Episode 85: Delon Nelson, Founder of D&I Fitness

One of Jodi’s best networking channels hasn’t been a co-working space, professional association or trade show – it’s been her gym. So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, meet Delon Nelson, founder of said gym, D&I Fitness. Through his people-first attitude, he’s managed to create more than just a place to sweat, but a true sense of connection between himself, his clients and the town in which he lives and works.

Listen and learn from his unique path to entrepreneurship in this special episode on giving thanks.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY® hosted by Jodi Katz, Founder and Creative Director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHey there, welcome back to the show. I am so excited to introduce my guest for this week's episode. It's a pretty meaningful one. It is Delon Nelson. He is the Founder of D&I Fitness, which is the gym that I work out in. If you are a big fan of our show you know that I talk about meeting people at the gym all the time. It's been an incredible place to connect with fascinating people. This podcast is also a sponsor of the gym's turkey trot. So, if you are in the South Orange area on Thanksgiving morning you should most definitely participate. I hope that you enjoy this episode. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

Hey everybody, I am so excited to be siting with my guest today. His name is Delon Nelson. He is founder of D&I Fitness. Welcome to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY®.
Delon NelsonThank you. I'm glad to be here.
Jodi KatzThis is a very meaningful conversation for me, and I feel like we should have had it a long time ago. Our fans of the podcast know how influential the gym, your gym, ...
Delon NelsonOh wow.
Jodi Katz... has been in building my business, and I've met so many really fascinating, interesting people. I don't go there looking to network. I go there looking to work out.
Delon NelsonSure.
Jodi KatzBut, I've met some really incredible people who have helped me get on the path that I'm on now.
Delon NelsonWell, I'm happy to hear that.
Jodi KatzI know a lot about what the gym's done for me, and what I was looking for when I found it, which was a sense of community in addition to my fitness. But I don't know a lot about you. We get little snippets here and there.
Delon NelsonSure, sure, sure.
Jodi KatzSo, this is the time, like all of your fans are gonna be listening to this. Okay, so let's take it way back chronologically. Like, where did you grow up?
Delon NelsonWell, I was born in Georgetown, Guyana, South America, and most of my childhood was there. I migrated to the United States at age 14.
Jodi KatzThe whole family did?
Delon NelsonThree people, my mom, myself, and my brother, and we moved to Brooklyn, Brooklyn, New York, and that was a little bit of a culture shock.
Jodi KatzSo, you were 14 years ago?
Delon Nelson14 years old.
Jodi KatzAre you the oldest in the family?
Delon NelsonYes. I have a brother, he's five years younger than I am.
Jodi KatzSo, as a teenager moving to the United States, specifically Brooklyn, New York, what was that like at the time? What were you thinking?
Delon NelsonWell, for me I wanted to come to the United States of America. It was like, "The United States of America," you know, all these lights and all these fun things to do. It was just everybody wants to be here and I was that kid. I had friends that left to go to the U.S. and to London and other places that people migrate to, but for me it was this amazing thing. You see this place on TV, and in movies, and it's like, "Wow." Not that I didn't love where I grew up; it was completely different. Things were a lot more simple. We played outside, we played all day long, we played with our friends. It was more of a freedom that I experienced there that I didn't have when I came here, of just leaving the house and roaming, and climbing trees, and eating fruit, and fresh fruit, and swimming, and all that stuff. But, again, nothing beats that glamour that you see on TV of what the United States is and what it provides for you. We came here for a better way of life.
Jodi KatzSo, your mom wanted to come here for work reasons?
Delon NelsonYeah, so just to give us a better life. My grandfather sent for us. He has since passed, but he was the reason we came here. He sent for my mom and my brother. We came here and got settled in Brooklyn. Like I said, it was a culture shock because it was different. First of all for me it was way too cold.
Jodi KatzI bet.
Delon NelsonYou guys know that first of the year if I'm cold I'm bundled up. So, that was the first shock to my system, the temperature, because it was in January.
Jodi KatzOh wow, so you guys moved in January?
Delon NelsonYeah, 1986, January, January 1986. From there I just got acclimated.
Jodi KatzDo you remember what your first day of school was like in New York?
Delon NelsonOh my first day of school was terrifying. It was a big school. Like I said, kids acted differently, not the way we did. I remember standing up in class when the teacher entered the room and said, "Good morning," and everybody else was sitting.
Jodi KatzOn your first day of school that's what you did?
