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Sam Shima is a seasoned entrepreneur who, when asked about the realities of owning a small business, doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges.

“It’s not as easy as many people think or project,” the owner of Gymnastic Beats in Fresno said. “Some business owners may expect a lifestyle better than the old 8 to 5, but in reality, you should expect 12-15 hour days, 50-60 hours per week and very minimal vacations or weekends in the beginning.”

And seeking new ways to sustain, improve and expand a business doesn’t end, he said

Shima is among the semi-finalists for the Kingsburg Economic Development’s “Launch Pad” competition. The winner receives business planning assistance worth about $25,000.

The other competitors are: Stephanie and Christopher Dorrough, batting cage and coaching; Theresa Verburg; children’s clothing; Timmie Coito, home-cooked menu restaurant; and Cayella Castaneda, tutoring center.

The winner will be announced at the Swedish Festival on May 16.

Jolene Polyack is the city’s economic development coordinator.

“As a city, we focus on fostering the small start-up businesses and this contest is a way to get the word out that we really do want those types of businesses here in Kingsburg,” Polyack said in a recent interview. “Starting a new business can be daunting. If we can help navigate would-be owners through the maze of start-up bureaucracy, they can shift their attention to the actual business itself and increase their odds of success.”

Shima and wife, Diana, opened the gymnastics facility in 2003. They have learned important lessons along the way.

“My wife and I took an entrepreneurial class years before we opened our gym, and, yes, it’s great training,” he said. “However nothing is as important as following a good plan. That is No. 1 on the list of priorities.”

Shima’s plan is to open a second Gymnastic Beats location in Kingsburg.

“Our customers come from all over the Valley, including, areas between Visalia and Fresno with many of them from Kingsburg and Selma,” he said. “This would be a great opportunity to meet those demands, and create something that Kingsburg currently doesn’t have.”

Shima said his director of sales, who has friends here, suggested the location.

“I have heard many good things about Kingsburg,” Shima said. “Some of our very own customers either work or live in Kingsburg. They travel the 30 miles one-way to attend our classes or day camps. They claim there is nothing else comparable to us within driving distance.”

Shima and his wife are both former gymnasts. Their daughter, Danielle, is 14.

“She practically grew up in the gym and wouldn’t you know, she joined the acrobatic team for many years,” he said. “Her greatest accomplishment for the gym, as well as us proud parents, is winning the gold medal at the National Acrobatics Competition in Minneapolis with her partner for her age and skill level. That was our first national championship gold and from that year on our gym accumulated 10 more national championship trophies in the sport of acrobatics and all-star cheerleading.”

While Shima doesn’t promise gold medals, gym members will find a variety of sports available.

“We have already done our homework regarding who may be our competitors in any of the sports we offer such as general gymnastics, competitive gymnastics, urban gymnastics, cheerleading, acrobatics and tumbling,” Shima said. “We have found that there are no other groups, clubs or gyms that offer such classes or training as extensive as ours.”

Shima said a Launch Pad program would have been invaluable to him before opening the Fresno location in 2003.

“If I had enrolled in a Small Business Association program or Launch Pad programs prior to opening, it would have made it easier,” Shima said. “I depended on my many years in managerial roles to help us get through the beginning stages of hiring, training and other human resource skills.”

He’s read how-to business books that offer insights on the bottom line.

“There are many book that says, ‘Don’t expect to make any money the first five to seven years.' It’s true. Make sure you have financial support for however long you feel is necessary to get to the ‘break even’ stage and beyond.”

It will mean loans from banks, family, friends or savings, Shima said.

“Emergencies can and do happen to many people,” he said. “So have a back up of funds, not just to open a business, to maintain or dip into in times of emergencies.”

Shima is planning many trips to Kingsburg to look at possible locations, but that’s getting ahead of the plan. He estimates the gym would need between five to seven coaches per day, six days a week. The site would also need a director/manager on duty at all times.

“All of our gymnastics programs are based on the guidance set forth by USA Gymnastics, the governing body that oversees all sanctioned and authorized gyms in the United States and internationally,” Shima said.

The age range for classes is toddler to adult.

“We encourage the city of Kingsburg to look at our past 12 years of building a successful children’s and adult type family gym atmosphere,” Shima said. “We would emphasize our facility as one of the few places that anyone, of any age, any gender, any experience level, and sports background can receive athletic training in a popular Olympic and internationally welcomed sport.”

Shima said having a business mentor was important during Gymnastic Beats fifth year.

“Steve Geil [business owner and former CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Fresno] helped us back during the recession and in our fifth year of business. He encouraged us to keep on working hard. He said that infamous fifth year struggles of most businesses were almost behind us and the best is yet to come. He was right on.”

The Shimas were awarded the “Entrepreneur of the Year” award presented by Union Bank in 2007. It was a turning point for the couples’ business.

“In the case of Launch Pad, the business plan that will be required by the end of this three to four-month period is just as essential to opening up a second location, as is for starting a new business,” he said. “It may seem easier, because of all these years of experience and training, but it’s very crucial that all plans are in place before we jump into something we may regret later. In this particular situation, Launch Pad is best suited for us rather than the business course I took two years ago. It’s as if we are actually opening a new business.”

Their business was borne out of the couple’s desire to continue to workout as adult gymnasts. At first they went to Fresno Gym World and then Madera Gymnastics. Both only charged $5 for a two-hour work out in 1995.

“For that low of a price, we asked ourselves why weren’t there more adults working out?” Shima said. “So after years of observing how several gyms were run, we decided to join the ranks of new business owners and start our own.”

His commitment to gymnastics began as a teen.

“It was the first sport as a high school sophomore that I fell in love with,” he said. “Seeing all these girls and guys flipping in the air, handstands on rings, swinging on bars and vaulting over objects seemed like defying gravity. On top of that, being recruited to join the boy’s gymnastics team and winning my share of top place finishes was icing on the cake.”

The Shimas can eat all the cake they want as gymnastics exercise keeps them trim and looking decades younger than most folks in their late 50s.

“I’m 58 in March, but I feel 35,” he said.

Keeping energized helps, too, for the small business owner. After all, a good business day, said Shima, is a busy one.

It’s when 10 new customers sign up for classes, he’s answering questions and giving tours between being on the phone or computer and even cleaning the bathrooms.

“It’s the best type of day,” he said. “From humble beginnings to where we are now, it would not have happened had it not been for the love of gymnastics.”

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