My Time in a Commercial Gym Influences the Way I Run My Facility Today

Note from PDToday's guest post comes from my buddy, Mike Connelly. Mike is the owner of Rebell Strength & Conditioning, located in Chicago. He's got an extremely grounded approach to building a team, a community, and a profitable gym in general. Enjoy! 

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It wasn’t until I opened my own training facility that I gained a proper respect for the years I spent in a corporate gym setting.  While I was in the trenches of the big box world I had a hard time seeing the positives for one simple reason; I didn’t know what I didn’t know.  I wasn’t aware that no matter where you go in the professional training world there will be a quota waiting for you.  I didn’t realize that training the clients was the easy part and that getting them in the door was where the real work was happening.  I had a sense of entitlement to more than I really deserved and that drove me to go out and find it for myself.  A great deal of what I implement in my daily business practices stem from the very things I complained about as a young, corporate trainer.  Now, I am very grateful that someone took the time to instill these values into me. 

Here are five rules I employed in a corporate setting that absolutely carry over to running my own business:

1. Be disciplined & consistent  

My first manager used to turn applicants away if they were even 30 seconds late for an appointment. To him, if being on time wasn’t part of who you were, you had no place in this industry.  I agree.  We have to be reliable, and our performance has to be like clockwork.  It’s one way we build trust with our clients and break down barriers in order to build productive relationships.  A consistent experience will create long-term clients, while inconsistencies and unreliability will burn through your book of business if you’re even able to build one. 

2. Work as a team and be on the same page 

Our training team averaged 13 or so trainers at any one point of the year.  The turnover was a little better than average by my guess.  Here’s why; we didn’t see each other as competition.  New trainers were welcomed into our little community very warmly.  We worked with each other on our weak points and bolstered up our strong points.  If someone was hurting for business, we worked together to help them out.  This all created synergy, and when that happens, the limits to what you can do disappear quickly and so do the negative vibes.  It also kept the powers-that-be at bay.  Nobody is going to interfere when business is good, and you are taking care of business.  This is a lot easier to do when everyone is working together toward one goal.

3. Build relationships with everyone   

One thing my team was exceedingly good at was creating a positive environment that everyone wanted to be a part of.  Our welcome didn’t stop at our clients; we were friendly with everybody.  Everyone knew who we were, and we knew everybody’s name. A big barrier in the gym setting is misconceptions.  Walking up to someone with a smile and greeting them by name on a consistent basis clears things up quick. Spend time building relationships that are centered on making people happy and the business will grow organically!  

4. Put a smile on everyone’s face, including yours

The people we work with deal with different stressors throughout their day.  They have bosses giving them deadlines, kids’ schedules to keep up with, and countless other adult things that nobody wants to think about.  Let’s do our best to not add more to that list than we have to.  Sure, we add physical stress to their day, but try to keep it light otherwise.  My goal was always to make everyone I ran into throughout the day laugh or smile.  Sometimes you succeed and sometimes you get crickets, but if you’re trying that will not go unnoticed, and it will be greatly appreciated.  

5. Do whatever it takes to better yourself & your work environment    

Nothing is perfect, including the job description you were given when you applied.  If you can get past the idea of “that’s not my job” and focus more on accomplishing a common goal, then your business, as well as the business as a whole, is going to reap the benefits.  Is the training room dirty?  Grab a mop and a bucket and go to town.  Garbage on the main floor?  Pick it up.  Someone’s client needs scheduling and their trainer is unavailable?  Grab a pen and dive into that scheduling book.  Your daily habits should revolve less around a job description and more around mission accomplishment.  People who write job descriptions are fallible, but that doesn’t lessen your responsibility for bettering yourself and your work environment.  

I understand that there are a lot of frustrations when working in this kind of environment, but if we focus less on those frustrations and more on how we can make a positive impact, then things turn out pretty nicely for everyone involved.  Look at it this way, you are getting paid to prepare yourself for bigger things!  I promise you that if you pay attention and work at it, the payoff will be big someday.   Just don’t be in a rush to get to that day. 

In the Strength Faction we are working hard to build a sound support system for trainers in this environment.  Luckily, we have a robust network of coaches with varying experiences to add to brilliant conversations about this subject.  Things are developing quickly! 

If you are in a rut or would like to work toward improving both yourself and your work environment, feel free to contact me at mike@rebellstrength.com and I’d be happy to help.  If you would like to learn more about the Strength Faction visit www.strengthfaction.com.

A Surprising Lesson Learned While Building An Online Fitness Community

Note from PD: Today's guest post comes from my good friend, Todd Bumgardner. Todd has recently given me a unique forum to share weekly fitness business insights with his crew at the Strength Faction, so I was excited to get some of his material up on my platform when he offered. Enjoy! 

A Surprising Lesson...

We were standing in the gravel lane outside my buddy Josh’s house shooting the shit. We’d just finished taking a few passes up and down the fence row in his fields, hoping to kick out a few rabbits but really just taking our guns for a walk. A guy we went to high school with stopped by because he was borrowing some camping equipment from Josh. Josh is friendly with the guy, I remembered him from school, and we played a bit when we were little kids, but we weren’t really friends. He started in, however, on the current state of affairs in his life.

“Yeah, I’m at $13.21 an hour right now, I’m hoping that if I get this new position at the plant that’ll bump be up to an even $14 an hour.”

My first thought was something like, “Holy shit, man, how do you eat?” He worked hard, 40-plus hour weeks at a diaper and hygiene products factory a little closer to town. Though his story held a twinge of convoluted and corroded gratitude, he didn’t seem to take much joy, or pride, in his work. By all accounts he’s a decent guy, and don’t think for a second that I’m dogging him for a humble job and a humble wage. I sincerely believe that no work done well is trivial. It’s also taken me a lot of hard work to make a decent living in the fitness industry. There were quite a few years of trying to figure out how to pay all of my bills and put gas in my car.

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I was raised by someone that worked a humble job for a humble wage. My mom worked in a super market deli for 20 years. Her final wage, before she had a stroke could no longer work was about $16 an hour. So, when I considered where I came from, mostly, I thought, “Holy fuck, there’s no reason that I couldn’t be doing the same thing as him.” I could be right along side him, stuffing boxes or moving them. But I’m not.

I think we’ll all agree that doing something that you deeply enjoy, and know has a profound impact on other people, is better than working some job just to get by—even if all work, no matter how humble, is in some way honorable. The experience of building something you love is deeper at all levels than just working a job. And the whole of the production actually holds more capital—no matter which way you choose to apply the word in context. And I get to do that.

My job is to getter better, to continually develop myself, so that my partners and I can take this thing we created, Strength Faction, and evolve it so that it better helps people. We created something that didn’t exist before, and it helps personal trainers and strength coaches learn, grow, and live better lives. And I stop for a second and think, “Fuck, man, that’s my job. This is bananas.” That’s where my mind went that evening in the gravel driveway.

