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Behind the Review | Building strength and community through experience and compassion

The most successful small businesses don’t try to be everything for everyone—it’s impossible to be all things to all people. Instead, it’s about focusing on your specific purpose, your unique offerings, and then connecting with customers who align with your vision and are in need of your services. It can be tempting to cast a wide net to attract more business, but the more targeted and intentional you are, the more loyal and dedicated your customer base will be. 

For Amanda Volker and Juan Martinez, owners of West Texas Strength, that means creating a welcoming gym space that’s built for a specific group of fitness customers—the serious powerlifters and bodybuilders—who may feel out of place in the average gym or aren’t interested in the extra frills of fitness chains. Before the pair opened the gym, that sentiment hit home for Amanda and Juan. They tried multiple gyms but couldn’t find one that combined the specialty lifting experience they were looking for alongside the meaningful sense of community.

“It just made something that we love and we’re passionate about less enjoyable,” said Juan. “It’s something that’s a part of our lives, so it should be rewarding. We should enjoy going to those places.”

Not only were they unsatisfied with the options in their area, but they ultimately discovered a void in their local market. If they had needs that were unmet, there must be others who feel the same. So they stepped up to fill the gap.

The pair created a 24-hour fitness space for heavy strength training, weight lifting, and powerlifting. And it’s not the flashiest gym in San Angelo, Texas. It’s not luxurious or pampering. There’s no fancy body wash in the locker room showers or fresh eucalyptus lotions. And that’s exactly how customers like it, including our Yelp reviewer Josh H. 

“I joined two weeks after moving to Texas in need of a nearby gym that had flexible hours, good equipment for powerlifting, and functional training most of all,” said Josh, who is a competitive athlete and military strength coach. “I could see on my first visit, this gym had that in spades.” 

While West Texas Strength checked a number of boxes for Josh, it wasn’t the variety of the weights or quality of barbells that kept him coming back—it was Juan and Amanda themselves. The beauty of a small business is being able to really get to know your customers—having one-on-one conversations, greeting them by name, knowing their goals and milestones.

“I met Juan and Amanda and meshed with them instantly,” said Josh. “They got me, my needs, my wants, and my own background in powerlifting and strength conditioning. This landed deeply for me—to understand it, to be listened to, to not be pushed, pressed, and sold for a membership alone.”

Juan and Amanda’s ability to genuinely connect with their members is among the many factors that have led to their success. Here are a few other key takeaways from the episode:

  • Find the need and fill it. Is your neighborhood missing something that you know how to do? Align your community’s needs with your skill set, and go for it. Take what you want as a customer, what you can do as a provider, and build it into a small business. 
  • Show customers you care. Your product or service is meant to serve your customers at a basic, transactional level, but connecting with them and showing compassion brings your business to a whole new level. Remembering their names, asking how their kids are, and listening to their stories are just a few ways to create loyal patrons.
  • As a team, play to each person’s strengths. No matter the size or construct of your management team, capitalize on the skills of each person. Let the partner who loves numbers handle the books while the creative one takes care of the big ideas. By dividing and conquering tasks, you’ll collectively build a stronger business. 

Listen to the episode below to hear directly from Amanda, Juan, and Josh, and subscribe to Behind the Review for more from new business owners and reviewers every Thursday.


Behind the Review, episode 32 transcript
A fitness community rooted in experience and education

EMILY: I’m Emily Washcovick, Yelp’s Small Business Expert. Every week I pick one review on Yelp and talk to the entrepreneur … and the reviewer … about the story and business lessons behind it. This week we’ll hear how Amanda and Juan, a couple based in San Angelo, Texas, saw a need and turned their passion into a successful business, West Texas Strength Nutrition & Training Center—a strength training gym. Lets see what’s behind this week’s review.

JOSH: So, it’s not a huge gym. It’s not big, I would say maybe 4,000 or 5,000 square feet of training space. But it never gets slammed because of its niche and unique draw towards the weightlifter, powerlifter type community. So it entices and draws a very particular type of athlete or member to it. So that was one thing. 

It’s actually, I believe it is a converted auto repair station, which is what it’s reconverted to since Juan has taken it over. And he’s done a magnificent job to make it transform into a very workable, functional gym. 

