Paul and Laura Miller are entrepreneurs who have figured out that the key to a certain kind of success is ‘total failure’—not that they’ve gone through business failures; on the contrary, they have been extremely successful in all their endeavors. But at 20 Minutes to Fitness, failure is the goal—muscle failure, that is.
The Millers opened the first 20 Minutes to Fitness location more than 11 years ago, after hearing about a ‘slow-cadence’ exercise program that was getting some attention in New York. They did their research, came up with the name, bought the machinery, found some space in Clayton and opened shop. ‘Slow cadence’ means you push or pull as much weight as possible and do very slow repetitions on specially designed equipment until your muscle is exhausted, or 'fails.’
As the name implies, you do the program for just 20 minutes once a week; and if you do it correctly, it works: People build muscle mass. When the Millers opened for business in 2002, some friends and acquaintances thought the concept was too edgy for St. Louis. After all, most people who are serious about fitness keep in shape the traditional way: sweating it out at the gym a few times a week. Laura says to make the business a success, all they hoped for was that a microscopic percentage of exercisers in the area would give it a try.
“It’s been way beyond our expectations,” she says. “We thought if we ever had a chance to get 200 clients per week, that was all we needed. But today, we train 700 people a week.”
The Millers now have locations in Clayton and Chesterfield, and also hold financial stakes in two locations in Sarasota, Fla. Women make up about 60 percent of their clientele. “The more muscle mass you have, the better your blood pressure. You also have a decreased susceptibility for Type 2 diabetes and improved bone density,” Laura notes. “Cardiovascular conditioning improves, as well as aerobic capacity and metabolism, and it could even help in prevention of dementia.”
20 Minutes to Fitness is just part of the Millers’ success story. The couple met at Drake University in Des Moines and married just after they graduated—that was 43 years ago. They moved to St. Louis when Paul landed the job as head of marketing at Rawlings Sporting Goods. Laura spent those early years raising two children, but then went to nursing school and became an RN. She opened what became the largest electrolysis hair removal business in the area. Later, she took another career path and became well known as an interior designer. Some of her work was featured in national publications, including a cover story and spread in House Beautiful magazine.
After Paul’s stint at Rawlings, he became an investment advisor with Merrill Lynch and Smith Barney, and now heads The Omega Group at the UBS Wealth Management office in Clayton. He’s on the boards of the Boys & Girls Clubs and FOCUS St. Louis. But he also takes care of at least part of the fitness business. “I have to keep my concentration on my investment clients, so Laura runs everything—except the finances, the marketing and advertising—and I’m smart enough to keep out of the rest of it,” he says. “I pay the bills but she collects the money—she’s the most important person in here.”
Paul says he always had the entrepreneurial spirit and Laura is convinced he helped develop that in her, as well. They have 23 employees, several of them have been with the company since it opened—and Laura brags that paying 100 percent of health and dental benefits for full-time employees is one of the reasons they’ve kept quality people on board.
What spare time (if any) they have is spent on taking care of their 123-year-old Portland Place manse in the Central West End. The home is an historic St. Louis gem, built in 1891 by famed architect Theodore Link, who also designed Union Station. “We’re taking care of it for the next generation,” Paul says.
And he and wife Laura are also taking care of their fitness business, where, for their clients, failure is not only an option—it’s a goal.
A native St. Louisan, Paul Brown is a lifelong journalist, and previously served as a broadcaster for KMOX and KTRS radios and ABC 30. His Paul Brown Media specializes in public and media relations.