As a part of this thriving series, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Barbara Chancey.
Established in 2007 by Barbara Chancey, the eponymous Texas-based Design Group is a globally recognized fitness architecture, branding, and design expert. The visionary behind over 200 extraordinary brands, Barbara is a pioneer with two decades of real-world experience. Her rich knowledge and proven methods combine to deliver mesmerizing destinations in any size, scale, or location. Fueled by an entrepreneurial spirit, her vision is contagious, and clients continue to rank among the most profitable and successful worldwide.
Designed to perform, Barbara is elevating the aesthetic benchmark and bridging the gap between boutiques, gyms, and spas to create spaces that are as bold and vibrant as the people who train in them. Her unique approach comes from years of teaching fitness classes, and she designs through the eyes of trainers — the heart and soul of your business. From startup studios to health clubs and hospitality projects, her services are as diverse as her clients.
Barbara is a conference presenter, contributing columnist, and podcast guest trusted by discriminating entrepreneurs. Featured in Forbes, Robb Report, and Departures, she relishes interesting projects and kind people who understand there is a greater purpose in fitness.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about your professional background? How did you come up with the idea for your design firm?
Atthe dare of a friend, I took a leap of faith and launched a studio design business in an industry that did not exist.
Long before the boutique fitness phenomenon, I was frustrated by the condition of the big-box gym where I taught Spinning® and offered the owner a win-win proposition: let me create a dedicated cycling studio within the gym, and if membership didn’t grow by 30 percent in one year, I would cover my out-of-pocket expenses.
Armed with a nail gun and a vision, my construction team and I worked every night after the gym closed to create a mind-boggling transformation. Within six months, every bike in every class was whole, and club membership doubled.
Fueled by success, I began donating and bartering services through word of mouth, connecting with such clients as the Fort Bliss U.S. Army base, a 5-star Jamaican resort, and a former U.S. President. Philanthropy was the purpose behind each project, and I experimented with grassroots marketing and charity rides while honing my knowledge of sound mitigation and illumination.
Critics laughed at the notion of boutique fitness studios and said the fad would never last.
Today, my firm has served more than 200 fitness and wellness clients worldwide and offers a full range of services, including consulting, architecture, branding, operations, and marketing.
What are your plans for growth?
The well-being landscape is constantly evolving, and no longer are we moving bodies to look good. We are moving bodies to feel good — physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Growth includes bridging the gap between gyms and boutiques to create health clubs as bold and vibrant as those who train in them. We’re currently renovating a 24,000 sq. ft. health club and have been tapped to remodel an oceanfront condominium’s wellness center.
Growth in the boutique space will focus on the underserved, where “fitness for all” is not just a cliché. Accommodating ‘adaptive athletes’ and special populations is our aim, and we recently opened the first indoor cycling studio in Austin, Texas, with customized recumbent bikes for riders with ALS.
Expanding into hotel fitness is an exciting growth area as guests are yearning for memorable experiences that deliver a new perspective on movement.
Now, we are going to shift the interview to redefining success. We all have myths and misconceptions about success. What are some myths or misconceptions that you used to believe in a professional sense?
This isn’t rocket science, but I’m surfacing three myths/misconceptions I once believed:
The Experience Myth
Success is intoxicating, and experience in one business does not mean you are experienced in others. Having expertise in one area does not make you an expert in all areas.
Extraordinarily business owners invite smarter people into the room. Those who need the least advice will seek advice and appreciate the value of outside consulting. They are always learners in learning mode. They are curious and listen. Experts who “know everything” will push the smart, mature, talented, people away and then wonder why their doors closed.
Experience can make you older, poorer, lonelier, and very tired — but experience alone does not make you wiser.
The Time Myth
Time is your friend and not your enemy. Tapping the brakes instead of hitting the accelerator will bring clarity if you worry that since the clock is ticking, you should hurry up before your competitor catches up.
Rushing leads to copycat ideas, design, and language. In the radically new business book, ReWork, author Jason Fried said, “…if you’re a copycat, you can never keep up. You are always in a passive position. You never lead, you always follow. You give birth to something that’s already behind the times — just a knockoff, an inferior version of the original, and that’s no way to live.”
Setbacks are gifts, and using time wisely will allow you to move with a sense of destiny, learn what you don’t know, and work relentlessly with an abiding sense of humility to see a bigger vision than you ever imagined.
The “If You Build It, They Will Come” Myth
While this romantic notion worked in the movie Field of Dreams, believing that people will line up to hire you after your grand opening announcement is a regrettable but preventable assumption.
You are not building a business for yourself. You may be a user, but you are not your market. Value and price are two different things; the overall experience should be worth more than the price you charge.
Successful business owners are a living, breathing, walking testimony of their business — both inside the office and outside the walls.
How has your definition of success changed?
Two words define success: Balcony Person. I have enormous joy and pride sitting in the audience, up in the balcony, cheering and clapping loudly at the success of my clients.
The pandemic, in many ways, was a time of collective self-reflection. What changes do you believe we need to make as a society to access success post-pandemic?
More exercise and solitude are two changes our society must embrace as the “new normal” for success.
Exercise offers the opportunity to unplug from the external flow of data and chatter of our relentless minds. Exertion is one of the easiest ways to induce endorphins, reducing depression, stress, and anxiety.
Spending time alone, without technology or distraction, can boost creativity and replenish your mind. Countless studies prove that solitude allows ideas to flourish, improves concentration, and helps you see life from a clear perspective without comparison.
What do you see as the unexpected positives in the pandemic?
In 1927, Charles Atlas opened the first fitness business during the Great Depression when the economy was crumbling and lives were destroyed. Fast forward, and the pandemic brought a new awareness of health and the value of human connection. When times are difficult, health becomes vitally important.
