One of the coolest places I’ve ever been is a ‘secret bar’ in New York City called: Please Don’t Tell.
It’s hidden in a fairly quiet neighbourhood in the lower east side, and is absolutely ‘unfindable’ unless you know its there.
You walk down a small flight of stairs into an old, dingy hotdog cafe. The clientele are exactly as you’d expect – dressed casually to grab something to eat ‘on the go’.
There’s a phone box at the back of the cafe and it stands out a little. Not enough for you to be truly taken aback, but if you didn’t know what it was you’d think it was slightly out of place.
I knew what it was, of course. After all, it was the reason I was there.
I’d been phoning from 3pm – as advised on the blog that recommended ‘PTD’ – and couldn’t get through as the line was constantly busy. The blog’s author said to chance your arm anyway and hope there’s space, so that’s what we did.
I walked into the phone box and dialled the number the blog told me to. Next thing, the wall opened and the hostess asked how many of us there were.
“There’s 2 of us.”, I told her.
“No problem…we don’t have anything right now but if you give me your number I’ll give you a call in about 30mins. After the call, you’ve got 15mins to get here or we’ll give your seats away.”
“Great, speak to you in half an hour.”
True to her word, after approximately 30mins, she called me: “Hi Ross, we’ve got your seats. See you soon.”
We walked back round the corner, through the hot dog shop, into the phone box and this time we got through to the other side.
As we walked in, we were greeted by a warm ambience. A relaxed atmosphere and a rules list. The rules were simple (see photo) and could basically be summed up to our number 1 rule at Improve Glasgow: Don’t be a dick.
We were treated to amazing service, expertise on another level when it came to cocktails (not that I’m an aficionado by any stretch of the imagination). And, of course, we sampled one of Crif’s famous hotdogs.
Now that I’ve set the scene, here’s the main reasons I loved Please Don’t Tell (and the other ‘secret’ bars I visited in NYC):
They worked hard to ensure that only a certain type of person ‘got in’; i.e. people who shared their values.
They cared for their customers and ensured that it was busy but never too busy; it was atmospheric but never too loud.
They didn’t want to be found by everyone and anyone – you had to go and research ‘New York’s coolest bars’ to be in with a shot of stumbling upon it. You’d never just walk in through the doors and find it, and they’d certainly never find you with their advertising.
When we opened Improve Glasgow, I was very conscious of the fact that I wanted to be like Please Don’t Tell.
I didn’t want loud or obvious signage outside the gym. I also didn’t want to change the really, really mingin’ looking doors we had.
I liked the fact that people could drive into the carpark of the wee industrial estate we’re in and have no idea who we were or what we did.
We’ve often had people pop their head in ‘just to see’ what’s behind the doors. After all, a sign that says ‘RSF: IMPROVE’ doesn’t really give much away, does it?
In the 18 months we’ve been open, we’ve never had anyone sign up after they walked through our doors. We’ve always exclusively marketed online and brought people to us via Facebook adverts or word of mouth referrals.
When our new starts come to us, they know exactly where we are and that our sign is ‘wrong’, because we tell them.
This tactic has been very deliberate and it’s ensured that we have got an amazing bunch of people who come to us day in and day out, who all share similar values and get on ridiculously well with each other.
However, the ‘tactic’ has also been slightly conceited too.
You see, when I first opened our gym, I had absolutely no clue what I was doing.
I had a vague idea of how I wanted things to work and how I thought they should work, but I had no idea how to implement those ideas or run the gym.
And so the fact that our signs were inconspicuous and the ‘traffic’ coming towards us wasn’t very high was comforting.
It meant that I always had a wee crutch to lean on knowing that if I was making monumental errors that I wasn’t yet aware of “at least no one really knows we’re here”.
So, in essence, a combination of my admiration for secret bars/places that you’d never stumble upon but would blow your mind if/when you did…and my own self-doubt and insecurity in my abilities and competence as a gym owner lead to me keeping our less than sexy ‘shop front’.
However, as the months have rolled by, I’ve become more and more comfortable in my role. I’ve made a ton of mistakes, re-assessed, problem solved and corrected them. And now we’re at a level of service, competence and…for lack of a better expression…operational awesomeness that I’m comfortable changing the signs and the doors.
Now, I’m very well aware that you could be reading this thinking: “Big wow, wee Jimmy. You’re changing the sign above your door…you’ve hardly found a cure for AIDS. Pipe down and do something meaningful.” (Although, that’d be really harsh if those were your thoughts.)
But the significance isn’t in the task of changing the signs, it’s in my shift in mindset from being insecure about my competence as a gym owner, to now being comfortable not only shouting from the rooftops that we are Glasgow’s best Personal Training facility, but also putting signs outside of our gym that essentially say just that.
The reason I’m sharing this with you is because I know that the lion’s share of us suffer from self-doubt and insecurity in many areas of our lives.
And the most common advice is: “Fuck self-doubt…be confident and smash shit up.”
But I just don’t think that advice cuts the mustard. It’s too alpha and bravado-laden for most people to get their head around, never mind actually apply.
What I want to advise is that you recognise your self-doubt and insecurities, but don’t accept them.
Once you become consciously aware of what they are (if you aren’t already), you should actively seek to improve in the areas that you don’t believe yourself to be ‘good’ in.
For me, I severely doubted myself as a business owner. I know I’m a great coach, that’s something I stopped doubting a few years back, but as a gym owner…mummy, daddy…I felt clueless.
Rather than accepting that, though, I went on a few seminars led by guys who’ve done what I’m currently trying to do. I asked questions, took on board their answers and implemented the changes they recommended.
I joined a group (which cost me…and still costs me…a pretty penny) that is essentially the Avengers of the independent gym industry in the UK and began to share ideas and experiences with those in the group.
Low and behold, after only 4 months, I’m in a far better place both mentally and in business.
Now, I’m ready to “fuck self-doubt”.
So, whatever it is you’re doubting about yourself. Whether it’s physical, mental, occupational…or even relationshipional (yeah, I made that word up)…I implore you to address the issue, tackle it and overcome it.
It will take time and it will be uncomfortable, but there’ll come a time when you can look back, smile and think “I took control of that and won”.
And that’s a frickin’ empowering feeling.