June 2002 [oberlin online]
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Obies
 
Senior Ventures into the Business World
His Start-up Company Breaks into the Fitness Industry
by Anne C. Paine

Fitness entrepreneurs (front, left to right) Robert Moffatt '02, R. Jon MacDonald '03, (back) Jack Yeh '04, and Andrew Roebuck '04

Eighty percent of Americans older than 25 are overweight, and 72 percent of them say they want to lose weight, according to a Harris poll released in early March.

Entrepreneur Robert Moffatt '02 is in business to help them.

Moffatt, an economics major, is the founder and managing director of Lo Fat Fitness, a firm that specializes in fitness education and corporate fitness programs. It also sells nutritional supplements to complement its fitness programs.

"Companies are interested in fitness programs because their health care costs and employee health-insurance premiums are rising," Moffatt said. "So far, we've had an 87 percent success rate in getting people to start exercising." And exercise means healthier employees and lower costs for companies.

Moffatt launched the company in May 2000 with one employee, R. Jon MacDonald '03, a visual-arts major who handles the firm's graphic design and advertising. Moffatt's focus soon expanded from personal training services to include corporate wellness programs, and he's now seeking $150,000 in growth capital to start his own fitness studio. Long-term plans call for a line of franchised studios.

He's recently added three more employees, all students: economics major Jack Yeh '03, who's researching financing options for the studio program; Andrew Roebuck '04, who handles nutritional-supplement sales; and sociology major Nichole Salazar '02, a certified personal trainer.

These student-entrepreneurs know they don't fit the Oberlin stereotype, but they see their mission as fully compatible with Oberlin's ideal of service.

"Rob and I are not the typical Obies. We're very entrepreneurial," said MacDonald.

"We're helping people, and it's very rewarding," added Moffatt. "Some people have changed their lives. By starting to exercise, they've improved their health and begun losing weight."

The company is headquartered in a small, windowless, sparsely furnished office in a nondescript building about a mile east of campus. A table at one end of the room is stacked with cans of nutritional supplements, a single desk holds the lone office computer, and chairs and backpacks line the rest of the walls. The surroundings may look start-up, but Lo Fat Fitness staffers are anything but amateurish.

"Clients don't know we're students. When we're working on issues related to the company, we carry ourselves in a mature manner," Moffatt said. "When I make sales calls, I'm often calling on human resources people or CEOs who are in their 40s or 50s. People assume we've graduated and are much farther along than we are."

When asked about how he started in business, Moffatt laughed and deferred to Yeh, who repeated a story Moffatt told him.

"He started in fifth grade, selling pencils for 10 cents each to his classmates, who played Pencil Breaker during recess," Yeh laughed.

"I guess you could say I've been entrepreneurial for a while," Moffatt added sheepishly.

Because Oberlin doesn't offer business courses, Moffatt is a self-taught businessman, as is MacDonald, whom Moffatt calls his "right-hand man." Moffatt once worked as a whole life insurance and annuity agent with Northwestern Mutual Financial Network, and MacDonald has had several graphic-design internships. But mainly they are voracious readers of business literature, sometimes to the detriment of their coursework, they admit.

They also work hard to stay fit themselves. Moffatt, a transfer student from West Point, where he was on the boxing team, teaches a boxing ExCo course (as well as one in business planning). He was a Yeomen football player until a knee injury sidelined him. MacDonald is on the men's basketball team; Yeh, a Marine reservist, is a former lacrosse player; and Roebuck is an offensive lineman on the football team.

Moffatt graduated in May and plans to earn an M.B.A. in the near future, but he doesn't plan on leaving Lo Fat Fitness.

"Our industry grew 29 per-cent in the last year alone," he said. "We want to be the guys who take it into the future." ATS

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