What do people value most about your business? Is it really the goods and services you provide, or is it you yourself that clients are after? In this episode, Scott Aaron recalls a pivotal moment from his youth when an entrepreneurial father facing prison time would leave the family fitness business in his hands. His struggle to sustain the gym would leave him with the qualities needed to succeed in marketing 20 years later.
[00:00:00] Hiromi: Scott Aaron discovers personal growth by being personable, today on Reach.
[00:00:10] Jaycen, Garret, good to see you guys.
[00:00:12] Jaycen: Hey man, how are you doing?
[00:00:13] Hiromi: Good.
[00:00:14] Garret: I'm ready to-
[00:00:14] Jaycen: It just seems... Sorry what are you doing?
[00:00:15] Does it seem a little echo-y?
[00:00:17] Oh, um.
[00:00:17] Garret: I'm in a room with no carpet and nothing on the walls.
[00:00:20] Jaycen: That's it. That's probably what it is now.
[00:00:22] Hiromi: Garrett is in the process of moving and so his surroundings are looking a little sparse today.
[00:00:27] Jaycen: [laughs].
[00:00:27] There's nothing in my house anymore.
[00:00:29] Garret: Yeah, all I have left, is this plant. This plant and this statute, that's all I got.
[00:00:36] Hiromi: What is that statute behind you? I don't think I can quite make it out.
[00:00:40] Garret: It's, Thinking Man.
[00:00:42] Hiromi: Oh, it's Thinking Man.
[00:00:42] Garret: The thinker.
[00:00:43] Hiromi: Nice.
[00:00:44] Garret: Funny story behind this. This office is kind of, an homage to my dad a little bit, not like a shrine. But, before I knew what ABM was, at the agency that he owned that I worked at, we used to do, basically ABM stuff, where we work for oil and gas companies and they wanted to make these, like, executive level connections, right. So, we would come up with ideas like this, for instance.
[00:01:04] You know, we'd send this in a wooden box to an executive and they'd put it on their desk and there's like a message behind it about, you know, let's get together, let's put our minds together, let's think together, kind of thing. And so, we had a whole bunch of these, and so I- I took it, and I'm like, I'm gonna keep that.
[00:01:19] Jaycen: Aw,
[00:01:20] Hiromi: that's awesome.
[00:01:21] Jaycen: That's sweet.
[00:01:22] Hiromi: That's awesome.
[00:01:22] Garret: And so, then, there's like art on the walls from dad, and you know it's just wonderful. It's a wonderful place.
[00:01:28] Jaycen: That's cool.
[00:01:29] When did your dad get started, by the way, like, in advertising? Like-
[00:01:32] Garret: In, uh, 1980.
[00:01:35] Jaycen: And- and what did he like the most about you? Like-
[00:01:38] Garret: uh, so he was, like, just that big idea guy. He did tons of logos and turned the headlines. Like, when you watch Madman and you see those, like, client interactions, where he just, on the spot coming up with just simple impactful ideas, that was it. Like, it was amazing actually, just to see how easily ideas just flowed out of him.
[00:02:01] I think that's one thing that I didn't understand until I worked with him, is it's not the hoarding of ideas that gets you more ideas.
[00:02:09] Jaycen: Yeah. T-
[00:02:09] Garret: It's the release of them, right.
[00:02:11] And- and when you release ideas, something has to fill that vacuum.
[00:02:16] So yeah, it was, um, it was a real experience. I'll tell you, man, we worked like two and a half feet away for like, 12 years. It was crazy.
[00:02:26] Jaycen: Hm. So you guys didn't see each other for 12 years. He-
[00:02:31] Yeah. But it was kind of interesting, because... Like, I didn't have that parallel where, you know, I'm, I want to go and be my dad.
[00:02:38] Garret: Sell coffee
[00:02:38] Jaycen: You know what I mean?
[00:02:39] I was actually... He probably thought, this... I don't want... Like my dad, in a way.
[00:02:42] Yeah. You know? Yeah. But, did you have that feeling, or?
[00:02:47] Garret: So, I was like him.
[00:02:49] I'm sure.
[00:02:49] It was really weird.
