What’s it like to be the owner of a CrossFit gym? Interview with an Affiliate part 2

Here is the second installment in a 5 part series of interviews with current CrossFit affiliate owners.  If you missed my preable to the series and Interview number 1 you can find that here.

Interview with an Affiliate part 2

How long have you been “open for business?” 

We began Coaching in 2002 after departing the Military and Affiliated early on in late 2005 early 2006 as one of the first few CrossFit Affiliates.

How many hours do you typically work per week in/on your business?  

I just added these up the other day at dinner and found that I still am averaging 60-hour weeks.  That’s a toss between ALL aspects of the Affiliate from actually coaching the classes, working with one-on-ones, or running day-to-day operations.

Did you leave another job to open your gym?  Are you making more or less money now? 

I left a job as a personal trainer at another local fitness chain, but I am definitely making more money now than the hour-to-hour client-to-client.  The “house” took a big chunk of the hourly rate and 1099ed us.  In the end, the “house” won.

Is owning and running a gym different than you imagined? How so?

Owning/running the Affiliate is exactly what I had imagined.  I knew in advance that there would be more required on the back end; moreover, the recruitment of new clients, training of staff, maintenance/cleaning the facility, repairing/ordering new equipment, city meetings, neighbor relations, PR Campaigns, website/blog/facebook/newsletter design, media kits, apparel design and sales, extracurricular events and of course retention of clients is a business all to itself.

Knowing what you know now, would you choose to do it again? Why or why not? 

Absolutely…I would just go about it a completely different way.

We spent the first two years piecing together equipment as we grew.  Finding gear here, finding gear there.  Now you have companies like Rogue where $100,000 worth of gear can be spent in 15 minutes.  Upon the arrival of all the gear you are set in one purchase.  It seems just much easier today to stand-up an Affiliate than it was even 4 years ago.

If so what would you do differently? 

I would NOT hire from within.  Whether or not that model has worked for your readers it has not proven sufficient for me.  I don’t care what Glassman has said about it…it simply does not translate into immediate professionals.  Clients take easily a year if not more to respect properly another client turned Intern turned Assistant turned Coach.  It just makes much more sense to properly hire a dedicated staff that includes Coaches and Office Assistants.

What about your business frustrates you the most?

The part that frustrates me the most is simply the small percentage of our clients that are just on auto-pilot.  They take zero responsibility for their existence and decisions, and no matter what the Staff does to help motivate them they seem to just “get by.”  Luckily we’ve just gotten to the point where we’d rather see negative clients just leave before they drag the others down.

What about your business brings you the most joy? 

It would indeed be the complete opposite of the previous question.  Our clients that excel almost of their own accord.  They “get it” almost right away and are seen as leaders even among normal group classes.  It’s wonderfully refreshing to see that type of charismatic energy to help balance out the others.

Reflecting back to when you opened would you consider yourself well-prepared for owning a business? What were your strengths and weaknesses?

Reflecting back to Day 1, I can say that I was well prepared to asses my clients, help them develop a set of goals, help to develop a training program to drive them towards success, and of course monitor and adjust the training as we progressed.  BUT…I was not well-prepared for all the “other” stuff that came along with it.  I was very happy to have a business partner that I could rely on.

Did you have experience coaching prior to opening? 

Yes, I had completed multiple schools in the Military that stressed both small unit leadership in stressful environments as well as technical and tactical proficiency that led to numerous leadership positions.  As well, I completed multiple academic courses in both medical and physical fitness curriculum that led to my ability to coach and train clients and small group classes as a civilian for a few years prior.  As well, I had coached at the interscholastic level in four different sports.

Do you feel you are sufficiently financially rewarded for the amount of time you’ve invested in your business? 

Depending on how one defines “sufficiently rewarded” I would say that yes I am…but I may not be in comparison to other Affiliate owners.  I don’t own my building.  I rent a nice home, but don’t own.  The bills are paid, and I’m helping put my fiance through school.  We eat well, train hard, but don’t take extravagant vacations.  My career still “owns me” as I know I can’t take more than a week off at a time…but that is changing.  I am in no hurry to retire, but know that it won’t be any time soon.

Do you see yourself doing this (owning/operating a microgym) 10 years from now? 

Yes, although the capacity with which I operate it may not be the same.

As a current CrossFit affiliate, what are the benefits of affiliation as you see them? In your estimation and in your particular circumstance are they worth the price?

For the last few years the benefits have simply been the name.  We pay $500 a year and have easily made the ROI worth it.  As CF has become more and more popular the overall quality of the brand has indeed been diluted.  I was the first of 3 in our entire County, of which now we’re closing in on 50.  That’s correct…50!  And as you all well know, no one Affiliate is the same.  That means that there are at least 50 different flavors of a similar thing.  Good you think?  I think not.  The consumer today is a heck of a lot more confused as to “what” CrossFit is from box-to-box.  I have had numerous clients come from other boxes expecting “HERO” WODS and other 45 min. plus WODS every day…when they get here they do not understand why our training is both not mainsite and/or why it has a different approach.

How close is the nearest affiliate to your place of business.  How has this affected your business?  

Straight-line distance there is an Affiliate 160m away.  If you “run” around the blocks we exist on each other’s warm-up loops.  These were Level 1 Instructors that either quit our box or I fired from our box.  Little did I know that prior to the quitting and firing that they had plans to Affiliate together with another couple from my box.  Its not only affected my business, but I really made the clients feel as though they needed to “pick sides” as if this was a childish game of dodgeball.  In the end, their extra-low entry level prices, deep discounts to our existing members, and low-ball business strategies have made them look even more unprofessional than the original back-alley deals to jump ship.

What if any trends do you see among new affiliates?  

I see an alarmingly scary trend to “Crossfit” their clients into the ground.  In a recent observance of the two newest Affiliates, I’ve seen both program multiple week long sessions of 45 min+. “chipper” sessions back-to-back…how in the world can anyone even recover from this nonsense training.  I added up the volume per week and its seriously in the 1000+rep range…every week for no less than 3 weeks.  Really?

Would you consider yourself an introvert (you gain energy from having time alone) or extrovert (you gain energy from being around others)? 

Serious extrovert…I lead from the front.  I do what I say, and say what I do.  I can’t imagine being a lead Coach/owner of an Affiliate that is anything but.

What advice or words of wisdom would you give to someone considering opening a microgym or similar fitness studio? 

Simply put…Find a successful mentor and ask questions.  Then shut-up and listen.  If they are successful it’s because they have made all the mistakes that you will make, and they have learned from them already.

What is the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn? 

The hardest lesson has been the ability to pick and build my team that I surround myself with daily.  I was WAY too naive in the first round of my business and got burned by those I thought were friends and colleagues.  Who I am today though has been a consistent development and those lessons learned have created a better Coach in me.


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5 Responses to What’s it like to be the owner of a CrossFit gym? Interview with an Affiliate part 2

  1. Erin says:

    Very intriguing… and oddly comforting. Thank you! Can’t wait for the full series!

  2. Adam says:

    Another great one – thanks for posting these, Nicki!

  3. Gerilyn says:

    Love the diverse perspectives! Rock on.

  4. Zac Sky says:

    Very interesting. Opening a gym is one of those things I keep thinking about so it’s hear from others doing it.

  5. Robbie says:

    Great post, thanks!

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