Mario Cesario is the owner of THE MAX Challenge of Cranford, New Jersey. He is a successful businessman and fitness entrepreneur. I asked Mario a few questions about the secret to his success, and about his love for THE MAX.
Can you tell us what it was like opening up THE MAX via the “Express Model” in your karate studio? What was the journey like as you moved from your karate studio to a stand alone center?
Like most business owners, exhilaration, trepidation, excitement and probably half a dozen other emotions cycled through me at any given moment when I decided to purchase a MAX center. Questions such as If I build it, will they come? Will I be able to make a go of this financially?” kept me awake at night. I was already working 60 hours, and possibly as many as 80 hours in a week – how would the extra time commitment of a new business affect my family. And of course, the old chestnut “most new businesses fail within the first five years.” joined in the tape playing in my head.
I already owned Cesar-Kai Karate Academy and planned to hold MAX classes there until I was able to find a suitable place to open up a standalone MAX center.
Opening up THE MAX in our karate studio meant working around existing classes at Cesar-Kai while our new space was located and being built out. Fortunately, our MAX classes were held at 5 a.m., 6 a.m., 9:30 a.m.. and 7:30 p.m., so those classes did not interfere with existing Cesar-Kai classes – and because Cesar-Kai studio was 1,200 square feet, there was plenty of room for everyone should a karate class or private lesson overlap with the 7:30 p.m. class. Our MAX classes took off rather quickly – each class hosted 40 – 50 people and by the time we moved into our own space, we had 250 members calling themselves MAXers. There was a unique energy in the space – an anticipation of something new and exciting around the bend.
But our move was not without its challenges. There were the usual musts in starting any business – even one with the amazing support of MAX Corporate. Due diligence, searching for a space, writing a business plan, performing a SWOT analysis, obtaining insurance, financing and equipment and the list goes on. Hiring an architect to design the space. Working with the landlord and contractors to build out the space. Although I had been down this route before with my other businesses, there is always a level of anxiety each time. What if they say “no” and this whole MAX thing falls through? (My Office Manager has an apt saying “If you don’t ask, they can’t say yes.”) Because my sole raison d’état is to help people live happy and healthy lives, I was determined to make the transition from Cesar-Kai to THE MAX not only happen but be a success. And if Cesar-Kai and THE MAX Challenge were going to be a blended family, if only for a short while, we were determined to make it work.
The takeaway is this. Before making your “go/no-go” decision, do your homework. As the old saying goes, “If there’s a will, there’s a way.”
What’s your greatest memory thus far of being a MAX owner?
“There are so many wonderful memories, it really is difficult to choose just one. The most rewarding moments are seeing the progress our members make as the challenges advances. A member begins the challenge struggling on the mat – maybe they can’t touch their toes or get down on the floor — and as challenge progresses, they are doing these moves – and more — with ease. Hearing them talk about how they had to buy new clothes because the old ones are too baggy now. MAX Night Out is one evening that always touches my heart. When we award the challenge winner, and they tell their story of how much the MAX means to them, I fight tears every time.”
How has THE MAX Challenge Corporate helped you and supported you as a business?
“From start-up and marketing support to training, and everything in between, THE MAX Challenge Corporate provides everything an owner needs to be successful. Bryan Klein has assembled a dedicated team that are super responsive to the franchisees. THE MAX Challenge owners and the Corporate staff form a team that is a family. There’s a common phrase we all share which is “We are all in this together”. There is no one who embodies that more than the corporate team.”
What is your favorite thing about THE MAX?
“THE MAX Challenge allows me to give back to the community by helping our members live healthier and longer lives. Our members are our MAX family. Not only do we support our members every step of the way, but our members support each other. There is a symbiotic synergy that makes owning a MAX Challenge center so rewarding. THE MAX really does have the ability to change lives and allow us to give back to the community in a meaningful way.”
What is your work/home/family life balance like as a MAX owner?
“I am the father of two young daughters and my family life centers around their activities. Owning several businesses means my time is frequently not my own (and my phone rings constantly), but thankfully the solid systems of operations and my rockstar team allows me to regain more of my time. I make it a non-negotiable priority to spend quality time with my daughters, whether it be having dinner together or visiting parks we love, going to the zoo, or watching a movie or playing with our dog, Ninja. As a Dad and business owner, self-care is something in which I also strongly believe. If I’m not at my best, I am no good to anyone.
What would your advice be to anyone thinking about becoming an owner?
“Just do it!”
Mario is a wonderful example of everything that THE MAX stands for. He cares about his community, and each and every individual who walks through the doors of his center to join their MAX family. We are so proud to have leaders like Mario, and the many other inspiring owners and staff members who make THE MAX great. As for any other MAX super-fans out there who are looking to make a change and create their own destiny, Mario said it best. Just do it!