Kim O’Laughlin is a Regional Sales Manager at SportsArt, covering the entire southeast of North America. This year at IHRSA 2017 we sat down with Kim to discuss her career, her perception of IHRSA, and what it’s like to be a woman in the fitness industry.
Hi Kim! To start off, let’s get to know you a bit better as a person. What are your passions in life?
Kim: “As far as fitness goals go, I aim to be the best well-rounded athlete I can be. I work out 4 days a week and currently participate in both Strongwoman and The True Athlete Games competitions.
Other than that, I have a strong passion for helping others achieve what they might consider impossible. I do this by coaching at 360 Strength Athletics and through my work at SportsArt. Being able to show my students a better quality of life (physically, mentally, and spiritually) is very important to me.
Outside of that, my non-professional life revolves around my family and friends. My little girl is my everything.”
How long have you worked in the fitness industry and how did you start?
Kim: “Since 1997. The local specialty fitness store provided service to the club I managed. One day the manager and I were chatting and he recommended I look at joining their team. I worked as a retail fitness consultant at first. Then I moved on to store manager, then a regional manager of a chain of stores in Texas, and finally joined SportsArt in 2010.”
What do you like about the industry the most?
Kim: “Tough one…but mostly it is a tool to change people’s lives for the better or provide an opportunity for a better quality of life. The next thing would be the people. There are many in this industry who have become friends and in some cases more like family to me over the years!”
So you’ve been a part of this industry for 20 years now. How many times have you attended IHRSA?
Kim: “15 or 16? I can’t remember exactly. But each year the industry’s changes are reflected in every show. This year I observed the continued growth in the industry from a technology standpoint and the positioning of sustainability and eco-friendly products.”
Sustainability has been a huge theme lately across many industries. Do you think its popularity has been a long-time coming or something that became a necessity only recently?
Kim: “I believe moving towards sustainability and green technology has always been a huge goal.
For example: We joked YEARS ago about how cool it would be if cardio equipment could power electrical appliances. Today it isn’t just a cool idea. SportsArt ECO-POWR™ products do convert human energy into utility-grade electricity that goes back to facility’s power grids! That’s why we’ve been turning heads lately. People want to feel connected and impactful on society and want to be able to measure and share their success. ECO-POWR™ helps gym-goers and facility operators do both and help the environment. It’s a win-win.”
Your enthusiasm for the industry is inspiring! How have you handled roadblocks that came your way over the years? And what is one difficulty you consistently face?
Kim: “Hard work, perseverance, and having a thick skin. Meeting many wonderful mentors and colleagues that I could learn from have also helped provide me with the toolset needed to overcome what stands in my way. I’m too stubborn to ever give up. Instead of dwelling on the problems I face, I try to focus on a solution.
I think one of the hardest parts of my position is the lack of females in the business. I have to widen my network outside the industry. At the same time, being a woman in a primarily male industry has forced me to work harder and smarter. I have learned how to use my voice when necessary and when to be adaptable.”
Were you ever intimidated to be the “only” woman doing what you do?
Kim: “There definitely have been moments. The most memorable being my first interview into the industry, where the expectations that were set for me were don’t expect special treatment.
Responsibilities at the store included building products, offloading trucks, breaking down large shipments of weight pallets for stocking purposes…and of course, the sales side of the job. And due to the location of the store, it was common to have engineers, doctors, etc. as customers. This meant that my knowledge had to be spot on; otherwise, I would have been dismissed immediately just because I was a woman.
It essentially came down to that fact that I needed to be twice as good as my male coworkers if I wanted to be viewed equally. However, it was this blunt honesty on how things were run that I was able to start on the right foot and eventually excel in the industry. Nowadays, though, I believe the door is wide open at various levels for women.”
What are some other notable women in the fitness industry you know/look up to?
Kim: “The woman that made the most impact on me earlier on was Reina Reeves. Reina was a rep for a manufacturer who called on our account while I was working on the floor in specialty retail. She was not the first female rep, but was indeed the one that left the most impact: Her professionalism, openness, and strength to endure whatever was thrown her way was what inspired me.
Later I was able to work with her at SportsArt for a brief period before she moved on to another opportunity. Sometimes it takes someone’s belief in you to see things from a different perspective and that is what she did for me. There was room to grow in the industry beyond the store level.”
Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to break into the fitness industry?
Kim: “Follow through with what you say you are going to do. Always continue to learn and grow, and never become complacent in personal or professional growth. Be willing to put in the work necessary to succeed, and when you’re faced with an obstacle focus on the solution rather than dwell on the problem. Sometimes success is just finding the positive versus focusing on the negative.
When I made the switch from dealer retail to sales, some people weren’t as positive as I was that I was making the right decision. Some said that dealer-turned-salesperson never made it as reps for any length of time. But that negativity only added fuel to the fire for me and I strove to prove them wrong.
Almost 8 years later, I know I made the right decision.”