A few years ago when I was in transition out of one job and into the wide-open ether that is fitness entrepreneurship I wrote on a post-it note that I wanted to be “The Dave Grohl of Strength and Conditioning.” I stuck it to the wall in front of my desk and stared at it every day for months as I worked. To me, that meant, and still means, to be a good dude, someone that brings passion and energy to their work, that creates things that people enjoy and also greatly improves their lives, to do my best to be approachable and fun to be around. Dave Grohl has been one of my heroes for a long time, and it’s because of how hard the guy works to put out quality art while also appreciating that he gets to do what he does—entertain millions of people all over the world while writing songs that relate to parts of life we’ve all encountered and felt the pain or joy of. It’s his palpable gratitude that’s so magnetic to me.

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As I’m writing this article, blog, whatever in the hell you want to call it, I’m listening to the Foo Fighters song “Aint It The Life.” The first verse goes like this:

“Dear Haley

 Can you save me from the borrowed cloud I’m on?

 All you’ve gotta do is try, pray you’re just getting by.”

Sometimes I feel like I’m on some borrowed cloud, like this shit can’t be real. I get to run a business with two of my best friends. I get to build a program that educates people, that helps them develop personally and professionally, and watch the people of a community congeal to take care of each other in so many ways. And I feel grateful.

I know I could be working a factory job back home in Pennsylvania. I could be doing something that isn’t nearly as meaningful to me or anyone else, and I could be bitter and resentful about it. I realize that if I sit on my ass and grow complacent that all of this will be taken away, and that I’m not the only one that will suffer because of it.

But today, I woke up with the coolest job in the world, building an online community of people all over the world that want to kick ass, be better at their jobs, and be better people.

So, apart from all of the tactical lessons, the learning about how to organize systems, get people on the same page, and develop something from the ground up, the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the past two years of running Strength Faction is to be even more fucking grateful for my life and what’s in it.

That’s something we can all take away from whatever situation that we’re in. We get to be wherever we are, doing whatever we are doing right now, when things could be impossibly worse. But they’re not. And we have all this opportunity to impact other people and help improve their lives while doing the same for ourselves.

Ain’t it the life?

Gym Owner Musings – Installment #8 – Internship Edition

There are currently nearly 200 names in the Cressey Sports Performance intern alumni database. Each and every one of these individuals has taught us something valuable along the way. In this eighth edition of Gym Owner Musings I will share a tip for internship candidates, a frustration about the state of the internship industry as a whole, and a valuable reminder for the business owners currently leading programs of this nature.

Here goes…

1. Attention Candidates: You Are More Powerful Than You Realize

Seth Godin has said that “the closer you get to the front, the more power you have over the brand.” When he speaks of “the front,” he means the client-facing portion of your business. In a gym setting, this would be the fitness professional delivering a memorable experience on the training floor. When I give an intern the opportunity to engage with our athletes, I am effectively giving him the keys to my brand.

If you are a coach considering internship opportunities, make sure to ask your interviewers what kind of autonomy you’ll have on their gym floor, and if you will have an opportunity to impact the character of the training environment. As the person sitting on the other side of the table, I can vouch that there is nothing more refreshing than finding a motivated candidate who is requesting a structure that sets high expectations while also providing the freedom to be remarkable.

The CSP Mass Fall Interns Have Been Especially Good To-Date

The CSP Mass Fall Interns Have Been Especially Good To-Date

2. The Frustrating Thing About Low Barriers to Entry…

There is almost no barrier to entry for personal trainers. This is obviously dangerous for the fitness consumer who is willing to put his or her faith in fitness professionals. Similarly, there is nothing stopping mediocre gym owners from throwing an Internships tab on their website and declaring that they provide a great resume-building experience. Many internships prioritize driving unpaid employees through the doors of gyms over the education of the coaches who will one day move on to influence the direction of our industry. Buyer beware.

The internship program offered at CSP is far better today than it was a decade ago. We’re constantly improving our onboarding processes, the overarching curriculum, and the on the floor coaching of coaches.

Despite our dedication to improving the experience, the volume of applications is on a bit of a downswing in recent years. Today I have to think about my program as a business within my business that needs to be properly branded, positioned, and marketed. I have no doubt that we’re on the cusp of seeing targeted internship program advertising on platforms like Facebook as similar businesses look to continue developing talent.

In the long run, we will all be reminded that survival and success are not the same thing, and the strongest programs will have the staying power that keeps them relevant a decade from now.

3. A Reminder for Program Coordinators

Making a bad full-time hire hurts bottom line, negatively impacts the optics surrounding your business, and can set you back months. This is exactly why we will only hire through our internship program at CSP. With 300-500 hours of coaching experience under our roof at the conclusion of an internship period, we can safely say whether or not a coach fits our culture and possesses the necessary skill set to thrive as a member of our team.

I don’t make bad long-term hires. I do, however, swing and miss on the occasional intern. It is important that I continue to do so in order to ensure that we are regularly identifying the character and personality styles that align with our goals, or introduce new aspirations. There are plenty of phenomenal coaching approaches and training philosophies out there, but they don’t all make sense for my business.

If you offer an internship program at your gym, embrace the fact that you’re going to choose poorly from time to time. What you can’t afford to do is fail to learn from each poor decision you’ve made.

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Market Toward One Audience and You'll Enjoy the Perks of Many

“How am I supposed to focus on marketing to a single demographic when my business has about five different client avatars?”

My buddy Andy was thinking out loud in the back of the room this past weekend as he and I listened to presenter Adam Bornstein wax poetic on the importance of knowing what problem your business solves, exactly whom it helps, and what makes your service offering valuable. Andy runs a gym we'll call Andy's Gym (AG) that KILLS it with the elite football scene, but he’s afraid of that reputation costing him business with other populations.

Bornstein's Walk-out song was "I'll Make Love To You" By Boyz II Men. True story.

Bornstein's Walk-out song was "I'll Make Love To You" By Boyz II Men. True story.

The fear of being typecast…

I know it. I’ve felt it.

Back in 2007, my business partners and I sat down to discuss our “growing problem” that football players and lax bros weren’t going to want to train with us because we were becoming seen as “the baseball guys.”

God forbid we veer off of the popular jack-of-all-trades and master-of-none track, right?

As you probably already realize, we quickly dropped that discussion and went all-in on our pursuit of cornering the baseball-specific strength and conditioning market. Had we not made this move, you likely wouldn’t be reading any blog material from me right now. The odds are decent that I would have burned out and left the industry entirely thanks to the frustration that comes with struggling to operate a business in a crowded field without possessing any differentiating traits.

So here’s what I asked Andy…

If you had a football client moving to the Boston area, and they asked you how they were going to survive without AG in their life, what would you tell them?

“I’d tell them to get in their car and drive to CSP.”

I facetiously pressed further…

But you’d hesitate because us baseball guys could never fully understand the unique needs of the football-playing demo, right?

“That’s bullshit. I know you guys would take good care of him.”

Exactly. And here’s the lesson that it took me a couple of years to learn: If you successfully position yourself as “the best” in one particular realm of fitness, you can count on people assuming that you’re far above average in working with most other athletic populations.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered “I know you’re the baseball guys, BUT…”

  • I figured you’d be able to take care of my daughter who plays volleyball.
  • My son’s tennis coach said you’d be his best bet for fixing his cranky shoulder.
  • Someone told me that the work you do with pitchers might translate well to swimmers.

