Quarter Deck Athletics is a local CrossFit gym in WNY that prioritizes equality, effort, and community.
When it opened its doors in 2016, it was a one-of-a-kind facility that offered members of all ages and abilities everything they needed under one roof. From CrossFit to chiropractic to nutrition services., it was – and still is – the only gym in downtown Buffalo to take care of its members in an all-encompassing way.
“When I first opened there was nothing like my business”, says owner and head coach at Quarter Deck Athletics, Dennis Lesniak. “‘Boutique’ gyms didn’t exist yet, CrossFit was not well known, and a chiropractor’s office and nutrition practice under the same roof as a gym was not something I had seen.”
Dennis has been immersed in the health and fitness world since 2001 and it is, without a doubt, his passion. He puts as much energy and dedication into his practice as he expects from his clients, and he is committed to helping each client achieve their best self through exercise, nutrition, and healthy living.
But beyond a strictly physical understanding of his clients comes an emotional understanding – and that’s what truly sets Dennis and Quarter Deck Athletics apart. “I wanted to create a place for health and wellness where the entirety of the person was addressed, a place people could hang out after their workout, a place where their coaches knew their injuries or struggles and could keep them safe as they continued on their fitness journey. I wanted a place where I knew who everyone was and what was going on in their lives so I could holistically help them grow and achieve their goals.”
The first Quarter Deck Athletics location opened in the basement of the Hotel Lafayette in the summer of 2016. The business was growing steadily Dennis says, at a growth rate of about 10-15% annually.
The Covid hit.
“[I knew] a major pivot was necessary. When we had to close the gym for an unknown length of time, I knew I had to make sure all of our members would be okay. People use the gym as a major outlet in their lives. It’s therapeutic, social, competitive, and an unhealthy addiction replacement. I didn’t want anyone to fall into bad habits or worse.”
For six months Dennis lent out every piece of equipment that the gym had. He didn’t rent it, he simply provided it to hiss members to ensure they had what they needed to keep up with daily at-home workouts.
“[It was] during this time [that] I was offered an opportunity to move into the Seneca One Tower. I loved the vision Douglas Jemal had/has and I said I was in. Deep down, I wasn’t sure if it would actually happen but I couldn’t miss the ride.”
Fast forward to December 2020 and Dennis had finally received the keys to Quarter Deck Athletics’s new home. “I knew this was my opportunity to step up. I had earned this opportunity but I needed to continue to bring my best to my clients.”
Since then Quarter Deck Athletics has continued to grow. “When we opened our doors, we had less than 20 paying members and would see a total of five to 10 people a day”, Dennis says. “Today, we average daily attendance of more than 50 athletes and our overall paid membership is more than 5 times what it was when we opened.”
In addition to growth on the client side, Dennis’s team has grown too. “We have added a full-time coach and an additional five part-time coaches. When we first started – before we opened in Hotel Layfayette – I was using a small space in the back of Skyzone. Today, we operate a beautiful 4,000-foot facility inside Seneca One. It has been quite the journey.”
We asked Dennis to share some of his biggest business tips for other local business owners and entrepreneurs that he’s learned throughout his journey, here’s what he had to say:
Business Tips from Dennis Lesniak:
1) What’s the best business advice you’ve ever been given?
“It’s a lot easier to get bigger than it is to get smaller. I always wait to expand or purchase more equipment. I start small and wait until we are busting at the seams to grow and expand. I have seen similar businesses that have had to shrink their footprint multiple times and that is a huge challenge to overcome.”
2) What advice would you give a local business that’s just starting out? Or is there something you wish you knew along your journey?
“You are never too good to do any job in your business. If there’s garbage, I pick it up. If there’s a mess, I clean it up. I am a doctor but that doesn’t mean I am above any job in my business. I believe if your customers see how much you care about your business and how much you put into it, they will reciprocate and treat your place with that same level of respect and care.”
3) Where do you find motivation? i.e. specific podcasts, books, blogs, events, social media accounts, etc.
“I am a huge audiobook fan. Being in the business of helping others, I do focus on books that are around psychology, motivation, etc. I recommend the following books to any entrepreneur: Atomic Habits, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Extreme Ownership, The War of Art, The Four Agreements. Honestly, these books would be helpful for anyone but I believe these are great for helping entrepreneurs navigate the tumultuous nature of what we do and find balance in it.”
4) What’s your strategy for creating content on social media?
“Keep doing it. I try to post every day. It’s not perfect but I try for it to be an accurate reflection of QDA. I talk about things that I find to be helpful to me and those around me. I believe that by doing that, we will attract like-minded individuals: those who are ready to work hard. No matter what your strategy is, you cannot expect it to work right away. It takes time, consistency, and effort. It is not something that you can just put on autopilot.”
5) What’s one thing you can’t live without?
“My wearables. I have had a Whoop strap for almost four years and recently got a Garmin Fenix 7 for some of my new goals. It helps me make sure I get as much sleep as possible, drink enough liquid, eat the right amount, and that I recover appropriately. I ask people to take care of themselves and I firmly believe in leading from the front. Everyone at QDA that also has a Whoop can see my data every day.”