When Laquisha and Kariim Smith of Body by Kariim Fitness opened their first gym together 10 years ago, they lived there. Literally.
“We slept on a futon on the floor, ate fast or microwavable food because we had no kitchen, and showered at another gym because we didn’t have a shower,” says Laquisha, who had met fellow fitness enthusiast Kariim through a mutual friend after relocating to Atlanta from her native Arkansas.
What started as a friendship of two former athletes-turned-fitness professionals eventually turned romantic, and when Kariim—a former real estate agent who found his passion for personal training after taking a job at LA Fitness during the recession—left his small Studioplex live/work studio to open a larger, more centrally located space at the Jefferson in West Midtown, Laquisha joined him.
The now-married couple, who are both certified personal trainers, started by offering one-on-one and small group circuit and weight training sessions to just 8-10 regular clients.
“The early days were hard. We had just enough to pay the rent and keep the lights on,” says Kariim, who says the pair hung around all day just hoping people would walk in.
“And generally, when they did, they were just lost,” Laquisha recalls with a laugh.
A turning point came in 2009, when the pair met with a representative from Google. “We knew we couldn’t afford the service [they were trying to sell us], but I said to Kariim, ‘Let’s just take the meeting. Maybe we can learn something,’” Laquisha explains.
She soon taught herself website basics such as search engine optimization and slowly built their social media presence using hashtags, compelling content, and a focus on visuals—uploading videos of everything from the couple’s nutritional regime, workouts, weekend outings with their two year-old daughter, and even Kariim’s beard grooming routine.
That persistence paid off, and the couple quickly doubled their clientele, moved to the top of web searches, and found their phone ringing off the hook. Fast-forward nearly a decade, and they now have nearly 15,000 Instagram followers and a new location off Marietta Boulevard, not far from the original Jefferson space, where they continue to offer one-on-one and small group personal training sessions as well as nutritional consultations, customized meal plans, and virtual fitness coaching to more than 60 regular clients. While the couple continues to grow their business, they’re keeping it a family affair. They recently hired Laquisha’s brother, AJ Williams, a former college football player and certified personal trainer, to help keep up with demand. And even with growing clientele, small, personable service remains the goal.
“We know people are uncomfortable and insecure going to a gym for the first time because they feel like they don’t know what they are doing, or that people are watching them not knowing what they are doing,” says Kariim. “So we have created a space where people feel comfortable coming to and get hands-on attention while they’re here. This is a place where mothers and daughters, where husbands and wives, where beginners and seasoned athletes all work out together, and everyone feels really comfortable and confident because there aren’t 20 TVs and ten treadmills—our focus and attention are all on you looking and feeling your best.” 1331 Marietta Boulevard Northwest, 404-724-9917