in 2005. I went to UCF to get my undergrad in Biology and then switched to Psychology. I completed my Psychology Doctorate here in Tampa. I’m a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and I have a practice here. I have two locations. I have one in Ybor and one here. I’m closing the Ybor location and coming here full-time because people in Tarpon like to stay in Tarpon. That’s my full-time gig. The gym is my part-time gig that takes full-time energy. I got licensed a couple of years ago. That’s what I’ve been doing.
You make a great little team because you have the business side and then the psychology side of it. You understand people and how everything works.
It has worked so far. We haven’t had any problems.
Speaking of problems, let’s go back to 2021 and what it’s like opening up a business during that time. Things shut down and you were like, “Shit.”
Having two businesses that require in-person contact was rough. Trying to figure out how to pivot the gym and still be marketable for those couple of months that we were closed down was extremely difficult. You could do online classes, but you still didn’t have the full extent. People couldn’t buy equipment. We lost a lot of gym members during that timeframe. It was hard to even try to recruit anybody when you didn’t know when you were going to open up. 2021 was rough. I’m not going to deny it. We were trying to get people out of their houses. We were like, “You can come to the gym.” We had everything taped out. We had all the right chemicals to keep everything clean and sanitized. We had open-air, so there was constant air flowing through the gym and fans.
We also adjusted the class time so there was ample time for cleaning in between. There were lots of little adjustments that had to be made. When you’re starting a new business, you also want to appeal to your customer base. We were trying to find class times that are going to work so we can maintain codes, so everybody’s safe and healthy, but then those classes times don’t necessarily meet the needs of some of our members.
It was a struggle. Still, not everyone is able or wants to come out yet. We’re still in that phase of, “When are we going to start to see a bigger spike in our membership?” It’s not only that, financial side as well. You have to think a lot of people went on unemployment. Some people didn’t have jobs. Some people still don’t have jobs. The service industry is still hurting. A lot of our members that we would typically have, financially, they can’t pay for the gym membership either. Working with COVID and then with the finance aspect, we’re still trying to figure out how to get through the first quarter. In the 1st and 2nd quarters, I think it’s still going to be rough for us, and then we’re hoping the 3rd and 4th quarters, we can see a little bit more of a change in the environment and people’s financial status too.
I’m sure it has been difficult for people to want to come to the gym.
It is difficult to justify an extra expense right now when you may not be making the same amount of money or you’ve gotten pay cuts.
Business owners must never let any potential customer down. They must know the right way to navigate the market.
Also, the motivation. People were on lockdown for months. Many of them may have switched back to a sedentary lifestyle. It’s the idea of, “I got to get back up. I got to go to the gym,” whereas maybe before, they were going four days a week.
You were into that routine. Now, it’s just a habit.
That was a challenge. That’s still a challenge for people. They’ve gotten into their COVID routine. That didn’t necessarily include a fitness regime, so now it’s like, “We can get back into that. We can reincorporate that.” Everybody has different levels of comfort with this.
We’re still navigating and trying to figure out what exactly we can offer to make potential members feel more comfortable. How can we make the next two quarters a little bit better for people to come in for COVID purposes? It’s not just our business. I feel like all businesses are probably going to find the rest of 2021 still extremely challenging. Hopefully, 2022 will not be as challenging.
We’re starting to realize, too, that COVID is going to be around for a long time. It’s just going to be how we are going to adjust the way we previously lived our lives to adapt to this new norm.
We’re still navigating, but we feel, correct me if I’m wrong, that we have done a decent job so far trying to provide everything that the gym members need and make them feel as comfortable as possible. We have the proper gym space and open airflow. We’re doing the best that we can on our end, trying to get people to feel comfortable and come in the door with us.
From my perspective, there are a lot of different avenues I can choose to work out. With your style here, do you consider it a CrossFit gym?
Not yet, but we are looking at getting our affiliation. Now, we do the high-intensity interval training that has Olympic lifting in it. We have our powerlifting in the afternoon. We have a little bit more of a hybrid program right now.
How do you compete with that? Is there a certain niche of people looking for a gym similar to yours and your ideal clients?