Delon NelsonThat's what I did, because that's what you do when the teacher enters the classroom, you stand up and you say, "Hello." I mean, "Hi, good morning," or whatever you say as a group, and then she tells you to sit down. But, I learned quickly that that wasn't the way things worked. But, I also enjoyed the freedom, too, right, or not having to do all that, though it was embedded in me, it was also okay not to have to stand for me. It was again that land of freedom, things a little bit different.
Jodi KatzThat was high school? Was that ninth grade, tenth grade?
Delon NelsonThat was high school. That was high school. I didn't go to Junior High School. My brother did, since he's five years younger. I went straight to ninth grade. Yeah, I was a little bit more, I had a little bit more, I don't want to say advanced, but I was a little bit ahead from our system in teaching math and English and all that stuff, so ninth grade was easy. Tenth grade was easy, and then you had to learn American literature, and history, and all that stuff, so that stuff was new to me, and so I had to work a lot harder there. I knew I was always college bound. There were great programs in the school. I went to Prospect Heights High School. I knew that's what I wanted for me was to go to college. From there I went to City College in New York to study engineering.
Jodi KatzSo, was fitness a part of life at that time?
Delon NelsonNot at that time. I was always fit. I was always that kid that did everything and never mastered any of it, didn't really care about mastering it, just wanted to be involved with everything. I still have that attitude when it comes to sports. But, I went from Prospect Heights to CCNY to study engineering.
Jodi KatzDid you graduate from that program?
Delon NelsonI did not. I switched during my third year. I realized this was not what I wanted. I wasn't happy with my grades. I had uncles that were engineers that were like, "What are you gonna do with a C?" I'm like, "I don't know what I'm gonna do with a C, but I'll figure it out." So, I just needed to graduate, because I worked and paid for school. My mom helped ...
Jodi KatzWhat kind of jobs ...
Delon Nelson... of course.
Jodi Katz... did you have?
Delon NelsonI had a great job. I had the best job in the world. I worked at Mt. Sinai Hospital. I was a ward clerk. I think that kind of molded my decision to get into the fitness business, too. I realized that, I saw the doctors, and the nurses, and the sick, and the healthy around me, and just wanted to help. I took that job very seriously. I pride myself in thinking I think I was the best darn clerk there was.
Jodi KatzWhat does that mean? You're like administrator of that floor?
Delon NelsonI was the person that when you go to the hospital and there's someone behind the desk, the main desk, directions to where you need to go, or I answered the phone, I get in touch with the doctors, I'd help them prepare their bloods. I monitored the patient's chart to make sure that there was all the paperwork that was in there, and stamped with the patient's name so things didn't get mixed up. When things were quiet I was able to study. Then I was doing engineering, but then I switched to physical and health education, and that's where I think I found my true love.
Jodi KatzBut how did you even know that was a program? Like, you had family members who were engineers so you probably thought you'd just be an engineer.
Delon NelsonRight. It was like, "How can I get out of college quickly?" I've been here ... It was a slower process for me because I did work and go to school, so I didn't take on the maximum workload. I was there for a couple of semesters. Finally I got, "What else can I do?" That's where the idea of a gym teacher, or physical and health education teacher, came to mind and I switched. I had friends that were in engineering and they were like, "What are you doing? What are you gonna do with PE degree?" I go, "Well, I don't know, but watch me," and that's how the whole birth of this whole thing where we are now, me in the fitness business and owning gyms and helping people with their physical fitness came about, stemming back to just wanted to be a phys ed teacher.
Jodi KatzSo, you graduated and then what happened?
Delon NelsonI graduated and while I was at school I implemented a couple programs at City College. I wanted to test myself while I was in school, see if this was what I really wanted. I figured out that I wanted to go the private sector route, not in the school system, and work with people one-on-one basis, or in health club. So, I worked with the faculty there. Then I went into Crunch Fitness. I taught at [inaudible 00:09:31] University, as well, for two years as a phys ed teacher. I started their fitness and wellness program, just wanted to build that résumé out. I had to teach on Sundays, and that was different, you know, because on Saturdays there was, you know ...
Jodi KatzRight, Shabbat, huh?
Delon NelsonYeah, of course. Then, I worked at Paragon Sports after I left Mt. Sinai Hospital, and that was another fun job for me. I think it's the best sporting good shop in the world. Met people and, again, outdoor, backpacking, hiking, rock climbing, all of that stuff. You know, that's the physical-ness of the outdoors. You see people coming to buy snowboards. Well, "I want to learn how to snowboard." I want to learn that and do all this stuff. Crunch Fitness was around the corner on University Place and 13th Street. That was their first location. I'd always walk by and see this fifth like "What's crunch? What's that fifth?" Somebody said, "You know, that's a gym." I said, "That's a gym?" I want to be a trainer. Let me go look at that. I met a gentleman there who I still thank today for hiring me, Bob Becker.