The leads keep rolling in, and it turns out that being pigeonholed isn’t so bad for business. My best advice for Andy relating to brand positioning is to embrace his “football guy” reputation. He should speak directly to that population in his marketing efforts without fear of retribution from the general fitness community.

The middle-aged recreational athlete living around the corner from Andy's gym is never going to say: “That guy who trains a dozen NFL players probably can’t handle the task of helping me get a little stronger before golf season rolls around.”

Master one trade, and people will assume you’re a jack of all the rest.

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The Best Thing Your Can Do to Improve Your Gym's Training Environment

My phone pinged with a Facebook notification at 4:47pm on Saturday afternoon:

John O'Neil tagged you in a post.

I opened up the notification to find an image of four full-time CSP staff members and a pair of fall interns circled around a table eating what appeared to be ice cream cake. The right side of the image featured a (clearly fake) picture of the cake.

"Happy Birthday, Pete! Here's the crew celebrating with a micro-creamery ice cream cake for you.”

I was being trolled.

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If I had to pick my favorite part of this post, it would be the fact that John & Co. intentionally chose not to remove the HappyBirthdayCakePic.com graphic from the top corner of the photo as they attempted to pass it off as a real cake purchased to celebrate my birthday at an event I wasn't even invited to.

Why did I love it?

Well, for starters, I have a sense of humor. You can't own and operate a gym without being open to some good old fashioned ball-busting. After all, I tolerated my Office Manager Stacie’s “Happy 51st, Pete” sign that sat at the front desk the entire day before, so why not laugh at this one? (I’m 36, for the record.)

Secondly, I loved it because it illustrated the fact that I have a team that genuinely enjoys each other’s company. 4:47pm on a Saturday happens to be close to three hours after we close up shop at the end of an exhausting six-day work week. These guys could have raced home and enjoyed their 36-hour work-free window. Instead, they chose to get a lift in as a group following client hours, and then hit the road for ice cream.

There is nothing that positively impacts a training environment more than employing a collection of individuals who love working together to facilitate it.

When your coaches share a bond, the positive vibes bleed into the client experience. Camaraderie on the training floor between staff members can be contagious, and clients begin to feel at home in this setting. If you train athletes for a living, the connection that your team shares will closely simulate the clubhouse vibe that they have acclimated to during their competitive seasons.

Begin the process of cultivating a cohesive team today by focusing as much (or more) on “fit” as you do on “competency” during the hiring process. If you’re considering adding a coach to your staff, get all of your employees involved in the decision. Your coaches want to feel that they have an ownership stake in the team that they work with, not just the programming they design.

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What's The Worst They Could Say?

"List the worst things that the other party could say about you and say them before the other person can."

This is a section I highlighted in Never Split The Difference - Negotiate As If Your Life Depended on It.

My most recent entertainment.

My most recent entertainment.

Have you bothered to list the most common counter arguments you've received while giving your fitness services sales pitch over the months or years you've been in business?

  • Your gym is too far from my home for me to train there consistently.

  • The cost is a big jump from the monthly rate I pay for my commercial gym membership.

  • I'm concerned that I won't be able to properly execute my program without supervision upon returning home. What if I forget how to do an exercise?

These are a few of mine. A little frustrating? Sure. But insurmountable? Definitely not.

I can anticipate the sticking points in my canned sales pitch coming into just about every conversation as long as I know a little bit about the lead. Did they list a home address in their email signature? Who referred them to our business? What kind of terminology did they use regarding injury history or training experience in their voicemail?

Unless you answered a phone call unprepared, or someone dropped in unexpectedly, the clues are probably already in place to allow for an informed pitch while getting ahead of "the worst things the other party could say."

Want an example?

"I noticed in your email signature that you guys are from Connecticut. We've got clients coming in from all over New England, so I'm certain we can take good care of you...We know the long commute can be a limiting factor in the frequency with which you'll be able to make it in to see us, so we've created a system that allows for a single weekly supervised training session here at CSP along with training material designed to be easily executed at a gym closer to your home. We'll also give you access to our regularly updated exercise video database to ensure that you have a resource to lean on should you find that you're a little hazy on proper exercise execution upon returning home...We want to make sure that you feel properly equipped to maximize what you take away from your time in the gym since you'll be paying a premium price point for your entirely individualized training materials."

Distance concerns? Not anymore.

Worth the cost? Yup.

Productive use of time, even if just once weekly? Absolutely.

A little proactivity in your approach to selling can effectively eliminate some of the biggest headaches you currently encounter on a daily basis. Sit down and write your list now so that you can start closing more leads and abbreviate some previously lengthy pitches.

Do you enjoy my fitness spin on business concepts?

I publish my “Friday Four” newsletter at the end of each week featuring links to useful articles and insights on applying concepts from each to your own fitness business endeavors. Check it out here.

Sometimes the Customer is Wrong

“This place just isn’t the same as it used to be…”

When this message comes from a client, it is rarely meant to convey positivity. It always stings.

You’ve probably heard the same thing yourself if you’ve been running a gym for more than a couple of years. I have some good news - sometimes your clients are wrong, or simply don’t appreciate what is in the best long-term interest of your business.

One of our first, and most loyal clients is a guy named Sahil. He was one of the dozen or so athletes who set foot in our first facility on day-one, and has managed to complete close to 1,000 training sessions here at CSP in his lifetime. Sahil has earned the right to be critical of our business, and he has never been afraid to share his thoughts.

He dropped the “this place has changed” card on me a couple of years back after returning to train as a recent college grad. It didn’t stop there…

  • The training environment isn’t as rugged as I remember it.

  • People aren’t as strong as they used to be around here.

  • You guys are too corporate now.

Most of the things he said were probably accurate. We had changed, but it was due to necessity. Grungy powerlifting gyms don’t scale well, and they hardly illustrate a safe and professional training environment to professional athletes and parents of teenagers.

When Sahil began training with us, we were bootstrapping it as a startup trying to find our identity as a business. Our optimal training environment changed dramatically between year one and year six. At some point during that very same period, Sahil stopped representing our ideal client. That’s okay. If you were to ask him now, he’d probably tell you that he sees why we pivoted a little bit and understands the rationale.

The next time a long-time client tells you “this place has lost its magic,” fight the urge to make immediate changes in an attempt to be everything to everyone. Instead, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Have we lost sight of what makes this place great, or are we simply making the necessary adjustments to take us to the next level?

  2. Is the person who is sharing their concerns still a member of my target market, or have their life circumstances and training needs changed over time? If you've built a business that is designed to cater to high school and collegiate athletes, you probably shouldn't be losing sleep over the tough feedback that you got from a client who is no longer a member of either of these demos. 

You’re going to have to let go of some of your garage gym tendencies if you want to take this operation from an entertaining hobby to a viable long-term business. There will be times where “thank you for your feedback” will suffice, followed by staying on your course.

Remember, the client doesn’t always have to be right.

Gym Owner Musings - Installment 7

I’ve accumulated a boatload of random lessons learned in more than a decade of operating a fitness facility. Some warrant entire presentations, podcasts, and blog posts; others carry plenty of value but can fit within the confines of a 140-character Tweet.