EMILY: That’s Josh, an avid Yelper, traveling food blogger, competitive athlete, and military strength coach. He’s describing the space and the unique audience it draws. Let’s hear Josh’s review on what drew him to become and remain a member at West Texas Strength. 

JOSH: I’ve now been a member of this gym for eight months. I joined two weeks after moving to Texas in need of a nearby gym that had flexible hours, good equipment for powerlifting and functional training. Most of all I could see on my first visit, this gym had that in spades. I met Juan and Amanda, the two co-owners and meshed with them instantly. They got me, my needs, my wants, and my own background in powerlifting and strength conditioning. This landed deeply for me to understand it, to be listened to, to not be pushed, pressed, and sold for a membership alone.

The gym is not huge. Does not have any true machines. It’s not super flashy. It’s not luxurious. And I like that. This is a performance training gym for serious people, beginner to advanced athletes alike. The owners, the trainer, and the equipment are there for a reason… to get people results fast and safe. 

As a 15 year strength coach myself in powerlifter of eight years, I can say 100% that Juan and Amanda know their stuff inside and out and practice what they preach. They do not waiver with trends and fads. They do not use cookie cutter plans. They do not cut corners, period. They use evidence-based principles and build plans around people’s unique needs and behaviors. Their clients and members are proof that what they do works over and over again. Their rates are amazing and even better for military members and first responders. Something is available for everyone here. I assure you, go in, and take a look. The place, the people, the hours, and the rates sell themselves if you ask me. 

EMILY: Josh touched on so many elements that make West Texas Strength a great fit for him and his fitness goals. Much of the gym’s offerings are tailored to a certain group of individuals, and that niche offering has created a community of members that was built intentionally. Let’s hear how West Texas Strength came to be from owners Juan and Amanda. 

AMANDA: I’m Amanda Volker. Our business started in July of 2018, kind of after we were in a rut of we didn’t know where to train. We didn’t feel comfortable training in certain places. So that’s when we decided we were gonna start our own gym, based on what we wanted, and what other people wanted.

JUAN: My name is Juan Martinez. Like Amanda was mentioning, we started in 2018. That was the beginning. 

What is West Texas? The main thing, start out with is we’re a barbell base, 24-hour training facility, where our main goal is to empower people through strengths, help them radically transform through lifestyle based nutrition, and to help them just be a better person in general. So strengthen and to be a top performer. 

EMILY: After trying many gyms and never finding a place where they felt they fit in, Amanda and Juan were inspired to open their own space—with the added elements of what they wanted as customers themselves. That’s actually how many businesses come to be. People identify an unmet want or need and become inspired to pivot their careers to meet that need. And you don’t have to be an expert in business from the get go. Amanda and Juan for example, had a scrappy start into entrepreneurship. 

AMANDA: How it basically started is we thought, hey, I have a business degree. He has a kinesiology degree, but we have no idea how to start a business. So we actually have a small business center here in San Angelo. So we basically set up an appointment with somebody and they taught us the basic stuff and that’s how we got started.  

JUAN: Prior to that, I had a little bit of experience in really running my own business. I’ve managed a few different types of businesses. So I saw the ins and outs of that. But at the time, I was doing more of a sole proprietor, nutrition consulting and then a little bit of the personal training part-time. 

I did that for a couple of years and then we started to see that we weren’t necessarily fitting in. We start to see the needs for that. And then from there, like a little that I learned here and there, and then with my nutrition consultant company that I do have a few business mentors and kind of go back and forth with. I know one of the presidents of, what’s called The Diet Doc, Dr. Joe Klemczewski, so he’s been a big help in the beginning aspect of helping us start and plan. 

So I did do a little about that, but we did kind of just jump in, and we figured out that, some of these things we didn’t learn in school, some things you do have to look up or have to reach out. I think from the LLC and I could have a different experience, but I think it kinda just started rolling downhill. So as soon as that started it kind of steamrolled because it felt like it was possible, right? So that just started it. And then we just kept working at it until eventually we got our ducks in a row and decided to have an opening.

EMILY: Opening and operating a 24-hour gym was going to be a big transition for both Juan and Amanda when they started, but they did have some foundation. Juan knew about nutrition and the human body. He had successfully been serving clients in a 1:1 capacity for some time. But there would be alot to learn, and at some point they had to just jump in.