[00:02:50] It was just like, we were two, two of the same. So at times, it was really frustrating.
[00:02:55] Hm, hm.
[00:02:56] Wh- what was interesting I found, is we had different, like, client management styles, that's kinda, where we diverged, right. And we kinda, worked at like an Abbott and Costello team, which was good. [laughs]. Because, you kinda needed the, the back and forth, the yin and the yang.
[00:03:13] Hiromi: Yeah, personality differences can be a good thing. We can compliment one another. Um, I want to circle back on this relationship between and you and your dad, but this is exactly what our story contributor highlighted in his personal experience.
[00:03:25] Our guest this week, is Scott Aaron, he's a marketing and podcast host, as well, of the pod, Networking and Marketing Made Simple. He's a professional coach, maybe best known for his expertise on LinkedIn. He wrote a book about it called, The LinkedIn Book for Sales and Marketing. But, he chose to tell us a story from his distant past that took place long before LinkedIn or his online venture started. Scott Aaron story starts with his dad.
[00:03:51] Scott Aaron: My father, had always been, and still is, an entrepreneur to this day. I come from a long line of entrepreneurs, my grandfather, my great-grandfather. He was a butcher in South Philadelphia. My grandfather owned his own pharmacy. My dad followed in his footsteps, had his own pharmacy called Scott's Pharmacy, after I was born. And then, he owned various industrial-based businesses. One, was in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and the other was in Philadelphia.
[00:04:21] My father ended up breaking partnership and sold his shares to his business partner in 1996, and for a good number of years, he partnered with a physical rehabilitation company owner. The premise of the business was to find fitness clubs that needed an on-staff company that provided physical rehabilitation services, chiropractor, physical therapy, those types of things. And, outside looking in, things were going great. They were at multiple locations. My father didn't have the weight of the world of his shoulders being the business owner, and we were living a great life.
[00:04:58] But all that kinda, came to a screeching halt the summer leading into my sophomore year of college. My sister was going into, I believe, 10th grade. We're three years apart. And, as my family always did, we had backyard barbecues, it's just the four of us, and we were barbecuing. My dad said listen, we need to have a family conversation, which was not out of the ordinary. We were a very open family.
[00:05:24] But, my dad said that he was leaving the physical rehabilitation company, and he was going to be working for a chiropractic company. And the reason for him leaving was, that the company that he was previously working for was under investigation by the Federal Government for a $9.5 million dollar insurance fraud case.
[00:05:46] So, my dad was cooperating, but he said, because I was involved with this company, there is a chance I may get house-arrest. That, in itself, was a huge shock to our systems, because my father lived a very stand-up and accountable life. He was not a criminal. And to hear the opposite side of things, it was a, it was a very interesting space to be in.
[00:06:15] About six months into the process, the chiropractic firm that he was working for, unfortunately had to let him go. They said listen, we told the Federal Government, you're great, we have no issues, but legally, we had to let you go. So then, my dad was like, okay, what do I do now.
[00:06:34] But, they did say there's an opportunity here. There's a, a gym in Philadelphia that's not doing well. The owner is pricing it to sell and you should take a good hard look at this, because if things don't work out well with this lawsuit and the Federal Government, you're gonna want something to leave the family to produce income so you guys can continue moving forward.
[00:06:56] My dad, he'd always been a fitness buff, always worked out, was an all-natural competitive body builder. So, it wasn't out of my father's scope to take over a fitness club, that was one of his passions. So, they worked out a great deal, my two grandfathers helped my father fund this. And, my dad was there from the minute the gym opened at five, to the minute it closed at 11 p.m., so he could embed himself in this culture in this new gym that he was taking over.
[00:07:29] About four months into the process, my father's sentencing came up, so we were at the courthouse and I remember a judge. I remember his name, Judge Robreno. I wrote him a letter stating the positive character traits that my father had, not only as a business man, but also as a father. And at the end of the sentencing, it wasn't house-arrest, my father ended up, actually getting sentenced to 24 to 36 months in Federal Prison.
[00:08:02] So this thought, that my father was gonna be able to be on house-arrest, go to work and come back and things would be somewhat normal until house-arrest was over, that script was flipped completely upside down. My father was actually going to Federal Prison and did server two and a half years.
