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Meet Stephanie Niciarz of Boss Fitness in Ventura City

Today we’d like to introduce you to Stephanie Niciarz.

Stephanie, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I got into personal training honestly because I had just gotten back from a self-discovery Europe trip and I figured if my parents wanted me to go to college, I might as well pick a degree that I was required to take ten fitness classes for. I had a good friend/mentor, Juli who had been my trainer in high school and she taught me that working out could become so much more than a sport. For me, it became my stress outlet and it made me proud of what my body could DO instead of what society said it should look like. I thought if I could help other people discover their inner-strength and confidence like I had, that would be a pretty rad job.

I trained for two years at 24-hour fitness in Camarillo and then Juli approached me with an idea – what if we opened a training studio together? At 23 years old, my first thought was, “Why not?” That’s the great thing about being young – you have nothing to lose and haven’t yet had the world scare you into settling for “average”.

I think those starting days at Boss really shaped what it would become and who/why I am who I am. We took this crazy leap and instead of being fearful about potential failure, we embraced the beauty of possibility. Even beyond our own personal ambitions, it was incredible to watch our friends and family rally around us to help build what would become Boss Fitness. Our friends dropped off extra dumbbells and equipment they had in their garages, one of Juli’s clients’ offered to trade flooring and turf for training, and we projected our logo and hand-painted it onto our studio’s wall late one night over a few margaritas. At our opening party a month later, we had more than 70 people show up to see our space, sign up for training and show their support for our crazy idea.

That was when we knew Boss was special. We were a make-shift gym, thrown together with second-hand equipment because of two girls’ crazy idea, but watching the community come together for us like that made it into something so much bigger than us. Boss is a place of raw vulnerability where you come because you have a big idea, maybe one people have told you isn’t possible, and our job is to tell you it IS possible and to help you get there. As Boss has continued to grow and evolve over the last 7 (almost 8!) years, the heart of it has always been the same – be a space where the community can come together, support each other and grow together. And if I’m being honest, I’ve learned more from each client I’ve trained than I ever did in school and sometimes I don’t wonder if when I’m helping them, they’re actually helping me.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Honestly, we had no idea what we were doing from the start, but sometimes I wonder if that was for the better. I got into it to be a trainer, not a business owner, so it’s definitely been a learning experience from the start.

I had never taken a business class; I didn’t know what a DBA was or that you needed a business license. I didn’t know how to pay taxes or how to maintain a facility and I really had no one to teach me it. Good thing I like a challenge (and have Google). Little did I know that in the next seven years, I would become more than a trainer – I would become an accountant, a web designer, a social media manager, a maintenance worker, a boss and a master problem solver. Talk about things they never told you in school.

I think the best thing we did from the beginning was keep it simple. We kept a low overhead (which I’m so thankful for) and didn’t grow too fast. The first years it was just me and Juli, doing our thing, and I think that gave us time to work out the kinks while building a good reputation and a strong confidence in ourselves.

This really set the tone for the last few years – since 2018, Juli has moved on from the business and I took it over full-time with my husband, Mario, who is also a trainer. We hired Eden, our other full-time trainer and have really invested in making Boss even better for our clients while maintaining our intimate environment.

I’d have to say the biggest challenges we’ve faced have been the things in recent years that have affected our community, more than just our business. The Thomas Fire in December 2017 shut us down for a month and many of our clients were displaced for weeks; we lost one of our original members, Kirra Drury, who had become one of our trainers for a few years, in a freak boating accident in September 2018, and the coronavirus now is definitely a challenge to navigate for us. It’s through all this, though, that the community at Boss really shines – we’ve supported each other, cried with each other and found an outlet in the workouts we do together with the community we’ve built, despite what this world throws at us.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Boss is primarily a private personal training studio. Coming from a corporate training setting, I knew that personal training can be a really vulnerable thing for a client and that people get the best results when they have a trainer they trust in an environment that is intimate and inclusive.

We don’t believe in cookie-cutter training or big group settings, so our services are limited to 1:1 training or our Hybrid Training which combines 1:1 sessions and small group classes (never more than eight people). We’ve seen so many clients come in with injuries from past trainers or big, high-intensity group classes, that it really reaffirms our belief that each body is different and needs to be progressed individually. Every client goes through a “Foundation Training” set of sessions when they first start where they work 1:1 with a trainer to assess imbalances, identify their strengths and weaknesses, set personal goals and just learn basic movement patterns. Because we take a slow, personalized approach in the beginning, our clients get better results and actually LEARN how to move instead of just blindly following instructions.

The majority of our clientele, especially since Ventura is a really active community, is men and women ages 40-65, who have been active or had a sport that they’ve played their whole life, and don’t want age slowing them down. It’s really incredible to have a 60-year-old surfer come in with low back pain and who’s discouraged at his limitations but after just a few sessions, he’s back in the water doing what he loves, free of pain. That’s why we do what we do.

We don’t want people to come into Boss and “drink the koolaid” and feel like they have to live and breathe the “gym life”. We want people to come in, learn about their body, move in a way that supports their lifestyle, meet some cool people, and help their life OUTSIDE of Boss be a little bit better.

We’ve really seen the strength of the community that is Boss these last few weeks. With the unprecedented Coronavirus pandemic, the fear that a lot of small businesses are facing started bubbling up and we watched our clients start to get stressed and feel isolated as well. Instead of leaning into that fear, though, we went back to our roots and asked how we could give back to the community that built us. I really believe that it’s in times like these that our true character and the integrity of our business comes out and I wanted to make sure we shifted our focus into helping the community and providing a source of light and connection in a dark time. I saw other trainers scrambling as well and realized we would be so much stronger and have so much more of an impact together than apart, so I reached out to other local Ventura trainers, yoga instructors, dancers and martial art instructors that I knew and asked them to help.

In 4 days, we formed The Ventura Fitness Collective, a free resource for our community to access live workout classes from anywhere via Zoom. For the remainder of the quarantine and sent out the email with links to our individual communities. We wanted to make sure this was open to ANYONE who needed it so we put it on social media and had over 500 more people reach out for the class links. The classes and feedback have been incredible. To see all these people in their own homes, coming together and moving their bodies and leaving so much more positive than when they came in is really the spirit that started Boss – put the community first and everything else will follow.

What were you like growing up?
Haha. Let’s see, how would my family describe me? Crazy, haha. 90% of the time, I was probably running around outside, half-naked yelling that I was an Indian or building sand forts at the beach. My family has a story they love to tell (my dad even told it at my wedding) that one day when I was about four years old, I came marching down the stairs in my underwear, flexing and saying “I am Arnold, Arnold Schwarzenegger!” I guess that pretty sums me up. Creative. Rambunctious. Curious to a fault. Always up for putting on a show. And apparently obsessed with muscles at a young age.

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Image Credit:
Sarah Ellefson Photography, Lola Video – Gina Duran

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