First Row Fitness, Council Bluffs

Nestled in the heart of Council Bluffs, Iowa, First Row Fitness is a thriving personalized fitness studio specializing in individualized coaching in small group and one-on-one settings. Founded by the dedicated Carrie McDonald, her journey from a physiotherapist to a passionate small business owner exemplifies the potential and impact of small enterprises in our communities, and the role the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) plays in shaping their success.

Carrie’s vision sprouted from her experience working with patients suffering from back and neck pain over a decade ago. She realized that many of their struggles were rooted in a sedentary lifestyle and excess weight. Her determination to proactively address these issues ignited the spark for First Row Fitness. Prior to launching her studio, she gained extensive experience in the fitness industry, working as a personal trainer and advancing her career at the local YMCA, all while nurturing her dream of a low-impact studio that would promote healthier living.

In May 2016, First Row Fitness secured its inaugural location in downtown Council Bluffs, opening its doors in June of the same year as a rowing fitness studio. Although not a family-run business, the unwavering support of Carrie’s husband, Mick, who handles janitorial and maintenance tasks, has been instrumental in their journey. The fitness industry took a severe hit during the pandemic, with many facilities closing their doors permanently. However, First Row Fitness weathered the storm, a testament to their resilience and adaptability. Growing from her humble rowing center downtown Carrie moved to the River’s Edge area in late 2022. She is currently expanded their studio, doubling its size, and creating a welcoming space for clients to gather, share experiences, and build lasting connections. She offers a wide range of services from personal training, nutrition and healthy lifestyle coaching, group classes with rowing, yoga, cardio workouts, and more. Their path forward is one of continued growth, outreach, and deepening community engagement.

First Row Fitness’ winning formula is simple yet powerful: genuine care for their clients. Their commitment goes beyond fitness; it extends to personal connections and a shared journey to a healthier life. Clients are not just attendees but valued members of a supportive community. This holistic approach, combined with personalized instruction and exercise adaptations, ensures every individual’s success.

First Row Fitness practices the three C’s: Caring, Compassion, and Community. Their commitment to their community is visible through ongoing participation in fundraising, food drives, donations, and volunteer help. Numerous local organizations have benefited from their generosity, including NVHS, Micah House, Thriving Titans, Wings of Hope, Jenny Edmundson Foundation, Midlands Humane Society, Promise for Paws, and more.

Carrie’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs: Follow your passion, maintain financial prudence, and assemble a dependable team. Her personal experience underscores the value of having the time to work on your business, not just in it. Carrie attests to the vital role played by the SBDC during challenging times: “Working with our local SBDC helped elevate me during the challenging times of change, and I am grateful for that.”

From the start of Carrie’s business journey the SBDC has played a vital role in her success. With projections and financial counseling in the beginning, through the pandemic with grant filing assistance, and management and marketing consulting as Carrie is expanding her business. And as First Row Fitness continues to grow the SBDC will also be there with continued support and expert guidance.

First Row Fitness isn’t just a fitness studio; it’s a symbol of resilience, compassion, and community spirit. As a successful business championed by the SBDC, it exemplifies how small businesses, like Carrie’s, can transform lives, strengthen communities, and inspire us all.



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