Attracting clients in a competitive market & more with Travis of Travis County Strength

Good morning, this is Peter from Fringe here. Today I am super excited to talk with Travis Holley of Travis County Strength here in Austin, Texas. One of the reasons I'm so excited to talk with Travis this morning is Travis and I have been friends for five years, is that right, Travis?

Travis: Yes, definitely been right around that time frame for sure.

Yeah, so I've been friends with Travis for a long time, even before he opened his gym. When he did open his gym he outfitted mostly with Fringe equipment, which is something I don't mention often on this show, but it does endear him to my heart. We used to have a store that was just a couple of miles away from him and I saw him and Nick, one of his head coaches, quite often. Now we are unfortunately a little further away and don't see him as often and it just breaks my heart. Travis, tell us a little bit about yourself?

Travis: Yes, I guess I have been coaching since about the age of 18 and to put that into perspective I am about to turn 32, so I have been in the game for a little while. I grew up playing sports and just loved actually the training aspect of it and that's what got me hooked into coaching and throughout just found different avenues to get it done. I used to do the old school bodybuilding stuff and found CrossFit that piqued my interest, did that for a couple of years and then through that process was interested to Zach Even-Esh, who owns Underground Strength. He was a big mentor for both myself and my co-owner, Jen Shaw. That opened the door to strongman and from there we started working with Rob Orlando through the CrossFit strongman certification and we kind of branched off, did our own thing at TCS, where we implement a lot of the underground strengths, a lot of strongman and a lot of old school just heavy weightlifting. It's a blend of all the good shit.

I love it, I love it. There's something I want to dig into a little bit here. Zach Even-Esh, that's a name I used to hear a lot. I used it to hang out with a lot of CrossFit Central guys here. That's a big CrossFit gym or movement here in Austin, Texas, and I know you guys were very tight in with Zach Even-Esh. Tell us a little bit about his training style and then I will ask you about Rob and then we blew move and dig it to your trading style a little bit more.

Travis: Zach Even-Esh is basically a wrestling strength and conditioning coach. Now he focuses on other populations as well, but his bread and butter is training wrestlers. He is out of New Jersey, so up there wrestling is the thing to do. He has his foot in the door in a lot of the wrestling community and has made a name for himself for being just a bad ass coach that gets results. All of his kids are typically coming from middle school, making that transition to high school and then he works with college wrestlers as well. At any level he is definitely got some results behind his name.

He has just drawn a lot of attention with his style of trading. It's really pretty straightforward, pretty simple, nothing too flashy or fancy. He just does the stuff that works, a lot of squatting, benching, dynamic lifts like the power cleave, kettlebell works, a lot of plyometric stuff and then does a ton of gymnastic strength type of stuff, push-ups, pull-ups, ring dips, that kind of thing. Again, nothing revolutionary, but the way he does it and the things he pushes I guess make it a unique program that really gets results for his athletes and then they go on and win state records and that kind of stuff. It's a proven way of training for this guy.

I love it. What draws you to Rob Orlando and the strongman stuff?

Travis: I did the certification. I forget how long it was. It has to be around that five year mark. To me it just made a lot of sense. There's this whole craze of making fitness functional and in my mind there is nothing more functional than strongman training. Once you get past the idea of... in order to do strongman you have to be 360 pounds and 6'8, once you get past that idea or that misconception, you realize that strongman is what you have used every day, picking up awkward boxes, transporting stuff, doing farmer's carries, doing gut carries, that kind of stuff.

To me it just made sense that implementing strongman was what normal people need to be doing in order to be better at what they do in life, even if they aren't weekend warriors or anything like that. If it's just a soccer mom, three kids, and picks up groceries, she needs strongman. That's what drew me to it, along with some other nuggets of information that really resonated with me. As soon as I got done with that certification, I went up to Rob and said , "Hey, I love this stuff. Let me know if I could do anything to be on your staff? I would love to spread the word of strongman," and was lucky enough to be selected to be on his coaching staff and we still do that today and it's absolutely awesome to introduce people to strongman and light the fire.

I love it. How does that all flow into what you are doing at the gym at Travis County Strength and what kind of clients are you typically attracting? Who is working out at your gym and how are you putting them through their paces?

Travis: Like I said, we have been inspired by Zach Even-Esh and Underground Strength. We have been inspired heavily through strongman and Rob Orlando, so we implement that stuff on a very consistent basis. I know a lot of gyms sprinkle strongman in every once and a while, but it's a rare day to come to TCS and not have some sort of strongman component. We consider that our foundation. Then we build on that with the other stuff like the underground strength and then just the golden era of bodybuilding type stuff.

What that does is essentially attracts everyday people, general population. We don't do anything that's sport-specific or anything like that. It's just all designed to make you better at what your life demands of you. Like what we talked about earlier, strongman is, in my opinion, the most functional way of training that you can find. It works for everybody, whether they are just an every day Joe that wants to be able to play with their kids for longer periods of time. We have had professional athletes come in. We give them the same workouts. We just switch some things up and switch up the intensity a bit, but it works for everybody. I would say our general population of our gym is just average folks looking to build strength, be overall more fit and better able to handle what their life throws at them, so it's really just general population, but we love it.

