DELL RAPIDS — Growing up, Matt Beukelman had a love of athletic competition, but perhaps a lack of understanding of what he wanted to do with his life. He certainly did not see himself on a path to a career that would have seen him dubbed as him an entrepreneur.

“I did not apply myself, like my mother would say,” the 30-year-old Mitchell Christian graduate told the Mitchell Republic in a recent interview. “I was fairly apathetic about several things, but I left and went to college and I found the things that interested me.”

Entrepreneurship is what he eventually found, and the Small Business Administration South Dakota recently recognized such when it named him the recipient of the Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for his work at his fitness center in Dell Rapids, Rapid Fitness, in the organization’s recent 2020 annual report.

While he may have struggled to find his future path in his younger years, he did develop some keen interests that would eventually lead him down the path to his current success. He and his high school team enjoyed success on the basketball court, and he found he enjoyed lifting weights as a hobby.

The athletic side and the fitness side would form a template that a developing keen business sense would help turn into a successful business.

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“I always had been somewhat interested in lifting since I got started on it when I was 17. I viewed it more as a hobby and not so much a career,” Beukelman said. “In college, I was going for finance -- like banking or some other field -- but I would hear about people all the time hating their jobs, and I wasn’t about to spend 30 or 40 years in a career I didn’t enjoy.”

He eventually studied health promotion at South Dakota State University, which led him to the Twin Cities where he attended the National Personal Training Institute. Slowly, a longtime interest had turned into a potential career path, and he returned to Sioux Falls aiming to carry it forward.

“The more I was in school, the more I found what I think my niche was going to be. I took a job in Sioux Falls as a personal trainer, but I knew there was something more I wanted to be doing,” Beukelman said.

At the time, he was in a phase of his life where he thought he was destined for something more than solely personal training. He eventually decided that in addition to guiding people to a more health-oriented lifestyle, he wanted to be at the reins of the operation. So he began to look into purchasing the gymnasium for which he worked.

Despite a good relationship with the owner, who was open to selling the business to Beukelman, the deal fell apart when the two couldn’t come to an agreement on a future business plan. After three-and-half years of working at the business, he began looking around for someplace to start new.

He found it when he discovered Rapid Fitness in Dell Rapids. By this time, he had it in his mind he was looking to expand and improve a smaller operation, and the business fit the description he had in his head.

“At that point I knew I wanted to be an owner and I wanted to expand and do something bigger,” Beukelman said. “Within three to five days, I had met with a couple of owners of gyms and within three weeks, I had finalized a buyout of another facility. Once I decided I was going to do it, I just jumped in.”

That jump has turned into a successful endeavor five years on, with Rapid Fitness now offering a wide range of services to a growing customer base. Features of the gym include 24-hour access, strength and cardio, group classes, personal training and unlimited tanning and an infrared sauna.

Despite growing his business and client base, there were unexpected hurdles. When COVID-19 hit, he struggled to adjust as many similar businesses did, but he found ways to keep his clientele and workout equipment busy. He offered online classes and introduced a mobile app as options for patrons who did not want to be out in public or in an environment surrounded by other people, and made other adjustments where he could.

“We got hit pretty hard,” Beukelman said.

He lost about 160 members when the pandemic arrived, affecting the business' bottom line. Yet he stayed the course. He said he estimates the gym currently has close to 400 members, which is approaching his pre-pandemic levels of 450 to 500 members. But he also hired a graphic designer to help with promotion, and more trainers and managers have come on board to keep the operation moving smoothly.

The SBA noted that Beukelman’s fitness center, which he has owned and operated since 2015, employs 16 people.

Beukelman keeps himself busy with the ins and outs of operating a fitness center and still works as a personal trainer, helping people lose weight and shape up their bodies with personal attention to workouts and positive feedback to keep clients motivated. That core goal of helping people live healthier lifestyles is a rewarding aspect of the work, Beukelman said.

And he still finds time to provide some guidance for powerlifting.

“Basically, the majority of the population is trying to lose weight and have pain and other limitations to work around. That’s what I’ve gravitated toward the most. The other niche has been higher-level powerlifting, but that’s always going to be part of me. I enjoy it,” Beukelman said.

He intends for Rapid Fitness to remain a part of him, as well. While his primary focus for the time being is the Dell Rapids location, expansion to other locations is a possibility, he said.

“The idea has been to spend a little more and keep pouring it back into the business to see if I can support more growth,” Beukelman said. “As I have kept seeking whatever the next stage of growth is, it’s primed me to build a model of what I’d want a facility to be and offer, and it’s made it easy to replicate. A lot of gym owners haven’t done that in a lot of situations, which has left a lot of different gyms looking for exit strategies, which presents me with opportunities.”

He’s not sure if he’s pursuing those opportunities just yet, but he figures there is more growth to come from him and his efforts to bring healthy living to people in need of a lifestyle change. He is living in the now and ready to take each step as it appears before him.

“I accept the fact that everything could be taken overnight. Coming from a viewpoint of faith, if I lose everything tomorrow, I’m OK with that and I’ll go whenever I’m called,” Beukelman said. “But I feel I’m where I should be, and anticipate it will grow online and in person and locations.”