Don't call it a gym. It's the Enchanted Ninja Clubhouse of Glory and Dreams.
Inside Mark Fisher Fitness, clients are greeted with pink and purple graffiti-covered walls, booming pop music, and several murals of frolicking unicorns. Tutu-clad trainers can be heard yelling, "Reach up for that sky, ya'll!" and, "F**k, yeah! Look at that f**king plank!" It's enough to make anyone want to grab a set of kettlebells and start moving to the beat.
At MFF, every gym-goer is referred to as a ninja, and costumed trainers dance around during group workouts, providing motivation with a mix of colorful language and whimsical visual imagery.
This juxtaposition between work and play is the heart of co-founder and CEO Mark Fisher's New York-based fitness studio, to which he has added heaps of Broadway flair, glitter, and rainbows.
"Our tagline is 'Ridiculous humans, serious fitness,'" Fisher says. "We're thinking about things that delighted you as a child in your most judgment-free sense of play, and that's what we try to be imbibing."
They're also taking in plenty of cash money. Landing at No. 312 on this year's list of the 5000 fastest-growing private companies in America, Mark Fisher Fitness earned roughly $3.3 million in 2014--achieving nearly 1,500 percent growth in just three years.
In the Enchanted Clubhouse, it's easy to forget you're working out--and that's the point, Fisher says. In fact, he used to really hate the gym.
"It was not a place that I felt comfortable being," Fisher explains. "It was a house of horrors. The smell of the chlorine pool..."
Originally from New Jersey, Fisher was intimidated by the "large men wearing jeans and work boots" in the South Jersey gyms. But because he was a professional actor, Fisher slowly developed a passion for training and eventually found himself leading a community of performers who similarly shunned the gym.
He began personally training his friends and colleagues in the theater world to prepare them for their demanding physical performances. Initially, Fisher worked mainly with Broadway performers, but soon, casting directors, agents, and even marketing staff from the Broadway scene took an interest.
He worked one-on-one with his clients until the fall of 2010, when participation increased so much that he reluctantly agreed to offer a group class. "Sort of immediately, I was like, 'Oh, this is a very different thing,'" Fisher says. "The community element was like a lightning bolt."
This electricity fueled the creation of Fisher's first training program, dubbed "Snatched in Six Weeks." Participating clients would receive intensive instruction on "getting snatched," which Fisher defines as achieving health and "hotness."
In the spring of 2011, Fisher's best friend and South Jersey community theater companion Michael Keeler, took notice of the success Fisher was having with his training. Keeler approached Fisher to turn Snatched into an official business.
"He was collecting checks and writing them down in a notebook," Keeler recalls. "And I was like, 'We can do better than this!'"
Fisher was hesitant; he knew nothing about managing a real business. But after some persuading from Keeler and two influential books, Delivering Happiness by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, he agreed.
"I thought, 'OK, yeah, let's do this thing,'" Fisher says. "Let's light our lives on fire and see what happens."
Lighting a fire.
In the fall of 2012, Keeler left his job at Philadelphia's Pew Charitable Trust and joined Fisher in New York City. Because of Keeler's nonprofit background, he started Mark Fisher Fitness the only way he knew how: by writing a mission statement and defining its values.
"That's one of the things from the beginning that made us really confident we were going to stand out from the rest of the gyms," Keeler says. "We're starting from a place of heart, a place of authenticity, and a place where people come before business."
Mark Fisher Fitness officially opened its doors in Hell's Kitchen in January 2012, using money Fisher made from acting in an Allstate commercial. The small basement studio was filled with furniture from Keeler's apartment, and the two co-founders laid the carpet tiles and painted the walls themselves.
"We were creating a space where people can be themselves," Fisher says. "There aren't a lot of businesses in general that function this way, let alone fitness. It's just not an industry that embraces any of those things."
Soon, more than 100 people were participating in the Snatched program. But the co-founders quickly realized they needed more than just a six-week intensive program; they had to develop a membership model.
Today, Mark Fisher Fitness counts more than 700 ninjas as members, with varying levels of plans ranging from $100 to $900 per month. The Clubhouse offers a variety of classes in addition to Snatched, including "Kick Ass Conditioning," "Superhero Strength," and semiprivate training in the "Dragon Lair" studio space.
"I've definitely drunk the Kool-Aid," says Lisa Spodak, a 45-year-old ninja working for a technology company in New York. "I love going to the gym and starting with a hug or high-five, instead of just, 'Find your spot and get started.'"
Naturally, the Enchanted Clubhouse isn't for everyone, says Fisher. But the gym does offer a free orientation and personal consultation to give potential ninjas a chance to check things out. For the most part, once people start, they stay, Fisher says; the gym boasts an 80 percent retention rate of ninjas participating in the orientation and Snatched programs.
Spreading the love.
Fisher is currently looking to expand the Enchanted Clubhouse of Glory and Dreams to a second location in the city, but he is also hoping to expand the Mark Fisher Fitness experience in a different way.
Recently, the company launched the Uprising, a nonprofit foundation where ninjas volunteer for an annual "area of intention," like student mentoring or supporting homeless LGBT youth.
Whether it's in the Clubhouse or the real world, Fisher says, "When people feel big, when they feel like they have power, they can surprise themselves by making a big impact."