MBO Users! Are you storing client photos?

I’m sure many of you are doing this already, but I thought I’d mention it to those who might just have it on their “to do” list and haven’t quite gotten around to it yet.

Uploading your client’s photo or headshot into their profile might seem superfluous if you’re just getting going with your studio or microgym.  If you have fewer than 50 clients you obviously know everyone’s name and can easily locate them in MBO when you need to.

However, there will come a day when you aren’t the only one selling memberships in the retail screen and signing folks into class who forgot their keytags.  You will at some point have a few or several trainers.  And you will at some point have 30 people with the first name “John” or “Katie” in your system.  This is when it becomes important to have the profile pic stored.

We were lazy with this when we first started using MBO in 2007…but have since become quite fastidious about it.  With several trainers and several folks with duplicate names it’s important to make sure we’re signing the right “Katie” into a class and selling the right “Katie” a private training package.  Sell it to the “wrong” Katie and Katie1 essentially buys Katie2 a $600 PT package.  It can be messy to clean up after these types of mistakes. Not to mention it looks quite unprofessional.

So this is just my friendly reminder to start taking client photos and uploading them to their profiles if you aren’t already doing so!  Cheers!

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A CrossFit Perspective

I was recently contacted by an individual who travels frequently in the CrossFit community and has seen and interacted with numerous affiliates first hand. This person offered to be anonymously interviewed in the hopes that what is shared would be helpful for trainers and affiliate owners in their quest to run great businesses and continually improve the services they provide.

Without giving too many details that might reveal your identity, let’s just say you are somewhat of a CF affiliate connoisseur.  When did you start traveling and visiting affiliates?  Approximately how many affiliates have you stepped foot in to date? Anything else about yourself that you can share?

I have been in the fitness industry as a trainer and coach in some capacity since 2005. I began to focus primarily on CrossFit as an athlete in 2007.  In 2010, I began traveling and have visited a little over 30 affiliates. Through attending seminars, the CrossFit Games, and other community events, I have had the opportunity to talk “shop” with another 20-30 affiliate owners.  So in total, it is somewhere in the range of 50 to 70.

You don’t own a microgym or an affiliate.  Do you have experience running or owning any other business?

I have been my “own” business as a sole proprietor since early 2009 and also own a performance-based LLC that you could say is a “micro” microgym primarily focused on one-on-one training. Prior to becoming involved in CrossFit, I worked as a trainer in big box commercial health and fitness centers, which included some business development and planning as well.

When I began to seriously travel, I was surprised to learn that affiliate owners and coaches were just as interested in discussing business development as they were in improving their skills as trainers. So in some capacity I’ve been providing business consulting for microgyms and affiliates since I first started traveling.

Based on the broad cross-section of boxes you’ve seen, where do you see folks collectively succeeding?  And alternatively where do you see them failing?

With the explosive growth of CrossFit in just the past two years alone, many markets have become flooded with affiliates, particularly in metropolitan areas. In my experience, the most successful affiliates are creating their own “brand” of CrossFit. In addition to CrossFit classes, many offer sport-specific training for weightlifters (sport), endurance athletes, and high school athletes. They are offering more in general to attract a broader mainstream client base that may not necessarily be drinking the CrossFit “kool aid.” Many are still using CrossFit-based training as the foundation for these programs, but have found more success in marketing to a specific clientele than using a one-size-fits-all-approach.

Now don’t get me wrong; many affiliates are very successful and offer only CrossFit classes or group training. However, as many markets become more saturated I think the need for owners to distinguish themselves and create separation from other affiliates will become more important (especially if two affiliates are located across the street from one another). I also think with the growth of the CrossFit Games and CrossFit as a sport, appealing to the mainstream will also become increasingly important.

Joe the Banker or Jane the Soccer Mom want to be able to join a microgym that offers CrossFit without necessarily being competitive CrossFit athletes. There will be a market for firebreathers and Games competitors, but in my experience these athletes are a very small percentage of a microgym’s clientele. As a business, keep your primary clientele in mind, which ties back in to the importance of knowing your niche and developing your own brand. I have seen several affiliates struggle with this exact issue, and their clients have suffered as a result – due to programming that was suited for competitors but not for the mainstream client.

Most successful affiliates I have visited also have thoughtful and organized class structures. They rely heavily on the point of entry model by utilizing introductory sessions, an elements curriculum, a foundations curriculum, or an On Ramp, etc. In doing so, they are not only providing a less intense or intimidating barrier to entry, but are also distinguishing themselves from other nearby microgyms or affiliates. Interestingly, these gyms tend to also have the strongest communities. I would argue their reliance on open points of entry creates more inclusive microgym communities. New clients are not as intimidated and are welcomed into the fold by their microgym peers. These microgyms are also not plagued by the “ego” or “elitism” I have seen at some affiliates. In addition, organized class structures allow you to maximize your time, which is an invaluable commodity when you are being pulled in a million directions as a microgym owner.

And strong microgyms usually have a model for improving the quality of their training staff, which I argue is a huge opportunity to create brand distinction and separation. Regardless of whether they treat coaches and trainers as independent contractors or employees, the most successful boxes are providing continuing education opportunities and business opportunities that benefit the individual coach/trainer, enhance trainer-owner relationships, and generate more revenue for the box.

What advice would you give to the boxes you’ve seen who in your estimation need the most help?

