Survival of the Fittest

9Round Brookhurst

Riza Ayson, Owner of 9Round Brookhurst in Fountain Valley, California, is one tough mother ~ literally! A lot of challenges, perseverance and determination has made her into the powerhouse she is today.

As an accomplished fitness professional, getting pregnant with her first child presented a challenge she wasn’t prepared for initially.

I was expecting to gain some weight, but then gained close to 50lbs with my first baby. Being an older mom might have had something to do with it, but it was unexpectedly tough to lose the weight.

Being in the fitness industry for over 15 years, Riza was no stranger to handling a hard workout. Having taught several classes a day and training on her own, she was confident that the weight would just slide off. Once she dove in to attempt to lose the weight though, she was met with minimal success.

All of my go-to tactics and exercises were not making a dent in my weight loss. I had been a spin and step instructor, taught hip-hop, and have run several marathons, but none of those were working for me this time. It was frustrating to say the least.

In March of 2013, she tried a kickboxing workout at a 9Round, just to see if a new strategy was in order. She fell head-over-heels ~ in love!

I tried a kickboxing workout at a 9Round – absolutely, fell in love with it!

It checked off everything on her list.

  • It’s only 30 minutes
  • There is no room for excuses – you can make the time
  • It costs less than a trainer
  • It is effective and intense
  • It’s a full body workout
  • It is the fastest way to a stronger and leaner body

Riza was determined to help others catch the kickboxing fever.

My mind was set – I need a gym like this. I had to make it happen so I could help others struggling to find a workout that would get them to their goals. This was it ~ I found the answer.

I started the workouts in March, by May I had submitted my papers to own a franchise, and by October I opened my gym!

Earning street cred

Fitness, especially kickboxing, is still a male dominated sport. Riza got asked a lot if she was ‘qualified’ to teach kickboxing. There were a lot of objections from friends, other fitness colleagues and even clients.

I opened with a 9-month old baby and got a lot of criticism for that – really only my family supported my business move. As a Filipino American woman and a new mom owning a kickboxing gym, I got asked a lot ~ “what’s your credentials”. It was something that I hadn’t expected, but had to overcome. We are not teaching MMA fighting here. It’s a workout built around kickboxing fundamentals.

Riza’s parents were her biggest supporters – helping out financially in the beginning.

My mom immigrated from the Philippines and spoke little to no English. She was a military wife. Once she was here though, she started a new business, got her business license, hustled to get clientele – and made a career of it. She has always been my biggest supporter and inspiration.

Riza owned another business previously, which made the launch a little easier, but it was still a new business. She hit the neighborhoods running; spreading the word grassroots style – going door to door with flyers and promotions.

I did that a few times within the 1st year. Gradually, word of mouth spread and with the help of social media our gym started to grow.

Fierce competition

When 9Round Brookhurst opened, they were the 3rd location in all of Southern California. They had a bit of educating to do with new clients, but because there wasn’t as much competition with other styles of fitness they grew quickly.

Now, we have over 20 different types of gyms within a 3-mile radius. We are lucky because we started in a high traffic area. Being near a grocery store, provides us with continued exposure, but the competition is fierce.

With the growth of other independent and name brand gyms in the area, Riza started to see her numbers drop slightly as more competition got closer.

People have so many choices, with bootcamps, yoga, pilates, spin…it gets distracting. Some people are drawn to variety. Eventually, people always come back to us. We have created a tight community in the gym, one that supports every member and people need that to show up and succeed.

The COVID-19 challenge

Since February, it’s been a whirlwind of obstacles. COVID-19 has laid waste to many businesses in such a short period of time ~ especially with the fitness and restaurant industries. With high touch exposure and the social element of gyms in general, it has been the hardest hit.

I’ve pivoted at least 10x since it started. Closing. Opening. Closing. Online classes. Moving equipment outside. I’m trying to navigate this pandemic without shutting our doors.

Riza said it’s been tough seeing businesses next to hers going out of business or struggle like her.

It’s times like these that I am so grateful for the support I get from members of the gym. They truly are amazing.

Secret to survival

Riza contributes her success to having built a community around the gym. Getting those individuals that will pull together for you is challenging to start, but once accomplished your community will help you weather any challenges.

You have to create that ‘fit family’ – one that has each others’ back. It’s the comradery and friendships made that makes our gym what it is.

Her advice for longevity is to set that lasting foundation within the gym. You are supporting a team, not just individuals. This takes a bit of finesse, but becomes the secret sauce for a gym to survive.

No one goes into owning a gym to become a millionaire. If you go in with that mentality, you won’t make it. That’s why 9 out of 10 gyms don’t survive. You’ve got to be there engaging with people and have a real passion for fitness.


Advice from a fighter with true grit

If you want to be your own boss and start a business, Riza has some advice for you.

You have to follow your heart, believe in your dreams – it will happen. Don’t let others tell you whether you are qualified or good enough– you have to believe in yourself. ‘Qualified’ is all in your mind. You’ve got to do what makes you happy.

She definitely has, even with all that is happening currently with COVID-19 wreaking havoc to her industry, especially in California during this time, she remains strong.

I love what I do! It makes me happy. I will be the last one standing in this shopping center, if it comes down to that because I know I’m not in this alone – I’ve got my fit family. We’re going to make it through this – coming out the other side even stronger!

If you are in the Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley areas in Orange County, California, be sure to check out the new renovated facility with outdoor workout sessions. It’s a hardcore workout guaranteed to leave you winded and invigorated! Only 30 minutes. No designated class times. No excuses.


Instagram: @9roundbrookhurst
Facebook: 9roundbrookhurst

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