Smith works on stretching someone

The business of building people

Fitness facility lets alumna-owner help people meet their goals

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Foundries are factories that produce castings by taking raw materials, adding energy to change their form, and then molding the product into a new, improved shape.

Kris Smith ’13 had that very molding process in mind when she named her premiere personal training and group fitness gym Foundry 13, located off 13 Mile Road in Detroit.

“This place is just like metal casting; I’ve got all these raw bits of metal coming in and I’m going to sculpt them into the best stuff I can,” Smith said.

Smith said her business is based on her desire to help people achieve their goals, and owning her own gym and having personal interactions with clients was a way she was able to do work meaningful to her.

She’s the owner, president and founder of a gym that she is passionate about running. Smith admits that even a few years ago, she wasn’t confident an entrepreneurial path was one she wanted to pursue.

Portrait of Kris Smith smiling and looking up
icon of a barking dog

She had been working as a personal trainer after graduating from Grand Valley, and grew her career by working for different athletic training facilities in the area. Smith pursued advanced training certifications and got to the point where she found leadership opportunities, but quickly discovered that those roles would either require her to train other personal trainers, or to spend much more time behind a computer.

“The options weren’t right. It was going to be more computer time and less member-facing. And I really thrive on this interaction, on the face-to-face of personally handling people’s goals,” Smith said.

Smith said a series of discussions with her partner led her to realize her long-term goals were not going to happen, and she knew she needed change.

“I was kind of expressing frustrations to her, because I’m somebody who has always wanted a little more. She said, ‘Well, I guess it’s just time to open your own gym,’” Smith said. “I kind of laughed and said, ‘No, people like me don’t do those sorts of things,’ and she said right back, ‘What are you talking about? It’s clearly the next step.’”

As an allied health science major at Grand Valley, Smith had the personal training aspect of a business handled. As a business minor, Smith said she was pleasantly surprised with how easily she was able to transition from employee to owner.

“Taking business classes like accounting and management really diversified what I had to do,” Smith said. “The classes I thought I would never use are what I use every day here. It’s been really nice.”

Smith said Grand Valley also helped her in other ways. She grew up playing softball and other sports, played softball for her community college, but found another meaningful sports family at GVSU.

As a student employee, Smith worked as a trainer with many players on the women’s club rugby team, and said they would socialize by playing basketball and soccer. The students continually tried to get her to play on the rugby team.

“I was almost 21-years-old, I’m not picking up a new sport, especially one where you guys tackle each other. I ended up doing it and leading all of Division II in points scored. When I graduated and moved to Detroit, I played rugby until a year and a half ago,” Smith said. “It was one of the best things I could have ever done to meet people.”

Smith also said she’s glad she chose Grand Valley. Her parents encouraged her to attend a community college and she was turned on to GVSU by her best friend from high school who was looking for a roommate.

Circle G from GVSU logo

“As a kid I moved from a really small town to a bigger city and school, and I realized the diversity and ability to find like-minded people was really important to me. When I got to Grand Valley there were so many different people, it was almost impossible not to find my niche,” Smith said. “I’ve always been really social, so the fact that I could hang with so many different types of people in different groups was perfect for me.”

Smith said the atmosphere in her gym is similar to what she saw at Grand Valley — people who have found “their people,” are tight-knit and supportive of each other.

She said the goal-focused approach of her gym works across generations, including her work with elite youth athletes to people who are in their late 70s, who come to her for help with normalizing day-to-day movement.

“I’ve worked with elite athletes all the way down to people who are trying to walk properly without hurting their back,” Smith said. “I get to help those people and I get to personally manage them, and it works for them and it works for me. I get a lot of gratification from when people hit their goals.”

Smith said she thought her current business location would suit her needs for at least eight years, but one year after opening, she’s booked nearly to capacity and looking to expand. Her plan is to have a bigger facility where she can expand personal training and group exercise classes at an elite level.

“My end game is to have the premiere fitness facility in metro Detroit. I want to be the place people seek out or say, ‘Hey, I know the trainer at this other place does the Foundry 13 program,’ and know it’s solid,” Smith said. “I’m training other NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) certified trainers, which is a little scary, but it’s flattering.”

Foundry 13, Smith said, should be the place where anyone can come and challenge themselves.

“I want people to feel challenged. I feel like if you’re the smartest person in the room all the time, or the best athlete in the room at all times — I’d argue you’re in the wrong room,” Smith said.

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