If you are an affiliate owner or microgym owner, you need to ensure you have a complete business plan. We love training clients and helping people reach their goals and reach their athletic potential. But, we cannot focus on that if we do not have the business backend in order.

Here are some questions that come to mind based on what I have seen at struggling affiliates: What is your plan for improving client retention? Do you have any metric for client attendance and class size? How are you controlling the quality of your coaching staff? Are you creating your own niche or subject matter expertise that sets you apart from your competitors? Did you require your trainers/coaches to sign Independent Contractor agreements? What are you going to do if your trainers leave and open up a competing affiliate down the street from you and take many of your clients with them?*

*I have seen this happen several times. This is one reason (out of many) why enlisting the services of attorney for all business matters is so important.

Another question I like to ask affiliate owners just to assist in creating a business plan is: What are you going to do if CrossFit no longer existed tomorrow? How would you market your business and your services in that situation? I have seen a lot of affiliate owners fail to consider how they may operate if they were not a part of the CrossFit community or wanted to separate and be a non-affiliated microgym. This usually helps get the wheels turning and allows the owner to better conceptualize his or her ultimate vision for the gym (which can be a daunting task when first starting or when struggling).

If you are currently struggling, evaluate why you are struggling. Ask yourself difficult questions. Talk to other affiliate owners and microgym owners and ask for advice.  If possible, have someone neutral take a look at your business model or your books. Study the business models of successful microgyms and businesses. I think improving a struggling affiliate can be similar to the progression one follows in improving their abilities and skills as a coach/trainer. It starts small and continues to develop overtime as the coach/trainer improves through continuing education, seminars, experience, etc. Start by looking at the basics – your class schedule, your clientele, your rates, etc. – and then expand from there.

What can affiliate owners do to continually elevate the quality of service they are offering their clients?

Improving quality of service starts with continuing education. However, do not simply “chase paper.” Attending seminars to simply say you “attended” is not an effective use of your time or your microgym’s resources. Look at continuing education as an investment; you want to get the highest return on investment for the microgym’s long-term success and growth. For example, do you have a strong endurance community in your area? Then spend time investing in endurance education that will make you more marketable to that particular niche.

If you have a basic foundation upon which all of your training/programming is built, then you can more easily market to sport-specific groups with a little tweaking/focus. World-class coaches like Louie Simmons are subject matter experts, but are able to leverage their expertise to serve a wide variety of clients. Microgym owners can do the same thing.

From a staff standpoint, implement or develop a strong metric for evaluating your training staff and for training and recruiting new coaches. For example, some of the successful affiliates that are continuously improving have very methodical, progressive internship programs that allow interns and coaches-in-training to grow from the day they start to the day they actually become full-fledged members of the gym’s staff (as contractors or as employees). This does three things: (1) it ensures you are actively involved in the coach’s improvement/development, (2) you are developing a strong, competent and professional staff from the ground up, and (3) you are creating loyalty and setting up your staff for success. Regardless of your approach, have an approach! I have seen numerous trainers leave affiliates due to the owner’s lack of concern for instructor quality.

Emphasize overall quality, always. Successful microgyms, in my experience, are built on being more intimate with an emphasis on quality of instruction and service (even if they have hundreds of members or only a few dozen). Other affiliates can undercut you, offer bells and whistles – and yes, you may lose some clients – but ultimately, I have seen those affiliates falter due to a lack of overall quality, service and a plan.

As CrossFit continues to grow, I think this emphasis on quality is what will continue to separate successful microgyms from “big box” commercial gyms that may elect to capitalize on the growth through their large amounts of capital and resources. And quality need not be focused only on quality of instruction. The points of entry, the community, your microgym’s attitude/atmosphere, and the inclusiveness, in addition to great instruction, all paint a positive picture for new clients.

Finally, document everything. E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g. Hire an attorney. This is especially important when dealing with friends and family that may be your clients and/or trainers/coaches. I have seen relationships and businesses damaged due to disagreements that could have been solved by being proactive with legal protection and paperwork. And even in a community that is as open and welcoming as CrossFit, there are unfortunately situations where you will wish you had developed some strong CYA.

And although we are discussing ways to improve the quality of service for microgym owners and affiliate owners, I should mention that many of these principles and ideas apply to trainers as well. As a trainer working as an independent contractor, you may have a great deal of flexibility, but you also may not have a great deal of protection, especially if your affiliate owner elects to not have you sign any sort of contractual agreement that spells out pay, duties, etc. For your own protection as a fitness professional, always make sure you are covering yourself.

Any thoughts on the relationship between CrossFit and Reebok?  What does the future hold for the affiliate owner?

To be perfectly honest, I was skeptical when the relationship between CrossFit and Reebok was first announced. After attending the 2011 Reebok CrossFit Games, I am more optimistic. While I know there are numerous people out there that may argue CrossFit HQ is “selling out” or is “in it for the money,” I think the community, microgym owners and affiliate owners can benefit. It is simply a matter of channeling the exposure and growth that the relationship provides to benefit your microgym or affiliate. The exposure and subsequent growth gives microgym owners more marketability. More people are going to be interested in CrossFit, which is good for business.

However, all relationships have potential drawbacks. I am interested to see how CrossFit HQ manages to balance growth and quality. Exponential growth is going to be a strain on CrossFit, but all business relationships have growing pains. My concern is the amount of effort and time that will go into preparing for each year’s Games may detract from an emphasis on the community – on the individual box owners.

