This week's Mobile AL business owners, Jessica Callahan and Alison Jones sit down with Marcus to talk all about their journey from school to opening Mission Fitness. The crazy twist of a stock broker and a non-profit communications director leaving their careers to focus on their passion is inspiring and their energy is even more motivating. Find some time to listen to how they have created a boutique studio space with multiple methods that gives back to their community.
Alison: I'm Alison Jones, with Mission Fitness.
Jessica: I'm Jessica Callahan, also his Mission Fitness.
Marcus: Yay! Welcome to the podcast, I'm super stoked that you're here.
Jessica: Thanks for having us.
Marcus: This is gonna be a lot of fun.
Alison: Yeah. We're honored you chose us.
Marcus: Yeah. Well, I've been watching what you all have been bringing to downtown and just the energy and excitement surrounding what you all are doing, so it is very cool what I see happening over at Mission Fitness. Why don't you give us some backstory? Tell us where you're from, where'd you go to high school, college, married, just kind of give us a round picture of who you are as a person.
Jessica: Sure, you wanna go first?
Alison: Sure. I'm originally from Mississippi and I'm from Pascagoula. Actually, would come to Mobile on Sunday, so this is where we would come and shop. I've been familiar with Mobile for many, many, many years. I graduated from Ole Miss, Hotty Toddy.
Marcus: There you go. Somebody out there in their car right now is going, "Roll tide!"
Alison: Absolutely. And then after I graduated, I moved to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, and I was actually a stockbroker for a bunch of years.
Alison: Ended up in Mobile, working for another large investment firm. From there, I decided that was not my path and I decided to find my passion over a paycheck and started on this.
Marcus: What the heck was that? We're gonna leave that in, but it's funny 'cause we're sitting here recording this podcast and everything's fairly quiet, and then outside it sounds literally like a tugboat is going by, somebody blew their horn. Sorry to interrupt, but yeah. You found your passion in fitness.
Alison: Yeah, absolutely. So it was sort of a path of self discovery, I think, and it took several years, and I think that I've landed right where I'm supposed to be.
Marcus: That's very cool. Yeah. Married?
Alison: Married. My husband is also a Mobile local business owner. He's an engineer, owns an engineering firm downtown. They've been here for almost 30 years.
Marcus: Which one?
Alison: Is called Prism Systems.
Marcus: I think I've heard of them. Yeah, very cool.
Alison: Yeah. No children. I have two puppies. They go to work with my husband every day.
Marcus: Fur babies.
Alison: That's right. They're in all the conferences, and so if Walt Disney comes for a meeting, they're sitting at the conference table with all of them and it's pretty awesome.
Marcus: That's cool. Very cool.
Alison: Nice to be a Jones dog.
Jessica: So, I actually grew up in Indiana.
Marcus: Oh, wow.
Jessica: Yeah. I grew up in Indiana and then went to-
Marcus: Where at?
Jessica: Terre Haute.
Marcus: I don't know where that is.
Jessica: Terre Haute is west, about an hour Southwest of Indianapolis.
Marcus: Okay. So, I was born in Muncie.
Jessica: No way.
Jessica: Wow. Ball state, huh?
Marcus: Yes. My parents went to Ball State.
Jessica: Okay, interesting. I love it.
Marcus: I don't grow up there, but I was born there. I spent a few years and then moved to Virginia, living with my dad.
Jessica: Okay. I love it, I love it. So I went to Purdue University, Boiler Up. That's our version of Roll Tide for those who are wondering. So, went to Purdue, studied communication, and then my path kind of led me down and nonprofit communications role. So, I started, my first job was actually in Indianapolis with the NCAA, working in their brand management department. And then, because of my husband's job, we moved a lot. He's in forestry. So, he's the reason we're now in Alabama. We moved to Birmingham, worked there for a few years, again in nonprofit communications roles, and then eventually ended up in Mobile.
Marcus: That's gotta be a switch.
Jessica: Yeah, big switch, but we love it. We don't we don't wanna go back. It's snowing in Indiana right now.
Marcus: I was gonna say, for those of you that don't know, Indiana probably gets some of the worst snow in the country. It's all that lake effect snow that comes in and it is just brutal.
Jessica: It's bad.