I said, "Hey, you know, I'm book smart. I go to school and I studied PE and physical and health education, but I know nothing about these machines and how to train people. Do you mind taking me on and have me work alongside a trainer for no pay so I can learn? I'm happy to help put weights back or whatever." He said, "Well, you know, we don't have such a program but give me a couple of days." In two days or a day or two later, a day later, I got a phone call that says, "Listen, just the fact that you said you wanted to work for no pay and come in and shadow someone, I'm gonna hire you. You just have to get certified." That's how I got started at Crunch.
Jodi KatzSo, what was inside of you that thought like, "Let me just walk through the door and say, 'I want to apprentice for no pay.'" What was happening?
Delon NelsonThat is a great question for me, because, again, after coming to the U.S., United States of America here, I had a lot of fear, fear of stepping out of my shell, like fear of being criticized, fear of the way I spoke, you name it. One by one I tried to knock those fears out. So, walking in the door of Crunch, it was fearful, it was like, "I don't know. What am I doing here? I'm not a trainer. Here I am going and asking for a job as a trainer," so that was part of like these mini steps, multiple steps, that I've taken throughout the rest of my life to overcome fear.
Jodi KatzSo, when I have these moments, like I get a visceral reaction. I get like a little tingly in my wrist, and then like my chest tightens up, and my breathing gets more shallow, like I can't do deep. How do these moments, what do they feel like for you when you're facing something fearful?
Delon NelsonYeah, the same feelings, the fight or flight, right, and I tend to want to fight, so I go, "What's the worst?" I've learned to go, "What's the worst that could happen?" I'll be alive tomorrow, so I'm not gonna die doing this," so that mantra helps me get through stepping out of that comfort zone, and it worked out.
Jodi KatzI have like a similar philosophy, I call it No Regrets."
Delon NelsonGood, yeah.
Jodi KatzLike if I'm standing there and I want to do something but I'm uncomfortable doing this thing, well then I really need to do it, because if I don't do it I'm gonna regret not doing it, whether it was doing something uncomfortable, like having a difficult conversation, or something exciting but scary because it was new ...
Delon NelsonSure.
Jodi Katz... but, I like ... I mean, I'm 43 and I still have to do that.
Delon NelsonSure.
Jodi KatzI still have to overcome these. It almost feels debilitating sometimes, ...
Delon NelsonRight, right, right.
Jodi Katz... it feels so overwhelming.
Delon NelsonSure, it is.
Jodi KatzEven though the consequence could be nothing. I mean, it could be someone doesn't say "Hi," or someone says "No," or whatever it is.
Delon NelsonRight.
Jodi KatzThe fear feels bigger than the actual reality.
Delon NelsonSure, and if you do it enough you realize that it becomes routine for you moving forward. Whatever the fear is you've put yourself in that situation so many other times and you're fine, so this one time won't make this one different than the rest. You learn to start doing that repeatedly and you're still alive. Sometimes you go, "Wow, why was I so worked up?"
Jodi KatzRight.
Delon NelsonYou know, that wasn't so bad.
Jodi KatzSo, you got a job at Crunch and you knew nothing about that business?
Delon NelsonRight, and like I said, quickly I got certified, because I had the college degree and was about to graduate. A few people took me in under their wings. There was this one woman that was an Olympic prospect, a runner. She said, "Delon, come on, I'll teach you how to train women. You don't train women the way you train men." "Okay." She showed me many different workouts and I pulled what I thought was good and that I could use and apply later on. I had other friends that were into lifting, and I was not a muscular guy. I was lean and fit. Another fear was like, "Who is gonna want to train with me? I'm this little scrawny thing." A buddy of mine was like, "Well, you need to stop running as much as you do," because I enjoyed the cardio. I would get on a treadmill. "You've got to start lifting some real weight." "What do you mean real weight."

A buddy, Brian [Merryville 00:15:06], a friend of mine, put 45 pound dumbbells in my hand. I remember them feeling so heavy, because I've lifted like 25 or 35. The first 45-50 pound dumbbell just felt like, "Wow." I think from then on I started lifting heavier weights and changed my body. It felt comfortable using heavier weights with my clients, because if you can do then it's easy for you to help other people to do it. You realize if you want to build muscle you got to lift heavy, and eat right.