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This seventh edition of my Gym Owner Musings series is dedicated to a few portions of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck that I highlighted as I worked my way through the book. Here are three quick insights inspired by this book that fall somewhere in between Twitter-friendly and ”blog-worthy”:

1. Certainty is the enemy of growth

"When we learn something new, we don't go from "wrong" to "right." Rather, we go from wrong to slightly less wrong."

Believe it or not, there was a time when Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) didn’t have a single kettlebell. In fact, we operated for more than a year before one made its way into our gym. While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that we didn’t believe in their usefulness, we had not yet embraced the equipment as a mandatory staple within our gym. It was one of our more forward-thinking adult clients who got the wheels in motion on our embracing the kettlebell when he chose to gift one to Eric for his 27th birthday.

Imagine if we were so certain about the passing trendiness of this piece of equipment that we stubbornly refused to accept it as a necessity here at CSP? We’d have stunted our growth as fitness service providers, staying firmly locked in the “wrong” position with no intention of moving toward “slightly less wrong.”

Today, the kettlebell is not the driving force behind our training philosophy, but it is an important tool in our toolbox. Its presence in the CSP Strength Camps logo is testament to our steadfast belief in a piece of equipment that we once felt would be a passing phase in our industry. It feels good to be slightly less wrong.

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2. Pricing & the paradox of choice

"The more options we're given, the less satisfied we become with whatever we choose, because we're aware of all the other options we're potentially forfeiting."

I’ll be delivering a presentation titled Gym Ownership In Hindsight - A Decade of Lessons Learned at our upcoming 6th annual CSP Fall Seminar. In it, I will go into detail regarding the mistake I’ve made in allowing for a convoluted pricing structure that features multiple grandfathered price points, an overwhelming buffet of cost and service offerings, and a lack of simplicity in general.

It turns out that my attempts to please everybody ultimately snowballed into a system that is complicated to train my employees on, and tip-toeing the line of creating a paradox of choice (loosely defined in the quote above) for my clients. Right now, we are toying with the idea of scaling back to a model that would feature as few as two or three price points. The idea is a little terrifying, but the growth that may come with the move could be significant.

The first, and probably most important step along the way in the process is parting ways with the crippling opinion that our business model is too complex to simplify.

3. Confusing great attention with great success

"Our culture today confuses great attention and great success, assuming them to be the same thing. But they are not."

New gym owners make the mistake of confusing the initial bump of foot traffic that comes with being “the new guy in town” with actual established business viability all the time. These are the entrepreneurs who think that if some is good, more is better, and jump on the first opportunity they get to open that second (or even third) location before they know what they really have. How can you determine the viability of a second facility scenario when you’re working off of 8-months worth of revenue figures?

The same can be said for the personal trainer who sees a spike in his Instagram following thanks to a handful of shirtless training pictures and then chooses to quit his day job to chase the dream of being a social media influencer.

Great attention does not guarantee great success, especially when it is tied to the novelty of newness.

Do you enjoy my fitness spin on business concepts?

I publish my “Friday Four” newsletter at the end of each week featuring links to useful articles and insights on applying concepts from each to your own fitness business endeavors. Check it out here!

Tony Was a Weirdo, So Mark Started a Gym

"Without Tony Gentilcore, there would be no Mark Fisher Fitness."

Let that sink in for a second.

I had the pleasure of speaking alongside Mark Fisher at the Structure(d) Business Seminar this past weekend. After the presentations had been delivered and the featured speakers gathered in front of the room, a common question was posed to the "expert" panel: What is your best piece of advice for someone who would like to achieve opinion-leader status within our industry?

My fellow presenters cycled through all of the usual relevant answers:

  • Be patient because this takes time...
  • You need to accrue relevant and noteworthy experiences...
  • Consistency is key...
  • Say things that haven't been beaten to death already...

And then it was my turn to talk.

"There is nothing more important than authenticity."

Allow Me To Tell You A Quick Story

In 2010 we decided we were ready to take Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) out of the hobby zone, and into the "they actually have a real website" category.

We found a reputable web-design firm, outlined our needs, and told them to take some creative freedoms with the product. One of the interesting features they came back to us with was a scrolling blog feed at the top of the home page. This plug-in allowed for the most recent blog posts published by Eric Cressey, Tony Gentilcore, and Brian St. Pierre to populate in a revolving fashion right at the top of our page. We’ve always worked to give our audience as many avenues as possible to perceive our expertise, and this feed was a great tool for doing so.

Tony doing his "thought leader" thing at the Motivation & Movement Lab

Tony doing his "thought leader" thing at the Motivation & Movement Lab

At the time, we catered primarily to youth athletes. Parents accounted for the bulk of our site traffic. We quickly discovered a problem that wasn't going to solve itself. Tony had a habit of dropping f-bombs in his material, including the occasional appearance in a blog title. As you might imagine, we (Eric and I) were firmly of the mentality that this wouldn't reflect well on the business in the eyes of high school athlete's parents.

Tony was reminded again and again: "Stop it with the foul language. It's bad for business."

For a while there, he really tried. He pulled back on the expletives. I think he even scaled back on using some of his favorite phrases such as "I feel like slamming my face into a brick wall every time I see (insert exercise description here)."

After a while, though, he realized that the censoring was hurting his ability to communicate authentically as he had in the past.

"Can you just take my blog out of circulation on the company homepage?"

I did as he asked...and business at CSP kept right on cruising in an upward trajectory. At the same time, Tony watched his readership grow at a similar pace.

Good on Tony for taking a stand. His personal brand has managed to remain an accurate reflection of who he is both on the internet, and in person since he first made the mistake of titling his blog "The G-Spot" back in 2006 (true story).

Fast-Forward to Today

I finished my story for the audience, and before anyone in the room could raise their hand with a follow-up question, Mark chimed in:

"Without Tony Gentilcore, there would be no Mark Fisher Fitness."

He took a few moments to elaborate, explaining that Tony's decision to avoid embracing a 100% by-the-book approach to professionalism in the realm of content creation allowed him to feel comfortable in bringing his own unpredictable and original brand to mid-town Manhattan. At that point in time, the general assumption was that you had to write as if you were hoping to be published on T-Nation if you wanted anyone to pay attention. Tony's commitment to pop-culture references, elaborate cat stories, and an obsession with Star Wars on his site became the impetus for Mark throwing caution to the wind and bringing MFF to the world by embracing an approach that he described as "full crazy."

It's kind of scary to think that my efforts of censorship could have deprived the fitness industry of unicorns and glitter, but it's true. The lesson in the end is simple - Authenticity creates more than website traffic. It also inspires creativity.

Do you enjoy my spin on fitness business concepts?

I publish my “Friday Four” newsletter at the end of each week featuring links to useful articles and insights on applying concepts from each to your own fitness business endeavors. Check it out here.

Sabotaging Your Sales Pitch - 4 Mistakes to Avoid

So I was mindlessly scrolling the web in search of newsletter content and I stumbled upon a title that caught my eye:

“5 VC’s Share the Worst Ways Founders Botch Their Pitches”

My interest was officially piqued. I love hearing how others screw up the selling process. Why not see if there’s a lesson or two to be learned from the way founders routinely bungle their approach to securing financing? (Full article here)

Roughly 4 minutes (Fast Company always shares a “read time” projection) and 4 points later, I realized that some of the most prevalent ways to blow a request for funding pitch to a VC also happen to be ways that I can quickly mess up a sale here at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP). Here’s a look at each of the common founder’s mistakes as listed in the article, and how they can save me from failure as I sell at CSP:

1. Overconfident Name Dropping

“Using names of investors who are “almost certainly in the deal” is a big red flag.”