What really makes them successful though, is the authentic, genuine, and unique offerings they have. If you consider set up and equipment alone, they’re not a gym for everybody, but they are a welcoming place for anybody interested in strength training and creating a fitness and nutrition plan. They have the knowledge, background, and desire to create a community that came from not being included in gyms they had trained at in the past.

JUAN: So I guess what happened is we were part of several gyms. Then we started to notice that there was a community aspect, but then it was kind of broken down. So it wasn’t necessarily like a whole community. It was I don’t want to say cliques and stuff, but it turned into that. And I think from our perspective, like the gym atmosphere, it’s like everyone’s coming in for the same purpose. Not exactly the same goal, but the same purpose to overall just improve. So just because we weren’t a part of a particular group that had particular goals, or saw a certain viewpoint on certain things, we didn’t feel welcome to the gym. We tried changing different times, changing different gyms, and then we would go into a gym where you would say like your more standard commercial gym. So, like Josh was mentioning, we’re very heavy into strength, training, weightlifting, powerlifting type stuff. When you go to a real commercial gym and it has a lot of people, they don’t really respond to that quite a bit because it’s not necessarily, it’s starting to become more normalized for sure, strength training. Which is great. And that’s one of the reasons we’re here, but we started to see that.

It just made something that we love and we’re passionate about less enjoyable. So yeah, it’s something that’s a part of our lives. So it should be rewarding. We should enjoy going to those places. So I think what we did to create the opposite effect is, like for me, I just like talking to people, I like learning about them. Everyone has something that I feel like I can learn from and whether they think they’re going to learn from me or not, like I like to learn from people as well. So that’s what gets me interested in why they want to either seek out a gym, or have a particular role. And that’s kind of the environment that we try to create is to welcome people, to be, I want to say free, but yeah. Be allowed to try to achieve their best self. So that’s the environment that we’re trying to foster and continually work on to improve. A lot of our members, what they’ll do though, you know, maybe not the first or second day they see new people, but if you see someone two, three, four, maybe a week’s worth of coming into the gym, they all start to chat and talk to each other about everyday stuff.

So we have a lot more in common than just kind of the waves. People tend to start to like coming in and hey, let me talk to so-and-so when they’re here. You know, I don’t mind chatting with people who come in. So it gets to a point where I’m like, I know what people drive. So if they drive something different, I’m like, oh hey dude, you got a new car or, hey, is everything alright? Kind of stuff like that. So I get to learn about these people and recognize them, and not only by their vehicle, but, you know, and that’s where we start to hit it off between that. We start talking about all kinds of different stuff,

EMILY: The simple act of connecting clients with the vehicle they drive helps Juan stay engaged and allows him to greet and chat with customers to represent the type of community he wants fostered in the gym. And this is important to Josh as well!

Josh: I have actually changed where I’m going to work out on certain days, just because I want to be there for the social aspect of talking to him and Amanda or other gym members I have gotten to know. And that’s pretty powerful to know that between me and them and other members that they facilitate and have created this. This environment of connection and cohesion, that, you know, we’re all here for the same reason. We get each other. This is something we all value, our fitness, our training, our powerlifting, weightlifting, and I’ve shifted my schedule to go and work out when I know they’re going to be there. Or change the lift I’m going to do that day just to be there and talk to them. 

I’ve hung out for an extra 20, 30 minutes and talked to Juan or Amanda about a meet coming up or about how would you market this thing or bring this, you know, what piece of equipment you’re going to get for? Just for the social aspect. And I think that’s something that they’ve built that you can’t put your finger on exactly. Because it’s not a piece of equipment. It’s not in your membership. It’s not an amenity, but it’s an unwritten intangible that has changed my behaviors to go and use that gym because of the social elements that exist there.

EMILY: And it goes beyond saying hello. It’s about the knowledge and education Juan and Amanda bring. And the trust within their community that they build through their expertise.

JUAN: One of the big concerns with strength training is, ‘Hey, I want to be safe. I’m interested in this stuff, but I don’t want to hurt myself.’ So when people walk in, we evaluate, and kind of see just based on the initial conversation of where they’re at and what their goals are. And then of course at the same time kind of showing them what we have and to offer. So I think by doing that, they’re more willing to ask more questions and then at that point, be more willing to actually attempt the thing that they’re trying to come and do.

