Finding your passion is one thing. Finding a way to profit from it is another. For Robyn and Brian LaLonde, developers and owners of the Edge Athlete Lounge in Chicago, it has been their passion for endurance training and competitions that has carried them through the missteps, long nights, bad advice, and competition to the point where they are now slowly preparing for the future.
They recently met with students in The Ron Rubin School for the Entrepreneur program to explain how they developed, launched, and sustain their business.
Robyn, who is Humanities instructor Jennifer Cerny’s cousin, also has a teaching background. Brian is from the world of finance and hedge funds. They both have a passion for endurance training and racing – triathlons, marathons, cycling, and ultra-marathons. It is what brought them and their core group of friends together.
Forming a group and hiring a coach to train for the Ironman Triathlon, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run, the LaLondes found a remarkable bond developing among the members. They chose to “electively sweat” together, Robyn explained, and seven years later they are still some of their closest friends.
I ran past the earlier version of myself. I realized I could move past any barrier. I can do anything with the proper training.
Training for the Ironman meant working hard “to make yourself a better person,” she added. And while completing the marathon portion, Robyn said, “I ran past the earlier version of myself. I realized I could move past any barrier. I can do anything with the proper training.”
She did cartwheels as she crossed the finish line.
But the training sessions also made the LaLondes start asking questions like “What activities do you look forward to?”, “What are your natural strengths?”, and “What could you talk about forever?” The answers were the training and races. Their work was a way to pay for their passion.
Listening and brainstorming after training was valuable. Brian said everyone they talked to wanted to maintain the “runner’s high” for as long as possible. But there wasn’t one location that offered the training, recovery, and meals required to meet the needs of these higher-end everyday athletes. The trick would be negotiating the hills and valleys between the concept phase and actually opening.
Robyn said they started looking at building a 15,000 square-foot complex with investors. But as the formal meetings and planning sessions stalled, it became apparent that concept was going nowhere. It was possibly their lowest point emotionally when they realized that deal wasn’t feasible.
But it also provided a “point of clarity,” Brian said. If the business was going to happen, they were going to have to do it themselves. They invested their life savings, spent countless hours renovating a downtown location, and 13 months later opened Edge, a 3,000-square-foot facility that offers a training area, recovery area, and small athlete-minded cafe.
The key was “getting new cooks,” Robyn said. The investors, formal meetings, and planning sessions were replaced by their friends and beer and pizza in their living room.
Edge’s mission statement is simple: “We make better athletes.” They also realized the look and feel of the building would play an important role. From providing Chesterfield leather club chairs and ottomans and a fireplace for people wearing their recovery boots to using athletes trained as baristas to bringing their pugs to the facility, it provides a sense of community and “quirkiness” that sets Edge apart.
They also “maximize the moments” when free publicity is available. Taking advantage of higher profile members doing well in races, having NBA draft hopefuls stop in while in Chicago, and developing a connection with Paralympic athletes have paid off. Highlighting these situations generates the buzz on social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, Robyn said, but they always remember that 95 percent of their members are the everyday athletes looking to get better.
Some of the lessons they have learned along the way include:
- Don’t be afraid to fail
- Risks are a matter of perception
- Trust and business don’t mix (get everything in writing)
- Stay true to you
The final point was brought home when they talked about how successful a recent Sunday had been. They made $12 profit, Robyn said, but when she and Brian looked around, they saw a room full of their members enjoying themselves and taking advantage of the time together. They had developed the sense of community they were striving for. That is when they knew the day was a success.