Originally published in the Fall 2020 issue of American Fitness Magazine.
When Randy Hetrick “MacGyvered” the predecessor for today’s TRX® Suspension Trainer™ while serving as a Navy SEAL officer in 1997, he had no idea he was creating an entirely new fitness methodology—Suspension Training®.
He sparked what would become a global training brand. “If there were more people like Randy Hetrick in the fitness business, the industry would be in a completely different place,” says Gunnar Peterson, head strength & conditioning coach for the LA Lakers, a 25-year industry veteran, and owner of Gunnar Peterson Studios in Beverly Hills, California. “Randy is changing the business landscape.”
Based in San Francisco, Hetrick is a fitness industry visionary and pioneer, creator of the TRX Suspension Trainer, holder of more than 30 patents and founder of TRX, one of the world’s leading training brands. “He takes what’s good from everything he comes across and makes it even better,” says Peterson. “And he cares about every person, from the individual trainer to the multiclub owner. To Randy, people matter.”
Hetrick’s parents instilled in him principles of hard work, discipline and service to others, combined with a belief in himself and his ideas. He drew inspiration from the positivity and kindness of his mother. “She always made me believe I could become the best at whatever I chose to do, and she taught me to be inclusive and to respect all people,” says Hetrick. He adds that his father gave him “a killer work ethic”—an “old-school grinder work ethic” that made him tough.
Hetrick embraced these values and added to them. From his experience as a college rowing athlete at the University of Southern California to his leadership role as a Navy SEAL squadron commander at the SEALs elite Special Missions Unit, all roads converged to produce a globally recognized fitness brand with more than $70 million in annual revenue.
Today, he continues to be both a role model and a fitness industry powerhouse. His entrepreneurial journey and the concomitant TRX brand evolution show the power of putting aspiration, attainment, inclusivity and excellence into action. Hetrick’s limitless energy and enthusiasm for transforming the fitness industry are broadening the market, improving revenue opportunities and expanding ways to impact as many lives as possible.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2020 Issue of American Fitness Magazine. Follow this link to download the PDF.
Hetrick’s ability to actualize his vision of creating a global brand over a 15-year period is attributable to multiple factors, but primarily to his knack for assembling great teams and his stubborn determination. “A winner is just a loser who tried one more time,” he says. “I’m certainly not the world’s smartest guy or its best leader, but I am as resourceful as a coyote and as tenacious as a cactus plant. I simply never quit.”
2001: SERENDIPITY AND ENVISIONING A PRODUCT
Hetrick did not set out to invent a product, create a training category or even go into the fitness business. Simply, he was quick to innovate, see opportunities and follow through. In 1997, while serving as a Navy SEALs commander on a mission in Southeast Asia, he wanted to train his climbing muscles. With limited options, he innovated.
The original concept included a jiu jitsu belt, stitched together like a “Y” with some webbing from a parachute harness. The idea was to “capture” body weight for much-needed strength training in the field. Hetrick shared his concept with teammates, who loved its practicality and effectiveness.
In 2001, Hetrick applied and was admitted to the Stanford University MBA program, again with no intention of creating a TRX empire. Together with a friend—a former Stanford football athlete—Hetrick brought his unique device to the training center, where it caught the eye of various team coaches.
He was quickly inundated with requests for his product (of which he had none) from coaching pros in multiple sports, and this sudden demand prompted an aha! moment. Instead of accepting the typical consulting job between his first and second years at business school, he spent the summer prototyping and researching supply chains.
During his second year of business school, Hetrick learned as much about entrepreneurship as possible. Based on his early experiences, he offers this tip to young entrepreneurs: “Cultivate a great group of advisers, each with deep experience in a relevant business area. There are too many things to know to try to figure it all out on one’s own.”
2003–2004: STARTING A BUSINESS
After graduating in 2003, Hetrick took the leap to make his business a reality. He worked full time to secure funding, create inventory, build a team, set up office space, establish inventory storage and build a sales system.
He created marketing collateral, approached angel investors for seed financing (and was successful), and in 2004 was ready to incorporate. Using SWAT team connections through military colleagues, he found a Hong Kong–based manufacturer, ordered his first lot and was in business. His initial concept was to promote the tool to consumers as a way to stay fit while traveling.
