Canada native Marnie Wong never thought she’d be a boot camp instructor, nor a business owner. The Phoenix resident, 34, with a Master’s degree in engineering and circuit design, decided to steer her life in a totally different direction and leave an engineering career to purchase Boot Camps Babes fitness classes, which inspired her as a participant before she became co-owner of the Boot Camp Babes’ four locations a year-and-a-half ago. While it was what some may consider a huge leap, Wong hasn’t been happier. Read on to hear her business advice, as well as five reasons why she loves living in the Valley.
What brought you to Arizona?
I came in 1999 after I got into ASU. It was a very last-minute decision. I had been going to the University of Calgary, and I decided I wanted to go a different place, and it was already August, so I wanted somewhere I could get in quick, and I had never lived away from home so I wanted to go somewhere not too far from home but somewhere warm. ASU accepted me right away, and I got a scholarship.
What was the program like that you did there?
I did my undergrad in the electrical engineering program, and then I did my grad school.
I went to high school and wanted to be an architect. A bad guidance counselor led me to think I didn’t need art, so I took all my sciences and was really good at science, and I graduated, applied for architecture school but didn’t have the art background, so I went to a technical school for architecture and realized I absolutely love it as a hobby but not as a career. I looked at what I was good at, and that’s when I fell into engineering. It wasn’t anything I was passionate about, but I was good at it, so I took a year in Calgary and came down to Phoenix.
What led you to get your Master’s degree in engineering?
I got my bachelor’s degree, and I started looking for jobs, but sort of half-assedly. I was enjoying sitting by the pool. One of my professors, when I asked him for a job reference, said, ‘Why don’t you come back and get your master’s degree instead?’ I had no intention of getting a master’s degree, but he offered me a full scholarship, so I thought, ‘Why not?’ I got my master’s degree in engineering in circuit design. I worked for Motorola for 6 years, and then a company called IDT for a year. I designed analog circuits for cell phones, laptops and portable devices.
How did you get involved with Boot Camp Babes?
I had my son in 2008, and I went part-time in engineering. I always enjoyed it, I never disliked it, but I was content — I wasn’t overly excited, I was just content. When I went part-time, I loved being with my son that much more. I started taking Boot Camp Babes as a participant, and it inspired me, everything about it — the work-out, the impact it had on me as an individual and the impact it had on my friends who were taking the classes. I kept being approached by the owner to become a trainer, and I thought, ‘I can’t go from engineering to training — that’s a big step.’ I finally decided one day to do both. I went to the owner about it, and she told me she was selling the company, and I’d have to talk to the new owner. It turned out, the girl who was buying it was a good friend of mine, and we decided to buy it together. She took over Chandler, and I opened up Arcadia.
We’re doing this interview at St. Francis. Why did you choose here?
I love the patio, I love the food, and I love the building. I love coming here for lunch. The Salmon Superfood is great, and their salads are delicious.
What was your fitness background before you became a trainer and owner of Boot Camp Babes?
My mom is actually a fitness trainer and a lifeguard. She’s done it forever. She started when I was 5, so it was just something in my home. I always played sports, and as a teenager, I taught kids camp and sports camp. Being active was always something that I loved, so Boot Camp Babes attracted me because it was a good work-out, and my kid was taken care of right there, and I loved that I could work out hard and do it for real and not worry about my son. The fact it was so much more than just a work-out, the community, made it worth it. I moved here in ’99, but all my closest friends are always from back in Canada — I never really opened up myself and let people in. With Boot Camp Babes, I could learn to do that again, and that inspired me, and doing that for other people inspired me.
Was there any hesitation in taking over the business?
Part of what made me want to take over the business rather than just be a trainer was that I was excited about learning. I was excited about learning marketing and how to run a business and accounting. The challenge of it, as well as the job itself, is what motivated me to do it. I was afraid, it was a big step, I was nervous. But I figured I could always go back to engineering. I may be taking a step back in my career, but I can always go back if I really need to. This is something I figured I’d take a chance and try.
What have been the biggest challenges to having your own business?
The biggest challenge has definitely been the learning curve, learning how to advertise. That’s definitely something I’ve never had to do — I’ve always worked for big corporations where you kind of just do your job. It’s a 24-hour job now. When you work for a big corporation, you’re there from 8-5, and then you leave it there, and you go home and do whatever you want. Now it’s constant — in the middle of the night, I might get up and be inspired by something and go to my computer and do it. It’s so rewarding, I can’t even put it into words.
Are there any negative aspects to owning your own business?
It’s a 24-hour job. I expected it to be more work, but it’s all-consuming. I think about it constantly.
When would you say is the right time to start your own business?
I don’t know if I know when something is the right time. I think the reason to do anything is because you love it, and when you believe in it, you believe in yourself. I think you can make anything work. There are moments where I have panic attacks, like, ‘What did I do?’, but you just work through it. Using my network of people has been a big thing. Take advantage of other people you know, and work back and forth. I do a lot of trades with people I know, and I learn from them, and they get something from me, and that’s been a big thing that’s got me through.