I remember him saying, "You have to eat as well." "I eat already." "No, what you think you eat is not enough for the kind of muscle you're trying to build and the way you want to look," so I increased my dietary intake. Within a couple of years I felt and looked the way I wanted to look, and very proud of it. Then, that fear of wondering who would want to train with me became like, "Wow, you're fit. You look good." Getting clients was not a problem.
Jodi KatzSo, this was many years ago, right?
Delon NelsonMany years. Many, many years.
Jodi KatzIs it like 20 years ago?
Delon Nelson20 ... This is my ... Yeah, about 20-25 years ago. I was in my late 20s.
Jodi KatzDo you have relationships with anybody that you trained all the way back then?
Delon NelsonOh, I still have ... You mean clients from back then? Well, I do. I have a ton. I trained people for about 15 years straight. I have clients that when I met them they were in their 50s and now they're like late 70s. I still treat them like they're still 50. We have a running joke. We talk about, couple of my clients every time they have a birthday or I'm invited to a 75th birthday party, or an 80th birthday party, "Well, you're still 57 because that's when I met you." By the way, I love working with clients 50 and up. They've taught me so much. They've treated me well. They've treated me as a son, and that I'll always be thankful.
Jodi KatzAll right, so I know that Muay Thai fits into this somewhere, but when did this happen?
Delon NelsonWell, Muay Thai, I stumbled on Muay Thai. Back at Crunch Simon Burgess, who was my initial teacher, he would come to the gym ... Because at Crunch I became the training manager and I handled and dealt with the independent trainers, that is trainers that work at a gym but they're not necessarily employed by the gym.
Jodi KatzSo there's a lot of freelancers?
Delon NelsonFreelancers, and they pay the gym to run and operate their business out of it, and I would see this gentleman training a middle-aged woman, middle-aged now I remember ... But, training her with this boxing style. She'd kick and punch and he'd have this long pads. I didn't then, now we call them Muay Thai pads or Thai pads. He'd use those things to train her and I'd look, "Okay, all right fine that's his thing," and then I remember going to see some fights at Church Street Boxing Gym in New York City, first time ever going to these things. I was just blown away, the fact that the athletics, the camaraderie at the end, all the preparation in the beginning, just the mood. The energy in the crowd and I'm like, "I want to do that tomorrow." So, I found Simon-
Jodi KatzIt was infectious?
Delon NelsonTotally, totally, and there was people from all walks of life. You had trainers. You had doctors, lawyers, bankers. You had people with tattoos. You had people dressed in suits. There was just everybody just come together, brought together. I hooked up with Simon and I started training. I said, "You know, I think I want to fight." He says, "Okay, well you have to lose 30 pounds." So, funny story, all that weight that I worked so hard to put on, right, I had to work to get off, but in the right way. So, I think when I met him I weighed 190, and he said, "Okay, if you're gonna fight, if you're gonna fight at 190 there's a lot of power there, the guys that are fighting at 190 are probably above 200 pounds coming down to 190, so you need to work your way back down to be strong and be competitive." I said, "Well, what's that number?" He said, "160." I'm like, "What? No." He goes, "Well, training and hard work will get you there," slowly but surely hard training and my first fight I fought at 160.
Jodi KatzSo, when you saw Simon with the pads you didn't know what Muay Thai was?
Delon NelsonNo, never heard of it, never knew what it was. I figured it was kickboxing.
Jodi KatzRight, and then when you went to Church Street to watch the fights was that Muay Thai?
Delon NelsonThat was Muay Thai fights, yes.
Jodi KatzSo, you got to see it in action?
Delon NelsonI got to see it in action. I was like ... Now today it's just around the world, it's widespread. Back then not too many people knew about it in the United States. The guys who knew about it probably traveled to Thailand to train, you know.
Jodi KatzWhat is Muay Thai?
Delon NelsonMuay Thai it's a form of martial arts from Thailand. It's called The Art of Eight Limbs, where we use our hands, our elbows, our knees, and our feet to strike.
Jodi KatzOkay, so the difference between boxing and that is boxing you're only using your hands?
Delon NelsonHands, and Thai boxing we can knee, and we can kick.
Jodi KatzAll right, so I would think that you have to get like a little bit of tough to want to do this, right, to get in the ring?
Delon NelsonYes, it takes a different person to want to fight, and there's that fear thing again for me. It's like, "Okay, all right, again that's scary," but that girl just did it, that woman just did it, that man just did it, and they're walking out fine." I've met a few of them for drinks after their fight. What's the big deal? They are living and they are not dead, and if I do it I'm pretty sure I'm not gonna die. That's where that comes from. Just the way they look, their bodies, right, is something that I knew I wanted to try.