I love it, too. I need to get up there and work out again with you guys.

Travis: You're welcome.

A question that I have, Austin is a town that I think of as a great fitness town, but one of the downsides of the great fitness town is there are a turn of gyms of all stripes going around. How are you attracting clients in a fairly competitive market let's say?

Travis: Primarily the way we get our clients is word of mouth, so our current client base just raves about us to their friends and family and eventually they wear them down to the point where they come try one of our workouts. Again, even if they have never worked out consistently ever before, they filter into TCS and we make sure that we tweak the workout so that it's appropriate for them. They are still challenged. It's still hard, but we do it in a smart way, as opposed to just trying to crush everybody. Some gyms in town just throw as much shit as they can at people and for some people that's okay, but we try to do our stuff as smart as possible, given each individual. Word-of-mouth and then we do some social media stuff.

Instagram is probably our primary outlet for what it is we do on a daily basis, but I would definitely say word of mouth from our current client base is our primarily draw for new clients, which we love because our clients that come here know exactly what we do and they are only going to talk about us to people they think might be interested, so it acts as a natural filter anyway. We have a really cool community of people that are willing to work really hard and then they move on with their day. It's not like this is the end all, be all and we have a bunch of egomaniacs or anything like that. We have a really cool, supportive community that I wouldn't change for the world. It's really cool.

Awesome, one thing to mention, you had talked about Instagram being a big outlet, one of the things I like to talk about with people is it is a big outlet. It is a very visual channel, but do you really think it leads to people coming in the door or results? Can you talk to me about that a little bit?

Travis: For us, we have found that Instagram is huge. Over our three and a half years, we have probably pulled in 25 people from Instagram and the fact that it is a free service that's a no-brainer. The return on investment is massive at that point. In my opinion, if you're putting out genuine content that's valuable to people like giving them information not just, "Hey, I did my process of five bench presses, look at me." No one gives a shit about that. But if you are offering them information that's valuable to them and you are doing it in a genuine way, I think Instagram can be an extremely powerful tool. The key there is you have to be consistent. You can't keep changing your story, then obviously people get mixed ideas about what it is you do or who you are, so it has to be extremely upfront, genuine content. If you do that, I think Instagram is a very powerful tool.

I love it. That's amazing. I am actually looking at your Instagram right now. I am seeing you are doing some relatively long content on some of these posts ...  When I say relatively long, it's like Instagram long, not necessarily blog post long. Yeah and that's pretty interesting.

Travis: One of the things we have done I guess almost 100 weeks now, but every Thursday night I post up what we call "The Cow," which is the complex of the week. This is a free workout that's based off of some of the work we have done during the week here in classes and it's free to anybody that obviously that follows us to basically hit up. I push whoever sees that to try it themselves, get it done as we prescribe to them through the posts and then share either a picture or the video of them doing the work out with us and then we try to re-post that. That's been a cool way to connect with people all over the country actually, all over the world that are doing the same workouts we do here at TCS. That might be a really cool way for people to reach some different populations of people and get their foot in the door and other places. That's something that's worked well for us. Everybody has a little different idea as far as what works.

I love it and this is actually even giving me ideas for our Instagram, so thank you very much for that.

Travis: Yeah.

The next question I have and you probably get this a lot, I have actually always wanted to ask you this question but for whatever reason never have. Your name is Travis Holley and the gym is called Travis County Strength. Of course, Austin is in Travis County, Texas. Tell me about Travis Holley and Travis County Strength.

Travis: When we were looking to do our own thing, coming up with names and all that kind of stuff, it was one of those things that popped in my head. I was like, "Well, more for the location." It's kind of an identifier that hey, we are here in Travis County and we do strength shit. It was very upfront. It was also a play on words obviously with the first name, but honestly it was meant to be an identifier, as opposed to, "Hey, look at me. This is my own specific …" You know what I mean. It wasn't too much ego. It was actually just a funny play on words, but it's worked out. I get it a lot actually.

Okay, I love it, cool. We have been talking for a little while. What have we not hit that you would really like to share with our audience?

Travis: Man, let's see? Well, if I remember correctly, you said you target these conversations to gym owners or even home gym people, but I would guess say if anybody has questions about the business side of running a gym or opening a gym, I'm always open to talk about that, especially if you have questions as to how to get started. I have some pretty strong opinions about certain steps to take to properly open up a gym. There are some things you really have to consider before you even pull the trigger on that.

Often times, like you were saying, Austin is an extreme fitness city and everybody has these dreams of opening up a gym. I feel sometimes people just want to own and open up their gym because they like to work out. I will caution people to rethink that because it takes a lot of work and effort that almost takes the joy of ... I guess not necessarily that. Your priorities change and just because you like to work out is not a good reason to open up a gym. I hear that a lot and I have to smash people's dreams sometimes just to give them some clarity and hopefully, it saves them a lot of pain and heartache. It's got to be deeper than that if you want to do your own gym, if that makes sense? But I am always open to talk to people if they have any questions or anything like that. That's the business side.