[00:08:23] Now, whose shoulders did it fall on? Mine. I had to leave college at the University of Pittsburgh, re-enroll in community college. I was only able to get 12 credits of the 36 credits, transferred from Pittsburgh to Montgomery County Community College. So I was two years in, starting at ground-zero, as a 19 year old business owner.
[00:08:55] I had odds and end jobs in college and stuff, like as in normal teenagers do, but this was my first real business role and I was still a teenager. I- I hadn't been in the real world yet. I hadn't been working for someone. I- I was in the throws, of getting my degree in Human Resources, but at the same time, running a business and I was learning from the ground up.
[00:09:19] My dad is a very personable person, very happy, very outgoing, but he's also very serious. He's a very intense guy when he's passionate about something. And I- I remember that I- I was trying to make my dad so proud, I would do whatever I could to be just like him. I felt myself so tight-chested, because I had to have this persona as being the owner, the respect of being the owner.
[00:09:46] So, when I would interact with members it was just, very serious and it was just, guarded. I was afraid to almost, let people in, to know the real me, because I felt like a fish out of water. I was comparing myself to all the other people. They were all big and fit, and I was just like this skinny toothpick. I just felt, felt out of place.
[00:10:08] So, I hated going to the gym. I hated it. It was, it just, it wasn't fun. I didn't want to be there, it felt like a chore. Uh, it wasn't what I thought it was gonna be. People go to the gym to decompress and de-stress. They were there to have fun and workout and, feel and look better. It was supposed to be an escape for them from the real world, and I- I wasn't allowing them to do that, I was still being too serious. It was almost like them, still being at work. And I- I... It didn't have to be that way.
[00:10:40] My mom would go to visit my dad on Saturdays, and my sister and I would go on Sundays. I was getting consulting from him, things we should do, looking at numbers. I think he realized that one of my strengths was, I- I'm an action taker. If something's gonna get done, I'm gonna get it done that day. I don't procrastinate, I don't twiddle my thumbs.
[00:11:04] When I would go there on a Sunday and he would give me some things to take back, to start working on that week, they would be done. So, by the next time I went there, Sunday, checklist is done. What do you got for me next? And that's how it was. But I th-, I realized I wasn't having fun.
[00:11:22] I remember a day in particular, I said to my dad, dad I'm trying to do everything you're doing, I'm trying to be exactly who you are, but I th-, I don't know what I'm doing. I've- I've really never worked out before and I- I don't know how I can do this, I'm not you. And every parent, now being one, all you want to do is see your- your children thrive and just be the best they can. I, definitely surprised my father.
[00:11:53] And, interestingly enough, about six months ago, I found this letter that my dad wrote me from prison and he wrote a lot of things in this letter. But, the one thing that he did, almost highlight, is he said son, you asked me, how am I supposed to be you. How am I supposed to do things as you? And he said, you're not, you need to be yourself. You need to let people fall in love with who you are, not with who you're trying to be.
[00:12:25] And that, really stuck with me because I was resisting being myself, wanting to be liked and appreciated. It kinda gave me this sense of clarity, but also comfort knowing that I could just be myself. I didn't have to be my dad. I didn't have to do things as him. We could be our own individuals, and that really allowed me to grow in the ways that I needed to.
[00:12:52] When I got that permission to just, be me. I remember walking into the gym and I started to realize that this gym wasn't clean, it wasn't fancy. I mean, it was very rustic. But, people didn't pay for that, they paid for us. They paid knowing that they could go to this gym and ham it up with Howard and Scott, and Nancy, her cousin David and all the trainers. We all brought something different to the table, and this is what culture and environment is all about. People invest in you, as the person.
[00:13:30] So, after speaking to my dad, I realized, okay, I just gotta be me. And then, I started having fun, which meant they all started having fun, too. I really started to develop some deep connections with the members, because I was a sociable person, very talkative, very inquisitive. I loved asking questions. That's, so important as a business owner, because you want to find out things, from your members, things from prospective clients.
