On Ramp Revisited!

It’s been 3 years since we held our first On Ramp workshop at NorCal and 2 years since I published the two-part series in The Performance Menu, detailing my case for entry points, specifically a beginner class or “On Ramp” to introduce new clients to CrossFit-style mixed modal training. During the past few weeks I’ve received several questions regarding the On Ramp so figured a little revisiting would be helpful for folks.

First, the concept for the On Ramp came about after a rocky initial start with our business.  In 2004 when we opened, the group training model was held up in CF land as THE way to run a business and we adopted it without hesitation.

The challenge in 2004 was that no one had ever heard the word CrossFit.  In fact the brand equity that CrossFit now has is due in large part to the growth of the affiliates.  Small affiliate gyms with passionate owners, opening up all over the country and ultimately the world, spreading the brand.

However, in rural Chico circa 2004 there was no brand.  And there certainly was no box in people’s heads for the type of training we were providing.  Folks were comparing our rates with globo gym rates despite the fact that we clearly were not a globo gym, we were providing quality coaching and instruction.  But still the distinction was not obvious and we were too new in town and didn’t have a network to pull from yet.  And when folks heard our prices and learned we did not have a swimming pool or showers…well, needless to say it was challenging.

First you stumble, then you find your way

We stumbled quite a bit early on.  We undervalued our services, we didn’t provide entry points or a client path, we lacked of a solid pricing structure and we lacked a way to run our back end (like MBO). By the end of 2005 we had grown our client base to around 70 clients but had only an average client billing of $65 per person.  We were easily covering overhead, but as coaches weren’t paying ourselves anything. And it wasn’t obvious how we were going to make this model work and pay our three owners anything that resembled a fair wage based on the number of hours that were being put in (Greg Everett of Catalyst Athletics was an early partner).

With some quick math it became obvious that by moving to a private training only model we could quickly be grossing what we were then grossing, and there was an easy path to actually paying ourselves! So beginning in January 2006 we moved to a private training only model. Quickly we were making more money than we had in the previous two years!

I am a big advocate for microgyms with group class based models to also offer private training.  I’ve talked about this before.  It can make a huge difference in a new gym’s profitability and it is a great way to develop trainers (you’ve got to be able to successfully coach 1 person at a time before you can coach 15 people at a time). That said a PT only model has its drawbacks, namely huge fluctuation and variability in revenue.  During the summer of 2007 we had several of our PT clients go on vacation, and one injured himself when he crashed his golf cart.  When your PT clients don’t show, you don’t get paid.  This is where the stability of the group class revenue is such a beautiful compliment in a microgym setting.

We decided to bring back group classes in October of 2007, but we did it very differently this time.  The first thing we did was sign up with MindBodyOnline.  I wanted an easy way to track member payments as well as track frequency of training/client visits. I think we were one of the first CF style gyms to use MBO.  I contacted them in September 2007 and we were up and running by the time we re-opened group classes in October.

Instead of opening up 5 classes per day I converted a group of 3 guys that I was training 1-on-3 into our first “class”.  It ran MWF at 6am.    These guys were stoked to be paying a group rate of $150 instead of their 1-on-3 rate of $360/each.  We slowly grew small groups like this and only added classes as made sense.

We also created an entry point to help ensure a base level of movement proficiency.  At that point our singular entry point was a requirement of 12 sessions of PT prior to entering a group.  This worked quite well, but with a requirement of 12 pt sessions we had a very slow entry into our groups and because of the higher pricing for 12 sessions of PT we had a high barrier to entry.  It was a consultation with Beverly Murphy at MBU in March of 2008 that made all the difference.  She said our PT requirement posed too high a barrier to entry…and had we thought about a beginner class as an alternate option? Can you say light bulb moment!

We took that feedback to heart and went back to NorCal and created the On Ramp program!  We now have 2 entry points: On Ramp or Private training.  Both are critical to our client path.  Many clients are seeking PT, and many are not appropriate for On Ramp without some PT first…both are revenue streams and both ensure our clients are well prepared prior to entering the group class environment.

Ok.  Enough of the history.  As many of you have asked “how do you set it up?”

Determine the days and times you will be holding the workshop (I like 3 days per week for 4 weeks) and start spreading the word in your gym.  Tell your existing members that you are starting a beginner workshop that will help prepare new members and encourage them to tell any friends, coworkers, family, etc who are interested in training.  You may even get some inexpensive postcards printed and hand those out to clients and ask them to pass out as well.

