Before he bought a gym on Lantana Road in 2006, David Arm never paid much attention to the little town.
“Up to that point, Lantana was just an exit on I-95,” Arm says.
Now he’s one of the town’s biggest fans. In addition to owning Lantana Fitness, Arm is the longtime president of the Greater Lantana Chamber of Commerce.
Hometown: I was born in Manhattan, but I grew up in Huntington, Long Island. Now I live in Palm Beach.
First job: I was a busboy in a pancake house in Huntington, Long Island. That was a part-time job, after school and on weekends. One thing I learned was that I didn’t know how to drive a stick shift. I had to make a delivery one day in a Volkswagen bus, and I bounced my way down Main Street as I tried to change gears. I learned to drive a stick shift after that. Business-wise, I learned the importance of teamwork and how everyone fits together. I went to Columbia University and majored in economics, and I worked as a reporter at The American Banker for nine months. Then I got a job as a municipal bond trader. I did that for 30 years.
About the chamber: We have about 275 members. What differentiates the Greater Lantana Chamber of Commerce from the bigger regional chambers is we’re small-business-oriented. Our overhead is less than $50,000 a year, so we don’t have to make money off of our members. We’re a business-to-business networking organization. We have members from as far north as Jupiter and as far south as Boca Raton. One of our initiatives is to attract members from Lake Worth Beach. They had a chamber that disappeared probably about nine years ago, and a lot of people in Lake Worth Beach have a sour taste about chambers after that happened.
About your business: Lantana Fitness is the fitness center for people who don’t want to belong to a big-box chain gym. We have everything you need, but it’s not crowded. We don’t have kids blocking the machines while they text. We’re not a pickup joint. We’re really the neighborhood health club. We’re a very comfortable environment.
How your business has changed: My wife Renee’s 30 years of experience in the fitness business are the reason we bought the gym. When we first bought this place, it was owned by a personal trainer, and he had really lost interest in the business side of things. The place was dirty. The equipment was getting old. They didn’t have many group exercise classes. We cleaned it up and got new equipment and added a lot of classes.
Biggest challenge: Letting people know we’re here and competing against the chains that have bigger advertising budgets. The $10 clubs are a bit of a challenge for people to whom price is their primary consideration. We feel you get what you pay for.
Best business advice you’ve ever received: Pay attention to cash flow. A good friend of mine who was an accountant and a hedge fund manager told me that. Money coming in and money going out is really what it’s all about. That’s what I did as a trader — look at the cash flow to make sure companies could pay their bonds. You can see that with a lot of the tech firms – all of a sudden their big, disruptive ideas aren’t as important as making money.
Best business book you’ve ever read: I’m not big on business advice books, because I think generic business advice is exactly that. Every business has its own issues. Someone could write a book about managing gyms, but it wouldn’t apply to my gym. The best book I ever read about business was When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstein, about Long-Term Capital Management. The lesson from that book was that the smartest guys in the room aren’t always that smart. They had Nobel Prize winners there, and they thought they had the best arbitrage strategy. It worked fine, until it didn’t.
Biggest mistake you’ve made in business: As a trader, throwing good money after bad. If you make a mistake and you put money into something and it doesn’t work out, if the idea you had in the beginning was bad, no amount of money is going to fix it. The market is always right. That applies to non-trading businesses, too.
What you see ahead for Palm Beach County: We’re continuing to grow. We’re continuing to get people from all over the country moving here, not just from the Northeast but from the Midwest and California. In Lantana, we have this great little community, and some of the bigger plots are finally being redeveloped. We’re seeing that with Water Tower Commons and with the proposed redevelopment of the Kmart and Winn-Dixie center. The other thing is education. We’ve got too many low-rated schools. We need to bring up our levels of education, and perhaps offer more trade-related and vocational degrees, as opposed to putting everybody on the track to college.
What you look for when hiring: I look for someone who’s willing to work hard, who’s willing to do anything, who can relate to other people. We’re in the hospitality industry, and we want someone who will greet members by name when they come in, instead of looking at their phone.
Where are you when you’re not at work: I love to fish. I love the beach. In the winter, I go skiing. And I go to every Miami Hurricanes football home game.