Coast Guard vet lunges into fitness franchise
Cancer and COVID-19 both tried to throw curveballs at Christopher Alcala’s post-military career plans, but the Los Angeles native continues to overcome whatever challenges life throws in front of him.
Alcala was diagnosed with Stage 4 Leukemia at the age of 25, an obstacle that ended his hopes of becoming a police officer in Los Angeles after serving four years in the Coast Guard. The experience landed Alcala in a bad place.
“I was so very lost, I didn’t know what to do, I was angry at the world,” he said.
The aftermath took Alcala into the real estate world, a career his father thrived in for more than 35 years, but one that Christopher found wasn’t truly a fit for him.
“I wasn’t making bad money, but I wasn’t fulfilled,” he said. “I felt like I was lying to myself about it and when I do something, I want to be all in.”
The experience wasn’t a total waste of time for Alcala. Hardly. Through life as a real estate agent, Alcala met the man who led him on a path to a promising career as a franchise owner of a fitness facility.
He was introduced to Miguel Aguilar, the CEO and President of Self Made Training Facility, or SMTF, an innovative workout franchise where trainers rent space to serve their clients. The business model is similar to a hairstylist renting out a chair in a salon. Trainers pay a flat monthly fee of $800-$1,950 depending on the location to have access to the entire facility to train their clients.
“We always say we’re a private training facility,” Alcala said. “We’re a place for entrepreneurs to learn, learn about their business and to sell their business. We give them so many streams of revenue that they can pick from, you have to put the work in.”
Aguilar offered Alcala and his wife, Kaylee, an opportunity to open the first franchise near Hollywood, an opportunity that Alcala jumped at.
“The company just spoke to me, and my wife enjoyed what the company was about,” Alcala said. “So we took the shot. It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, especially with the time we purchased our franchise, two weeks before the world shut down.”
COVID-19 threw the Alcalas another setback. The first step in the franchising process, finding a building, was delayed two years because of pandemic restrictions and the hesitation of some to do business with a first-time entrepreneur.
“People looked at me and said I was too young, they didn’t take me seriously,” said Alcala, who was 31 at the time.
The Alcalas put in offers for 22 buildings over a year and half and continued to be rejected before finally finding a location. Following challenges with building permits and contractors, the Alcalas finally broke ground on their franchise on Feb. 1, 2022, and recently celebrated their one-year anniversary.
“I think fitness can be pretty intimidating to some people that have never been in the gym or that are overweight or that are anorexic or just, just people in general, if they’ve never been to a gym or they’re not comfortable in that setting,” Alcala said. “It’s hard for them to feel accepted, so my main mission coming into this was I wanted everybody to feel comfortable, whether you’re a 12-year-old-kid, your soccer mom, your grandma, I don’t care. I want everybody to feel welcome at my facility and feel safe coming in.”
That facility door is especially open to veterans and first responders, many of whom may also be looking for something else in life.
“My heart’s a little bit a little bit more open to veterans because I get their transition in the mindset,” Alcala said. “I always said, I forgot to schedule a dentist appointment for a year and a half after the military because they just scheduled them for you and you just went. I think the biggest thing for me is when we run across veterans or veterans reach out to me, I always try to help them with the transition more than the building of the business. Most people in the military that I’ve run into are pretty good people because they encounter so many different types of people in the military.”