Jodi KatzHow long did it take it you from the moment you started training to actually have your first fight?
Delon NelsonAbout a year. It took about a year.
Jodi KatzSo, at your gym people move through that process faster?
Delon Nelson[crosstalk 00:21:39] In terms of ... No, no, not necessarily. The ones that I do, because for me you have, and for all teachers, and masters are people that are teaching, we would never ever put someone in the ring unless we think they're absolutely prepared.
Jodi KatzMaybe it feels fast for me.
Delon NelsonIt feels, yeah, yeah. You might not know the start date of that ...
Jodi KatzThat is true.
Delon Nelson... that individual, but most of the time if we are gonna help someone facilitate their dream of having a fight, or a first fight, or many, there's preparation involved. At no point ... It would be reckless to go try this stuff on a competitive level if you're not prepared.
Jodi KatzSo, you had a fight. That doesn't make you like a trainer, that makes you a participate, right?
Delon NelsonRight. I laugh because I think I'm a really good trainer, and I'm an okay fighter. So, just because you're a good fighter doesn't mean you're a good trainer.
Jodi KatzRight.
Delon NelsonI know a lot of good fighters that are horrible trainers, and a lot of good trainers that are terrible fighters.
Jodi KatzRight.
Delon NelsonSo, I'm an okay fighter, I can defend myself really well, but when it comes to training Muay Thai, again, I consider myself to be pretty good at it. It's funny, because it's all this whole cycle, right? For me training in Muay Thai and all that stuff I take all the way back to my engineering years. I understand angles. I understand body mechanics. For my PE I understand the human body. I understand physiology. It's all easy for me.
Jodi KatzSo, when you started to really get focused on having your first fight, did you know that this is something you were gonna do and teach? Like were you like, "Oh, I'm gonna learn this so I can teach this," or was it just your physical outlet?
Delon NelsonThe moment I started learning how to teach Muay Thai I started teaching Muay Thai, all right. So, I took everything I learned and quickly, as fast as I could, figured out which clients wanted to give it a shot, or to incorporate it into my training, right. For me, I always want to be different than the next guy. I always want to be ahead of the next guy. So, at that time, like I mentioned, Muay Thai not too many people knew it, and the ones that did know it we all kind of knew each other in Manhattan, in the city that is. Once I learned, and I thought I was proficient enough at teaching it, I immediately started using it with my clients, and they loved it.
Jodi KatzWere you like ... Did you go to Thailand?
Delon NelsonThailand happened way later. Thailand happened later, because, again, as I got better and better at teaching Muay Thai and then realized, "Okay, I'm not gonna be a professional fighter. I have no interest in becoming a professional fighter," things, different things, and then my business as a personal trainer was taking off so I didn't have the time to invest to fight more, so I wanted to test myself. I did that a couple of times and then after that I wanted to focus on one day owning a Muay Thai gym and incorporating it with my personal training, my teaching.

Thailand happened after another friend of mine came back and he was just out of his mind with excitement about meeting Master Toddy, who was initially in Las Vegas teaching there, and he said, "You have to go. It's changed my life. It's helped my business." Excuse me. I'm like, "Okay, so where do I go see him?" "Unfortunately, he's no longer here, he's in Thailand." "Well, I'm gonna go to Thailand," and that's how I ended up going to Thailand.
Jodi KatzIs that a hard process to like be able to train with a master trainer?
Delon NelsonNah, it wasn't. I had the connection. Rob hooked me up with the connection. Then, I made the call and email and set the date and got on a flight. Coming in at the level that I was coming in I was able to go and achieve what we call the kru status training, so as opposed to just a lower level training.
Jodi KatzLet's fast forward, beyond being a Muay Thai expert you're an entrepreneur. You own your own business now with multiple gyms? I want to tell you what I was looking for when I found D&I, because it continues to be like so significant in my life. I felt so disconnected, and I was really longing for a sense of community. We live in a town that has a great sense of community, which I was beginning to develop after I moved here, and I was feeling like part of a community with the kids and their school, and stuff like that.

But, there was a missing link here for me through fitness. I found it at D&I. I will get emotional about this, because I was a person who like never really felt comfortable anywhere. I could fake my way through it, but my heart didn't feel comfortable. I felt very comfortable very quickly at D&I. Maybe that's why it's been so incredible for me to be there and meet new people, and build new relationships. But, there's some sort of like magic that's happening there that I haven't experienced in other places. What is the philosophy of D&I and why is it having that effect on me?
