Tuesday, May 7, 2019 - 12:15
Name: Meeran Sarwar
AUIS Graduation Date: 2014
Major: Business Administration
Meeran Sarwar is a co-founder and manager of City Gym, which opened in Sulaimani in 2015.
How and when did you decide to start your own business?
It had always been a dream and goal of mine, since I was 12 years old, to open a gym. I’ve always been passionate about working out. After graduating from AUIS, I went to Lebanon and worked in the auditing department of Bank Audi. It was a great experience and I learned a lot about customer service. I came back to Sulaimani and decided to use what I learned to start a new, unique gym experience for people here.
What challenges did you face in setting up City Gym?
The first challenge we faced was in setting up a mixed-gender gym in Kurdistan. It was the first one that had women and men working out together, side-by-side. It was very difficult in the beginning. We had to convince our friends, people in our social circles, to come and join. It was hard to even convince guys to join because they were used to working out in certain environments.
The market segment was also small, since not everyone was into going to the gym and working out. Pricing was also a challenge. People who did go to the gym were used to paying less for memberships, but we were providing quality, experienced staff, a hygienic environment, professional equipment, and more. We also focused on customer service. Our goal wasn’t to only make money, but to help people reach their fitness goals in a fun way.
My goal has always been to get people to reach their full potential; and our motto at City Gym is “It’s a lifestyle” and we really believe that.
Who supported you?
Our biggest supporters have been our family, our managing team, and our loyal clients. Our clients are loyal because we really focus on customer service. We’ve created a comfortable place for people to work out. My experience as a business officer with an organization called Mercy Corps also helped me. There, I helped establish 24 different small businesses with our beneficiaries. This helped me deal with our new City Gym location in a more efficient way, both fiscally and managerigially.
How did your family and friends feel about you starting your own business?
I’m a risk taker and my family were unbelievably supportive, and they still are. They were afraid in the beginning but saw how hard we worked to make it a reality. And actually, I would say seventy percent of my friends and peers were more afraid for us because the risks were so high.
What has been the best part and the most challenging part?
The best part is and has always been that we are a leader in the fitness industry here. We were the first to make this new idea a reality.
The financial crisis in recent years was also a very serious challenge for us. At first people, were willing to pay $80 a month for gym memberships, but it was also the first cost to get cut for a lot of people, even for our most serious or loyal clients. We managed to survive even though our target market was shrinking each month, but we focused on giving the best quality through it all.
The financial crisis actually did us a favor. People lived in their comfort zones before then and all of a sudden, we were forced to push ourselves more, work harder, and come up with creative ideas.
How did your AUIS education prepare you to build a career as an entrepreneur?
AUIS gave me the basic foundation that helped me to expand my way of thinking regarding business and entrepreneurship, but also developing myself to create a unique entrepreneurial project.
My advice for anyone who wants to start their own business is to not be afraid to take risks, but to be informed about and be knowledgeable about the industry you want to go into. Think outside the box, go beyond imitating existing businesses. Pull yourself out of your comfort zone.