Yes. There are quite a few people out there that have seen the CrossFit Games or have watched powerlifting and Olympic lifting and it has appealed to them, so they come in. They try a class or group fitness classes like Camp Gladiator or Burn Boot Camp. Some of them try that, and some see like, “If we come here, we can touch a couple more things. We can do barbell.” Those are a little bit higher intensity levels, so it appeals to that crowd.
You get individuals who have never thought they could come in here and lift up a barbell or maybe use an assault bike or a dumbbell or kettlebell. They come in and try a couple of classes and they fall in love with it. From a beginner and then to the ones that are a little bit more advanced, this appeals to them, but it appeals to anyone looking for more of that group environment where you have a bunch of people doing the same thing with you.
You’re in the suck together and it’s fun. You’re watching the person next to you. They’re sweating and having fun, but it’s a hard workout. Everyone around you is doing the same exact thing. That motivates you too. When we work out together, we are extremely competitive when we’re side by side because I don’t want her to win and she doesn’t want me to win. That’s the other thing too. It creates a healthy, competitive environment, too, so that you push yourself to go faster versus working out at a regular gym and putting yourself through a workout where you’re probably going to sit more, rest more, and not get your heart rate up as fast.
You’re not going to do those extra reps.
People also may say they don’t want anybody telling them what to do, but you could go to the gym and you could go on the elliptical for 45 minutes, three times a week, and not see any progress. That’s when a person gets to a point and they’re like, “I’m going to hire a personal trainer.” They want somebody who can say like, “Let’s guide you in to where you want to be.”
If you want to be stronger here, if you want to have better endurance here, if you want to change your body composition, if you want to do all of those things, you’re going to need some guidance. You can go into a gym and have a coach or a class that’s a reasonable class size, or you do personal training, or you go on Pinterest and look up 30-day ab workout. You’re looking for some guidance. That’s something that we can offer here that’s different from Planet Fitness or Anytime Fitness.
You can pay for a reasonable membership there and go and be on the elliptical or use the machines. That works for a lot of people, but for folks that are looking to make big changes, you need that community, guidance and somebody who’s knowledgeable who can say like, “Let’s try a little bit more of this. You’re a little stronger than that. You could do a few more reps. I know you can do it five seconds faster. I believe in you.” That’s what they want.
It’s not having to spend the time and energy to look up like, “What’s best for me?” It’s like, “You show up here. Here’s what you do today. Put the work in and then go home.”
It’s going to hurt most of the time, but you’re going to feel good because you had it done and you had fun.
Speaking of fun, what do you guys enjoy about being gym owners? This is something you haven’t done before.
We both have a passion for fitness. It’s fun to come in and compete. When she works out at 6:00 AM and I work out at 9:00 AM, I get to come in and see that number on the board. I’m like, “That’s the time I’ve got to beat.” That keeps me motivated. I can send her a picture like, “I beat you today,” and she’s like, “I’m going to get you tomorrow.” That’s fun for us and our friendship and partnership. Also, it’s the same group of people that are showing up as time blocks. You have running jokes and you learn about each other. That’s belongingness. That’s really enjoyable.
We’re in our max-out week. A couple of people got to ring the bell because they PR’d on their workouts. That’s fun being owners of this. You see your members smile because it was a five problem PR, which may not sound like a lot, but it’s actually a lot depending on the lifts. They’re like, “I did this today,” or seeing them walk in and look at the board and seeing Friday’s workout is really hard. They’re like, “I can’t do that,” but then at the end of the workout, they’re all smiling because they were able to accomplish something that they didn’t think they could do.
That brings us a lot of happiness too. Seeing people walk in that never would have done this or ever walk into a gym before and you’re able to make them laugh and make them feel good, that makes us feel good too. Outside of behind the scenes with the business side, that’s the fun part of owning the gym. It’s seeing everyone laugh, smile, get excited, and go through the movements thinking that they can’t do something and accomplish it at the end of the day.
Going back to the community you guys created is the fun part. You’re building that community and then seeing people enjoy that as well.
That’s probably the most enjoyable part.
It’s so much fun.
We touched on some of the challenges, especially of 2020, but COVID aside, what are some of the other challenges of being a business owner or a gym owner?
Managing a growing business must be handled with care. Do not aim to grow too much where things could get out of hand. Makes sure all needs are being met.