Will there be higher barriers to entry to become affiliate owners as more individuals (and possibly more big box commercial entities) try to capitalize on the CrossFit success bandwagon? Given the number of boxes in some markets already, it is not an outrageous question. And while it is true successful affiliates may continue to be successful, the volatility and rapid growth could lead to a big drop in brand quality and/or reputation. This is why I think building your own brand or own microgym niche is so important.

Ultimately, I see the relationship between CrossFit and Reebok as a good business opportunity. Just think of the relationship, for now, as opportunistic marketing that complements a sound microgym business plan.






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What Type of Towel Rack are You? Continued…

Guest post by my hubby: Robb Wolf

Welcome back! In the first piece I  took you down memory lane and described how some training related inputs from our friends Mike Rutherford and Dave Werner dramatically improved our training and business. The training piece might be obvious, especially in the case of the Max Effort Black Box template Rut offered to the world. With this technology our clients made much better progress and could finally reach the strength levels necessary to do well at CrossFit diagnostic WOD’s. The athletic skill standards however inspired a change not only in our class structure, but it gave us the opportunity to really think about our business from a systems based perspective, starting right at the front door.

First Contact

How do folks make first contact with a business like NorCal Strength & Conditioning? Initially our contacts could be broken down into the following categories: Phone, Email, Walk-in. Today I’d add blog, FaceBook and Twitter in that mix as potential first contact options for prospective clients. This may all seem obvious, but without some kind of system these contacts get lost (hampering the acquisition of new clients) and you are left with no idea about conversions from contact to sign-up, retention or a host of other really important concepts. Well, important if you want to keep the doors open.

When Nicki is tinkering with an idea she will “act her way through the idea…It’s part thespian warm-up, part dementia ward ramblings (love you babe!) but let’s use this wacky little technique to look at how folks flow into your business:

So, someone phones, emails or walks-into your business (or perhaps they asked a question about your facility on Facebook) this new person comes through the door…what do you have to offer this would-be customer? Any type of a screening process? A one size fits all program, or something that can meet the needs of 95% of the population? Do you have a way of documenting how said person found you or relative % conversion to a real client? Do you know the likelihood this person will still be with you in 6 months or a year?

Until we brought in Dave Werner’s skill standards we tried to shoe-horn everyone coming through the door into the one size fits all program (based largely around the sexy MetCon) and we had a ton of problems with this (mentioned in part 1). It was not safe, it was not a good experience for the clients…it was not a system. It was neither physics class nor birthday party, it was a joke. As I mentioned in the Performance, Health & Longevity piece that I did for my wife, we enacted several different programs which addressed these initial shortcomings and are now critical to our success.

Personal training-Where our orthopedically or medically challenged folks go. Also a great place for local celebrities/business people who may not want to be in a group class format.

On-Ramp-A beginner class with set structure which introduces the movements, intensity and nutritional components of the program in a small group format. We have excellent retention from this format as compared to dumping everyone into a large group. I’ve received some push back about this from folks who are concerned about “diluting the community” of their gym. Get four classes running simultaneously with upwards of 60-80 people being coached at a time…you not only have community you now also have quality coaching.

Elements, Level 1, Level 2-I talked about these previously. Tough, mixed modal group classes with specific skill/fitness standards to participate.

Strength Class. Periodized strength class where folks get seriously strong.

LIFT-“Low intensity functional training.” Mixed modal training, but no names go on the board, no specific time is given for the training. Some men will die for points, other folks simply quit the gym when they get tired of getting the dog-piss beat out of them.

So, this whole scene is an integrated system. It allows us to “sell” a program that reaches damn near anyone (personal training, or the group class options), it provides years of progression to keep folks interested and engaged, it offers alternate tracks with more or less intensity to meet folks where they are. We are able to offer better programming & safety while keeping things really fun.  If you have solid business management software the whole thing runs pretty well and with a minimum of onerous, repetitious activity.

I know first hand how hard it can be to run a small business like a microgym or martial arts studio. I’ve done both. It can be as fun as it is exhausting and taxing. Folks frequently go into  business because of a love for the subject matter and (hopefully) also love working with people. Often times I see folks who love the subject matter and discover how draining coaching can be…tough gig. If you consistently focus on quality of coaching and business systems it is better and “funner” for you and your clients. Systems, first and foremost, allow you to “stay in business.” That seems like a bonus! In the hierarchy of needs this success allows us to move beyond survival and start flexing our creative muscles…this is the stuff that keeps one engaged across a lifetime.

Occasionally I hear excuses about enacting better systems like I’ve described here. In one case it was a mom & pop gym with a good number of clients but the owners felt systems (business management software, scanner type check-in, structured trainer development program) would “make things lose that family feel.” Well, 4 years into this frackas these folks realized they might want to quit their day jobs and really make a go of things with the gym as the primary income source. They had 4 years of no infrastructure development and were (economically) getting their asses kicked by folks who were in business a fraction the time, but who tackled the gym as a business, not a hobby. Interestingly, the folks who were in business for 4 years were also STILL operating in a very unsophisticated level with regards to programming and trainer development. Said in a more direct way: their programming sucked, was dangerous and their trainers could not make a living.

Please, please…tell me what is good about this situation, whether we are talking about the owners, trainers or clients?