Some founders feel a need to gloat about big name investors who may be in on a deal, much like some gym owners can’t seem to stop from discussing the high-profile athletes who train with them. Assuming that everyone will be impressed by who you train is a dangerous game. In my experience, the parents (or athletes) who place a priority on the fame or professional status of your other clientele are going to be driven by the wrong motivators. They either have an unreasonable expectation for their own potential to play their sport at the highest levels, or are more concerned with saying that they train at the same place as a big leaguer than they are about actually training at said facility.

This rule isn’t limited to gyms that accommodate professional athletes. Just about every town in the country has a “star quarterback,” or athlete who is considered to be the best in town. That athlete very well may train at your gym, but you have no idea what his or her reputation is off of the field. Be careful about leaning too hard on that relationship as a selling point with potential clients.

Leveraging your relationship with high-profile athletes can certainly be a single tool in your selling toolkit, but it can’t be a standardized component (or the entirety) of your pitch. There is a very specific time, place, or type of candidate who is best fit for this selling approach. Once you learn to instinctively implement this strategy when appropriate, it can be an effective closing tool. Until then, pump the breaks on broadcasting how famous your clients are.

2. Market-Size Misses

“A huge turnoff is when founders come to us with a totally overblown estimate that doesn’t reflect their corner of the universe.”

Much like founders are fond of overstating their potential market-size, fitness professionals have a dangerous habit of promising specific weight loss achievements and other metrics that are not entirely within their control as the service provider. In our baseball-specific niche, a similar mistake would be guaranteeing velocity gains for pitchers, or specific power improvements at the plate for the batters.

The reality is that work done in the weight room is only a small piece of the puzzle in the grand scheme of accomplishing those objectives. There isn’t a strength coach in the country who can guarantee that their potential clients will leave their gym and focus on putting the right food in their bodies, consume plenty of water, and get 8+ hours of sleep per night, so why are they making promises that are contingent upon each of these factors being closely controlled?

If you’re honest with the person you’re selling, then the pitch should sound a little bit like this: “We can put you in a position to succeed. We’ll give you the tools you need in the weight room to accomplish your training objectives. Combine this with a healthy diet and good lifestyle decisions, and you are likely to be extremely pleased with your results.”

You’ll never find a disgruntled former CSP client complaining that they didn’t add 10mph to their fastball like Pete promised.

3. Subtle Signs of Character Flaws

“If there is one validating factor–assuming we already like the business in the pitch, of course–it is the level of ethics/conduct we get from the entrepreneur at the very first meeting.”

Much like you’ll never find someone complaining about me using misleading sales tactics, you’re also never going to find someone who’s heard me speak poorly of the competition during the selling process. Eric and I take the whole “level of ethics/conduct” component of running this business seriously, and that means that we’re committed to never making enemies in our field. Speaking poorly of another gym or training philosophy isn’t going to serve any purpose other than to make us look territorial and immature.

I can’t tell you how many times in the last ten years I’ve told someone that “I’m an advocate of anything the promotes physical activity and gets people moving” when asked for my take on a fitness alternative. If I always take the high road, my brand will be one that carries an image of unrelenting positivity.

4. Tone-Deaf or Insensitive Language

“Words matter, and the language people use reflect the type of founder they are and the type of company they are going to build.”

You’ll seriously hurt the effectiveness of your selling efforts if you make a habit of disregarding the unique needs of the person in front of you. While we don’t see a ton of drop-in inquiries here at CSP, it is something that I encounter. Every time this type of lead walks through the door, I need to quickly determine if this is someone who is going to feed off of our high-energy training environment, or someone who is a little bit overwhelmed by the idea of joining a “rugged” gym.

If this person falls into the former category, I kick things off with a tour of the gym and let the training environment sell itself before discussing dollars and cents. If the person falls into the latter category and hints at the fact that they’re a little intimidated by weight training, the last thing I should start with is highlighting our “badass training environment.”

The look on a person’s face, the tone in their voice, and the questions they ask are all going to tell you what you need to know about the optimal way to pitch them. Don’t be tone-deaf to the signals they’re passing along and assume that every person walking through the door needs to be wowed by the guy chalking up for a max-effort deadlift single.

Do you enjoy my spin on fitness business concepts?

I publish my “Friday Four” newsletter at the end of each week featuring links to useful articles and insights on applying concepts from each to your own fitness business endeavors. Check it out here.

Skills Capture a Niche - Relationships Help You Retain It

You capture a fitness niche by gaining a reputation for understanding the unique training needs of a specific demographic. This will bring leads through the door. But once the leads arrive, what’s the key to keeping them under your roof?

People ask me all the time: “Are you concerned that your internship program is effectively creating huge competitive threats for your business?”

Yes. Yes I am.

However, there’s a big difference between staying appropriately concerned with a constantly evolving competitive landscape, and feeling threatened by skilled coaches delivering a similar training experience within the same segment of your field.

Understanding the needs of the baseball community isn’t rocket science, and it hardly qualifies as something we at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) treat as a trade secret. Anyone who has signed up for Eric Cressey’s newsletter or tracks his blog knows that our approach to assessment and programming for ballplayers is thoroughly outlined in material he’s made available to anyone with an internet connection.

At CSP, we are “appropriately concerned” about the training alternatives that our clients have to choose from. Awareness of alternatives is one thing, but feeling threatened by them is a whole other. Hindering our own services, growth, or employee satisfaction as a result of this concern would be a disservice to CSP.

I’d feel threatened if all we had to fall back on was the training knowledge that we had sprayed all over the internet. Instead, we have spent years accumulating a series of differentiators that ultimately serve as the buffet of a la carte perks that come with being a member of the CSP Family. I’m not talking about scientific knowledge or even on-the-floor coaching experience.

Let's talk differentiators...

I’m talking about the under-the-radar extras that only accumulate with time. Things like:

  • Relationships with the college coaches, regional scouts, and athlete representation agencies that actually have the best interest of their/our athletes in mind when they recruit participants for their programs. I’m talking about the kind of people who share our emphasis on integrity and values.

  • An appreciation for the intricacies of the recruiting process at all levels.

  • Complimentary service professionals who not only understand how to deliver an exceptional client experience, but also fully grasp how their offering aligns with (and compliments) participation in our program. (Manual Therapy and Pitching Instruction are perfect examples)

  • A small army of MLB-affiliated athletes who are excited to participate when we ask if they’ll contribute to our annual “Night With The Pros” event. Minor league players who leave complimentary tickets without hesitation for anyone who identifies as a member of the CSP Family. Big leaguers who are excited to leave field passes for batting practice for our clients who are excited to see fellow “CSP guys” in action at the highest level of the game.

  • Close to 200 former interns spread all over the globe who are thrilled to welcome athletes through their doors with CSP programs in-hand as they roll through town in need of a place to get a quick lift in.