The 2004 IDEA® World Fitness Convention in San Diego marked the first public launch. “From a 10-foot booth at the back of the trade show next to the toilets, we sold out of every unit we had in stock. Trainers really loved it.” This was another aha! moment. “That’s when I realized that this was not just a retail product, as I had originally envisioned, but it would also work in the commercial space.” It’s also when Hetrick met Fraser Quelch, whom he approached to create an educational course for trainers.
With this relationship, TRX—as both a product provider and an education provider—burst onto the scene. Within 6 months, Quelch created the first course. “I still have the manual with grainy photos from my studio, exhibiting my very own spectacular graphic design abilities,” Quelch says with a smile.
On a more serious note, he adds: “In the early days, it felt that Randy and I were the only ones who truly believed in the potential of TRX.” Part of the initial challenge, says Hetrick, is that investors couldn’t understand how a product could fit in both the retail and commercial sides of the fitness industry. That perception would change.
2005–2013: BUILDING A FUNCTIONAL FITNESS BRAND
By the end of 2005, TRX had rolled out its combination of training product and education to the market without its principals realizing they were laying the foundation for a comprehensive functional training brand.
Momentum grew as more trainers, consumers and facility owners learned about and loved the product. In 2007, Hetrick drew on his years of military experience as a source of inspiration to expand into programming.
The U.S. Marine Corps adopted TRX FORCE® as a military training program. Consistent with his commitment to inclusivity, he developed more programming to serve people of different abilities and interests—from elite athletes to people in rehab or prehab, those new to training, and those returning after years of inactivity. “If you’re human,” Hetrick says, “our straps love you.”
Through a series of light-bulb moments, TRX expanded its product line while staying true to its vision to partner with training professionals and build great businesses. “A club owner approached me to buy a rack from our booth at an IHRSA trade show,” says Hetrick about one of his ancillary ventures. “We had created a suspension frame—which looks like a modular swing set—to showcase the straps to multiple people.
The club owner wanted to buy the frame to display in the center of his gym floor so that others could watch people work out while they trained. We sold our sales rack—the very first sale of a body-weight training rack.” This transaction fueled a new gym staple: the functional training station. It also stimulated the creation of TRX group exercise classes, since the rack supported multiple straps.
As TRX grew, Hetrick remained responsive to customer needs. Due to demand for “one-stop shopping” from customers who owned clubs and other athletic facilities, TRX expanded its products to include a broader range of functional training tools for the now essential functional training station.
Today, the TRX product line includes the TRX RIP® Trainer, a variety of medicine balls, battle ropes, Kevlar® weighted products, recovery tools, apparel and more.
As a result of these efforts and more, within 5 years TRX had more than a million users in over 60 countries. In 2011, Inc. magazine named TRX as one of Inc.’s 500 Fastest Growing Companies and Outside magazine named it as one of the Best Places to Work. By 2014, in its ninth year of operations, TRX was generating nearly $50 million in annual revenue.
Hetrick’s vision is for TRX to become the world’s first great training brand. “Training means different things to different people. It’s that holistic triangle that starts with an innovative tool, then animates that tool with education and programming.
We want to create the first living product that can change over time and support the delivery of results—to constantly keep it alive. That approach is unique.”
Supporting Trainers to Create Profitable Businesses
For its next evolution, TRX is using technology to partner with fit pros to build great businesses and deliver health and fitness benefits worldwide. September saw the launch of TRX CORE membership—a collection of platforms, processes, rights, privileges and community engagement designed to support fitness professionals as they manage their training businesses.
“A major challenge for trainers is they can’t scale themselves or make enough money, which is really the same thing,” says Hetrick. “For a monthly fee, the platform provides a suite of technology systems and services, including lead generation, to help consumers find pros.”
The app will connect interested purchasers to nearby qualified trainers, facilitating booking. “The next horizon for TRX is to help trainers build profitable, sustainable businesses that offer a realistic pathway to . . . long-term net worth for themselves and their families.”
TRX has trained more than 350,000 fitness pros to date and has recently partnered with NASM. Hetrick is confident that the relationship with NASM and its certified professionals, “who are always at the top of the heap of functional training,” will continue to expand the fitness market.
TRX training available to the NASM community will include not only the education and programming that is already widely available but also the entire functional movement–based curriculum. TRX will appear in the NASM EDGE app, and NASM will be a regular contributor to the TRX CORE community.