If you have chosen to be in this service arena you do not have the luxury of selling cheap plastic widgets. That means you need to prioratize the quality of your offerings. This often mean recognizing the gaps in your knowledge, how effe’d up your operation is and then getting “Zen” about it all and just moving forward. Time is a ticking. Do you want to start building a better program now or wait 4 years? What type of towel rack do YOU want to be?


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What type of Towel Rack are You?

Another guest post by my hubby: Robb Wolf

When you look at the world of products and marketing the notion that investment in quality will produce good return is often tough to support. “Make it cheaper, make it faster” seems to win out under most circumstances, and I guess when we are talking about products this is true but we often forget about the full accounting of a product. Let’s consider a plastic towel rack that replaces the old-school wooden version.

Plastic looks cheap until we consider:

1-Plastics are made from petrochemicals

2-Petrochemicals (at least the variety we typically use in the US) come from geo-political hot beds.

3-Massive re-distribution of wealth occurs to people who have lots of oil, but who hate western, democratic ways of living.

4-Like Diamonds, Plastics are “forever.”

With full accounting, the “cheap” towel rack actually carries a high price tag.

All that aside however, it’s been my experience that investment in quality is worth the effort when we are dealing with people/service based endeavors. “We” are willing to pay for a lesser product but “We” really notice when receiving sub-par service.  Which brings me a bit closer to the point of this post: Why a focus on quality has always produced good results for our business. If you own a gym, run a yoga/pilates studio or an MMA program you will likely get something out of this, but honestly anyone who makes a living serving people might get a lesson or two out of this.

Way Back

In the beginning there was a void…then matter and energy burst into existence, expanding out at nearly the speed of light!

Ok, maybe that’s a little too far back.

How about January, 2004. We just opened our multiple personality disorder facility (Crossfit NorCal, then NorCal Strength & Conditioning…then CrossFit NorCal…back to NorCal Strength & Conditioning) in a town that we literally knew about 5 people. I did my undergrad in Chico and wrapped that up in 1998, living the next 5-6 years in Seattle. I wanted to live in a sunny climate & the female to male ratio in Chico is 5-2 so I moved, opened the then 4th CrossFit facility and did not know quite how to tackle things. I was a scientist, not a business guy and at that point there was no GOOD example of how to run a microgym, from either a business or training standpoint. We emulated the come one, come all class system (No screening), an “honor system” of payments and a wacky method for paying trainers (No business systems) that was offered to us from our “higher ups.” This was the best we could find to emulate at the time and we really had to learn the hard way. Despite our efforts to help people avoid these same pitfalls, many still run their businesses this way.

Now, people loved the workouts but we had a lot of problems.

1-Not everyone (hardly anyone?) was appropriate for the “Dot Com” WOD’s we used daily. Type 1 diabetic? Insulin pump? Heart problems? Bilateral hip-replacement? Shucks, we’ll just throw y’all in the same class. We can have our new trainers work with the new people…all these orthopedically challenged, broken folks will be trained by people who have almost no strength & conditioning background…I have no idea what to call a system like this but I’m pretty sure the acronym is “RRG.”

2-Due to the lack of focus and progression none of our clients made progress to the degree I thought they should. I came to CrossFit with a powerlifting background. After a few months of dry-heaving I could turn some top tier times on diagnostic WOD’s. Not so our endurance crowd clients.

We were new to business, excited but lacking in any mentorship that could provide a legitimate business system to deal with these and other issues. So, we had to learn things the hard way. Trial, error and at many points being either too dumb or stubborn to quit.

Training Day

Two friends provided important inputs on how to improve our programming and ultimately our business. The first was the Max Effort Black box concept from Coach Michael Rutherford,  The second was the CrossFit skill standards proposed by Co-founder of the 1st CrossFit affiliate, Dave Werner.

Coach Rut shot me an email with a theoretical template based around the Prilepin chart, max effort work and the idea that if one inserted planned strength days over a standard CrossFit template one might achieve superior results. Exercise science is clear on the point that strength precedes strength endurance. Not only did this strength focus “make sense” but Rut ran a nice clinical experiment on a basketball team using this template and achieved impressive results. Rut’s own son made it to 3rd in state in wrestling with a wicked double leg takedown and a 340 lb clean & jerk built from the MEBB template.

I looked at the template, thought about it and shot it down because “I did not need to do that to get really good numbers in CrossFit.”

Can you say sample bias?

It took me a few months to realize the error of my ways and we adopted a MEBB template into our gym with phenomenal results.

It was right around this time that my good friend, Dave Werner shot me an idea about some skill/performance standards to help trainees and coaches focus their efforts. Dave’s idea was that this system would be somewhat similar to a belt system in the martial arts…not perfect, many fuzzy boundaries, but something to provide motivation and structure. Again, I thought about this and being the lazy bastard that I am, shot it down. Dave persisted and although I am a dummy most of the time, I do have some brief moments of clarity and I saw the potential of Dave’s skill standards (or something along this line) fixing significant systemic issues in our business, from client acquisition & retention to training systems.

That’s all for that today, we’ll look at how these insights from our friends have improved our business and I’ll provide some templates for you to follow to help improve yours.

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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.


Posted in Business, Clients, CrossFit Affiliates, fitness business | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

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!


Posted in Business, Clients, CrossFit Affiliates, fitness business, MindBody Online, Trainers | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

What’s it like to be the owner of a CrossFit gym? Interview with an Affiliate part 3


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?”

3 years.

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.