Marcus: I still have I still have family there. My aunt lives there, and she's constantly posting pictures to Facebook and it's just like, she has to dig yourself out of her house. So,
Jessica: That sounds miserable.
Jessica: Awful. When you have to work in it. I just wanted to say that.
Marcus: Well, tell us about your first job and if there were any lessons learned from it, and then we'll kind of get into where you're at now.
Jessica: Alright. Gosh.
Marcus: first job.
Jessica: First job.
Marcus: Scrubbing floors, flipping burgers?
Jessica: Well, I'll go to my first job in college when I was at Purdue. That's really kind of opened my eyes and led me to my path. When I started at Purdue, my major was graphic design. And so I was gonna kinda take that path and then quickly realized that I didn't want to be stuck behind a computer 24/7.
Jessica: And so, actually interned with the athletics Booster Club at Purdue. That led me to the path for where I eventually we ended up. Exactly. So, decided to take the communications path and had lots of different roles in, like I said, nonprofit work, event planning, worked with a couple of universities along the way. So, it's been a fun journey. Yeah.
Marcus: Wow. And how about you? You don't fall into a stockbroker position just overnight.
Alison: No. It was something that I really worked towards, but it was an opportunity that sort of presented itself and I think I felt obligated, like that's what I was supposed to do.
Marcus: Is there family history there or something?
Alison: No, I think it was just an opportunity that felt too good to pass up. I felt like when I graduated from college, I needed to immediately have a job. I was supposed to go down this professional path. And so that's what I did. By the time I was 24, I had a business I was running, I had staff, I had my own home, I had a car. At 24, that's a lot.
Marcus: Yeah. It's a lot of responsibility.
Alison: I mean, that's a lot at 34.
Alison: But I think what I learned most from that is to not choose what's next based on what I feel like I should do. Based on an obligation. Instead, to permit myself to follow what I'm truly passionate about, and instead of forcing myself down a path that I feel like I should go.
Marcus: Right. You talked a little bit about you feel like you found your passion. I would assume that both of you are very passionate about what you do.
Marcus: You don't go into fitness if it's not something that you're passionate about, okay?
Marcus: But do you ... Getting personal for just a second. My father had a heart attack when I was 16, and it kicked off like a fitness mindset and for me, where I was an average cyclist until my first child was born, and then I had to give that up because it was just ... It wasn't realistic to spend hours away on a bike. But I've always been ... I've lifted weights since I was 16, I played racquetball, I've done all those things, so I've maintained an active lifestyle for the most part of my life. Was there something along those lines that caused this, or is this just wanting to be the best version of you, or what caused that? Why is that passion there?
Jessica: Yeah. I think that's a great question.
Marcus: I've been told that occasionally.
Alison: You know what, you should have your own podcast.
Marcus: You think? Would there be something to that?
Jessica: I think for us, it's not just about fitness. It's so much about community. About creating something where everybody feels welcome, and we can help people feel their best, look their best, and be healthy for a lifetime, not just a season. When we started Mission Fitness, there were really three things that we said were paramount, our sort of no compromises on these three things. One of those things was that we wanted to have multiple methods. A boutique studio space with multiple methods, which nobody is doing that.
Alison: I think we surprised you even.
Marcus: Yeah. No, so we were talking beforehand, and I've made the joke that I don't go to Mission Fitness because I like to lift things up and put them down. If you haven't seen the stupid Planet Fitness commercial, please go and search "Planet Fitness commercial's lift things up put them down" and just watch it, it's hilarious. But you all made the comment of "No" you have weights, you have battle ropes, you have things like that for meatheads like me. I will also admit, and I'm going to just go out on a limb here and say I've done yoga before. And if you're a dude, and especially if you're a dude that sits at a desk all day long, but no, just flat out, if you're a dude, go and try yoga. It will kick your ass. Not only that, but we often times have conversations here in the office about, if you sit at a desk, we have standing desks here in the office, so we're a little bit better than your average office environment, but if you sit at a desk, they've said that that is the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
Marcus: It's literally killing you. Not only that, but your muscles get kind of transformed in the sense that like your hip flexors shorten, and you have lower back problems, and-
Alison: You create what you live.
Marcus: Yeah, exactly.
