The new decade has ushered in a new chapter for Proactive 24, with Dunedin based businessman Darryn Wilkie taking over the helm as the gym’s owner as of February 2020. In this month’s blog, we sit down with Darryn to delve into how he made the leap from construction to fitness and the advice he gives to those looking to own their own business.
It’s not the most conventional professional path, but Darryn Wilkie is no stranger to taking on new industries. Formerly in construction, the businessman and his wife Hanna had been looking for a business to invest in for 18-months before buying Proactive 24 in December 2019. “We looked at 25 different businesses in a range of sectors and industries, several of which were in the health and wellness sector,” Darryn says. “We started the process of due diligence mid last year and offered for the business alongside six others. By December last year we were confirmed the unconditional purchaser and officially took over February 3rd.”
The entrepreneur is no stranger to taking on new challenges. In 2012, Darryn bought the Landmark Home franchise for central Otago, covering Queenstown, Cromwell and Wanaka. The business, offering both architecturally designed and in-house designed homes, was in poor shape when Wilkie got his hands on it. “In 2012, New Zealand was still in recession but for us it was a good time to come into the industry and slowly build it up. From 2014, things really started to take off again in Central Otago,” he says. “Wanaka was growing but it was lot smaller than it is now. However, I could definitely sense the potential for growth in the town.”
His professional life has been one of many twists and turns. Growing up in Dunedin, Wilkie studied economics and marketing before scoring a graduate job with BNZ as a personal banker. Within 2 1/2 years he made the jump to the business side to work as a business manager. “It was interesting working for a corporate and I ended up working for them for four and half years,” he says. “I had always wanted to do an OE so I then decided it was time to head off overseas. I went to London for nearly three years, starting in the construction industry. I started off working for a large building company in a telesales role which turned into an account manager role. I loved the diversity day to day and the diversity of clients in different sub industries. I did lots of travelling and met lots of great people and I think matured a lot whilst I was there. I left as my visa ran out and it was time to come home and look at my options.”
In 2005 Darryn moved to Wanaka, working with his father’s joinery company before starting a position as an account manager with PlaceMakers. After another 10-month stint living and working in Canada, he settled in Queenstown and worked in the local PlaceMakers branch as an account manager & estimator. Finally, in 2012, after recently meeting his wife-to-be, he took on the Landmark Home Franchise. “My wife and I were married in 2014 and spent the next three years really building up our company,” he says. “We sold the franchise in 2017 and decided it was time to move back to Dunedin.” It was during this time that the couple found out they couldn’t have children. “We decided to go down the route of fostering and adoption,” he says. “We started to foster our son, Ford in July 2018 when he was seven years old.
While this is his first foray into the fitness industry, Darryn is confident that his knowledge across a diverse range of businesses will hold him in good stead. “I’ve had several businesses I’ve built up in the construction industry and I was managing a recruitment company for a year in Dunedin,” he says. “A lot of what you learn in business and starting your own business can be transferred across to a range of businesses. Wanaka has got massive growth numbers and is only going to continue to grow over the next 30 years. Health and wellness is an industry that benefits others. That’s why we chose to go down this road.”
He has been working closely with former owners Sue Richard and Haagan East to deepen his understanding of the sector, and has a strategic plan which factors in short and long term goals. “We want to build on the great things Sue and Haagan have done, including growing our membership numbers. We’re currently around 700 stable members and I’d like to grow that over the next five years to around 1500 members,” he says. “I’d like to build on the number of classes we do and we’re working really hard to build up our trainers and instructors. I’d love to see all of our studios booked out all the time! Especially with some different times, like early morning and evening classes. We’re also looking at doing body scans and working with a mobile body scan consultant. There’s a lot of exciting stuff happening in the industry which we’d like to incorporate into the business.”
Darryn says his business values are paramount, and stay the same no matter the industry. “Your team is extremely important. You can’t do it all on your own, so you need very good people around you,” he says. “Having strong values and integrity is a big one for me; doing what you say you’re going to do, and being transparent and honest. Giving back to the community is another big thing for me. Once you’re established as a business you need to give back, whether in time, donations or letting people use the space for fundraisers. It’s really important in Wanaka because it’s still a small community.” His advice to those who are thinking about getting into business is simple. “Get out and do it. If you think you have an opportunity, take it by the horns and get into it,” he says. “However, make sure you’re doing you due diligence and bring the right advisors on board. If the industry is new to you, get the right expertise by getting a mentor, whether it’s a personal mentor or a business mentor. A good accountant, a good solicitor and a good business advisor are the top three people you need.”
Darryn takes his own health seriously, and has several non-negotiables which he taps into to ensure he stays at the top of his game. “I run three to four times a week, generally around five kilometres during the week and up to 10 kilometres on the weekends. I also do a little bit of mountain biking and I stretch every morning, with Pilates mobility exercises to keep my body flexible as I get older,” he says. “I try to make sure I’m getting at least six or seven hours of sleep a night and we eat well balanced meals. When you have a young kid it’s especially important to set a good example.”
The dynamic businessman will continue to commute from Dunedin to Wanaka every four weeks, with manager Steve Cockram and the front of house team holding down the day to day duties. “The big thing for us at the moment is we’re working really hard to build up the team; that’s our focus over the next four months,” he says. “We’ve been making some changes already like painting the carpark lines and sorting out some details like that which are immediately helpful to our members. We’re also looking to set up a direct debit system for our members. There’s lots of changes in the works, bubbling away in the background.”