Posted in Business, Clients, CrossFit Affiliates, fitness business, Trainers | Tagged , , , | 29 Comments

The Economics of Performance, Health and Longevity

Guest Post by my hubby:  Robb Wolf

Most folks that know me will not be surprised if I say “Hi, My name is Robb, I’m a geek.” My name is in fact Robb, and yes, I am a geek. Most folks (other than my wife) might be surprised if I say “Hi, I’m Robb, I’m super lazy.” Now, people might be surprised by this because I do a fair amount of blogging, podcasting, traveling, tweeting and facebooking. So, I am in fact doing a lot of stuff, but I’m lazy in that I’m always looking for the easier way. In economic or business terms I’m looking for ROI (return on investment). If you put $100K into investments, do you want 10% return or 15% return? 15% return seems pretty obvious, right? What if the ROI options are 10% and 15% but to get the 10% you can live a happy, healthy fulfilled life, but in order to get that 15% ROI you have to work so hard you are miserable, depressed, immune compromised and will likely shorten your life? How much shorter might that life be? Average lifespan in North America is about 75 years, so let’s say for you to get that 15% ROI your average lifespan will likely drop to 55-60 years. Does that give you pause? For most people it should, but the (possibly) interesting thing about this is that what I’m describing here is the difference between recreational athletics/ “fitness” (10% “easy” ROI) and ELITE performance (15% costly ROI).

There are a number of concepts that describe this process, perhaps the most popular is the “law of diminishing returns.” In athletic or fitness terms what this means is we can typically get reasonably “fit” or competent at a given activity with relatively low time and effort investment, but if we want to climb to the top and be “elite” it’s going to cost us. I’ve been thinking about these concepts for quite some time and wrote about it in the Performance Menu back in 2005   and did some blogging on the topic in 2007 . The basic idea is this: We can make decisions in life that will accentuate one of these 3 variables: Performance, Health & Longevity.

Performance is the ability to “do stuff”. This is NOT exclusively work capacity, as the Performance of many tasks requires a high degree of technicality, and virtually no work capacity. Olympic archery is a good example.

Health is the moment to moment likelihood that you will continue to live. Do you have cancer, low immunity or are so weak and compromised that if you trip and fall you will break a hip and die from the complications?

Longevity is simply Health, extrapolated over time.

Now it’s important to recognize that we can tweak how we live to alter probabilities of how Performance, Health and Longevity will manifest in our lives. If we practice severe calorie restriction with adequate nutrition (CRAN) we will increase our likelihood of living a long time (we have great data on this in animal studies ranging from fruit flies to primates) but our Performance will be terrible and interestingly, our Health may be impacted. Organisms undergoing CRAN cannot be exposed to significant temperature variations, injury or infection or they are actually MORE likely to die. Individuals practicing CRAN must severely limit potential stressors or they may actually die early, all while having terrible overall Performance due to low muscle mass and compromised fitness due to low calorie intake. Perhaps at the other end of the spectrum is the hard training, elite athlete that shortens lifespan and compromises health due to a blistering training volume, wear and tear and a large food intake. The net effect is a large oxidative load which damages DNA, and negatively alters both hormonal and immunological function. If we consider the Performance, Health and Longevity of our hunter-gatherer ancestors  we observe good levels of fitness (strength, muscle mass, endocrine & immune function) but certainly not ELITE performance levels as compared to modern top-tier athletes. Modern athletics literally pushes the envelope of human performance with the difference between 1st and 10th place often being fractions of seconds, kilograms or centimeters.

Ok, What the Hell does this have to do with me?

Running a gym for over 8 years I’ve observed many folks are not aware of the Law of Diminishing Returns nor the costs involved with going from “good” to “elite.” Let me qualify this a bit before I go on: If I’m approached by an athlete who WANTS to compete at a high level (I’m coaching folks at the Olympic Training Center, elite levels of MMA and world caliber level in their respective sports)  I keep in mind these ideas of Performance, Health and Longevity and I make recommendations to minimize the negative impacts of training load, stress and all that goes into elite performance, but at the end of the day the name of the game for these folks is WINNING. We run with training volumes and intensities, food amounts and types (maltodextrin shakes?) that I know are not great for the health and longevity of my athlete but are integral to optimizing Performance. 99% of my clients (and I’d guess most coaches and trainers clients) do not fall into this competitive athletics bracket.

Folks want to look good, have community and be challenged. What I see happening however is a tendency for coaches to prescribe “more” instead of Quality. Coaches lose site that folks can be just as excited by the acquisition of new skills (front levers, hand-stands etc.) as improvements in mixed modal metabolic work IF we create a culture that VALUES skill based work, periodization and planning.  Even if people want to compete in something like the CrossFit Games (which is certainly pushing the limits of human performance…with all the potential downsides we see in other sports) we can tackle programming in such as way that minimizes burnout and actually optimizes performance. Strength and technical work should make up the lions share of training for most of the year with capacity being maintained/expanded by alterations in Accumulation phases and Intensification phases followed by Competition and Recovery phases.

See work by Siff, Zastiorski and  Verkoshanski for concepts of block periodization and athletic peaking. I’d also recommend reading what OPT has written on the differences between Training and Testing.

