What’s it like to be the owner of a CrossFit gym? Interview with an Affiliate Part 4

Here is the 4th intstallment in a series of 5 anonymous interviews with current CrossFit Affiliate owners.  If you missed the earlier installments you can find each of them here: inteview 1, interview 2, interview 3.

How long have you been “open for business?”

2003 unofficial garage gym, 2006 official CF affiliate. What a glorious Mesozoic-like time it was in CF History.

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

Physical hours? 50-60 easy, but we have put in a few 24+ days for certain things. I always work or am present at the gym seven days a week. This is mainly because we are continually growing and pushing limits. Mental hours? I am constantly thinking about making improvements and tinkering with things. It’s really an issue sometimes.

I do have a wonderful team and flexibility in my schedule if I need it. If I wanted to go on a vision quest for like a month I have complete confidence everything would run 90% perfect.  It wasn’t always like this, but something that I have worked to achieve.

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

I was in the military and got out because I wanted to, but not for CF.  While in the military I was “coaching” if we can call it that, but I didn’t really have a master plan when I got out.

I make less, but I have waaaay more flexibility, and the ability to proactively shape my life with my skills, which is something I value over stability.  I am optimistic that in a year or two I will make way more than I could have ever made in the military, but that really isn’t my #1 goal in life.

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

Honestly, and this may sound dumb considering how big we have grown,  but I really didn’t think about what running a gym would be like. I just kinda jumped into it.  That being said, owning a gym is very agreeable to most of my natural tendencies, but each new level of growth requires new skills and knowledge.

If I had thought about it perhaps I wouldn’t have guessed at:

  • The sacrifice of your fitness, heath, and training that generally happens because you are worrying about dumb stuff.
  • How a job is different then a hobby
  • How MBO slowly works to make me insane

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

I would do it again. For sure. I have learned a ton about Coaching and due to the challenges that we have faced I have had to learn a ton about business. Compared to most CFs I am told that we are killing it. Additionally I have met and helped some of the coolest people I could have ever hoped to meet, and I have a couch to crash on probably on any continent in the world.


When you step back and think about it, helping people improve their lives is a pretty awesome job. If I am feeling like crap and then have to teach a class, all of that stress (bills, emails, etc) goes away because nobody wants a crabby coach! This is a huge perk.

Why Not perhaps?

It’s probably no different than most small businesses, but everything about running a great facility takes 2x more effort and 2x longer then you think.

If so what would you do differently?

I would have read this page as the partner thing didn’t quite work out for me.

I would get every last thing in writing if you have a partner, set and explain expectations, and don’t wait to have difficult talks.

I wouldn’t get loans (at least not way more then you need)!! Somebody is going to have to pay this back, even if you buy dumb stuff.

Don’t feel like you have to grow to larger and larger spots.

I would have moved to Columbus and started an equipment company in 2003.

What about your business frustrates you the most?

Many things have frustrated me, but currently it is my quest to pay down debt. This results in my taking a really low “salary,” especially when compared with other owners whose facilities are as large and profitable as we are.

By most measures of success that are evaluated: top coaches with excellent coaching skills, fun vibe, number and size of facilities, membership, etc etc we are way up there. But due to some dodgy business decisions a few years back and me deciding to work it out and not quit, we have had to work to become great just to barely get by.  We probably have a year or two to go at this then things will be golden.

I never got into this to make a ton of money, but financial stability is really the next thing for us, and it will take a lot off my plate.

What about your business brings you the most joy?

We have created an environment and culture that people will remember for the rest of their lives. Something that stands out and is memorable and legit. Most stuff in life is blah.

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

Well prepared for business? No. Wired for business? Perhaps. I am a glutton for punishment and will spend all my time/energy/resources if need be to make something happen.  This trait is a double-edged sword for sure.

I doubt most people would take the risks, and put themselves in the positions of stress that I have. We have made some big moves that could have failed miserably. I also think I have a great attention to detail and am reasonably creative.

I am great at doing work and I would rather do something myself then watch it be done like shit by someone else. This leads to overload. Now that we have grown so big my boss skills have been put to the test and this is hard because I don’t really view myself as the “Boss.” But sometimes that is needed.

Did you have experience coaching prior to opening?

Not really, but I did grow up playing/completing in the sports that would make up most CF exercises.  Kind of weird really.

Aside from that I love the internet and books almost to a fault. Before this was my job I read Coaching articles on the internet everyday and read gems like this.

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

No, but honestly the amount of money isn’t the problem for me.  I guess recently I have thought about getting a house or whatever and you need money for that.  My main problem is that I have well-surpassed every metric I can think of (size, membership, community awesomeness, monthly revenue) except my personal pay.  It is kinda like being really fast at every WOD, but when double unders come up you suck ass.

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

Yes. Not knowing when enough is a enough we have opened up several more facilities. I really think that if I have the business skills down why should a coach have to take time away from learning about the Olympic lifts to learn about local tax laws? I would have loved to have had that.

As a current CrossFit affiliate, what are the benefits of affiliation as you see them?

The name. Which I feel some ownership of as we built the “CF” brand in our area big time, but I know I am not really an owner of the CF Brand.

In your estimation and in your particular circumstance are they worth the price?

Like the other interviews I pay $500 so that really isn’t that much. For our other place it is more, but even that really isn’t a lot.

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

2 blocks. Hasn’t affected us at all. If you can’t get enough members to pay the bills you should take a good hard look in the mirror instead of blaming someone else. I do know other places have price wars/member theft/general dumbassness, but I don’t have experience with that here.

What if any trends do you see among new affiliates?

It seems that it is way more stream lined now and people are opening that have less passion. Back in the day it seems you really had to look to find CF and that brought out some really bright and intelligent people. Those people still show up, but you just have to meet a lot more people looking at the business side now too. Sadly the people that know the least think they know the most.

And they are in no way stopped from starting a facility. I understand that I was given a big chance by getting a facility with little experience, but I think times have changed and a mentorship with more experienced owners would lead to better quality across the board and open peoples eyes to real word.

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

Introvert in my free time, but I have no problem public speaking, running 100 person classes/events, lecturing at a cert or chatting all day with members.  I gain energy at work, but love to have my own time. So maybe I have multiple personalities?

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

Coaching has to be the key. The better coach you are (Knowledge, communication skills, truly wanting people to get better) the longer runway you will have to figure out all the other stuff.  You probably don’t know how to teach something right now. Research it tonight and teach that this week for the warm up. Do that again and again.

Anything you do to get good at coaching needs to be applied also to business skills and research.  You don’t let people change out overhead squat because they don’t like them, so why don’t you just sack up and learn about taxes.

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

Job =/= hobby. It’s slow, but at some point when you aren’t looking something changes. Its not necessarily less fun or enjoyable, but something changes.


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4 Responses to What’s it like to be the owner of a CrossFit gym? Interview with an Affiliate Part 4

  1. J says:

    Thank you for sharing these: “Job =/= hobby. It’s slow, but at some point when you aren’t looking something changes. Its not necessarily less fun or enjoyable, but something changes.”
    This is a very powerful insight for me

  2. Robbie says:

    “I would have moved to Columbus and started an equipment company in 2003.”
    I died laughing.

    “You probably don’t know how to teach something right now. Research it tonight and teach that this week for the warm up. Do that again and again.” Great point. I would add “teach it to your least capable client and your most capable client and bring it together in the middle for everyone.”

  3. Jay says:

    Great interview, seems a lot more positive than the others.

    Running a business is hard!

  4. This has been most helpful! Thank you for posting these interviews! Hope to see more Q & A in the future.


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