If there’s one recurring theme in this series of examples, it is that our network and our relationships are as important as our ability to screen an athlete for baseball-specific faulty movement patterns. Relationships are the perks that a client has to step away from if they step away from CSP in favor of an alternative strength training provider.

If you’re a gym owner who spends all of his time worrying about measuring your key performance indicators, you’re going to lose sight of the value in relationships. I can’t effectively track the monetization of sharing our wealth of contacts and connections, but I can say with certainty that these factors are key players in our long term retention strategy.

If you want to stand out in a niche featuring endless copycat alternatives, offer something that can’t be easily recreated. Relationships aren’t manufactured by emulating some sort of blueprint pulled off of the internet. They’re earned, and they’re the most underappreciated component of my answer to the question: “What makes you guys different?”

Time to Stop Asking "What If" and Actually Open Your Own Gym?

3,650 days.

CSP is officially ten years old today. What started as an entertaining distraction as I avoided getting a “real job” coming out of my MBA program just may have actually become a career…

In reviewing more than two years of my weekly blogs, I’ve come to a conclusion: I spend far more time telling you why you shouldn’t open a gym than I do encouraging you to do so. That sucks. I consider myself an optimist in nature, so today I want to rectify this situation.

Open a gym of your own. Seriously.

If it’s important to you, do it.

Start a gym today because of the amazing people you’ll meet along the way. On a Saturday morning back in the spring of 2010, a general fitness client walked through the front door of CSP and told me she had a friend she wanted to introduce me to. Fast-forward seven years and that friend happens to be my wife and the mother of my two children.

Start a gym today because if you want to survive the process, you’ve got no choice but to address your weaknesses and challenge yourself to be competent (or better). I faked my way through all things relating to mathematics during both my undergrad and graduate experiences, doing just enough to get by. Today I’ve got a firm grasp on managing the books at CSP and consider knowing my numbers one of my strengths. I had no choice but to evolve.

Start a gym today because there’s no better motivator than having others counting on you to make a living. You want to feel some pressure? Assume the responsibility of driving a business forward with a collection of employees who expect you to make payroll every other week, to keep their health insurance coverage paid and up to date, and to get their W-2’s issued in a timely manner in advance of tax season. Pressure will either bring out the best in you, or end this small business experience real quick.

Start a gym today because the responsibilities associated with keeping your doors open will mandate that you avoid complacency like the plague. After 7+ years of double-digit growth, we hit a bit of a ceiling in 2015. Multiple kids had recently entered the equation between the Dupuis and Cressey Families, competing businesses had flooded the competitive landscape, and we hadn’t made any distinct strategic shifts in years.

We were reminded of an important lesson: Do what you always have…get what you’ve always got. This applies to your business, your personal relationships, and everything in between.

Start a gym today because of the fascinating new doors it might open for you. Ten years ago today I couldn’t have guessed that I’d eventually accumulate so much meaningful experience that people would care to read a weekly blog reflecting on my day-to-day tasks. I also never imagined I’d have a thorough understanding of the business of professional baseball or an appreciation for the lifecycle of a sneaker from conception of design all the way to the finished product on your foot. I’ve learned some cool stuff along the way.

Start a gym today because the unique training model and gym culture swimming around in your head may have the potential to actually change lives for the better. Maybe you’ll help a recent high school graduate go from aspiring college baseball walk-on to making a Major League Baseball Debut in under four years time. You really never know.

Timmy looking awfully young on the day of his MLB debut

Timmy looking awfully young on the day of his MLB debut

Start a gym today for one of the many cliché reasons I’ve had a tendency of bashing in the past: So that you can pick your own music…So that you can set your own hours…So that you can pick out the optimal equipment selection…So that you can stop working for the man…So that you can tell people “I own a gym.”

Take the plunge.

A decade ago I decided to take the entrepreneurial jump with zero days of fitness industry experience and absolute certainty that I would be successful at it. I don’t doubt for one second that you feel the same way.

Do it.

One caveat: if you decide to do so and ultimately fail, don’t blame anybody but yourself. The gym ownership game is hard, you’ve been warned. If you manage to succeed (and I sincerely hope you will), I look forward to hearing all about the insights you’ve derived from your own sweat equity.

I can’t wait to learn from you.

Gym Owner Musings - Installment #6

I’ve accumulated a boatload of random lessons learned in (nearly) a decade of operating a fitness facility. Some warrant entire presentations, podcasts, and blog posts; others carry plenty of value but can fit within the confines of a 140-character Tweet.

Here are three quick insights that fall somewhere in between Twitter-friendly and ”blog-worthy”:

1. Maybe “Why” is more important than “How.”

Everyone wants to know how to create a niche in fitness, but the better question may be why did Cressey Sports Performance pursue baseball-specific strength training? This didn’t happen by mistake. Our “why” will make a whole lot more sense once you consider our story.

We didn’t identify a bunch of different demographics that were relatively untouched and start throwing darts. Baseball made sense for us.

It made sense because Eric had spent years teaching himself how to work around a shoulder injury that arguably required surgery and had accumulated a wealth of knowledge that would translate perfectly to helping overhead throwing athletes. It made sense because one of our co-founders, Tony Gentilcore, played the sport competitively at a high level through college. It made sense because our first facility was situated inside of a hitting and pitching instruction facility.

The key to capturing a specific niche is that it be complimentary to your distinctive set of circumstances. Stop looking for holes that need to be filled in our field, and start thinking about how your precise set of skills and experience could speak to the needs of a unique population. You’re better off chasing market share in a mature segment that matches your background than you are in attempting to be “the guy” in a segment that doesn’t logically align with your knowledge or offering.

2. Bundle it all up and put a velvet rope around it…

We’ve launched an intensive baseball-specific collegiate development program here at CSP Massachusetts this summer. As I type this, we are 40% of the way through the ten-week experiment. Results have been nothing but positive.

What makes this program unique is not the individualized training material, which is available to all of our clients. Instead, it’s the bundling of our services and limited capacity (20 participants). Every member of the program is receiving the most comprehensive CSP experience one could imagine: supervised strength training, weekly manual therapy sessions, nutritional guidance, meticulous pitching instruction, and periodic guest Q&A’s with accomplished baseball professionals.

Minnesota Twins Closer Brandon Kintzler Q&A on 6-27-17

Minnesota Twins Closer Brandon Kintzler Q&A on 6-27-17

We’ve effectively taken a traditionally a la carte system and mandated 100% adherence to the entirety of our service offerings at a premium price point. In doing so, we can create a controlled environment where we can assist in creating optimal training outcomes for our clients, while also tapping into the power of a team environment.

If you had presented me with the challenge of convincing just a single athlete to pay for training, and then upsell him to manual therapy sessions, nutrition consultations, pitching instruction, and every other bell and whistle we have to offer, I’d imagine I would have a 0% conversion rate. However, by packaging it together inclusively, we filled the program to capacity.

Put some thought into all of the alternative revenue streams you have in place at your business today. Is it safe to say that they’re all available because they compliment your overarching goal of making clients happier and healthier? Assuming this is the case, why not bundle them up to  allow the absolute best service offering you can provide? People are prepared to pay a premium to ensure results and enjoy some exclusivity.

