Here is the third installment in a 5 part series of interviews with current CrossFit Affiliate owners. If you missed the first two be sure to check out my introduction and Part 1 as well as Part 2. Enjoy!
How long have you been “open for business?”
How many hours do you typically work per week in/on your business?
I work about 80 hours a week. About 30 of this is training time, and about 50 is “business time”. To get everything done I need to get done would take about 100 hours a week.
Did you leave another job to open your gym? Are you making more or less money now?
I had a pretty cushy but frustrating day job. I was making a little over $100k per year, but wasn’t challenged (except with bureaucracy) and wasn’t very happy.
I kept my day job for the first year we were in business, working five days a week at my day job and 6 days a week at the gym.
I’m not making nearly as much now.
Is owning and running a gym different than you imagined? How so?
Training is the easy part. Getting to interact with folks that want to work hard is great.
It’s dealing with what Mr. Al Swearengen collectively would call: The Cocksuckers from Yankton that causes one to wonder why they started a business (Crossfit or no). These include but are not limited to those that would collect sales and income tax, mandate recycling plans, institute health codes, create idiotic accounting standards, idiotic bankers, worthless city officials, 99% of commercial realtors, people that want to sell you stuff, and people that generally want to take advantage of you.
Knowing what you know now, would you choose to do it again? Why or why not?
Probably not. I think back to the simplicity that was my early days training at a Crossfit affiliate, having a comfy day job, being able to spend time with friends and family.
For the past three years I’ve barely seen or talked to my family, I see my pre-Crossfit friends maybe once every two months, and it’s been all I can do to keep my relationships together.
I work day in and day out constantly and while many of my clients know this, I still get the occasional “What do you do all day?” that frustrates the fuck out of me. Have you looked at the schedule asshole? When’s the last time you didn’t see me at the gym? Is that water bottle you left on the ground going to magically float itself into the garbage can? No, I’m going to pick up after you.
No matter how much you love training, you will burn out if you don’t rest and find some work/life balance (which doesn’t mean work/drink balance). The only issue is that most folks can’t survive or thrive without tossing most of their life out for the business.
I don’t really think this is Crossfit-business specific. Talking to restaurant owners, architects, lawyers, software techs, etc, if you go out on your own you are going to work your ass off and stress out WAY more than you did when you got a paycheck.
If so what would you do differently?
I have no clue what I would do differently as I am dug deep into this lifestyle and profession.
What about your business frustrates you the most?
Assholes. This would include anyone that thinks they are entitled to your time, money or property, which is mainly people in government and sometimes schmucks who just feel entitled.
Not to be confused with Asshole Clients – those self select out quickly. Those that stay we push out quickly.
What about your business brings you the most joy?
Being a part of the excitement that comes with getting stronger and fitter. Make no mistake, that feeling loses it’s potency over the years. The first time you help a woman deadlift her bodyweight you’re on cloud nine. However, the 1000th time you do it, she’s really super excited, and you’re just like “Meh….”.
Crossfit still attracts (mostly) people that want to work hard though. That’s a great filter to have for your business. While douchebags will creep into the mix every now and then, most are really salt of the earth type folks. This goes for coaches and athletes alike.
Reflecting back to when you opened would you consider yourself well-prepared for owning a business? What were your strengths and weaknesses?
No, and I’ve never met a gym owner that was. Every single Crossfit gym owner I’ve talked to is fatter, stressed out, and more tired then they were before they opened. Most still love it, but they are beat to shit.
Now there’s something to be said for being beat to shit and still doing it. I certainly look at my life before opening a gym and say “If I could have been this productive at my old job, the shit that I could have accomplished would have been amazing!”
And that’s the rub: you put out this much when you have to put out this much. In my comfy day job which included poking on facebook and sending funny YouTube videos, I didn’t have a big downside. Once you take away the lifeline that is the paycheck, shit gets real. So you will do whatever you have to to survive.
But that’s more or less an aside. The biggest things that you can do as a gym owner, and what I did passably well, was:
Keep the main thing the main thing: Training athletes. Go ahead and fuck up the other stuff, because nothing is more important.
Never let them see you sweat. This goes for athletes, coaches, realtors, bankers, etc. For athletes, they pay you to train them and to have a good time doing it. Nobody wants to train with a Jewish Mother, “Ohhhh, my job is so hard.” You wear board shorts all day, stop complaining.
The plan never survives first enemy contact. Everything you plan on doing will not work as planned. Figure out when to push through and figure out when to change the plan.