Delon NelsonWow. You're gonna make me get emotional, and it's great to hear you say that. We love you and love having you there. Exactly what you're saying is what I wanted my gym to feel like. I didn't want it to feel like just another gym. One of the other reasons I got out of the big sector, it just became more, "What are the numbers? What are we making?" It was about the money. Fair enough, that's fine. I wanted to be about the client. I wanted to be about, "How could I make them happy?" The pay will come. The pay will come. Two things is it's "Build it and they will come." Build it and they will come, is what somebody said to me. I [crosstalk 00:27:44] by that.
Jodi KatzFeel the dream, I think.
Delon NelsonRight, right.
Jodi KatzIf you build it they will come, or something?
Delon NelsonIf you build it they will come, right? So, moving out to New Jersey now, when I left Manhattan and came out here I started this little gym, our first studio, 1000 square feet, and I wanted it to be this Muay Thai gym, but Muay Thai alone is not gonna cut it. Not everybody wants to do Muay Thai. So, what else can I do when I'm out here in South Orange that can bring people in the door, besides Muay Thai, but Muay Thai had to be there. My wife and I, I'm like, "Okay, honey, it has to be, like if there's no Muay Thai I'm not coming out to Jersey, you know."
Jodi KatzSo, you were living here? You moved the family here?
Delon NelsonI was living here and commuting to Manhattan, but early morning drive so.
Jodi KatzRight, so like 3 am you're leaving house?
Delon NelsonNo, more like I started at 6:00. Now out here we start at 5:00. I started at 6:00, but I had to be in the car at ... I knew if I was in the car later than 5:29 I was late.
Jodi KatzRight, right.
Delon NelsonSo, whatever I did I had to be ready and in the car at 5:29, and I'd be in the city for 6:00. Yeah, so that's where Conditioning Camp was born. It was a group fitness class that 10 or more people can attend and we can work through the body. My big thing was, and how can I make it, again, different from everybody else and remove that boredom from exercise? So, that's how our Never the Same philosophy came about for our slogan, Never the Same. Whenever you came to the gym to take this Conditioning Camp class I wanted it to be a mystery. Some places they do, "Well, this is leg day, or this is back day, or this is ..." then you know if I go on Wednesday I'm gonna be working on my legs and my shoulders, so whatever it is, or we're gonna be doing cardio. No, I don't want you to know what you're working on when you come in, but we're gonna work on something.

With that scenario I had to make the next day something different, but it had to play off the day before so we didn't overkill any body part, or anything like that. So, program design became a challenge, but I was up for that. Again, Conditioning Camp, alongside with the Muay Thai, that's how our small gym started off. There were days when I had one person show up to class, and the first day I had five I called Terry, my wife, and I said, "We just had five people in class."
Jodi KatzOh, that's so sweet.
Delon NelsonLike, "No way." I'm like, "Yes, there's five." But the transition between New York and New Jersey I had a gentleman that helped me transition. He would workout here and do some of the classes while I tried to finish up. I had to put a finite date in Manhattan because Manhattan was breaking up like 50 relationships, and having to deal with that. I had to put, "Okay, guys, April 1st I will no longer be working in the city," and it was very sad for me. It was hard to leave that business that I'd built for so long and just transition out to like, again, the unknown out here in New Jersey.
Jodi KatzHow many years ago was that that you actually really said, "I'm not training in New York anymore. I'm making the commitment to my studio?"
Delon NelsonAbout eight to nine years ago.
Jodi KatzIt's not that long ago.
Delon NelsonNot long ago. It seems longer, because we've been out here, we've been embedded, but it's not that long ago. But, I had to say, you know, because I would have said, "Okay, one more month." I had to put that cut-off date.
Jodi KatzRight. Did you know that like the business could have flourished here if you were still in the city half the time?
Delon NelsonYeah, because the thing about my business when it's small business, it was me, right, it was my personality. People come for Delon, right? Now, I've been able to duplicate me, and grow it bigger. When you're 1000 square foot space, or you've got your name and your reputation to work on from transition out to New Jersey, that's all you have. Who are we coming to? Who is this D&I person, right? So, that transition, because I had to earn an income, too, right, so that transition was made easy with having the guy here out in New Jersey help me cover the class and start the program here while I slowly weaned off the city. Then, what was let in the city I offered to another trainer of mine to cover. I paid him part of it and eventually I said, "You keep it, you keep it," and he took whatever was left in Manhattan, and I stayed out here fully.