Marcus: And so, it's this weird position that we put our bodies and every day when we sit at a desk. And so, Yoga has a tendency to kind of get you out of those modes, the sitting mode, and kind of get you into a more flexible position. And so, I would just suggest, especially if you're downtown, give it a shot. Just go and take a class. I think you offer just single class options, right?
Marcus: Just go and try it, and just, you know what I mean, just go with an open mind. But I'm a meathead. I can bench press 300 pounds, I can squat, I can do all those things, but I love yoga. I spend time everyday working on mobility, even on my own, just because I think it's valuable. Especially, as I get older, maintaining that flexibility is what keeps me from hurting myself.
Alison: Absolutely right. That's what keeps you injury free.
Marcus: Yeah. Exactly. Anyway, so I forget ...
Alison: We were talking about multiple methods.
Jessica: Multiple methods, and where the passion is, how we ended up here.
Marcus: How did you find yourself in the fitness industry or fall into this?
Jessica: Well, I have a lot of family members who have suffered from diseases that they could have prevented if they had only been more active throughout their life. And so, for me, it was about finding something that's sustainable and sticking to it and encouraging others to do the same. Because so many diseases that we encounter as a society can be prevented through measures that don't include medicine. Through regular exercise, through diet.
Marcus: Medicine covers up symptoms. It doesn't cure what you're dealing with.
Marcus: Well, how did this come to be then? How did Mission Fitness come to exist?
Jessica: That's a good story.
Alison: Yeah. It sure is.
Marcus: I'm gonna sit back. Tell us the story.
Jessica: Yeah, it's a good one.
Alison: Lot's of bottles of wine involved in this decision.
Jessica: Yeah. Taking it way back three years ago, I met Alison in one of her bar classes. I was a participant and she was the instructor. That's that's kind of where the journey started. Three or four years ago at this point maybe.
Jessica: At that point, and this is kind of a funny story, I had invited Alison to a party at my house and she regretfully could not attend, and she replied back and said "I'm so sorry, but ask me to do anything. I will do it. I will clean the refrigerator, I will walk to the mail box, get the mail with you. Ask me again to do anything." Then fast forward three years later.
Alison: And here we are.
Jessica: "Hey, you wanna open a fitness studio?"
Marcus: Remember, you said anything.
Jessica: Remember anything?
Alison: She took that seriously.
Marcus: Wow, that's a leap. I didn't come to your party, hey open a business with me.
Jessica: Right? Remember that one time.
Marcus: So and is Mission Fitness, it's not a franchise or anything like that, it's just something that you all started.
Jessica: This is a one of-
Marcus: From scratch. Excellent. Tell us a little bit about mission fitness. I mean, you've kind of gone into the different modes, but I mean ... Yoga, we talked about that.
Alison: Yeah, it's Yoga, Pilates, TRX, bar, rowing, reformer and everything in between. Truly, multiple methods under one roof. There's a reason nobody else is doing that in a boutique space.
Jessica: It's tricky.
Alison: It's so tricky. It's been very hard to try to juggle how to fit in all these different methods when you have one space and you're only doing one class at a time. That's been a big challenge for us and it's also sort of opened up this opportunity to create some very unique combination classes. Not only do we have these multiple methods, but we also have these hybrid classes that we put together. Reformer and TRX is killer. We have some unique rowing programs and signature programs.
Marcus: Pause for just a second, because I don't think most people know what TRX is. Just describe in a sentence or two what TRX is, because I think that's the one that people probably aren't that familiar with.
Alison: Yeah, sure. TRX is a suspension system and ours are suspended from the ceiling. It was actually a method created by a navy seal.
Marcus: And it is painful. It'll kick your butt. For those of you that ... It's basically like you have handles and you're going through different motions using your own body weight, and yeah. You wanna talk about a core workout, it'll kick your butt.
Jessica: It's a good one.
Marcus: Obviously, you've figured out how to manage all that stuff in that small space though.
Alison: Exactly. That's been pretty amazing, what we've been able to come up with. We looked everywhere for templates. Googled it and googled it, and nobody's doing it. We've truly had to create the templates for these concepts that were in our heads, and so the experience that you're getting at Mission Fitness is truly different than anything else that you can get anywhere in the world right here in Mobile.
