Often, you can look back in your life and see a turning point, a moment of impact that changed everything. For Theo Tsekouras, that moment involved Canadians and the toughest two minutes of sports.
Tsekouras had signed up as a firefighter in 2003 and was assigned to Station 19 in Houston, Texas, one of the busiest fire stations in the area. “We had to be physically fit, and I found myself at one point struggling to keep up,” he explained.
So, he decided to train for the Firefighter Combat Challenge, a two-minute course that involved tasks like dragging hoses and chopping wood. He got his butt handed to him by the team he joined, but Tsekouras wouldn’t give up. The event’s regionals came to Houston, and that’s when he first saw the Canadian team he described as hulking specimens of men. And when they cleaned house in the competition, he had to find out how.
Their words would change the course of his life forever: “Theo, if you really want to be a good firefighter, not only here in the Combat Challenge, but also in the fire grounds, you need to start doing CrossFit.”
Fast forward to 2017 and Tsekouras has established CrossFit H-Town in two locations within the city of Houston. It was a long road from the garage gym in 2010 – at one time dubbed the World’s Smallest Affiliate by CrossFit. Tsekouras recalled the days when he was buying off his neighbors with baskets of food and wine as the street became clogged with members’ cars. “We just got to a point where the neighbors were like, ‘Theo, we love you, but you can’t have all these cars here anymore,’” he recalled.
In December, he found a space in a crime-ridden side of town, but the rent was great and the owner was willing to work with a new business. “From there, we kept attacking the day and growing,” said Tsekouras. Little did he know that the area would soon become a thriving arts district.
Humble beginnings is how Tsekouras’ wife, Carrie, described the start of H-Town. She said integrity and honesty built it from the ground up, as well as having solid systems in place. For instance, Carrie created a clear onboarding system, defining what the first step looked like to what information is reviewed with each client. Those systems allow for H-Town to accomplish what it had set out to do: “We like to know that we are helping people,” said Carrie.
By 2012, H-Town had a waitlist. Tsekouras explained he had 330 members using 3,000 square feet of space. Even with 45-minute classes, people were unable to join. In fact, even members had to wait to get into a class. H-Town has a class cap of 14 people, and at one point it was first come, first served. “We would have people coming in an hour early to get into a class,” he said. “We saw this and said, ‘Man, this is awesome,’ but at the time it just wasn’t fair for them to have to spend an extra hour to come in.”
So, they moved to a reservation system they still use today, but that wasn’t the only move H-Town has made. Tsekouras and a college buddy ended up partnering on a second location about four miles from the original one. Those on the waitlist would be able to train there. But, Tsekouras said a key thing in partnering is to make sure you are transparent. He said often people have the notion when they see his business from the front end that he’s rolling in dough; but that’s not the case.
There is also a myth to multitasking. You can’t give 100 percent to five things, said Tsekouras, which impacted his family. “There were quite a few days when my wife and I argued, and that’s just the nature of business,” he said.
In the end, the second location partnership didn’t work out and Tsekouras now has both fully under his belt. But it was a learning experience, one that taught Tsekouras the value of expectations and communication. “I’ll be very honest – there’s been periods as an owner of the gym where my communication wasn’t as ideal as it should have been. And that caused some tensions,” he said. “When you get into a partnership, I think the biggest thing is just writing down what your job description is and owning it.”
But it’s learning from those periods that Nick Sorrel said has made H-Town successful. “[Theo] built on these foundations of learning what works and what doesn’t, and being really intentional about what he implements and what he doesn’t implement,” he explained.
Sorrel first arrived at H-Town in his medical residency and he soon found himself coaching gymnastics at the gym due to his background in the sport. In 2012, he made it to Regionals. Eventually, life took him back to Louisiana where he started Momentum Thibodaux CrossFit and became the head of gymnastics at Brute Strength Training.
Along the way, Sorrel found himself returning to Tsekouras for advice. He even visited H-Town’s second location, and Tsekouras took the time to show Sorrel how he had set up the small space efficiently. In fact, a key phrase Sorrel and his partners of Thibodaux found themselves using was, “What would Theo do? Because every time there was a question about what we would do, I would tell them, ‘Well this is how Theo back in H-Town does it,’ and I would call him,” explained Sorrel.
But “What would Theo do?” wasn’t always a thing. Sorrel explained that even Tsekouras had to learn from his mistakes; however, that is a huge key to his success. “He’s discerning. He doesn’t just go and do a bunch of things for the sake of doing them,” said Sorrel. “What he does is well thought out and well planned. Whenever he tries something that doesn’t work, he learns from it.”
A huge takeaway Sorrel got was Tsekouras’ commitment to community and always adding value to the members. Alicia Ramirez has been a member at H-Town since the garage gym days. She explained Tsekouras has always been organized and detailed in movement, and focused on helping others achieve their goals. More than that, he listens. “Even though people may not think he listens to everybody, he does try to accommodate everything,” she said.
But the word community extends beyond H-Town’s four walls, represented by the recent events around Hurricane Harvey and the Houston Affiliate community. Although Tsekouras’ locations were spared damaged – except for a wayward piece of ceiling insulation – H-Town was quick to jump on board with other owners in helping those in need.
Tsekouras estimated about 10 percent of the Affiliates in the Houston area were impacted by the tropical storm. Jeremy Thiel of CrossFit Central in Austin, Texas, initiated a WOD fundraiser that H-Town participated in, despite some of its own members still unable to access their homes due to flooding. Plus, Tsekouras opened up his spaces to surrounding Boxes’ members and owners, offering up a place to workout and a place to think. “Most of them had such a strong community that came together that they didn’t ask us to come help them in physical labor,” he said. “Us just being able to bring awareness through our social channels, just driving money and hubs/places to workout was really the best thing that we could do as Affiliates to help them.”
Although a tragic disaster, Hurricane Harvey broke down barriers in the Affiliate community of Houston. Tsekouras said it was amazing to see the surrounding CrossFit gyms step up and offer help to not just Boxes, but strangers and other communities alike.
That same passion of helping people has been in H-Town from the beginning, raging and burning brightly at its very core. From Day One, Tsekouras wanted to have an impact and change the word. It’s this flame that has fueled his business to this very day.
“I usually tell people that H-Town was born out of fire, because of my background in the fire department,” said Tsekouras. “It was a passion of helping people get into a routine that was constantly changing and evolving. We had a passion for being honest with our members. Creating a support system. And our dedication and teamwork was a part of our core values.”