How an Army Pro Built a Winning Gym 

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  • How an Army Pro Built a Winning Gym 

Company Profile: Whetstone Fitness, Donnie Whetstone, owner

Sometimes it takes a rainy day to see the future. The gym IFBB Pro Donnie Whetstone co-owned was closed. The keys were in his hand. And the darkened building stood alone against a gray sky, waiting for his decision.

Now, he thought, I have to breathe life back into it. 

It’s going to be hard.

Eventually, it will be worth the effort.

That’s the message this 63-year-old Master Pro Body Builder wishes to impart to our readers. That no matter how hard the struggle, if you have faith in your intuition and a commitment to the process, you will succeed in running a successful gym. 

Ten years later Whetstone Fitness in Olympia, Washington, is a 24/7 gym with five employees, multiple personal trainers, 24 instructors, and — it turns a profit. This year, Whetstone bought his own building. The gym’s marketing strategy relies almost exclusively on organic growth fueled by word-of-mouth recommendations and online social media reviews.  

What is Donny Whetstone’s management style?

“I’m more of a caretaker, a long-term person,” he explains. As a personal trainer working through large, corporate gyms, he witnessed the short-term, profit-focused choices made by companies intent on growth through scale. 

Instead, he invests in his people, in the instructors, and in his time. He stays on top of the business by reviewing Gym Insight performance reports bi-weekly. A former member of both the United States Marine Corp. and U.S. Army, he refers to his ownership style as “penny capitalism,” the idea that every investment, every member, every interaction, is critical — a concept only an owner appreciates.

The story behind the Whetstone brand

Whetstone started training in gyms at 11 years old. From an Army family, by 16, he’d taken 2nd place in the Mr. Fort Sill bodybuilding competition.  He moved to Olympia in 1990 and spent the next several decades aligned with the training community as a personal trainer, gym owner, and pro-body builder. In a way, he was his own brand before the concept went commercial.

His bodybuilding achievements include winning divisions:

  • IFBB Pro Pittsburgh Master (60) – Bodybuilding 
  • IFBB Pro Legion Sports Fest (60)— Bodybuilding and 212 
  • IFBB Pro Masters World Championship — Bodybuilding and 212.

When it came time to reopen his gym as a sole owner, though, he struggled with what to call the new business. A friend pointed out his name recognition. People already respected his achievements, why not name his new gym Whetstone Fitness?

A proprietary approach to personal training 

Despite being a business owner and professional body builder, Whetstone considers himself a personal trainer first and foremost. It is in his blood to help people live healthier. 

However, the traditional trainer’s schedule of hour-long sessions became increasingly frustrating as his client list and responsibilities grew. To counter this problem, he reached back to his certification as a Master Fitness Instructor in the Army and created a system that uses a combination of free weights and circuits. The proprietary method, called “Whetstone Single Set Training System,” allows him to train an incredible 90-110 people weekly.

“It’s great to have passion, but it was not until I married the business and mastery that it started to come together for me,” he concluded.

A pro bodybuilder’s perspective on intermediate fasting. Got to listen to that!

Whetstone’s advice to new gym owners

  • Plant the seeds within your staff and let them grow. Try not to direct. If it feels right, let it go.
  • The gym industry sees a lot of staff turnover. Try to minimize employee loss, as a staff/trainer/instructor’s value grows with time. 
  • Manage social media carefully. Good reviews sell memberships, but bad news travels fast. 
  • Be patient. It can take years to build up a solid local reputation. 

We hope you enjoyed reading about how our client Whetstone built his gym into the success it is today. We would also like to thank him for his service to our country. As an Army serviceman, he explained, eight out of his ten enlisted years were spent “playing chicken” with the Russians working on the Pershing II Weapon System. Pretty impressive guy. We have to say, we’re happy he’s on our team! 

Gym Insight

Gym Insight is a gym management software company providing a comprehensive suite of software designed to make running your gym effortless and profitable. Our industry experts created fully integrated software unencumbered by third-party vendors. Our digital keytag software makes 24/7 management a snap, and payment processing is in your hands — we don’t charge any percentages. Instead, we charge only a flat monthly rate based on the size of your business. Call us today at 877-FOR -GYMS and ask for our sales professionals Anthony or Natalia.