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GrowSmart® Training Aids Owner’s Strategic Focus  

Like relay runners passing a baton, fitness experts Chris and Melissa Conti moved nine times during the first 10 years of their marriage to work in the industry. Within two years of relocating to Atlanta, they found themselves facing another move. The company Chris had joined was going out of business.  


Rather than move again, Chris and Melissa opened Innovative Fitness in Kennesaw in 2000 to create and provide fitness solutions from conception to completion. By 2004, they were ready to expand. They contacted Drew Tonsmeire, area director of the UGA Small Business Development Center at Kennesaw State University. 


He assisted them in developing a financial forecast to purchase a building. They ultimately decided to lease their current space.  

“Leasing proved to be the better choice at the time given their cash flow and growth projections,” Tonsmeire said. “They eventually acquired the space next door, nearly doubling to 11,000 square feet.”


He continued to assist them with budgeting, marketing plans and website updates.  

“Chris would call Drew on a regular basis when we had ideas,” Melissa said. “He provides knowledgeable feedback, which helps with bringing ideas into focus.” 


Melissa managed operations while Chris led sales. In 2013, she participated in the SBDC’s GrowSmart® program, which prepared her to address an unexpected change in operations.   


Chris Conti was in a fatal accident while away at a trade show in 2019, forcing Melissa to take over management of the company. She relied upon lessons learned through GrowSmart® to help her navigate the changes.  


“GrowSmart® helped Melissa think strategically,” Tonsmieire said. 


“When Chris passed away, we had been doing this together for 19 years,” Melissa said. “He was my best friend, business partner, everything.” 


In his memory, Innovative Fitness named its first annual Chris Conti Memorial Grant recipient on July 30, 2020, awarding a fitness center design, consulting and new equipment to the Goshen Valley Boy’s Ranch, a local nonprofit serving 42 foster youth. 


Tonsmeire credits Innovative Fitness with having one of the best reputations in the industry: “A long-lasting business like this can be about leaving a legacy. That’s what Melissa has focused on – an enduring legacy. She’s become more intentional and focused, from marketing to the community to how to give back.” 


This focus helps Melissa maintain a healthy culture and business.  


“Our sales have grown 200 percent since we started working with Drew,” she said. “There are 14 of us on staff, and last year we hired a full-time PR and marketing specialist. It benefits a business greatly to have a more intentional focus, which Drew helps provide us.”