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John Robert Cardillo

John Robert Cardillo

John traveled the world to learn the best training and nutrition principles and trained alongside top pro bodybuilders at Gold's Gym California. He was a student of Arthur Jones, inventor of Nautilus and Medx Fitness machines, and the pioneer of hi-intensity training. John developed the HIT3 Training System, which transformed his physique to win countless bodybuilding competitions at just 18 years of age! He was also the first bodybuilder to utilize Faradic Electric Muscle Stimulation in his training and intermittent fasting during his competition prep. John’s SHREDDED Nutrition Diet helped him build one of the most shredded physiques of all time. His diet program incorporates fasting and nutrient timing to help athletes build lean muscle while losing body fat.

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How To Be Successful In The Gym Business By John Cardillo

We had the opportunity to tap into the mind of an industry icon who set standards in the gym business that have yet to be matched. John Cardillo is one of Canada’s premier champion bodybuilders, one of the most successful gym owners in Canadian history and absolute expert in training and nutrition. At 19 years of age, John opened his first gym and then went on to create an empire throughout Ontario. John Cardillo opened more than 50 fitness clubs, ranging from 15,000 sq. ft. to 75,000 sq. ft. In all, he built over 1.5 million square feet of building space with over 3 million total gym members!

Q. You built an empire in the gym industry in Ontario. How did you start your first gym?

A. I found an old karate studio that had just closed down. It already had locker rooms, showers and gym floor space. I signed a lease. I repainted the place and bought a box sign for the front of the building. I also went to see my local newspaper and told them what I was doing and they wrote a big feature article on me. That kick-started publicity for my gym.

Q. You were only 19 years old. How did you finance the equipment and start-up costs? 

A. I borrowed money from a health food store owner that was a sponsor of one the bodybuilding competitions I won. I used the funds that he loaned me to buy weights, bars, dumbbells and a couple of brand name machines. I also learned how to weld and built my own equipment at my friends welding shop. I made all the basics; benches, racks, pull down machines etc. I hand painted everything and even learned how to do upholstery.

Q. How did you run your first gym?

A. Well I didn’t have any business experience. So what I did was when people came in to see my gym, I would take them through a workout. They enjoyed this because of the way I treated them. They would then join. Since I didn’t have any sales skills at the beginning, all I could do was demonstrate my workout knowledge.

Q. I have read that you worked part time at a fitness club while you were in university? 

A. Yes I did. But only as an instructor. Not as a salesperson. I had a general idea that the goal was to get members, but I didn’t learn the formal sales process. Just my enthusiasm and willingness to help people.

Q. How did your first gym do? When did you open your second gym? 

A. The first gym did so well during the first year that I decided to open a second location the following year in a nearby city. Again, I built my own equipment, but now I was able to afford some new brand name equipment. 

Q. What motivated you to open more gyms? 

A. I really enjoyed the gym business and helping people. I found business easy because I was basically practicing my hobby. Nobody else was doing it the way I was, so I thought why not capitalize on this and open more locations.

Q. Over the years you’ve encountered and worked with some influential people in fitness and business. Are there any key people that stick out in your mind?

A. In business I’ve had 3 influential people that I looked to for advice and inspiration. The first is Bob Proctor, a business coach who really has had a big influence on my business life. The second person that I look up to a great deal was my first lawyer in Toronto, an entrepreneur, Jay Hennick. Jay stopped practicing law because he formed a multibillion international public company called First Service and Colliers International Real Estate. The third is Joe Burnett. A self-made billionaire and the smartest business person I’ve ever met. Joe taught me the importance of owning the real estate that my gyms occupied.

Q. How many gyms have you opened in your business career? 

A. I think in total over 60 locations. Initially the gyms were smaller. When I built my concept club, the average location was 50,000 square feet. The majority of them were built from the ground up on real estate that I purchased.  I realized early on that owning my own real estate was good for the long term. One third of the clubs were takeovers from other people who had gone bankrupt. I would buy the location, renovate it to my standards, and install new equipment. By rejuvenating each location, I made them successful. Typically a gym had between 5000 to 7,500 members. In total we had over 250,000 members annually but in total I think I had more than 3 million members over the span of my career. At any given time I employed over 1000 personal trainers. We had a very good personal training business where we taught people my methods of training.

Q. Do you teach the trainers your training philosophy? 

A. Yes all of my trainers have to train people in accordance with my Hi-Intensity (HIT-3) workout philosophy.

Q. How did it work?

A. It works very well. Sometimes we had trainers that wanted to train people their own way. However, most the time, everyone followed the system that I put in place, because it produced the best results for our members.

Q. What are some of the biggest challenges you faced In managing your various businesses? 

A. I think government competition was the biggest challenge. In Canada, every city has built multiple recreation centers with tax payer’s money. Not only are these facilities state of the art, with basketball courts, weight rooms and aquatic centers, but they charge families very little for memberships. It’s really unfair competition as far as I’m concerned.

Q. What is your opinion of the gym industry today?

A. The industry has done a lot of financial damage to itself. Membership prices are now lower than they were 20 years ago. Meanwhile cost of operations have tripled in the same time period. To be competitive, large fitness club chains have decided to keep reducing prices, which has resulted in decreased customer service and unparalleled attrition. They certainly haven’t followed the Apple strategy of providing a great customer experience while charging a fair price, regardless of what the competition is charging. I think that because most gym owners have never really worked out properly in their life. They do not fully comprehend what the best equipment is and the right enviroment to be provided for the people in their ciubs. It's just a business to them.

Q. Why did you decide to sell the gyms?

A. I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer which required a serious operation and radiation treatments for almost one year. This was the first time in my life that I didn’t have an answer for solving a problem facing me. I was fighting for my life. The motivation to continue the frantic pace of building 6 new gyms a year left me. It was time to deal with my health. My priorities changed.

Q. How long did cancer sideline you from running your business? 

A. I was off work for almost 2 years. Recuperation was slow and painful.

Q. How long did it take you to feel 100% again? 

A. After the 3rd year. CT scan results showed I was clear of any cancer. I started to feel better about my future.

Q. How do you feel today, 10 years later, looking back at your cancer battle? 

A. I feel better than ever. Reinvigorated! My health is perfect and my workouts are as intense as ever! I am also remotivated by new projects that I am working on.

Q. Did cancer change any of your perspectives on life?

A. Absolutely! Before cancer I felt invincible. I used to squeeze as much work out of myself as possible every day. Now I try to squeeze as much joy out of every day instead! While at the same time focusing on work that I get enjoyment out of.

To read more on John Cardillo, check out his website at johnrobertcardillo.com or right here at Muscle Insider at John Cardillo.

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