Last June, CNBC reported that obstacle course racing is one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S., with an estimated 3 million athletes crossing an obstacle course finish line in 2013. Is completing a Spartan Race, Tough Mudder, or Warrior Dash on your bucket list in 2015? If so, MROC (Mud Run & Obstacle Course) Training in Kimco’s Fire Mountain Center in Oceanside, California, has got you covered.

Looking to turn his passion into a business, Mike Confer, fitness guru and head coach/founder of MROC, met with an advisor at his local Small Business Development Center (SBDC), where he heard about the Kimco Entrepreneurs Year Start (KEYS) program. KEYS assists first-time business owners seeking to launch their first retail venture, service operation, or restaurant by providing one year of free rent in our shopping centers; affordable first-year property charges to minimize initial overhead; and access to retail business counselors.

Now a KEYS success story, Mike tells us about his business and how the program helped MROC get to where it is today. “As a start-up it’s very difficult to project your initial earnings, and with retail space being so expensive in southern California, it's a risk to take on all that overhead. There's no way we would have taken the leap without KEYS,” said Mike.

Mike and his wife started MROC Training in May 2013 as a specialty class/obstacle course racing (OCR) boot camp. They were both doing CrossFit at the time and found that the training wasn't specific enough for the types of events they were participating in.

MROC GYM: A dynamic athletic training facility and obstacle park. Think of it as American Ninja Warrior meets the CrossFit Games.

With a slogan of “train hard, get dirty,” MROC is a functional indoor and outdoor fitness gym that does not isolate body parts or use “machines that do the work for you” -- there are no cables or treadmills, but plenty of barbells, balls, boxes, and pull-up bars, as well as several ropes, nets, and other miscellaneous things to climb on and hang from. The goal at MROC is to get the body moving the way in which it was designed, and Mike created the program that makes it fun to do. MROC’s target customer is anyone training for a mud run or obstacle course race, “but all that really means is that we build functional human beings and help people realize their athletic potential,” explained Mike.

Mike says a burpee is a miserable exercise, and the penalty at MROC for any failed obstacle at a Spartan Race is 30 of them. He believes the more you train with MROC, the less obstacles you're going to fail, hence the "no more burpees" mantra. MROC’s unique strength and conditioning program is a hybrid of Spartan Group-X coaching, CrossFit Endurance, and H.I.I.T. (high intensity interval training) principles. “Oh, and we run,” he added.

MROC ARMY: A hard-working, fun-loving, adventure-seeking community of American Ninja Warrior, Tough Mudder, and Spartan Race enthusiasts.

In addition, MROC periodically holds nutrition challenges to help its members realize that even small dietary changes can have a big impact on their performance. “We've had great success with this so far. We are changing lives every day because of the community we have created and the accountability that is maintained among our members,” said Mike. As clients sign up and participate in the same events, MROC trains as a team, and having that next race on the calendar is great motivation for members to keep pushing onward.

So what’s next for MROC? Mike tells us the gym is serving as a proof of concept. Once he proves that people are interested in this type of training, and it works, MROC will continue to grow with demand and hopefully someday offer a larger platform of services, including classes for kids and teens.

Mike’s advice for other aspiring small business owners? “Do market research, pick a good location, and have a marketing plan -- and someone to execute it!”

Follow MROC Training on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and MeetUp for the latest events and happenings in obstacle course racing.

This has been an installment of StoreFront, an interview series with leaders of successful retail businesses. For more interviews, visit the StoreFront page. To learn how you can be featured, email us. We’d love to hear from you.