The role of the coach or trainer is always to support the client in his or her chosen endeavor, but it’s helpful (Ethical? Moral?) to also remind clients of the inherent costs of climbing the ladder of Elite performance. This may seem like a stifling, kill-joy type attitude and if you are an Uber-elite coach who only deals with folks endeavoring to be world champions then ignore this whole post, but when you see clients who have made remarkable progress in your program begin to burn out because the only metric of progress is another 5 seconds taken off their “Rosanne” WOD, you as a coach are likely going to lose that client and all the hard work, transformation and history they bring to the table. Not all businesses can be run as a Ponzi Scheme and at some point, if you want to be successful AND do right by your clients, you need to create a culture that allows for progress to be measured (and celebrated) in different ways.

This idea of balancing Performance, Health and Longevity is actually much of the driver behind the curriculum we offer at NorCal Strength & Conditioning. We offer:

1-The OnRamp! This is initial iteration of the beginner’s class developed by my wife, which was published originally in the Performance Menu and given away for FREE to help the community of gyms that we used to be a part of.  May a thousand desert fleas inhabit the nether regions of the folks who have published a plagiarized version of this curiculum. Fracking Wankers.

2-Elements- The class most folks graduate into after completion of the OnRamp! or personal training. Strength work is combined with metabolic conditioning, but only a limited skill set is introduced to ensure safety and proper athletic progression. “Scaling” is a limp-weenied approach to coaching vs PROGRESSION.

3-Level 1- Similar to the Elements class but requires completion of various skills and achievement of performance benchmarks.

4-Level 2- This is a highly technical class with an emphasis on strength work and gymnastics. Some Metabolic work occurs, but it is of a short and highly technical nature (this is a fun recent WO: 3 muscle ups with full turn out at top & bottom, NO KIP, 5 OHS with body weight, handstand walk 30 feet, rounds in 12 min.)

5-Strength Class- This is a block-periodized class that runs in 8 week increments. Volume and intensity are varied over the course of the training, appropriate de-laoding is prescribed to optimize peaking. After the testing week the class does not meet for 1-2 weeks to allow for recovery, then a new block of programming is introduced. PR’s abound.

6-LIFT (a terrible name, Low Intensity Functional Training) This class offers a mix of strength work and metabolic work but no names go on the board, no specific time is prescribed for the WO. A coach takes folks through a typical warm-up, then describes the elements to be trained that day. Perhaps it is DL’s, rope climbs and 50M sprints. After a form review folks begin working their way through the WO, perhaps they perform 3 reps of DL at 75-80% of 1RM. They then work a rope climb (with or without feet based on strength & skill level) then they will walk to the end of a 50M course, and sprint to the other end. That’s one round…but no one cares because we are not keeping track. The class is about fun, community and getting some work done. When you remove the competitive element form errors magically resolve because people are not worried about being “beat”, they are concerned about doing it right. This is our fastest growing class and everyone from beginners to seasoned veterans love it. Men will indeed “Die for points” and not surprisingly they will also ignore coaching and safety at the same time. LIFT addresses this issue while allowing folks to get an outstanding workout.

7-Personal training. Many gyms do not offer this service…you are leaving money on the table if you do not, but what do I know?

This is the current incarnation of our gym, it will likely grow and modify over time but it is again an outgrowth of wanting to be both financially successful AND to do good by our clients. The Performance, Health & Longevity orientation combined with Dave Werner’s Athletic Skill Standards has driven our development and I’d say it’s been pretty damn successful thus far. A wisely constructed program really does offer amazing ROI and I believe optimizes not only Performance, Health and Longevity but also profitability. Perhaps this will be the 5th component of fitness “being profitable so you can remain in business and continue to help people…”



Posted in Business, Clients, CrossFit Affiliates, fitness business, Trainers | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

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.


Posted in Clients, CrossFit Affiliates, fitness business, Trainers | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

What’s it like to be the owner of a CrossFit gym? Interview with an Affiliate Part 1

As CrossFit has grown, so has the number of folks securing “CrossFit Anytown” domain names and rushing to open their doors.  I have had a few frustrating consultations with folks who have been training CF (as in themselves doing the main page workouts) for less than 6 months, yet they were ready to open an affiliate…NOW!

I get the sense of urgency…let’s face it, the microgym trend is burgeoning.  And I get that folks want on the bandwagon sooner than later.  But I’m not convinced folks are doing their due diligence and as a consequence many are suffering more than they should.  A friend of mine in a small Oregon community commented to me on the phone that there have been 2 or 3 well funded (in his estimation to the tune of $100K each) CF affiliates open in his town that have survived less than a year.

There are also numerous examples of urban areas with upwards of 15 affiliates within a 15 mile radius with new gyms opening sometimes 800 yards from an existing gym. Inevitably the new folks (usually with very little experience working with clients) get the “brilliant” idea to offer unlimited group training for $80/month (or something significantly less expensive than the current market to try to snake clients from existing gyms.  These “brilliant” folks are brand spanking new to the industry and have done back of the envelope calculations at best…which by the way are NEVER sufficient, and don’t realize the true margins (skinny margins) involved with running a service based business.

A year later they have a gym full of folks, but are barely covering their overhead let alone are they able to have a reasonable standard of living…this is when the light bulb goes off and they realize their brilliant pricing plan wasn’t so fab afterall. Not only did their pricing plan affect their own bottom line, but the bottom line of those around them.

Now it is not my intention to dissuade ambitious would-be entrepreneurs from opening their dream gym. Instead I am wanting to shed some light on what is really involved in running a successful microgym and encourage you to take your time, gain the necessary experience and do it right.

