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Back in February 2012, Anna Dey called her dad in Cleveland with what seemed like an impulsive request. “You’re not happy with your career, and you’re still 10 years away from retiring,” she said. “I want you to help me open a gym.” His reply? “Hell, no.” She’d expected as much. Her dad, Von Hollingsworth, had spent 30 years in the electronics-distribution industry. He had a comfortable, stable career, and he wasn’t going to throw it away on a lark. But to Dey this was no lark. Then 24 and just two years out of college, she was a sales manager for Altria, which used to be known as Philip Morris. Basically, she sold cigarettes. But her real passion was fitness. All day, she thought about her workouts. And when she worked out, she envied the manager of her gym, thinking, Gosh, I wish I had that job. She hired a personal trainer, then got certified as a trainer herself.

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Eventually, Dey decided she wanted to open a gym of her own. The way she saw it, she had the drive and sales-­training charisma to be a successful gym owner. She just needed someone with business smarts and the savings to invest. Her father fit the bill.

A month after the initial rejection, Dey sat her parents down for a formal pitch. She presented cash-flow and startup-­cost estimates for different gym models, along with reports showing that Americans were becoming increasingly interested in fitness. She showed them a building she’d picked out in Concord, Ohio, and she compared the nearby residents with those in Columbus, which was similarly affluent but boasted far more gyms per capita. Finally, to prove her commitment, she told her parents, “If you provide the startup costs, I’ll move back home and work 12-hour days for free until we start turning a profit.”

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