[00:14:00] I remember a day in particular, during the Summer of '99 or 2000, and I said to my dad, listen, I'm gonna do a one-day special for the Summer. It was June, we were in the heart of Philadelphia. So, I went on and opened up Microsoft Word and I made some fancy document, Join Today $99 for the Summer. And I grabbed the stool from our juice bar and I sat outside the front door, so when people would walk by I gave them a flyer. Hey, you know, we have a one-day special, I- I'd love to give you a tour of the gym and show you around. And every tour that I gave, was different.
[00:14:38] If you were to walk in the gym, I would say, hey, what are some things you want to achieve? What are you struggling most with? And, whatever your answer would be, I would then, direct a tour of the gym towards your exact needs, because like, oh, you know, here's my problem. Scott's Gym has the solution, yeah, I want to sign up. I sold 30 memberships that day.
[00:14:57] So, we brought an extra $3,000 into the company, and we really became fixtures of- of the neighborhood. It was just an amazing environment. My mom used to say it was the Cheers of gyms, everybody knew your name. My mom would pass recipes back and forth with the members, if she found a healthy recipe that she was making for us. So, it really became a giant family.
[00:15:23] I, definitely surprised my father, because when I took over the gym, there was around 400 members, and by the time he came back home, we had over 1,200. I had 3x'd the membership. So when he came back home, we opened up a second location.
[00:15:39] That, two and a half years that my dad was away, it was exactly what I needed, because by the time my father came out of prison, I was almost 22 years old, and I did a lot of growing up in those three years. I would say, that experience itself, my- my father going to Federal Prison and forcing me into this role of business owner, was the most positive thing that could have ever happened to me, because I wouldn't be here today talking to you, if those things didn't happen the way that they did and allow me to get to where I am today.
[00:16:14] Something that I live by, is the way that you do one thing, is the way that you do everything, whether that's life, business, personal, relationships. It's all gotta be a reflection of who we are as human beings. And I honestly, multiple times in my life, on a personal and professional level, I would get lost because I forgot about my grassroots, I forgot about the foundations that I had worked so hard on as a young man and as a young adult.
[00:16:46] My wife always talks about, you can't see the label from inside the bottle, you have to get outside of it. And you know the ad that, sometimes you have to slow down in order to speed up. Life doesn't wait. Time doesn't wait, and business doesn't wait. If you continue to stay in your head and you don't get into your heart and realize why you're doing what you're doing, the business is never gonna move forward.
[00:17:10] As that 19 year old kid, it- it took that conversation with my dad, to bring my head above water. I started doing online marketing five years before I left the fitness industry, but what I learned 20 plus years ago, helped us grow and scale our company to help people now, in the online space. And much like the gym, what I do now, does not feel like a job, it doesn't feel like work. I get to do what I do each day.
[00:17:37] So, for me, it's really going back and remembering, I'm still that 19 year old kid. I'm still that happy-go-lucky inquisitive person, and as long as I don't ever let go of that, we're gonna have a successful business no matter what the venture is.
[00:17:55] Garret: When he talked about this responsibility and this persona, he felt like he had to fill, it really resonated with me, because I worked for my dad. My dad owned an advertising agency and I was Art Director, w- working with teams and creating ideas and working on the work, you know.
[00:18:11] And then overnight, my dad gets diagnosed with cancer, he's in the hospital, and multiple surgeries. And all of a sudden, I go from the idea guy, to now working on the business. Whereas, before, it was like ad ideas and- and you know, campaign ideas. And now, it's like, revenue and expenses and wh- wh- leasing agreements, [laughs] and stuff like that. And, it was just a, a very interesting shift.
[00:18:36] And so, I resonated, exactly what Scott went through, is basically, airdropped into this position, where he really had to, in that time, find his own voice, to kinda move forward.
[00:18:47] Hiromi: Do you feel like you grew in the same ways that Scott did?
[00:18:51] Garret: I feel like, I- I- I recognized what I hated to do and what I loved to do. That- that was maybe, the growth for me, is understand... You know, because there's always this, maybe, romanticism around being the owner.
[00:19:06] And, what I realized is, I'm probably not that guy.
[00:19:10] Jaycen: There's no romance to it. [
[00:19:12] Garret: laughs]. I'm- I'm better doing the work. And, what I actually grew in, was my understanding of what the owner does.