Keep your place extremely clean and extremely organized. This will make everything run smoother, attract clientele who will appreciate and pay for that, and dissuade slobs who can’t follow directions from training with you.
Delegate. Everything that you don’t want to do, pay somebody else to do it. Ideally this is a professional who does it for a living (Accounting, Bookkeeping, Real Estate, Legal, etc). You will probably get fucked half the time you barter with clients.
Get a lawyer, do everything in writing, avoid partners if at all possible. If you don’t, you will get fucked.
Don’t think that just because you’re successful you’re good or you have a clue what you’re talking about. You might just be lucky.
Don’t use Mindbody Online (sorry Nicki….).
Did you have experience coaching prior to opening?
Very little. I had a background in teaching, which helped a little, and I’m a giant extrovert, which helps a lot. Introverts will get eaten alive in this job.
Do you feel you are sufficiently financially rewarded for the amount of time you’ve invested in your business?
No chance. If you calculated my hourly wage (which I’ve done) I make less than minimum wage.
Do you see yourself doing this (owning/operating a microgym) 10 years from now?
Maybe, but if so it’ll be as someone that manages coaches and a facility, not athletes. Coaching athletes is great, but at some point you’ve got to shift focus if you want to continue to grow.
On the other hand, I have a “Grass is Always Greener” fantasy where I sell my big gym and open a garage gym. I just train a few athletes a couple times a week and work out when I feel like it.
I call this my “Crossfit Avalon” business plan, because the same shit will happen as my big gym, but in my the fantasy land I created, everybody gets fitter, they pay on time, nobody gets tendonitis in their elbow, and nobody that wants to sell tshirts or protein powder knows my email address.
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?
Yes, absolutely. Regardless of your opinion of which direction Crossfit is going, the info out there that was available when I started Crossfitting was unparallelled for the synergy (If you haven’t broken out your “Business Buzzword Bingo” sheet, now’s the time) of sophistication and digestibilty to a layman.
I could wrap my head around simple concepts like “Word-Class Fitness in 100 Words.” The early Crossfit Journal articles and early input on business practices from guys like Skip Chase blew my mind.
While I don’t program anything like Crossfit mainsite WODs, there’s still value in being affiliated. I do a combination of Olympic lifting and gymnastics (very similar to what Robb talks about all the time) and have found my injury level and overall health have increased dramatically. We do the same thing for our clients, but still give them the conditioning piece because that’s what attracts them at the outset.
I don’t know many people at the three, four, or five year mark in Crossfit that are still hitting it hard 3 on – 1 off and doing Hero WODs every few days. I don’t know anybody that can do that.
Now maybe I’ll turn out to be wrong, maybe that’s what we need to do to get fitter. But I look and feel pretty fit and still have some respectable benchmark WOD times, but I don’t need or want a 30 round Cindy. The level of pain, suffering, and agony to get that isn’t worth it to me.
Maybe that means I’m a pussy, but I can live with that.
How close is the nearest affiliate to your place of business. How has this affected your business?
What if any trends do you see among new affiliates?
Around here, it’s pretty much the same hit or miss type stuff. Folks make the same mistakes that we made (and I don’t know how to not make many of them). There’s a mixture of technicians, yellers, doctrine thumpers, anti-doctrine thumpers, Slipknot fans, Ke$ha fans, etc.
The biggest trend I see is that inputs and outputs are very linear. The big things that will help/hinder you are:
Have your shit together. Are you organized, punctual, and a hard worker?
Know your shit. Do you have a steeping in both Crossfit and Strength & Conditioning?
Your shit does stink. Do you think you know it all or do you think there’s probably another better way to do things?
Don’t be a shithead. Be nice, be professional, charge what you’re worth.
Would you consider yourself an introvert (you gain energy from having time alone) or extrovert (you gain energy from being around others)?
See above. Extrovert. I will coach all day every day. The only reason I don’t is because my wife would kill me.
What advice or words of wisdom would you give to someone considering opening a microgym or similar fitness studio?
Look at the area you are thinking about opening in. In the military, this is called terrain analysis and this will affect everything. You don’t fight a tank battle in the Hindu Kush – you also don’t open a large/expensive retail Crossfit in Bumfuck.
Figure out if there’s some small shred of demand and income – otherwise you’re going to spend a lot of time working out by yourself in a really nice facility. You can’t change the terrain, so you have to change the plan.
What is the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn?
Get everything in writing via a lawyer. 90% of rules are made for 10% of the people. Most folks know what’s right and what’s wrong and have a basic level of etiquette. Those 10% suck.