I have asked 5 microgym owners, all current CrossFit affiliates, to respond to a series of questions about being in the microgym business. I am purposely not revealing the identities of these folks for a number of reasons.  First, I want you all to benefit from honest, tell-it-like-it-is, unfiltered responses.  And second, I wanted to provide these folks the opportunity to be as thorough and candid as they liked without having to answer to any questions that may arise from clients, staff, or HQ members that may read this.  We all know that the internet can be a crazy place.  So with the spirit of anonymity 5 prominent CF gym owners are allowing you into their minds, hearts, and their businesses.

This first interview is an affiliate owned and operated by a husband and wife team.  I would surmise that somewhere between 30-50% of all microgyms are comprised of husband/wife or boyfriend/girlfriend teams, which from personal experience I can say can be both rewarding and frustrating at times  :)

As they each have different roles in the business and different viewpoints, both have generously offered their responses. Read on.

How long have you been “open for business?”


4.5 years


We affiliated in 2007. Doors officially opened to the public a few months later once we had worked out a few bugs and continued to get the space ready. We had a lot of personal stress unrelated to the business at the time as well, so it was a bit more hectic than normal.

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


For the first 3 years about 60-80, now about 40-50.


When aren’t we working in some capacity we are either sitting in front of the TV in the evening, doing back end computer work, working in the office at one of the gyms or running classes on the floor. If you were to add up actual work, I’d say between 60-80 hours a week, just depending on what is going on.  The good part is that it is not a set 9-5 job. We work when we need to work, and play when we want to play. IMO, the hard work is worth the freedom that comes with owning your own business.

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


No, was already in the fitness business, finally making the same amount – took about 4 years.


I had always dreamed of “dropping out” of my corporate gig, but didn’t see it as realistic as it was a steady stream of great income and the gym just wouldn’t support us. My perspective on things changed after a serious illness, so it really became a goal of mine to drop out. Finally, in June of 09 it was time. So, I walked away from the money and the perks to help the gym grow. Definitely making less money now.

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


No, I already had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into as I was already in the business.  Only thing I didn’t expect was the stress from the growth of CrossFit.  I decided to go with CF because the program exuded honor, integrity and always doing the right thing.  It was also something different.  The business I was in was turning into step-aerobics with one on every corner.  I never imagined CF would become similar.


I don’t think it is much different than what we thought. Maybe the amount of work it takes to keep it well oiled was a bit more than expected.

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


Probably not.  The stress of worrying another CF could and does open down the street from you is really tough.  I am all for the open market, but not having some territory restrictions is really tough when you sink your life savings into something.  Please keep in mind I am a little jaded as I answer these questions because a 4th CF gym just opened within 1/2 mile of our location.  It just makes your stomach sink.


Yes, I would consider doing it again. The pros have outweighed the cons.

If so what would you do differently?


To do it again I would have more training in backend system operations so our backend was set up right from the beginning.  We started out using a basic excel sheet to track clients.  Nightmare.


Different knowing what we know now? I think we’d definitely have started things out on our own with no partners- or at least spent the $ and gotten lawyers involved to set up the operating agreement and exit plan. I think we would have also started things out with a tight structure like we have now. In the early days, we had no real sign in system, class times were just a “suggestion”, etc. When you are small, it is easy to get away with that stuff. But, as you grow and need to make changes those changes are much harder to make later. I enjoy sitting back and watching all the new CF affiliates that are opening on every corner in our town make the same mistakes. It amuses me.

What about your business frustrates you the most?


When clients cancel over a $10 savings from the new CF down the street.


What frustrates me the most is probably the disloyalty and entitled nature of so many people. Finding things like broken equipment hidden in the corner, folks not paying the honor box for their tape and the constant stream of folks trying to beat us up on our price and not respecting our time.  That is a constant battle. Especially now that CF is so well known now and there are probably 10 affiliates within a 3 mile radius.  I find that a good number of our new clients are folks that are shopping CF gyms and trying to leverage one against the other. We don’t budge. The new guys do.

What about your business brings you the most joy?


I love business, so I really enjoy watching our business grow and become a success.  I love simplifying and improving systems so our clients have a better experience.  Happy clients = happy business.


Getting that low maintenance client that actually complies with the advice they are given and watching them succeed. I really like working with the new folks and those who have never done anything athletic in their life. It makes me happy when folks are doing things they never thought they could do.

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


Strengths: Good & motivating trainer, got great results with clients.  Clients liked me and came back for more.  Good at thinking of all the details necessary to open and run a gym.Good project manager.  Eventually good at delegating! Weaknesses: no clue on how to run backend systems, poor accounting skills.


I think we were well prepared. Before starting, we worked with a group (former partners) that had been in the business for some time learning the ropes. They turned out to be very poor friends & partners, but still a good learning experience. I studied business in college and had been running kind of a business inside of a business for years- so I already knew the basics of business, which I think has been a huge advantage for us. Most folks I see opening gyms these days are 24 year old dummies who just want to be able to hang around a gym all day.

Did you have experience coaching prior to opening?




Yes, we both had a couple years of training before starting our gym. We also had a year of CrossFitting under another affiliate. At that time, that existing affiliate was a tiny hole in the wall and the owner there really groomed us to be CF trainers. So, yes, we had good experience coming into it.

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


Now, yes, but not initially.