Marcus: Very cool. Well I know there's a lot going on, I was looking at the last business view that the Mobile Chambers sent out, and I wanna say there's well over 180 million dollars of residential development happening in downtown Mobile, so you guys are obviously perched for taking advantage of that.
Alison: It's exciting.
Marcus: If you were talking to someone that wanted to get started running their own business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?
Alison: Find a partner.
Jessica: Yeah, exactly. 'Cause otherwise it's a scary ride by yourself.
Alison: It is so scary.
Jessica: But also, rip the bandaid off and do it, and that's been my mentality is if you wait and if you don't trust yourself, if you don't put fear aside ... You need to be thoughtful and you need to plan, and all of that is important, but-
Marcus: Don't let the plan get in the way of execution.
Jessica: Don't let the plan get in the way of execution and create these goals, create these deadlines so that you don't delay, because it'll never happen.
Marcus: Here's my magic question, we'll get to what you want to impart as well, but has the original idea of Mission Fitness changed? Because you've been in a business for almost a year now if I remember correctly.
Jessica: Six months.
Alison: Six months.
Marcus: Six months? Oh my gosh. Has the original idea of what Mission Fitness was gonna be changed in that six months?
Alison: I think at its core, it is exactly what we wanted, but the-
Jessica: It's evolved because of what Alison described with these challenges and needing to come up with these interesting class combos, but the core of Mission Fitness has held true.
Marcus: Just trying to make the point of "Get out and execute" because your original ideas are probably ... They're core of what you wanted to set out and do, or starting a fitness studio here in lower Alabama that offers these different but the actual execution of that taught you some things that it kind of like "Okay, there's no way we could've ever planned for this, we just needed to get into it and figure it out."
Jessica: Bingo. You don't know what you don't know, and so you have to execute and you make changes based on the need and the clientele and that sort of thing.
Alison: And you can never plan for everything.
Jessica: That's it.
Alison: There's always gonna be a surprise, there's always gonna be a wrench, there's always gonna be something, and you have to stay open enough and instead of committed to a concept, committed to the evolution. And I think that that's the most important part, staying nimble.
Marcus: There's some life lessons there too, right?
Jessica: Of course.
Marcus: Stay nimble, stay flexible. Is that your answer, or would you like to add anything to what you would share with somebody if they were looking to start a business?
Alison: Yeah, I think she's absolutely right, but I also think that if fear is the only thing holding you back, it's not a good enough reason to not do something.
Marcus: Suck it up, buttercup.
Alison: Suck it up, buttercup, that's exactly right. But it's true, I think we're all capable of so much more than what we believe we are, and if you're willing to take that first step and just cast self doubt aside, whatever that narrative is that's running through your head, whatever it is you're telling yourself, all these excuses, let it go and try. Because what Jessica and I kept talking about is that we were gonna be more regretful if we didn't try this and it didn't work out than if we just never tried it.
Marcus: Often times, the fear of what's going to happen if you fail keeps people from doing it, but I just keep running across people much smarter than myself saying "You have plenty of time to recover, it's not the end of your life." And actually, the more that you can get comfortable with the failure, the better it is, because the failures are the lessons ... They're really just lessons, that's not what you should focus on, it's that old adage of "Fall down three times, get up four." Right? Failure's only a failure if you let it stop you, but if you keep going then you're really onto something. And that's the life of a business owner. What are you currently working on? Anything that you're changing about the business or anything that you can talk about?
Jessica: We have some exciting changes coming to the schedule.
Marcus: See? We're all about breaking news here.
Alison: Nobody knows about it yet.
Jessica: Nobody knows.
Alison: This is what I'll say, is that if you think you've tried bar, think again.
Marcus: Oh gosh. Oh man. I don't even know, do I wanna ask anymore questions about that? What does that mean? Are you offering some new classes then?
Alison: Yeah, we've got an exciting new class concept that we're premiering on the schedule beginning in April.
Marcus: Power core!
Alison: Oh, even better! Even better. We've got some exciting things coming down the pipe that we're super pumped about.
Marcus: Very cool. Exciting. What does a typical day look like for the two of you?
Alison: Jessica and I, we sit side by side at a desk that's about two and a half feet wide.
Jessica: Smaller than this couch.
Alison: Smaller than the sofa that we're sitting on, and we laugh, and we eat carrots, and cuties, and brainstorm, and enjoy each other's company and run a business together.