Jodi KatzBut, there would be a fear moment of like, "Can I really make it here? Can I make enough money to pay the bills and pay the rents? Am I making the right decision by leaving my clients in the city where I know how much money I'm making," right? That's scary.
Delon NelsonSure, sure. Well, I believed ... For me I believed in my product. I believed in what I do. I believed in my personality. I believed in ... and I saw that community that you were talking about. In Manhattan I was on 57th and Lexington. There's no community. There's 57th and Lexington there's office buildings all around me. People are coming to you to train and out. You're not doing anything else with New York, as a community, or Manhattan as a community, or Upper East Side as a community. You're just a trainer [inaudible 00:33:02] like 10,000 other trainers and we're all doing the same thing. Out here I felt small space, South Orange, Maplewood, the other surrounding towns, I can't fail. I don't know but know I'm not gonna fail. So, that was my attitude. Though it took some time to build up, like I said, from one, to two, to five, and then our first full class, and Marcus, who we all know and love right now, was brought on board. He started off as a front desk person but, again, his personality, as well.

So, it's that merger personalities, right, and this great town and community that we live in. How could it not feel like the way you feel it? We attract those people ... You guys are great. You attract your friends and that's how it got started. I started to look just beyond being a gym. How can we get involved in things around town? How can we do things that are not just physical fitness inside, so that's how we started the turkey trot Thanksgiving morning. Did you do the first one?
Jodi KatzYeah, you know I did it with the kids and so they were littler then. We walked it, but they complained like literally like the whole time, so we bailed out because I couldn't even deal with the complaining.
Delon NelsonWas it like our first or second one?
Jodi KatzYeah, they were like, it was-
Delon Nelson15 people, 25 people? [crosstalk 00:34:33] people
Jodi KatzYeah, we were in the park in South Orange, yeah.
Delon NelsonYes.
Jodi KatzSo, we didn't complete the turkey trot, but we attended the turkey trot.
Delon NelsonRight. Do you remember how fun that was? I remember leaving there ... I don't know if we went back to the gym or we were done for the day. I think we were done for the day, but I remember leaving there with just this turkey trot that with 25 people standing in the freezing cold. I wasn't happy because I was super cold, but I was happy to be kicking the thing off, and just the dogs, and all that, and walking away saying, "Next year. Let's do this again. This is so much fun," right? You know, we're trying to get 1000 people ...
Jodi KatzOh great.
Delon Nelson... this year.
Jodi KatzWell, we're proud to be a sponsor of the race.
Delon NelsonI'm so happy to have you guys. Thank you, thank you, Thank you so much.
Jodi KatzThis episode's airing on the day before Thanksgiving, so people will be hearing this, and if they're in town can sign up ...
Delon NelsonPlease sign up.
Jodi Katz... and show up.
Delon NelsonPlease sign up. We want to make this the biggest race on Thanksgiving morning in New Jersey, and then we'll look at [inaudible 00:35:37]
Jodi KatzThe last thing I want to talk about is entrepreneur. I remember when you opened the bigger studio, was it two years already, two years?
Delon NelsonYes, yes.
Jodi KatzBeing like a little nervous, like, you know.
Delon NelsonOh, are you kidding me. [crosstalk 00:35:49]
Jodi KatzI was nervous for you.
Delon NelsonI think everybody around me was like, "What is he doing?"
Jodi KatzThis like beautiful huge space with a huge ring for fighting, and it's beautiful, and incredible, and the location is phenomenal, but that's a very, very intimidating move.
Delon NelsonSure.
Jodi KatzWhat were those conversations between you and your wife, like, "Do we do this? Do we not do this? Why did you say, 'yes,' to it?"
Delon NelsonAgain, you have the best questions. Let's take it back to just even starting the small space, right. For me my dream has always been to own a gym, gyms and, hopefully, maybe even a fran- Who knows, a franchise, but it doesn't stop, right. So, when the small space started, it took off, and you guys know it was hard to get classes.
Jodi KatzThat's right.
Delon NelsonWe had 12 people per class. Again, that's where the intimate part came in, too, right? You didn't have a room of 40 people, or one instructor that probably didn't know everybody. I know you all. The other instructors know you all, but it became upon us, "Wow, we need a bigger space," but what are we gonna do? I stumbled on the big space. I was having lunch with someone and as I was walking out a realtor that sold me my house ... Talk about luck, and timing, right. Half the time that's what businesses are built on, right, luck and timing? Said, "Hey, Delon, I want to introduce someone. He introduced me to a developer in town that was building this building that we're now in, this massive building in downtown South Orange. I said, "Hi," okay, and he introduced me. He said, "Delon owns D&I fitness." "Okay, nice to meet you." Small talk and I left.