Decide on the max number of new clients you feel comfortable with, as well as the number of coaches that will be coaching.  At NorCal we cap our On Ramp classes at 10 clients and have 2 trainers coaching.  If your typical client is relatively young and healthy you might get a way with a single coach on 10 clients.  We tend to get a wide mix of both ages and aptitudes (mobility issues, etc) and find having two coaches makes for a more seamless running of the class.

Also, the On Ramp is a new client’s first exposure to our gym.  We look at the 12 sessions of the On Ramp as “our time to shine”. Whether or not a client chooses to sign up for ongoing classes beyond this first month rests largely on their experience in the On Ramp.  We feel that having two trainers coaching allows us to really put our best foot forward.  Here are a few key points:

1)   One coach can describe and explain what we are looking for with the movement while the other demos the movement.

2)   Getting equipment setup is easier with 2 coaches.  For example, one coach can be warming people up while the other is setting up racks and bars for the press or other skill introduction/review.

3)   2 coaches mean clients get more attention.  This is especially important when you have a few folks in the class with movement limitations.

4)   At the end of the workout one coach can run stopwatch and call out times while the other records times on the board

5)   Great dynamicism between coaches.  New clients get exposed to more than one of your coaches and are then more comfortable trying different class times.

6)   A second coach helps streamline the closing process at the end of the 12 sessions helping to get these 10 new folks signed up for ongoing classes.

4 sessions, 8 sessions or 12 sessions?

Many folks have modified the On Ramp and have either a 4 or 8 session intro class.  If you feel folks are adequately prepared to join your regular classes after 4 sessions then by all means.  For us 12 sessions allows us to accomplish several things:

1)   Introductory exposure to movements with multiple opportunities to review, especially the three key lifts: deadlift, press, and squat.  In my opinion one exposure to each of these lifts is not enough to have a new individual safely migrate into a larger group class.

2)   12 sessions spans a full month and with nutrition compliance folks will see body composition changes in addition to improving their baseline workout times.  These results are what sells your program and increases your conversion rate.

3)   12 sessions in a beginners group allows folks to bond with one another.  By the end they are asking each other what times they are planning on training in the Elements classes…they want to continue the relationship.

Success rate

Success rate is measured two ways.

First: How prepared are individuals exiting the On Ramp upon entering ongoing classes?  Do they feel well prepared and confident?

We constantly get feedback from new clients about how professional our coaches are and how pleased they were to not be thrown in the deep end.   Clients feel well taken care of and well prepared.  Their initial feelings of intimidation about starting a strength and conditioning program completely dissipate when they are in a safe environment of beginners with quality coaches.  If you can make a great impression and demonstrate the success of your program in 1 month you are far more likely to have folks who want to sign up for more!

Second: conversion rate.  How many folks sign up for ongoing classes at the conclusion of the On Ramp?

Occasionally you will get a 100% conversion rate, but if you average across 12 months of On Ramps most folks end up with somewhere around a 75% average conversion rate.  You should be tracking this.  After every On Ramp you run you should calculate your conversion rate.  Track this over time and always work to improve it.  This conversion rate, along with your attrition rate are the two largest factors (mathematically speaking) that control the growth of your gym and ultimately your profitability.

I know many of you are using the initial version of the NorCal On Ramp as a template in your business.  Please feel free to share your experiences and findings!


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2 Responses to On Ramp Revisited!

  1. saulj says:

    I don’t know that I ever heard the full story, very helpful.

    While the NorCal On-Ramp made perfect sense from the beginning, it took us a while to figure out how to make it work in our particular situation. In fact, we are still tweeking it now. I would love to say that I wrote it but so many of us have contributed, it is a really a group effort. Certainly, I big chunk of it was borrowed from the NorCal On-Ramp.

    The most important changes that we have seen is that our athletes progress much more quickly when they have a solid foundation in the fundamental movement patterns (squat, DL and press). Our best athletes now, came through the program and they have told me they are glad that they spent that time learning the basics.

  2. Vanessa says:

    We are inspired by your On-Ramp and will tell anybody where we got the idea from. In fact, I need to go read it again and study it as we are going to be making some changes and what you say about repetition dovetails with what I have been thinking. It is very helpful for people, even very qualified athletes have gotten a lot out of it. The people we have let skip it don’t seem to have the relationship with us or the movement skills of our other clients.

    Your blog has been very helpful to us on other issues as well.

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