Alison: Amen, sister.
Jessica: That is literally what we do. Create, and teach, and reflect and discuss what's working, what's not working and just continue to evolve side by side.
Alison: The part that's so amazing about working with Jessica ... Because we have very different strengths. I'm going into my seventh year of teaching classes, that's where my heart is, that's where I shine, but it doesn't matter how good your product is if people don't know about it, and where Jessica really shines is letting the world know what we're doing. The marketing that she does, the social media is incredible. She's very, very gifted.
Jessica: That's very sweet.
Marcus: She's got a little bit of experience there.
Jessica: Little bit, little bit.
Marcus: That's awesome. Well, it's cool that you guys have found each other, because obviously if the strengths play off of one another, then that's extremely valuable.
Jessica: We always call it the yin and the yang, because Alison's right, I mean she is the best instructor I've ever encountered ever anywhere.
Alison: she's over selling it.
Jessica: No, it's true, it's true.
Alison: Lower your expectations.
Jessica: Stop, stop. Stop it right now. It's yin and yang, it just works.
Marcus: And you all are teaching most of the classes from what I understand, right? How many classes a day do you teach?
Alison: We're actually not teaching most of the classes, we have 15 instructors.
Marcus: Oh wow, I had no idea.
Alison: We have over 30 classes a week, so yeah, we're on the schedule for sure, but again, it's all an evolution.
Marcus: Nice. Wow, I did not know that. If you were to look to the business world, just in general, who's the one person that motivates you the most?
Jessica: That's tough.
Alison: Yeah, it is.
Marcus: If it's too tough, we can move on.
Jessica: No, no. I'll be cliché about it, it's my mother and my grandmother. They were both business owners.
Marcus: Well, that's legitimate.
Jessica: I think their experience gave me the confidence to take the leap of faith and just go for it, because, you know, they did it and I thought if they did it, we can do it.
Jessica: It's very cliché, but that's my answer.
Marcus: No, that's a legitimate answer. Look, I don't discount that it is a different world for women starting businesses, and so if you have an example that has been set for you, then that's just crazy awesome. You have anybody that you wanna add to that?
Alison: Yeah, my grandfather was a business owner as well, and he opened a department store that was in from Gulfport Mississippi all the way to Mobile, so I grew up with that. My whole family was in the business with him, and so I grew up with that mentality and then my husband as well.
Marcus: Don't tell him that.
Alison: I know, I'm not even gonna tell him I'm on this podcast.
Marcus: He's definitely not gonna listen to this.
Alison: Don't wanna give him a big head. But yeah, it's just amazing to see what one person is capable of. Obviously with the help of so many others, but it's just incredible to me how brightly a star can shine.
Marcus: And that is the reason why we started this podcast, honestly, just to kind of amplify those stories. It's very cool. Any books, podcasts, people or organizations that have been helpful to you in moving forward?
Jessica: Yes. Really, it's just been the Mobile community, and I think that was another confidence booster. Mobile's in a unique place right now, because it's an accessible community to start a business, it's not super expensive or unattainable to do that, because number one, the business probably doesn't already exist in the community, and then number two, the price point to get started and get your space and that sort of thing-
Marcus: Much different than in Atlanta or whatever.
Jessica: So different. And so, Mobile as a community, Mobile as a city, Mobile as a whole, I think, has helped. And Mobile's ready for this type of thing, so people get excited about it, the community's here to rally around us, and I think for Mission Fitness, the downtown community has been so supportive, Oakley, Midtown, those areas have just rallied around the studio and our members and tell their friends about the studio and membership and that sort of thing, and so-
Alison: It's just been amazing, because we've ... And I don't even think it's us, it's just that the people that have walked in the door, because they're all Midtown or Oakley, there's this built in community. And so it's mothers, and daughters, and next door neighbors, and godmothers, and godchildren, and it's just this amazing vibe that's there where you already have this built in network, accountability partners.
Alison: It's just been amazing to see how they truly have rallied around us. People that we don't even know were walking in the door saying "We've been waiting for you, we are so excited that you're here." And Jessica's exactly right, it's sort of built our confidence up that maybe this is a good idea.