Also I would suggest, looking into some strongman programming. If you own a gym, I feel like you need to be throwing that into the mix often, as opposed to just an infrequent occurrence. I think doing it more often will actually help your business grow. Strongman is extremely fun and that's really what it's all about is offering something that's effective and fun for your people to hit up consistently. I guess that's pretty much all I would hit on, but I'm always open to talk about it more.

I love it. Let's head into the lightning round. These are a couple of questions for just some fairly quick answers. What's one amazing technical business tip that's helped you the last 30 days?

Travis: 30 days? Google Adwords, it seems like a no-brainer, but if you really dial in on that stuff it makes a huge difference. I would encourage people to check out and study Google Adwords and focus on some search optimization.

I love it. What is the best business book you have ever read?

Travis: I would suggest picking up Gary Vaynerchuk's Thank You Economy. I think that's awesome and then also Zach Even-Esh has a book out that he put out about a year ago. It's The Underground Strength Encyclopedia, and it just has a lot of information, not necessarily just specific to business but how to offer better products, so I would check out those two books.

I love it, thank you. What's one amazing personal tip that has helped you in the last 30 days, not business related but just kind of your life?

Travis: Don't be afraid to change direction if needed. Sometimes people, yeah, they get in that rut and they just kind of find they are doing the same shit in and out and you have to be able to talk yourself out of that rut and change directions if it's needed.

I love it. What's your favorite single piece of fitness gear or equipment?

Travis: I would say either a heavy sandbag or a yoke. They are just extremely versatile. You can do a lot of stuff with it, especially for your home gym people. If you are not doing sandbag training, you guys are missing the boat. I know Fringe has some awesome sandbags. Those OneFitWonder bags hold up really well. We actually just did a video on how to make those and you can find that on the blog. Sandbag stuff, man, is super underrated.

I completely agree with that. When you say heavy sandbag, how heavy starts to become heavy in your mind?

Travis: Well, it depends on what you are trying to do with it. A lot of the strongman workouts, I would say you want sandbags that's at least 100 pounds. Again, it has to be relatively, I guess it has to be appropriate, given the person. We have sandbags that go all the way up to 200 pounds that we use for odd object deadlifts and gut carries. Like I said, it's relative just like anything else, but I would say 100 pounds is that sweet spot where things start to get spicy.

I love it. What's your favorite workout? If you just had one workout that you are like, "this is awesome. I could do this once a week or once a month or maybe I did it once and I love it, but I'm scared to do it again."

Travis: It's pretty much that latter version of," I did it once and it completely changed everything about what I thought a workout was." It was heavy sandbag squats. You hold it in the front, which we call the gut squat, do ten unbroken squats and then on your last one you are going to carry it about 40 feet down and then carry it back 40 feet and you do 10 sets of that. At the end you have done 100 squats and a lot of carries with the heavy bag. I used a 150-pound sandbag and it took me over an hour and things got spiritual around round two. It was a fight, but I loved it.

Things got spiritual, I love it. It reminds me that, I'm going to butcher this, but there's some Mark Rippetoe quote about seeing Jesus during sets of 20 rep heavy squats.

Travis: Yeah, absolutely. We do those, too. We do heavy breathing squats here and that's one of those things that just talking about it gives me butterflies. It's one of those things that pays off big time, so we do that a lot, too.

Awesome, my final question on the lightning round is who is one of your friends we should have on the show and what's one thing you would want me to ask them?

Travis: I would say talk to David de Leon of OTL Fitness. It stands for "Of the Lion Fitness." He is actually right across the street from us and he is a good friend of ours. As far as what I would ask him? Actually, he just put up a post that was really cool about how he had lost all of his motivation to train. Like I said, as a business owner things take a toll and so he lost a lot of motivation to train. I would ask him how he found his inspiration to work out again? He put a before and after picture of this time frame we are talking about and he has made some incredible changes, so I would talk to him about that.

Awesome, thank you so much. How can people find you or contact you?

Travis: Our website is All of our information is up there, our schedule, our prices. You can submit a question form from the website and I think that would probably be the best way to go. Any information you need about us is right there on that website. That's where I would send people.

Awesome, well Travis, it's really been a pleasure chatting with you and everybody should go and check Travis out. Do you guys do drop-ins by the way to the gym?

Travis: We do, yes. If it's your first session it's a $15 drop in and then after that drop-in rates go to $25, but I promise you guys will definitely get every penny's worth. I promise.

Yes, absolutely and I would second that. For any travelers coming to Austin, it's a little bit north of the downtown area, but it's well worth a drive and well worth a workout. This has been Peter from Fringe Sport and Travis from Travis County Strength. Go out there and lift something heavy.

Travis: Yeah, thanks.


Travis County Strength
5501 N Lamar
Austin, TX 78751
(512) 413-0897



  • Mathaniel

    Peter, the content of your interviews and ‘Gym of the Week’ posts keep me interested and coming back. Stay strong.

  • Mathaniel


  • Dick Savidge

    I am curious, does any body proof read your interviews. The poor spelling and grammar detracts from your message.

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