Because for us, a big thing is yeah, we want people to sign up, and I tell them when they’re here is, yeah, I’d like for you to sign up, but I also want you to come and use our facility. Like it’s just not signing up and then we’re done with it. Because I do want you to get better and see all the benefits that strength training and the environment can provide for you.

So, whether that’s in person, I think also online. So people seeing me either critiquing technique on a certain lift or giving tips on a certain lift gives them almost the permission. They give themselves permission to be like, hey, I’m going to ask him a question. He’s always talking about it. It seems like he’s talking to me. I’m going to ask him about this, right? Then I think the other thing too, is that it eases people, or builds more trust because they see, not necessarily on a daily basis, but even a weekly basis, some type of correction, or adjustment, or anything by any clients, or member, that some members volunteer for that stuff.

Hey, go ahead and post that online. So other people can know if they see people like, oh, like I struggle with that too. I’m going to ask him about it. Like, I’ve been meaning to ask him, but I just didn’t find the time. They see something and then that’s where it is. That’s how the relationship gets built.

AMANDA: You want to talk about how John came to you with his back pain?  

JUAN: Yeah, I mean, the story is, we have a particular client, he’s been training forever, but you know, one of the big things was he’s wanting to pursue the next level, which to him, the next level would be some type of like powerlifting stuff, but he was always concerned, could his body tolerate it. We did an initial assessment after our first session, made some adjustments, and then he realized that we were doing some things inefficiently. So that’s where we address these pain aspects. So that actually opened up the flood gates to ask more questions and let me know a little bit more about what’s going on. And again, that’s just something we address. I won’t say it’s small, because back pain is a pretty big deal. But, if it’s something that we can address that they’ve been dealing with for awhile, that’s the ticket there.

EMILY: Juan has discovered that by empowering gym members to post content on social media of them working with him, asking questions, and learning something new, it inspires other members to ask questions and seek out his expertise. Something I was super interested in while talking to Amanda and Juan was how they collaborate and take on the tasks of the business. Any entrepreneurial partnership has it’s challenges of course, but when your business partner is also your life partner, there are more dimensions there.

AMANDA: So it can be difficult at times just like any other business, but I think when you’re mixing a relationship into a business it is even harder. But we try to divide tasks and conquer. I mainly do taxes, the book, and the paperwork. I’m not here all the time. He’s mainly here and he does the personal training, getting the clients, talking to the people, and social media.

It’s because at night, I work at a night job on base. Last year we took the leap, and he decided to quit his nine to five job and make this permanent. So far it’s been really rewarding, I believe. We’ve seen a lot of positive outcomes. It was a little scary at first. 

JUAN: Definitely growth. I mean, some of the challenges are because at some point we would have to get both our thought processes to kind of meet somewhere in the middle to make sure that we get those tasks done. And then I think for me particularly, like my mind runs a million miles an hour. So we have to find a middle ground to be able to get that done.

So, I think with just like anything, if you go to just, you know, to work for someone else or a corporate job, they try to assess your skills and see where we’re best at. And then that’s what we figured is like, hey if you do this task, like the admin stuff, the taking in on the money, all that stuff. and you’re comfortable with that, and you’re better at that problem than I would be, then let’s try those tasks out. I’m better at the training part, the consulting, the client relationships, that’s how we found what worked best for us. And then again, like she was mentioning, the challenge would be to get our schedule, because we technically work opposite schedules. So then trying to find that balance after the business is kind of over with or the business day.

EMILY: Juan and Amanda are passionate about their business. They’re also passionate about the community and giving back. You may have caught Amanda mentioning that she works on base. She’s referring to the military base right near their gym. Being a part of that community, as entrepreneurs, gives them the ability to give back and honor those community members.

AMANDA: Growing up, I was a military child. So that’s where a little bit of that comes from. And I do help him serve the military basically at all times. So when we decided to start our business, we made sure to have military, first responders, even nurses, get discounts because we do have a lot of nurse friends and we see how hard they work. So we just want to give a little bit back if they’re giving a little to us as well.