From a professional viewpoint, the pandemic reinforced the need to work more efficiently to offset the rising costs in construction materials. The burden is now on us — the architect and design team — not the client. We must design smarter and work harder to continually elevate the aesthetic benchmark of our fitness and wellness projects without sacrificing functionality or safety.
We’re being more deliberate in designing with substance and meaning, more varied and beautiful than before. Of all the places to find what satisfies our souls, there is no better place than across the room in a fitness studio with people we care about.
We’re all looking for answers about how to be successful now. Could you please share “5 Ways To Redefine Success Now?”
Success is a mindset, and you become successful during the process of discovering your purpose/calling and pursuing your dream. You don’t set out to be successful.
You do not dabble in success. You are either all in or you are all out. It’s a voice inside your head that you cannot shut off…it’s the first thing you think about when you wake up and last thing at night. It is an obsession. Most of the time, it’s just a lot of hard work and uncertainty, but the rewards are infinite, and the joy is indescribable.
5 Ways to Redefine Success:
- Success understands that time is our most valuable resource.
Respect the time of others and be quick to respond to emails and calls. Take time to understand what makes your business deserve a place in the heart of your customers…it is rarely what you think
2. Success does not give you a license to treat people unfairly.
Bartenders and baristas often know the truth behind your business. When staff gathers in a public setting to unleash their frustrations toward management, it doesn’t take long before the ripple effect of negativity spreads like wildfire. How you treat people is a true indicator of success, not your financial gains or number of “likes” on Instagram.
3. Success doesn’t let money go to your head.
Entrepreneurs start hardworking, humble, and hopeful. They treat employees well and genuinely appreciate their efforts and sacrifices. Then one day, they are featured in a national magazine, or an extensive check makes its way into their business account. They lose sight of who and what helped get them there and believe it was solely their own doing.
Don’t let your success make you feel superior — you’re not. If you are worth $18 million and pay those who work for you $18 an hour, it is a flat slap in the face while you live like royalty and your employees struggle to feed themselves.
4. Success means being kind is better than being right. You may win the argument, but you’ll probably lose the client. As Walmart founder Sam Walton said, “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”
5. Success is allowing someone else to shine. When a leader blames the followers for not following, the leader has ceased to lead. Successful business owners are often their worst enemies and want to control every aspect of the business. Everybody benefits when owners delegate responsibilities, and thoughtful delegation will allow someone else to shine. Leadership is not about getting things done “right.” Leadership is about getting things done through other people.
How would our lives improve if we changed our definition of success?
We would become deliberate about social media consumption because it can drain away hours of the day.
We would stop comparing our lives to others; appreciate what we have, applaud others, and relentlessly pursue our purpose.
We would stop saying, “I’m too busy,” which simply means you don’t want to. We all have time for things that truly matter.
We would own our decisions — good or bad — and never blame anyone or anything.
We would get rid of ego, titles, and status and recognize that some of the best ideas come from people who are overlooked and underpaid.
We would pivot quickly; committees are the death of a company.
We would become more aware and take responsibility — from picking up an empty bottle on the sidewalk to saying please and thank you.
We would never be satisfied with random achievement and continually hunger and thirst for the bigger goal.
We would have an insatiable desire to help, serve, and improve the condition of others.
We would find a way to exercise every day. In addition to a healthier body, exercise creates endorphins, and endorphins lead to clear thinking, creative ideas, and positive vibes. There is no room for negativity or petty irritations in
We would never be weak in standing up for others.
What’s the biggest obstacle that stands in the way of our redefined success? And what advice would you offer about overcoming those obstacles?
Being on Time. Hustle. Work Ethic. Positive Attitude. Being Prepared. Eye Contact. A Clear Voice. Kind. Resourceful. Humble.
These skills require zero education, talent, or money, yet they are the biggest obstacles that stand in the way of redefined success.
To overcome these, first, remove all obsession with self. Stop using “I” when writing social media posts, blogs, and websites. Stop focusing on your story and shift all energy and effort to their story.
Never assume the good days will last or think you are special. Believe that you can be replaced tomorrow, and stop asking, “what’s in it for me?”
Eliminate using the same language that your competitor’s use to describe how unique you are.
Cliches are your enemies, no matter how passionately convincing they may sound.
Where do you go to look for inspiration and information about how to redefine success?
For nearly two decades, I’ve worked with clients on six continents and am grateful for every person who put their trust and reputation in my hands. They are my greatest source of inspiration, and having a front-row seat to their miraculous hurdles and personal challenges have redefined my version of success.
When the majority is chasing the latest trend, I quietly do the opposite. From opening the first indoor cycling studio in Brunei to the first boutique gym in Lagos, we have a hidden agenda to liberate chronically stressed people from the chaos of everyday life through movement and music.
The voices that provide motivation are not household names, yet their wisdom has proven invaluable. Andy Stanley’s “Your Move” podcast combines business with integrity. David Brier’s best-seller book, Brand Intervention, provides insight into rising above the “noise” in today’s obsession with success. Simon Sinek’s, The Infinite Game, is a constant reminder that claiming to “be the best” is meaningless….who voted?
I approach every project — whether an hour of consulting to help motivate a struggling fitness owner or an expansive health club design — with the same process of exploration and excitement. It’s like falling in love over and over again.
I’m merely the catalyst to ignite a bigger vision and provide a canvas to paint beautiful wellness experiences in every corner of the world.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?
I believe in serendipitous moments; the person I hope to meet face to face is a visionary who sees a greater purpose in fitness and, under the guise of a local fitness studio, can harness the power of the ripple effect to bring small change that leads to significant impact. The person’s name is not as important as their character. An opportunity to meet a person with inventive thinking, the ability to execute, and compassion for humanity is the ultimate wish.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.