A little over a year ago, I pulled up to a gym about 25 miles west of downtown Chicago. It wasn’t like the squeaky clean commercial gyms I was used to working out in. Instead, it was sheltered by a tall industrial garage door and small windows. Littered outside were sledge hammers, tires, and sleds. This place looked like an old Rocky movie training center – but better. I was meeting my coach at the gym that day to do a leg workout and before I even got out of the car I almost turned around by pure intimidation.
Little did I know that behind that big garage door would be a young entrepreneur looking to change the face of gyms across the country. That was June 2014. Fast forward to today, me and that “young entrepreneur” – Matt Roeske – have become great friends. Not only is Matt the owner of The Barbell Compound, he has also launched a successful supplement line. His gym is dotted with every single piece of equipment you could imagine and much more you didn’t know existed.
While working out with Matt over the course of the last year, I’ve gotten to know him as a hard worker in both his business and training styles with a unquenchable desire to better the fitness industry while staying true to his mission: No one will hand you success, you have to work damn hard for it.
Dumbbell Blonde: Matt thanks for doing this interview. Gyms come and go out of neighborhoods all the time, yet you have a very unique and loyal crowd at Barbell Compound. How would you describe your gym?
Matt: My gym is a zero fluff, old school hardcore gym. These styles of gyms hardly exist anymore. In my gym it is all about weightlifting- not just preaching cardio, cardio, cardio. People actually change for the better here and they become part of the Barbell Compound community.
DBB: How did you get the vision to open this place?
M: I worked for many commercial gyms and small personal training studios over the years. After deciding this wasn’t for me anymore, I wanted to start my own business. I saved up enough for a deposit and stored a ton of equipment in a local storage unit near my house. After looking at almost 15 locations, I ended up picking the one with the most parking and what I thought was the best location. It wasn’t long before I put down my deposit and opened my 1st gym.
DBB: So what was business like when you first opened the gym?
M: I thought business would just roll in – but guess what it doesn’t happen that way. I saw that as a complete wake up call.
DBB: You have the largest variety of gym equipment I have seen. How did you go about aggregating all of it?
M: I slowly collect everything via auctions or Craigslist. I personally bought every piece in the gym. It took a while to collect every variation and I am still looking on a daily basis.
DBB: This place seems like a well oiled machine now. Where do you see Barbell Compound in the next few years?
M: It should be the biggest gym in Chicago when it comes to powerlifting, bodybuilding, and athletics training. I’m working with people who are wanting to franchise my facility all over the country. In the next couple years I should have 30 more gyms.
DBB: Speaking of bodybuilding, are you planning to step on stage anytime soon?
M: Yes, we have an entire bodybuilding team that trains at Barbell Compound and I plan to compete next year, too. I’m trying to get myself up to a solid 265 pounds before I get ready to cut down. I’m not there to just compete, I’m there to win.
DBB: That’s exciting! Since you’re kind of a no-frills, no cardio type of guy – how would you describe your training style?
M: I follow a 6 day split of powerlifting, bodybuilding and strongman routines. I mix and match and take things I’ve learned in the past and incorporate it into my current workout.
DBB: Switching gears, your chocolate protein powder is literally my go-to supplement. How did you get started in that part of the industry?
M: I’ve taken almost every supplement ever made. I got sick of companies filling their products with poisons and hazardous chemicals. I went the old school way which was the bare bones of supplements using only natural ingredients and using VERY FEW. I offer a grass fed whey protein and a test boosting product. Both just use stevia and natural flavoring without any fillers or b.s. ingredients.
DBB: As a young entrepreneur, what lessons have you learned along the way?
M: Not everyone is cut out to do this- it takes a lot of determination to own your own business. People should really respect small businesses when they walk in them. I think many people are so used to thinking everything should be the same way for a low price of $1.99.
DBB: What advice would you give other entrepreneurs looking to start a business?
M: Be ready- it takes 7 days a week and it will not run itself. It takes time to get to the point where you want it to be. Just be patient and keep at it.
DBB: Last question… If someone ventures into your gym, what do you want them to remember about their experience?
M: I want to be remembered as the greatest hardcore gym in the world. I want people to remember my facility and what it was like years ago, and to understand that hard work will NEVER be given to you.
The Barbell Compound is located at 6325 N. Avondale, Chicago IL, 60631 – supplements are available for purchase online.
(This interview has been edited for fluidity)