3. What do CSP and Saturday Night Live have in common?

I recently learned that the early years of SNL were especially tumultuous despite strong ratings. As it turns out, putting some of the world’s most talented comedians and entertainers on to a single team and encouraging them to battle for the spotlight week in and week out can create a downright hostile and competitive work environment. Though the brand became iconic, building and maintaining momentum had its challenges.

When asked about the challenge of managing this scenario, SNL creator Lorne Michaels explained: “That's my job: To protect people's distinct voices, but also get them to work together.”

While I am in no way saying that we have created a work environment at CSP that fosters competition, the idea of protecting people’s distinct voices resonates with me. I advocate for cultivating personal brands partially because I don’t want my employees to lose sight of what makes them unique strength and conditioning coaches.

We’ve got a softball enthusiast, a couple of Metallica-loving powerlifting gurus, a breakdancing PRI specialist, and that’s only half of the team. They all know how to play nice, but just about the only thing they unanimously agree on is their recent obsession with locally brewed craft beer. There’s no shortage of variety in this crew, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you manage a large or growing team of fitness professionals, fight the urge to standardize the “type” of person you’re looking to employ. Your clients aren’t excited to engage with robots, and they all have their own unique areas of interest that are unlikely to mesh with a staff that is designed to clone the guy who opened the business in the first place.

Seek out diversity, embrace a little bit of friction, and protect those unique voices as you facilitate a workplace of shared responsibilities. If you do so, you may find yourself still running that same business 40+ years from now, just like Lorne Michaels.

Do you enjoy my fitness spin on business concepts?

I publish my “Friday Four” newsletter at the end of each week featuring links to useful articles and insights on applying concepts from each to your own fitness business endeavors. Check it out here!

Taxes, Fees & Expenses Not Included - Budgeting For Gym Ownership

Think back on the last time you bought a car...

A slick television commercial captured your attention, so you fired up the iPad and began perusing the inventory listed on AutoTrader.com. Eventually you identified one vehicle in particular that caught your eye and started kicking around the cost in your mind. The listed price seemed reasonable, so you started to get serious.

For most of us, this is how the process starts. Who doesn't enjoy imagining himself settling in behind the wheel, rolling the windows down, and cranking up some good music in a nice new ride?

Unfortunately, before you can do that, you have to get metaphorically kicked in the teeth by the dreaded (and routinely overlooked) disclaimer that is ever-so-subtly tucked into the end of the promotion: Taxes, fees and additional expenses not included.

"You said the car cost $22,700. Wait...I think I blacked out...how did we end up at $24,781?"

Sales tax? Yup, forgot about that. Registration fee? License fee? Title fee? Documentation, compliance, and emissions testing fees?

Who the hell is coming up with this stuff? Is there an oxygen consumption fee for the time I've spent in the dealership giving away a chunk of my retirement savings?

When all's said and done, you can go ahead and increase that listed price by 10% if you have any intention of making the car your own.

First-time gym ownership isn't a whole lot different... 

Much like the car purchasing process, it all starts with a visual. 

One minute you're a disgruntled personal trainer watching an episode of Anthony Renna's Strength Coach TV, dreaming about opening your own space. The next, you're casually scanning loop.net for commercial property to potentially serve as home base for your new business venture. (Time to stop working for the man and start making your own hours!)

Only $3 per square foot? I can handle that. Wait, what does "NNN" stand for? Never mind, I'll figure that part out later. Right now I need to focus on where I'm going to put that $4,200 Hammer Strength Leg Press I've got my eye on.

Fast-forward a half dozen property tours and an initial lease proposal and you begin to realize that this whole process isn’t as simple as multiplying the listed square footage by the dollar-per-square foot. Real estate taxes? Property insurance? Common area maintenance? Ugh.

Even if you can stomach these hurdles, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’ve figured it all out once the lease is signed.

Did anyone tell you that your insurance provider is going to audit your business’s performance at the conclusion of the year to see how your performance aligns with the projections you provided as they drew up a coverage plan for you? Outperform that number and they’ll hit you with an adjustment fee. This stuff is starting to pile up.

Were you expecting the property manager to haul your trash away? Unlikely, my friend. Time to start getting quotes on renting a dumpster that you’ll pay to have emptied each week.

The town we operate in here at CSP Massachusetts slaps on an annual “dumpster fee” for the privilege of placing such a piece of equipment on the private property we are renting. Nice, right?

Speaking of unanticipated expenses, did you budget for your annual “personal property tax” which covers items such as the furniture and electronics you keep in your space? There goes another $400 I didn’t want to put in my own savings account.

I think you get where I’m going here...

Whether you’re purchasing a car, buying your first home, or signing that first gym lease, there’s probably a much higher cost of doing business than you ever imagined. Do your homework before you fall in love with the idea of opening your own spot. I didn’t even mention first and last month’s rent, security deposits, or the outrageous cost of flooring. You likely need more cash flow than you think.

You still sure you want to do this?

 

Do you enjoy my spin on fitness business concepts?

I publish my “Friday Four” newsletter at the end of each week featuring links to useful articles and insights on applying concepts from each to your own fitness business endeavors. Check it out here.

Know Your Numbers, But Don't Overcomplicate Things

My business partner Eric casually strolled into my office today, shaker bottle in hand…

“How are our June numbers looking so far?”

I point to the spreadsheet open on my monitor.

“That’s what we’ve collected to date. That one right there is our number from 2016. That’s the total dollars we need to collect on a daily basis during the 15 remaining days we’re open this month if we want to do 10% revenue growth in relation to last year.”

He smiled. “Running this place is a constant race. Even if we obliterate that number, we’re right back to square one on July 1st. It’s not like we’re going to head down to the cafeteria for a celebratory meal.”

He’s 100% correct.

We’re hosting our first CSP Business Building Mentorship this week and you can be certain that there will be a recurring “know your numbers” theme.

The great thing about knowing your numbers is that you can constantly work toward eliminating inefficiencies. It also allows you to set specific measurable goals that are based on a timeline. The dangerous habit you can fall into, however, is embracing a mentality that you’ve “won” simply because you hit your number in a given month, quarter, or year.

You don’t win when it comes to running a fitness business. You compete with yourself, and establish self-determined performance metrics. Operating Cressey Sports Performance is akin to competing in a never-ending version of the Tour de France. Hitting a performance target each month is like winning a stage in the race, but it doesn’t mean we’ll ever get to climb off of the bike and collect our grand prize.

Gym owners need to treat their operating habits with the same mentality that their best athletes bring to the gym. Strive to be better today than you were yesterday, and you’ll be fortunate enough to keep playing the game. The best way to do this is to know your damn numbers, and you don’t need to overcomplicate things with complex metrics.

Understand exactly how many dollars you need to collect each month before you can even think about writing yourself a paycheck. Once you’ve got that figure in mind, hustle your ass off to hit it as early in the month as possible.

"Not Right Now" Doesn't Have to Mean "Never"

I am never the person to “discover” the next great book. In fact, the collection of works sitting on my bookshelf includes a handful that were gifted to me, and many that I purchased after hearing dozens of times that I “HAVE to read” (insert book name here).