Sometimes. I’m always honored when someone is willing to use their disposable income using our services- but at the end of a super long week or month I always wonder if it is worth it. Sometimes it seems like it would be easier to go back to my old job. But, that thought quickly fades. :o)

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


Perhaps a minority owner, reaping the rewards of what we have built.  But not involved in day to day operations – definitely not.


In 10 years I’ll be 51 years old. I certainly don’t see myself working in this capacity then. I won’t be surprised if I am associated with this type of thing in some capacity- but doubt I’ll have the energy and drive to deal with all the individuals like I do now. I’ll be bitter if I do.

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?


Price-wise I don’t mind the affiliation fee.  The CrossFit name is certainly helpful for bringing in clients, but we have never benefited from our listing on the CrossFit main page.  All of our clients come from our local marketing efforts or word of mouth, especially initially.  No one knew what CF was around here until a couple of years ago. They came because our clients were walking billboards.


Hmmm- this is an interesting one. For us, yes, I think it is worth the $. We only pay $500/year for our affiliation. With the word “Crossfit” becoming so popular, it is worth it for us being able to use that term. That being said, not very many folks find us from the main page. The vast majority of our business is word of mouth and those in the local area who Google search for “Crossfit in our city”. For new folks, I think it would be a tough decision. I believe it is $3000/year now to affiliate?  I’m a true believer in what Glassman has put together as a program and I have no problem being affiliated with it. But, I don’t really care for where “the scene” has gone. We are one of the quiet affiliates and do our own thing.

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


We have 4 that have opened after us within 1/4-1/2 mile.  We initially lose people because every new affiliate thinks it is a good idea to undercut our price. It is hilarious to look at their websites.  Not only do they copy our pricing structures, they copy the language and sometimes even the look of our site. Eventually the affiliate learns they cannot survive on their pricing structure, flip out and charge more than we do.  We get all our folks back then.  Sometimes we don’t let them back depending on how they left.  We put a lot into our clients, we like loyalty.


We have MULTIPLE affiliates within a very small area in our city. At last count there are 11 other affiliates within a 3 mile radius from our location. I wouldn’t say it has affected our business too terribly much- just extremely frustrating. Usually, when a new affiliate opens up nearby, we’ll see a slowdown in new clients for a bit because of the new kid’s pricing. We will sometimes lose just a handful of current clients. After a few months, some of those clients will be back. Being one of the original affiliates in this city helps us out. Also, we have a good reputation in the community. I’d say there is a benefit of nearby competition though. It keeps everyone on their toes.

What if any trends do you see among new affiliates?


Undercutting the going rate.  They are almost always young guys with no clue on how to run a business.  They don’t make $$ initially and make every mistake in the book.  It is almost comical to watch anymore.  They either reach out to us by coming in unannounced and ask us every question in the book on our gym (usually about equipment) while we are trying to work, or they open unannounced and aren’t friendly the way the early affiliates used to be.  Folks wanting to open an affiliate: if you want to ask a current owner questions, do something for them.  Don’t just drain them dry with your questions and waste their time.  They are BUSY.  Take them out to eat, get them a gift certificate, clean their gym.  You are more likely to learn something if you are respectful of their time and are courteous.  Make an appt!!


The trends I see with new affiliates are the same trends I am seeing with CF big picture. For every new affiliate I’ve seen open up, it is all about The Games, constant CF competitions in the area, Loads of vanity. Another trend I’m seeing is with the seemingly under the radar way these new affiliates are popping up. We have had 2 within 3/4 of a mile open up from our location and we have absolutely no clue who the owners are. They have never been in our gym. Which is fine by me. We are just seeing more and more of this and it leads to mistrust and some funky biz practices.  The other trend I see in the not too distant future with CrossFit is its further commoditization. Right now, it is all micro gyms who for the most part have true owner involvement and take pride in their clients and their training. At some point, at least in large metropolitan areas like where we are, someone will come in who is SUPER well funded and lease out a closed down grocery store or something and just run a CF mill at a rock bottom price.  There are already two big box type gyms with CF programs within them now here. It’s just a matter of time.  

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


Both.  I need both.  In the beginning, I leaned more towards extrovert.  As I have gotten into this, clients do wear on me and I need my alone time.  As an owner you wear many hats, one of the heaviest is therapist.


Both. I thrive on being around folks with good energy and love getting in the mix. However, I have become more and more a private person so I really like my alone time and when I want to be there- I don’t really enjoy people- especially semi strangers. I’m over the small talk thing.  I’d say when we first started out, I was a full on extrovert.

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


Make sure you fully understand what it will cost to run your gym.  Believe it or not, chalk is expensive.  So is water, electricity, equipment, janitorial services, build-out, gas, water, rent, city licenses, city, county and federal taxes, ADA compliance, water fountain or water bottles, toilet paper, paper towels, cleaning supplies, training your instructors – very expensive from a financial and time standpoint, bringing in new clients – from marketing, training and retaining them – incredibly expensive.


Buckle up. It ain’t all roses. Be prepared to spend double the time on the back end that you do training. No matter the temptation, stick to your guns. Don’t let yourself get slim shady.

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


Get all contracts in writing with a lawyer’s help.  Even with friends….especially with friends.


We had partners without lawyer written operating and exit plans. Many times these relationships end badly and it is best to figure out how you are going to walk away from it while everyone is friendly and civil.




Posted in Business, Clients, CrossFit Affiliates, fitness business | Tagged , | 19 Comments