Evangel Profile

Matt Letten (’07): Former ‘fat kid’ turned gym owner

January 21, 2009

‘Funny, fat kid’ Matt Letten lost 80 pounds as a college student — then took his new passion for health and his EU management degree and opened a successful fitness franchise

He may not be the guy with the size 60 pair of jeans from the Subway commercials, but Matt Letten, an EU alum from Ann Arbor, Mich., has quite a bit in common with Jared Fogle.

“Basically, while I was at college, most kids at Evangel just knew me as the funny, fat kid,” says Letten, a 2007 graduate with a degree in Management. “I was 250 pounds, overweight, and had no idea about my future.”

After a friend who was a member of the Evangel football team slowly began to get onto him about his weight, Letten decided to take action. “I was fed up about myself,” he says.

“I was in need of an extreme body makeover.”

With his friend supporting him, Letten began watching what he ate and worked out five to six times a week. The results proved dramatic: After months of careful dieting and routine exercising, Letten dropped 80 pounds before graduating.

The first job

While his focus was put forth into improving his health, Letten was also in search for his first gig in the business world.  “I had applied at several different places. I really had no clue what I would do, what area to go into; I just knew I wanted to start my own business someday, but that was about it,” Letten said. “I was really hoping to get into an entry-level leadership position at Domino’s right after I finished college, but it fell through. I had no idea what I wanted to do after that failed.”

It wasn’t until summer that Letten, who was still looking to dip his feet into his first career, heard about the Snap Fitness franchise, a 24/7 hour gym chain across the United States. “I thought, hey, I already spend a lot of time in the gym, so why not start my own.”

After talking with franchise leaders about the opportunities, Letten got the ball rolling in late June in pursuit of opening his first business, as many of his fresh-out-of college peers were just starting entry-level jobs.

Support from family

Borrowing money is always a risky business, and often times, banks are hesitant to hand out mini-fortunes to recent grads. Letten, who had support from his family, was gracious when his father came to him and said he would co-sign.

“I was definitely very thankful for my family, and I attribute my success to them,” Letten said. “My parents have been very supportive.”

Learning to Trust

As the gym began to take shape, Letten had to wait anxiously. “The hardest part [of opening the gym] was having to wait for the doors to open for business. I didn’t know what to expect,” he says. “The lease was three to five times as big as a house payment … I was freaking out. I had bought all this equipment out of pocket and I was unsure how many memberships I would get.”

Becoming an entrepreneur is a lot of work, and for recent graduates with limited experience, it is even harder. “If I were to do it again, I would, absolutely. It is very difficult to start your own business because most people never get started, so it’s pretty daunting to do it right out of college. Thankfully my parents have been very supportive through it all.”

Opening the doors

Letten’s Snap Fitness gym opened on January 26, 2008.

Location was key in Letten’s decision, and his first goal for business, to gain 100 memberships in one month, was fulfilled on the first day he opened shop. Now, Letten has 700 memberships.

According to Letten, maintaining 300 to 400 memberships is a typical worthwhile goal. “I really had an edge over the other gyms that were on the other side of town. I chose a location near a residential area, and now, 90 percent of my memberships live within a two-mile radius of the gym. It’s all about location, location, location.”

Looking forward

“I learn everyone’s name,” Letten said. “For a guy that has never been very good at remembering names, it’s been hard, but I wanted to give this gym a personal aspect.”  As Letten’s personal story serves as inspiration to many of his patrons, it also provides motivation for him to continue with his gym and his personal fitness. “I want to help other people. The fitness industry has really changed my life so that is what I want to help do for others so they experience what happened to me.”

Letten also credits his success to the teachings and relationships he had at EU, including some of his guy friends, members of the Business department, and Dennis Whaley, director of institutional advancement. “I’ve known Dennis since I was a baby, and he has always been there and listened to me and offered advice. He’s the primary person who has helped and encouraged me to get to the place where I am today.”

This article, written by Bethany Bashioum, first appeared in the January 16, 2009 issue of The Lance, Evangel’s student newspaper

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