Marcus: No, I love it, because often times you have this idea and you think "Well, I'm gonna give it a shot." But you really do need that positive affirmation as a business owner that ... Occasionally, we'll have a client that just absolutely raves about something that we've done, or I think it was last week, a client of ours from Colorado sent me an email and was like "Do you have a testimonial section on your website, or someplace where we can leave a review? Because we were just literally talking about how much we love what you all do." And I was just like, I almost just wanted to stop and I'm not gonna say I was gonna shed a tear or anything, but it was just a big moment because you pour a lot into these things. It's just kind of like, you wanna know, if you're a human and you're in business, if you haven't lost that emotional side of you, then you wanna know that you're having a positive impact on somebody else's life and business and stuff like that.
Jessica: That's exactly right.
Marcus: No, it's really cool.
Jessica: It's important to take those moments and truly permit yourself to soak up your efforts.
Marcus: What's the most important thing that you've learned about running a business? This is the last question, so make it good.
Alison: I think there are just so many lessons that we've learned. I'm not sure that we haven't sort of already touched on it a little bit. Just being committed more to the evolution of the business, and not permitting yourself to stay static. Just allowing this progression to organically take place, and being open enough going forward so that you're not stuck dead in your tracks exactly where you are because you're so stuck on this original idea, on this original concept, on this original whatever it is, because the better thing may be whatever's next.
Marcus: In the tech industry we call it pivoting, but the truth is it's been around for ages. It's an old idea that you can't be tied to your original idea too much, you kind of have to go with what is demanded of you, within reason. Tell people where they can find you.
Alison: We are located on Government Street, 951 Government, we're at the corner of Marine Street and Government.
Marcus: In the Marine Street Lofts?
Jessica: Yeah, ground floor of the Marine Street Loft building, you got it.
Marcus: Facebook, Instagram, Mission Fitness Mobile? Is that right?
Jessica: Mission Fitness Mobile.
Marcus: Okay, and website?
Jessica: Missionfitness.rocks, R-O-C-K-S.
Alison: Because Mission Fitness dot rocks.
Marcus: That's awesome. Any final thoughts or comments that you'd like to share with us?
Alison: I think just ... We're so honored that you chose us. Thanks for having us here, and we're really impressed with you and everything you're doing.
Jessica: Absolutely, yeah.
Marcus: I appreciate that, so yeah.
Alison: We're grateful, and grateful for what you're doing for the city. There's a lot of excitement. Oh, and yeah, we have a parting gift for you, and a challenge, Marcus. Parting gift and a challenge.
Marcus: You're setting the bar high. This isn't video, so you can't see this, but they have a cute little white bag with their logo on it, and it's got blue tissue paper, and it's a gift card for me to come and take three classes. Dear lord, they're gonna punish me. I bring them on, and they treat me this way? They wanna punish me, and a Mission Fitness towel as well. That's awesome. Thank you so much, that means a lot.
Jessica: Our sweat for good towel. And that's one thing, if we've got just a quick additional moment.
Marcus: Yeah, absolutely.
Jessica: It's our sweat for good towel, so that's a big part of Mission Fitness as well, and that's the Mission component.
Alison: It's the reason the "Mission" is before the "Fitness."
Jessica: Exactly. Alison touched on kind of the, when we were just getting started, the three things that we wanted to accomplish. One was the different methods under one roof, and one was the mission component, the other was we wanted it to smell good, the studio.
Marcus: Small space, a lot of people sweating, so.
Alison: It's important, Marcus.
Jessica: But we wanted the mission to be a part of what we do, our day in, day out, and something that was focused and measurable, not something that we would just do on a whim. Each quarter, we allow our legacy members, those our founding members, to help us vote and chose a charity of choice, and then each quarter, we do a signature event at the studio, a fundraising event, anyone's welcome in the community to attend, and then those funds are donated to that charity, that chosen charity.
Marcus: That's awesome.
Jessica: And in addition to that, one of our membership levels includes a mission component, so five dollars of that membership fee goes to the charity of choice each quarter.
Marcus: Very cool. No, it's cool that you guys are doing that because so often it's easy just to go into business and just go into business, but the fact that you're conscious of giving back, that's very cool. Well, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and entrepreneur, it's been really great talking with both of you.
Jessica: Same with you, thank you so much.
Alison: Same Marcus, thank you so much.
Jessica: We appreciate it.