[00:19:19] Jaycen: And, he had some guidance too, right? Like, his dad was somewhat accessible, right? Like-
[00:19:24] You know, it sounds like his dad was quite a capable man. So, to live up to that, maybe it helped him to embrace a little bit more of, who he is-
[00:19:32] ...and lean into that, to see that potential.
[00:19:35] Garret: Yeah.
[00:19:36] But you know, that authenticity to realize that it's okay in business, to be you. That's why people are there, that's why they're in the room, is because of you. They're hiring you, for you. That's what I learned.
[00:19:50] What am I actually good at, that's what people will hire me for.
[00:19:55] Hiromi: Yeah, ironically, I was just talking about this with a friend the other day, because he worked for a recruitment firm. And, he was talking about how so many recruiters make the mistake of focusing on skills, funneling, like, thousands of candidates down based on their education, their experience. But, you can have a person that fits all those criteria, and if they're a jerk none of that matters.
[00:20:13] So, he was saying that, you know, focusing cultural fits, who, that candidate is as a person, is the important thing, because all that other stuff can be trained, essentially.
[00:20:23] Jaycen: Yeah. In a similar way, I mean that about recruiting that, it's more people skills, or people say soft-skill based, or value based, fit. And it, to- to me, in terms of like, an account base, maybe it's just being more personal. Right? Like, for Scott, it was about identifying what value he was able to bring from a personal level, rather than maybe just, the task that he could have got from dad. Or, living up to how dad did it. Maybe, that came from a place of like, just him understanding himself, first.
[00:20:54] Hiromi: Yeah. You were, earlier, talking Garrett, about the things in your office that remind you of your dad and the culture that he created.
[00:21:04] It was-
[00:21:05] Why did you keep that, Thinking Man, in particular? Why is that one of the few things that you still have in your office, right now?
[00:21:11] Garret: Oh yeah, that's a good question.
[00:21:14] I think it, the- the reality is, is that, it was like a total tie-in of like, his professional life, a client win and his personal, like, interests and ideas, and he brought everything together in this one idea, and the client bought it. Maybe, what... and, eh, to be honest, I haven't really thought about why- why did I keep that all the-... Why is it out in my office, you know, kind of thing. But it's, that's maybe, it. It's like, it kinda just encapsulates everything, you know.
[00:21:47] About him.
[00:21:49] Yeah. You know, that Thinking Man, I have some art on the walls that he did. Every time I see it, there's this memory. The whole journey, kind of comes back to me, and this is something I took from Scott's story, too. Is, it seems like, it continues to be reminded and it continues to teach him. And so, maybe this goes back to, why do people actually hire you.
[00:22:16] And it's for that, right? It's for that piece of you. [laughs]. Right?
[00:22:19] Yeah. Yeah.
[00:22:20] Like, that's what you want. That's what they're buying. You know, and so-
[00:22:22] Mm, mm.
[00:22:23] It's okay to put yourself in your work. And maybe, who you are as a human being, is- is- is present there, and that authenticity resonates.
[00:22:33] Hiromi: Yeah, that's a really good point, right. Because, when we think about professional relationships, we almost always focus on our skill set. But the skills that we have, are not unique to us. You, eh, are we the only people that can design something or market something, or create a podcast? No. There are thousands of people that can do those same things, just as well, if not better than us. But, the only thing we have to offer that's really, unique, is who we are.
[00:23:01] And often, that's what people are drawn to, or what makes them want to work with us.
[00:23:06] Garret: And so, what I realized, through this conversation, is who you are is actually a collection of all those experiences, right. And if you don't talk about them, if you don't remember them, if you try, and forget them or at least, don't value them, is who you are really coming through?
[00:23:26] Hiromi: Well, we'd like to thank Scott Aaron for contributing his story to our show this week. If you'd like to learn more about Scott, we'll have lots of links in the show notes at reachabm.com.
[00:23:40] In our next episode, we'll follow the story of an entrepreneur who took a leap of faith in the world of crypto and came away with a lesson about community. What does it mean to foster community, and how do you influence a culture.
[00:23:54] Be sure to join us next time on Reach.
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