We spoke with Muscle Nation’s Nathaniel Anthony and Chris Anastasi about their community, brand and how they haven’t been slowed by COVID-19.
What was the driving force behind establishing Muscle Nation?
Nathaniel: My interest in social media marketing and advertising got me working for health and fitness brands. I learnt a lot about building and engaging an online community and helped them achieve millions of followers. Not long after, I met Chris at a fitness expo. We saw a gap in the market for a premium gym apparel and supplements brand. We wanted to build a brand that could connect a community of like-minded people. That was in 2016. We have now grown to a community of over two million.
Could you share some insights as to how Muscle Nation got to where it is at now; what setbacks did you have to endure? And what has been the key to your success so far?
Chris: Number one is our loyal customers and community. We truly are a family-run business driven by strong family values. From Nathaniel’s brothers who run the warehouse, to his wife, Demi, who is our COO and a huge driving force for us across marketing, social media, design and general business operations.
Nathaniel: A lot of hard work and late nights in the beginning and even though it was tough, we stuck to our vision. From a little study desk at Chris’ house, we launched the website in August 2016. Back then, we were packing the orders at home and taking multiple trips to the post office. Our orders are now prepared in our 1,700 sqm Brisbane warehouse. Due to our growth, we have purchased land nearby with plans to build a 4,000sqm warehouse before the end of 2021. There have been many setbacks, but one of the more challenging issues early on was our website crashing every time we launched a new product. Another has been cash flow.
When you grow rapidly, cash flow becomes a constant challenge, because you are having to fund your growth is not only in orders, but in staff, warehousing, and shipping. We have improved this over the years because we have got better at negotiating supplier payment terms and improving the efficiency and sustainability of the warehouse.
The activewear and supplements market is a competitive one, to say the least. How do you stand out from the crowd?
Nathaniel: People want to feel included and special, and we try to do that every day in everything we do. We have a dedicated social media and community team who make sure we respond to every single comment or direct message. We also have a dedicated ‘members only’ Facebook page; the core of the Muscle Nation community. We take this group very seriously – we have a team of eight people who respond to our members – and we often make changes to products or offerings based on what they suggest. The best form of marketing is word of mouth, and it is undoubtedly how we have built the brand to where it is today.
Additionally, our designs, branding, and marketing have also helped us stand out. Chris taught me the value of keeping things new and fresh, and so we commit to a new product launch about every month. As the business has grown, we have been able to employ garment technicians, graphic designers, photographers, and clothing designers to help us stay at the forefront of innovation and consumer expectations. As part of our community focus, we are committed to charitable partnerships; we have donated $133,240 to various charities – we’ve always been focused on giving back.
What characteristics do you think makes a great CEO/leader/owner?
Nathaniel: Someone who leads by example, and isn’t above taking on jobs that might typically be for a lower pay grade. Chris and I both come from humble beginnings, and it is important to us that we stay grounded and connected with those around us. We value the opinions of the people around us highly, and we work with our team in a collaborative manner.
As we’ve grown the business, I make sure I am always available to our team, no matter the size of the challenge. I have found that this helps ensure that we are connected and are aware of when things need to change, improve and pivot. Your leadership, advice, help, and direction gives your team confidence.
Chris: It’s not just a business for us, and the way we do things is not an imitation of anyone else. I think it’s really important for a leader or business owner to have their own style, and make sure they genuinely want what is in the best interests of their people and the company.
Nathaniel: I like to lead by example, regardless of the task. I like to make decisions based on the input of my team and not just my own opinion. I’m a leader who doesn’t see myself as above others, but more beside them. I treat everyone with respect and encourage my teams to not be afraid to try new things.
Chris: Creating a genuine connection with my team that involves constantly listening, supporting, and guiding them on their journey. I am always seeking to learn and improve myself and I am not afraid to share this with my team and then encourage them to do the same.
How is technology helping the business to evolve?
Chris: It’s helped our front and back end, our product development, and our driving sustainability initiatives. From a back-end perspective, technology is allowing us to improve our systems to ensure we are packing orders as fast as possible. We can dispatch 5,000 orders daily. We have in-house web developers working to improve our website, features, speed, and customer/user experience.
We have eight people dedicated to online customer service and we are active across Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, Snapchat, Email, YouTube, and more.
How is Muscle Nation adapting to the fast-changing landscape borne out of COVID-19?
Nathaniel: The rise of online activity during the pandemic meant that our business has grown very quickly, and we’ve had to evolve with it. Growth is positive, but it also brings supply, freight, shipping, staffing and warehousing challenges. Inbound freight of stock has been a big issue for us. Not only is it taking a lot longer for goods to arrive, but the pricing has skyrocketed – almost ten times the normal rate.
To this date, we have absorbed any increases in cost, as we want to make sure our loyal community is not impacted, as they’ve also been affected by COVID themselves.
Vital Addition presents this ‘Meet a CEO’ series.
Vital Addition is a fast-growing Australian tax and accounting company providing fresh, honest, and reliable accounting, financial, and tax advice. CEO Lachlan Grant believes in ‘strength in numbers’, empowering SMEs to make business decisions with confidence, and face the challenges associated with growth with informed optimism.