Going for the Triple Win
Hetrick is an inspirational role model who walks the talk, thinks outside the box and consistently leads others to be their best.
His vision seeks the triple win—providing the best resources for trainers to serve and reach clients, giving consumers access to trainers and products to optimize health and fitness, and continuing to grow TRX and do its work—doing good by doing well. Hetrick has this advice for aspiring fitness entrepreneurs:
“Make sure that your product or service solves a real problem and addresses a real need. It’s not about whether you can do something; it’s about whether you should do that thing. The hardest type of business to get off the ground is one that is, as the saying goes, ‘a solution in search of a problem.’
When you create an elegant solution to a broadly perceived need, customers pull your product into the market. Otherwise, you’ll be like Sisyphus, forever trying to roll your big rock up the hill—and any time you stop pushing, it rolls back down to where it began.”
Hetrick is a stellar example of taking his own advice.
Optima 2020: Connect to the Future of Fitness
The best in fitness education is coming directly to your home October 13–16. This virtual conference is bringing together the brightest minds in the industry; NASM empowers you with the insights and real-world strategies to succeed in an industry that’s changing rapidly.
Don’t miss Randy Hetrick’s keynote, “The Climb: Branding, Belief and Building the Career of Your Dreams.” Hetrick will share personal and professional insights on how to apply simple principles from the science of branding to your life and career. Learn more and register today at nasmoptima.com.
TRX® for Every Body
Aligned with its inclusive vision to bring fitness to the untrained masses, TRX is growing its consumer audience through online class offerings and social media campaigns, including TRX ON DEMAND, which offers direct-to-consumer streaming and video-on-demand content.
Consistent with its values of aspiration and attainability, TRX ran social media campaigns, #TRXforANYBODY and #TRXatHOME, showcasing the global popularity among people of all ages and ability levels. Hetrick believes that growing the fitness market is a win-win-win for everybody.
Hetrick’s “Secrets of Success”
Hetrick believes each individual needs to create his or her own definition of success, which includes “impact on others, personal happiness, recognition, financial accomplishment and lifestyle.” He identifies three keys to his own success:
TEAMWORK - Create and maintain a great team and team culture. The SEALs teach that success is entirely dependent on these factors.
CHARACTER - Build a team with people of integrity and accountability who share your vision. Specialized skills can be taught; good character cannot.
DETERMINATION - Be tenacious as hell. Never quit, no matter what. While there’s a lot of delight, there is also a lot of thankless, heavy lifting.
An entrepreneur’s mindset is critical, Hetrick adds. “All organizations, not just startups, need entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs lead with vision and direction, they delegate—otherwise it’s impossible to scale—and they bring optimism and cheerleading to the vision. Entrepreneurs convince people that nothing can become something and that tomorrow can be made even better than today. You must believe in your idea.”
When the pandemic lockdown hit, TRX® supported fitness pros and extended its brand. “We flipped our professional education courses from live to “Virtually Live,” delivered by our Master Trainers on Zoom, and we made them free to fitness pros worldwide who wanted to become TRX-qualified trainers but hadn’t or couldn’t afford to do so.
We delivered more than 40 courses, qualified nearly 25,000 new training pros and gave them free CECs to maintain basic certifications. It added up to more than $4 million dollars of free education in just under 4 months.”
Not only was TRX able to support its trainers and club partners during a difficult time, but the company also added an entirely new capability to its education platform that unlocked a new way to scale its education.
“It’s always possible for an old dog to learn new tricks if he’s inquisitive and willing,” says Hetrick.
“While the pandemic has been rough on the commercial fitness industry, the demand for health, mental and physical wellness and the longevity of function is most certainly not going away. I’m very optimistic about the future of fitness and the many opportunities that we in the industry will continue to have to ‘do great while doing good.’”
Tips for Young Entrepreneurs
Hetrick encourages entrepreneurs to seek advice when starting a business. “A great advisory group can help an entrepreneur [steer clear of] making avoidable, costly and potentially fatal errors,” he says. “Typical expertise areas include budgeting and fundraising; accounting; branding; supply chain; team recruitment, retention, management; legal; and sales.”
Hetrick shares the following wisdom:
• Make sure that your product or service solves an actual problem.
• Run a profitable business from day one.
• Surround yourself with great people who know more than you do—and listen to them.