My phone rang within two hours after that and said, "Okay, the person I just introduced you to wants to meet you. He wants a gym in his building. That's one of the things he's been ... He wants a gym in his building." I'm like, "Okay, how the hell am I gonna support that kind of space, but let's talk," right. Let's get out of my comfort zone, out my fair zone, let's meet and talk about what you're looking for. He showed me the plans for the building and the space. Initially it was going to be 2500 square feet and we were in a 1000 square feet. So, for me it's like, "Okay, I can double the size of what we have, that's manageable, and I can continue to do what we do, and now we have this prime real estate in downtown South Orange, and I don't know where the money's gonna come from but it will come from someplace, so let's talk.

I guess most business people, I don't want to assume but they'll probably do it the other way around, get the money first and then figure it out. I don't know, I get myself in there first and figure out the money later. My other thing that drives me is like, "Don't ever be afraid to ask." So, whether you have the borrow the money or whatever, I've learned to ask to borrow and all that stuff. In a nutshell that's how we came up with the rest of the money. I took all my savings and put it with monies borrowed, and we got that rent together.
Jodi KatzBut, it's way more than 2500 square feet, isn't it?
Delon NelsonRight, so that's the small space and then it became. "Well, for what you guys want to do, I think you need 3500 square feet." Then, okay so we got the architect and I told him what I want to have in the space. They were looking at the space and they were trying to make it work with the things I must have, like my ring. Had to have my ring. Have to do Muay Thai. That's a dream. It all didn't flow, so then, "Okay, maybe we can squeeze out 4000." Finally we ended up with 5000 square feet, which is way more than I anticipated having, but worked out as I had to have that much to get done what I needed to get done and the way we want to do it with the athletes, and the turf we have there for sports training for the youth, and adult athletes. That's how we ended up with this bigger space.
Jodi KatzWell, I love that you just mentioned youth, like my kids can take classes there, and I love that when I say I'm going to the gym they know what I'm going to, like they have a picture in their head of their own experience there. I couldn't have done that at Equinox, right? Equinox would have been just for me only. So the fact that my family gets to be part of this world, and then they have friends whose parents are part of the world. You really are embedded in this community now. It's really incredible.
Delon NelsonIt's just a good feeling. The kids, the kids. Like I said, I ran from the school and went into [inaudible 00:40:25] a door for the adults, and it's like a full cycle right now, right? I'm working with kids and adults, and the kids make me happy, because especially when they work so hard. They work very hard and then their parents tell me how well they're doing at home, makes me happy. I see them in the street and they give me a big high five. That's what I'm talking about, it's like not only the mom, or the dad, I know the kids, as well. Again, when I was in Manhattan I would just see a client.
Jodi KatzRight.
Delon NelsonNot that I wouldn't ask them about family life and all that stuff, but rarely ever would I ever meet the kids, because their parents are here for work, or they're going to work after. We're not seeing ... But, when I walk around South Orange, and I'm downtown, and the whole family is around I meet the grandparents and who is in from out of town. It's a good feeling.
Jodi KatzWell, thank you so much for being on our show. I'm so excited.
Delon NelsonOh, it's my pleasure. Thank you for having me, and thank you guys for sponsoring our turkey trot. We really appreciate that.
Jodi KatzI'm happy to do that, and I'm just so excited that your other fans in town will get to hear this pod and learn all about you, because we only get little snippets, you know here and there.
Delon NelsonYeah, but before we go definitely, I definitely want to talk about you. I remember you walking into our gym and you had this air about you that was just so welcoming. I don't think it's all D&I that invites, and encourages, people to want to talk to you and be your friend, because it's just you, where your care and personality, your inquisitive way of trying to find out about people and what they do, that attracts them to you, so I don't want to take all the credit. I want to give it back to you.
Jodi KatzWell, thank you. You gave me a space to do this, ...
Delon NelsonI appreciate that.
Jodi Katz... and I have really created meaningful relationships, and I've become super strong, like I carry the laundry basket up the stairs. I'm not huffing and puffing.
Delon NelsonYou got a serious cross. Anybody messing with this woman, she will knock you out.
Jodi KatzThank you so much.
Delon NelsonThank you.
Jodi KatzOur listeners will love your wisdom. Thank you for sharing it.
Delon NelsonI appreciate it. Thanks for having me.
AnnouncerThanks for listening to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY® with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

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