JUAN: The other thing is it ties into what’s like the base and all of it, because we are, Josh had mentioned about, being a performance-based gym.  And he’s in that direct line of work where he deals with, you know, the firefighters.

But, I think if they can find a place where they can improve, particularly in those areas, I think it will carry over greatly to their particular job. And then again, if they happen to get sent overseas and all that other stuff, strength is very applicable to those. So that’s another thing that just makes sense for us. So trying to give them something, a place to be able to do that is what we wanted to do as well. 

EMILY: That military discount was also important to Josh. It’s something he looks out for and is a differentiating factor when deciding who to support. Josh is passionate about supporting local businesses and also passionate about sharing those experiences as reviews. 

Josh: So everyone’s been a consumer at some point, looking for something, shopping for something. We’re trying to decide on what they want to buy, where they want to go, what service they want. So for me, I’m probably over analytical. When I look at what I want to buy, what I want to get, what gym I’m going to join, it can be very confusing. It can be frustrating. It can be daunting to have to go through that experience when you’re going from scratch. So I felt that if I’m going to go through these processes anywhere, anyway, whether it’s dining out, buying clothes, booking a trip, choosing an airline, or joining a gym. Yeah, I might as well have helped someone else or a number of other people fast track that process in going right through my path or walk in my shoes and be like, oh, here’s what he did and why, let’s see how it went for him. And maybe I’ve just taken all that frustration or all that time and effort and struggle out of it because I’ve said, here’s what I picked. And here’s why. I fast-tracked it for them. 

So again, restaurants, you know, gyms, those kinds of things. The next closest thing to being taken there themselves, to see it, understand it, and get the inside scoop without having to do the grunt work themselves. Yeah, why not share that with people. I’m already going to go through the effort. Anyway, let’s put that out there for the rest of the world to see, and if five, 10, or 500 other people see it, well, then I just helped them, and maybe they’ll come back and look for another review to try to fast track the next thing that they want to go and find. 

EMILY: And from a business owner’s perspective, Amanda and Juan also value reviews from their customers, whether they’re positive or constructive. And they make an effort to acknowledge and personally thank their customers for sharing their experiences through online reviews.

JUAN: We do, I do enjoy reviews. It lets me know that I’m doing a good job. I don’t know how others feel, but if there happens to be a bad review, I wouldn’t be disappointed in that either. Because it tells me about the areas that I need to improve on. Because there’s always room for that, but I think that if I continue to do what I’m doing, we should see a continuous positive review. 

I do use the reviews as leverage. I like to use those on social media posts, about our reviews that people have provided for us on how much they liked the gym, the experience they received with me. If they post on, whether it’s Yelp, Facebook, or even Google. And then like I have, when I train my clients, whether they’re remote or in person, my app has reviews as well. So I try to use those to show people that we’re doing a good job. That people enjoy it and that they’re going to get benefits from coming in here. 

We haven’t done it yet, but we’d like to implement using reviews, and rewarding people for doing that because it does take time out of people’s day. And if they jumped, like Josh said, he did an exceptional review and he always does. You know, it took him some time to do that, and I know he’s really good at it. So it may not take him as long as others to do something that thoughtful. But, like I said again, time, like people took their time. And I definitely enjoy reading and seeing those. And I think it just helps the business in general.

AMANDA: And I think we definitely like the reviews because we use them when we go out of town for other gyms as well. 

JUAN: Yeah, so, I mean, like, everyone gives us feedback of places they’ve been to, or like Josh was mentioning when you see like a five star, ‘Hey, it was great.’ That doesn’t really help us out. So again, we like reviews not only for our business, but using them to make purchases, check out new spots. I think Yelp is the biggest thing that I use for food. So that’s like for me, that’s what it is. 

EMILY: To close us out I wanted to allow Juan to share what entrepreneurship means to him.

JUAN: I’m sure other entrepreneurs are listening. It’s definitely a lot of work for sure. But I think I would say it’s more rewarding because you get to create something. And, the more, I don’t want to say, the harder you work because you have to work smarter as well, but the more you work, the better you’re going to be at whatever your product or service is. And then, entrepreneurship allows you to actually show your passion to the world. That’s, to me, what I see out of it.

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