We had the chance to sit down and talk with Brent Laffey, the owner of Carbon Performance (CP). Here’s the full interview.
Hey Brent, I’m excited to talk to you. I want to hear how Carbon Performance got to be where it is. So, let’s start with you telling me a little bit about your fitness industry experience before we get into what you’ve done recently.
Yeah, I appreciate it. I have always been kind of in this space. It started in the nutritional supplement space, owned by a contract manufacturer, which is a company that produces, formulates, and manufactures supplements for some of the big brands. In 2016, I got the opportunity to buy a large facility in Spring Hill, Tennessee, which brought us down here. We opened a second facility in Salt Lake City and became a powerhouse in the supplement game. In 2023, I stepped down after selling all of my shares in the company to focus on ventures like Carbon Performance.
That’s awesome. So, 2023. That wasn’t that long ago; that was last year.
Yeah, we sold in 2019. I sold the majority share, remained president, and still had equity for four years. I did a four-year deal, and then in 2023, it matured, and it was time for me to move on to the next thing. Opportunities, Carbon Performance being one. And it’s all in the health, fitness, and nutrition space. I’ve been fortunate enough to invest and do what I want, but I want to do it for things I’m passionate about. So everything we’re going after concerns nutrition, performance, fitness, etc. Carbon Performance is one of the bigger ones.
Can you answer this question? This is an entrepreneurial question. For all those entrepreneurs out there who are just getting started, do you have any advice that you would give them? As you know, there are those peaks and valleys of pain.
No doubt! I mean, it’s always like, I think social media is excellent, and then it’s horrible, right? You always see the highlight reel. You don’t see the early days, and it’s OK; I accept that. If you’re doing something you’re passionate about, there’s a lot of chance you’ll survive and be more resilient if you’re passionate about it. Don’t chase the money; chase the passion, and then the love will create money.
I love that; I think that’s excellent advice. For instance, starting in manufacturing is no easy way to go.
No, I had no idea what I was doing. I have been a more significant piece of meat than I was ready to digest. We went from five thousand square feet to three hundred and thirty thousand in Tennessee, and you had a shot clock of time to make it work right because of money. There’s not a money tree to keep this thing afloat. I am definitely lucky to have developed an excellent team around me.
That’s good stuff—another good piece of advice for everybody. A team will help you go further than going alone. That’s huge. I love listening to entrepreneurs talk on that level; that advice is helpful. So, what was the dream behind Carbon Performance? Where is it going? It’s a beautiful space. You guys have renovated and kept that thing open, which is also no easy task.
Can you give us a little picture of how that came to fruition? I am coming from Franklin Athletic Center because I don’t know the story and want to know.
No, it’s kind of cool. When I first moved here, Franklin Athletic Club was the first gym I joined in 2016, and I fell in love with the structure of the place. It was pretty cool. The mezzanine, significant tall ceilings, you know, all that good stuff, so I went there trained and liked it a little bit run down as people know, you know it wasn’t necessarily kept up. I moved on to some other gyms, and then in 2019, when we sold, I decided I was going to build a small gym, which was kind of more of what I thought was missing in the market, not necessarily a business plan and, honestly, our 1st gym plan was for four thousand square feet. Hence, Franklin Athletic Club was a perfect fit. I wanted all the high-end equipment. I wanted it to be hardcore in the sense of the equipment and the people but make it kind of like a five-star hotel where it’s, you know, it’s nice and kind of there wasn’t that in the market and especially in Franklin, it was either lifetime which was like really nice amenities but didn’t have the lifting environment didn’t have the equipment.
Then, as we opened, we started building a brand, and that’s more of my wife that did that. We were in this four thousand square foot place and beginning to get known nationally, and our social media was growing. It was not like I wanted to jump into the gym business. That wasn’t it. I think that also helped, as we did it like a gym member would create a gym, not like a corporate brand.
So I think we had many people jump on like it, and then as we got into it, we realized, OK. Like the economy of scale, if we’re going to do this four thousand, then we went to eight thousand, which isn’t enough to service the number of people to have the space, so we thought more prominent. Then, the opportunity came with Franklin Athletic Club, which was only two thousand feet away from our original gym, so we got that opportunity and did it, and it worked out well. I think we did about as good as we could while keeping it open, which was tricky, like keeping the gym open and out losing the members while adding many members; probably something I wouldn’t say I wouldn’t do again per se because it’s tough. But it turned out great, and it is precisely what we needed. It allows us to have several other businesses and resources, like a daycare, a barber, a supplement shop, and a smoothie bar. We also have a youth performance area. We have adult classes, and then we have a massive amount of equipment, as you know, and even a dedicated area for legs and even a separate med spa where you can do IVs, blood panels, hormone therapy, and aesthetic things like Botox. So, everyone hates using this word, but it’s like a one-stop shop, you know, for your fitness and nutrition. We’re excited. Our next opportunity is in West Nashville, and we can do it from the ground up, right? The building just got done. We’ll take it over, and there’s nothing there, right? At Franklin Athletic Center, we had to work with what we had. Here, we’re going to be able to create. That’s where my wife steps in and is the creative person in this. And I think we’re pretty excited about what we can do in West Nashville, knowing we have an empty canvas.
As someone who has been in the industry for a long time, to see you do Carbon Performance the way you have. And how it, I think, trumps a Lifetime Gym all day long.
And it does because you’ve pulled in the community and made it a place to do other things.
It takes out that corporate cold feel, which is what you want. That’s what it’s all about.
I could probably say this, and some people would echo me, but there’s a level where I’m like, man, it’s such a good idea. I feel like I had that at one point, but you took it and blew it up. So Well done, sir.
It’s like one of those things, too, right? We have a lot of people like you or the members, and they give advice here and there. It’s like our original plan to where we’re going in west Nashville keeps like amending right, and that’s fine like if you have the same business plan, you become scale right so, for example, being in this one we will have a small dedicated area that’s like seven thousand square feet it’ll have a twenty-four seven access code, for unlimited access.
Inside, individual locker rooms will have infrared cold plunges and your shower, right? We don’t have that in Franklin, but we’re listening to people about what other things they are doing, where they are going elsewhere, outside of Carbon, that they can get inside here. And that’s one huge thing. That we’ve learned and picked up on, and in our next business, we will amend and change, right? So we hope to be not like, “Hey, we know it all.” We’re going to learn as we go, as we do gym three, as we do gym four or five, and so on.
That was my next question. I was going to ask about the future, but we already got into it. Your goal is to keep listening and replicating the idea.
I love that; I think that’s huge, and then West Nashville is your next place, right?
It is, yeah, hopefully sometime. Very late spring, early summer. We’re right in the permit process right now. So once we get permits done, construction will start. We selected the plan and equipment, so it is getting pretty exciting. So now I have become that annoying person. My wife is in charge of the construction piece, and I’ll probably ask once a week as we get the permit. Then, every day, I’m like, are we done yet?
We are excited to see what Brent and the Carbon Performance team create moving forward. We will bring you more updates as they grow and replicate their vision all across Nashville.
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