Being a business owner, you have a lot of weight on your shoulders. If we can’t pay our bills or make our rent, we close down and all of our members lose a home they’ve created. That’s a lot of pressure, weight on your shoulders, and responsibility that you want to make sure that you don’t let anybody down. It’s all about navigating those circumstances.
Also, the balance has been challenging. It’s being able to strike a good work-life balance when you’re trying to keep your head above the water in any business. I was very fortunate that my business was thriving during COVID because everybody needed a therapist. In terms of retail gyms, food establishments, and stuff like that, you’re working double hard to try to stay alive. A lot of people lost sight of that balance of taking care of themselves.
We lost sight of the balance. Not a lot of sleep was had in 2020. We have one employee here too. We don’t want to let her down.
There’s a lot of weight and overhead. Even as we look at 2022 and the growth that we want to have, that also means buying more equipment so that we can accommodate everybody. That comes with the extra cost. It’s not like, “We got another member. That’s another X number of dollars every month.” Now, you’re thinking, “That’s another bike that we’re going to need if six people show up to the class.” That comes with the bigger ticket price. You want more members, but you also have to think that with that comes the cost of continuing to expand our product. We have to keep adjusting both sides to make sure that all the needs are being met.
I’d like to wrap up with one question. This will be good for you guys, especially because you’re big on the community. You guys can each pick one. What is one of your favorite local businesses? It could be a restaurant, anything. It could be in Tarpon or anywhere nearby.
That’s hard because I think there’s a fan favorite as far as restaurants go.
We’re going to answer this together. Our favorite restaurant in Tarpon Springs is Rusty Bellies. During the shutdown, their pivot was incredible. We supported them quite often during the shutdown. They took care of the community. They’re very much a community-based restaurant as well.
They were doing grocery deliveries because they could get access. It’s a great family-owned business. We go there all the time. In terms of restaurants, it’s Rusty Bellies.
They’re at the end of the sponge docks, right?
They are. We try to give them as much support as possible because they do so much for Tarpon Springs. We appreciate that.
They’re one of the staples in Tarpon Springs and have been for a while.
Also, job-wise too. I don’t know how many employees they have, but they provide a lot of jobs for the local community here.
It’s a testament to their success because they have enough patrons to continue bringing on employees. I’ve never met somebody who had a bad experience there. It was a hard question to answer because we have so many friends who work in this community. I’ll go on Yanya, who’s an artist down on Alt 19. She’s amazing. We have David Banther, who’s a realtor. He’s one of our powerlifters. He has a state record for deadlifting.
He’s another incredible individual. He’s running for mayor at Tarpon Springs.
We have so many people here. We want to share the love with everybody because everybody’s bringing something special to the table.
When we talk about breweries in Tarpon, you get Two Frogs. Chad Croake is such a cool guy. It’s hard to answer that question. We try to support as many businesses as possible for us. We try to spread the love to Tarpon. We love Tarpon.
We try to keep it pretty local.
Our area, Tarpon, Palm Harbor, Dunedin, and all the little towns in Pinellas County are starting to build on that sense of community. Each one has its own unique vibe and stuff too, which is cool to see. I appreciate you guys jumping on with me. This was a lot of fun. Where can they find you guys? I know you’re moving locations, but if they want to sign up or get more info about the gym, when can they reach out to you?
The best place would be to go to Tarpon Barbell Company on Facebook. Send us a message or give us a call from there. We also have some fun promotion videos that we made and some other fun tidbit information and movements that we post on there. It’s a good spot to find us.
Go check them out. Thank you, guys.
I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Angela and Melina. It’s really great what they’re doing for the City of Tarpon Springs, like building that sense of community there at Tarpon Barbell Company and how passionate they are about community both inside the gym and outside the gym. It’s great for the City of Tarpon Springs, which has lots of history as well and is a growing city, too, like most cities in our area.
I wanted to say thank you again for reading another episode of the show. If you enjoyed what you read, then do us a favor and hit that subscribe button, whether you’re tuning in to us on Apple Podcast, Google Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Deezer, or whatever it is. If you’re on YouTube, then you can go ahead and hit that subscribe button. Also, click the bell and you’ll get notified when we post a new episode. If you want to go back to any of our other previous episodes, head on over to our website. It’s PalmHarborLocal.com. Thank you again. Have a fantastic week.