What’s the typical Boot Camp Babes class like?
We have a basic Boot Camp Babes class, and all of our classes have the same basic structure. The nice thing about it is no class is exactly the same. Every single class we’ve ever written and ever taught is different than what we’ve done before. We don’t just copy and paste old work-outs, it’s always new versions of what we’re doing. Our typical class includes a warm-up, and then we do a circuit. The circuits consist of alternating a minute of resistance, a minute of cardio. That way, you’re flexing it hard with the cardio for a minute, letting you catch your breath while you work your muscles, and then going back to cardio. We switch into a game, and usually the game is cardio-based, so it gets your heartrate up without you even realizing it because you’re having fun. We have a game called Babes Band Together, with red and blue colored bands tucked into your shorts, and you have to grab the other team’s band. If you grab it, that person has to do Burpees, tuck it back in, and then get back to playing. They’re running, they’re out of breath, and they’re laughing. Then we do group drills, which is a lot of back-and-forth cardio/resistance with 5- or 10-pound weights, and then we finish off with core work and stretching. It’s an hour-long class.
Who would you recommend the classes for?
Any woman, ages 16-60. We have all spectrum of ages, women from all walks of life.
What are your goals?
My aspiration is to help people. I obviously want to grow it and build the community bigger. Definitely in the Phoenix area, I know the West Valley has a big gap in terms of good, quality exercise programs, so I’d love to get something in the West Valley. North Scottsdale is another place where people are begging me to open up there. I don’t want to get so big that we lose that personal touch, because it’s that community and that camaraderie that differentiates us from some of the other boot camps out there.
Is the boot camp modeled after the military at all?
It is. The original owner had been a cheerleader for the Arizona Cardinals and had done some overseas entertainment for the troops, and being in the camp inspired her to bring that military model and make it a little more fun. We want the work-out to be intense but modifiable to every level. You can come in brand new, not having worked out in years, and still feel like you’ve worked out hard. We don’t scream orders, we don’t shout at people. It’s all-inclusive to build people up. You can come in at tip-top shape and still get a hard work-out, too.
What advice would you give someone to motivate them to start working out?
Just do it. Everyone has something going on or some excuse. At some point, you have to just decide to do it. No one should say, ‘I’ll start on Monday,’ ‘I’ll start next month,’ ‘I’ll start January.’ Make a pledge to start right now. I knew someone who would wear her work-out clothes to bed every day, so that in the morning, she had no excuse. She could get up and was just ready to go. The more you can give up those excuses, the sooner you’ll get started to reach your goal.
What fitness routine would you say is ideal?
The ideal one is one you enjoy. A lot of us punish ourselves with work-outs, and that’s just not what it should be. Personally, I’m very competitive, so I’ve found going to the boot camp group class is great because I have other people to compare myself to and raise myself higher and higher. I also play sports and ultimate frisbee because I like the competition of it, that it pushes myself to work that much harder. I try and balance it with yoga and things that have less of an impact on your body. Mix in things that you enjoy and include some high-intensity work-outs combined with lower intensity and flexibility exercises.
Do you have any nutrition or diet advice?
I’m a very big believer in balance and moderation, and I think that relates to diet. I don’t believe in fad diets or things like hCG. Yes, you’ll get results, but if you’re drastically cutting down your calorie count, when you get back to eating normal, it all comes back. Your body goes into starvation mode, and you can’t maintain it. You don’t have to give up things you love. You don’t have to give up candy. You just have to decide to have less of it. It’s the 80/20 rule: if you’re good 80 percent of the time, and you enjoy the things you enjoy 20 percent of the time, you’re going to be fine.
Who are five of your favorite bands or musicians to work out to?
Why is it beneficial for women to work out with other women?
I’ve realized men and women work out differently. They have different goals. It’s funny because women tend to have this feeling that, if it doesn’t hurt, or they’re not exhausted, they’re not working out hard enough — especially with cardio, they like to be totally out of breath, totally worn down. With men, they lift weights, they don’t want to burn themselves out on cardio, yet when they play sports, they burn themselves out. It’s just a different mentality. We’re trying to build community. We’re trying to give women a place to escape their husbands and kids. It’s their moment, their hour of the day to just be themselves — they’re not mom, they’re not wife, they’re not daughter. It’s women with women, sharing thoughts and ideas.
Since your co-owner was your friend before you went into business with her, do you have any advice about going into business with a friend?
When I first heard that someone else had wanted to buy the company, I thought, ‘This is a disaster. I can’t see myself being in business with someone else.’ I was really stressed about it, but when I found out who it was, it was almost like a epiphany — it was just the perfect person. I really can’t imagine being in business with anyone else. We’re like yin and yang. She’s detail-oriented and very compassionate. She worries a lot. I’m completely opposite — I tend to be more big picture, worry-free. In terms of the business, we mesh perfectly. Honesty is the biggest thing. If we don’t like something, we tell each other.
What’s your favorite fitness tip?
The thing I suggest the most is interval training, because I’m a big believer in efficiency. I like to work smart. Interval training is about a hardcore burst then rest, alternating intensity.