You’re probably familiar with the collection of supposed must-reads I speak of: The Obstacle Is The Way. Essentialism. Start With Why. Good To Great. The E-Myth. The list goes on and on.

Every one of them was shoved down my throat via constant recommendations from the same circle of opinion leaders we all seem to follow. Some I loved, while others didn’t quite resonate with me. Two such books that fell into the latter category recently were The Power of Habit, and Rework. I finished both, and each time walked away thinking: “What’s the big deal?”

Neither compelled me at that moment in time.

Fast forward a year or so, and these two books made their way onto my radar once again. Rework was the selected text for a new month of CSP Book Club, and I decided to give The Power of Habit another go after loving Charles Duhig’s Smarter Faster Better. And what do you know...I thoroughly enjoyed each. Concepts and quotes jumped off the page after having barely inspired a second thought the first time around.

The lesson I learned was that certain material may not resonate with me at this very moment in time, but circumstances change. With each passing day, week and month, I accumulate new professional experiences as I manage the day-to-day at Cressey Sports Performance which ultimately shape the way I consume and process new material. What left me uninspired a year ago just may spawn a handful of great blog ideas today.

How does this apply to gym owners?

You spend your days brainstorming how to drive bodies into your gym, right? You conjure up transformation challenges, create referral contests, and post one new Facebook advertisement after another, all with the intention of generating leads.

I’m here to tell you that some of the best leads you’ll ever find are sitting on your metaphorical bookshelf right this moment. Much like I was able to revisit my old stack of texts to find some under appreciated gold, you already have access to a list of potential clients sitting right at your fingertips.

Try this ever-so-simple experiment today…

Open up your Mindbody account, your google calendar, or whatever platform it is that you use for scheduling new evaluations and toggle back exactly 52 weeks. Look at the names of the people who got their first taste of your services one calendar year ago. After you’ve come to terms with the fact that your retention figures are far less impressive than you’d previously thought, I want you to draft up an email that looks a little bit like this:

Hey ____!

I was just flipping through our 2016 calendar and noticed that you started up with us a year ago this week. It’s amazing how quickly the time has passed.

Anyway, I figured I’d shoot you an email to see how you’re doing, and ask how your training has been going? I know it’s been awhile since we last saw you, but I wanted to let you know that our doors are always open if you’d like to make a return.

Please let me know if I can help in any way. 

Best,

Pete

Next, go ahead and fire a version of this message off to the former clients who fell off the map somewhere along the way. The worst thing that can happen is that your email goes unnoticed. If that’s the case, remember that it cost you nothing to send. The best case scenario is that a handful of former clients respond with a request to get back in the mix.

You’ll probably be surprised by how many people say “I’ve been meaning to get back in with you guys for a while now.”

You never know  what is going on in your client’s lives outside of the gym. A variety of circumstances outside of your control may have led them to step away from your services, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve quit you forever. Maybe they just need the same nudge to return that I encountered with Rework and The Power of Habit.

Do you enjoy my spin on fitness business concepts?

I publish my “Friday Four” newsletter at the end of each week featuring links to useful articles and insights on applying concepts from each to your own fitness business endeavors. Check it out here.

Gym Owner Musings - Installment #5

I’ve accumulated a boatload of random lessons learned in (nearly) a decade of operating a fitness facility. Some warrant entire presentations, podcasts, and blog posts; others carry plenty of value but can fit within the confines of a 140-character Tweet.

 Here are three quick insights that fall somewhere in between Twitter-friendly and ”blog-worthy”:

1. Stop Blaming The Algorithm

“If changing your story (and your offering) is the best way to get your message to spread, then that's what you should do instead of whining about how hard it is to get your message out.”

- All Marketers Are Liars: Seth Godin

Rarely does a week pass where I don’t encounter a gym owner bitching about Facebook having changed their algorithm in a way that is making it harder and more expensive to get in front of potential customers. I’ve got some tough news for you, people...the algorithm changed for all of us, not just you.

Your potential clients don’t care at all how difficult it is for you to find your way into their feed. All they care is that once you get there, you tell them a meaningful story about your brand and how you can improve their lives. There’s a pretty good chance that your most recent ad failed to convert because of your clumsy copy and unimpressive visuals, and not because that greedy Zuckerberg guy is trying to dig his hands deeper into your pockets.

Take Mr. Godin’s advice and reassess your product and pitch before blaming the things you can’t control.

2. Embrace the Power of Broke

“I’ve given you every advantage in life except for being disadvantaged.”

- Power of Broke: Daymond John

My buddy Angel Jimenez is a former CSP intern and current successful gym owner. Not long after wrapping his time with us, Angel launched Boston Underground Strength Training. He did it on a shoestring budget, but you’d never know it if you visited his website or visited his space.

Instead of taking out a huge loan and springing for half of the Perform Better catalogue, Angel found ways to get his hands dirty and cut some of the traditional corners that new gym owners have to finance. Rather than shell out cash for a fancy pull-up rig, he had a buddy with welding skills make one. Why buy an expensive plate tree when you can get some lumber yourself and craft a slotted bumper plate holder of your very own?

Nice looking space, Angel!

Nice looking space, Angel!

If you were to walk through Boston Underground Strength Training today, you’d probably find no less than ten examples of Angel’s cost-effective illustrations of creativity. The best part? Clients could never tell the difference between a brand name sled and a homemade one. Instead, they have the pleasure of training in a space that is a truly authentic representation of the person and brand they’ve decided to do business with. When you earn your living in a service industry, authenticity can be the most effective tool in your tool box.

Learn from Angel. Embrace the power of broke.

3. Complexities Are Rarely Necessary

“It's the stuff you leave out that matters. So constantly look for things to remove, simplify, and streamline. Stick to what's truly essential.”

- Rework: Hansson/Fried

Back in late 2015 we started to realize that client training sessions that had previously averaged 75-90 minutes in length were creeping closer and closer to a universal 120-minute mark. It didn’t seem to matter what the client age, injury history, or training objectives were, everyone was taking longer to wrap up their programming during a typical visit to CSP.

At first glance, it was hard to put our finger on exactly why it was that my Office Manager Stacie was routinely explaining to parents that their son’s training session was running just a little longer than expected. Were kids spending too much time socializing between sets? Were we short on equipment, leading to bottlenecks in the gym? What the hell was going on?

Upon closer inspection of the training material, we began to realize that in most cases, we were taking the individualization of our warmups to an extreme.

For the first five or so years we were in business, a warm up typically involved some quality time with a foam roller, 6-8 “meat and potatoes” mobility drills, and a transition into the training space or med-ball area. At some point along the way, we became so caught up in fancy breathing exercises and coaching-intensive complex movements that a warmup for a 14 year old with a clean injury history was trending in the direction of 30+ minutes in length. No bueno.

Comprehensive individualized warmups do have a place in our repertoire as CSP, as we cater to athletes with some fairly extensive injury histories, faulty movement patterns, and flexibility limitations. However, those individuals are more the exception than the rule.

Since identifying this trend, we’ve transitioned to a standardized warm-up that compliments the needs of the majority of our clients. The content changes from one month to the next, and there is a great deal of thought that goes into the structure and format of this material.

By locking down a general warm-up that most of our athletes utilize, we are able to increase coaching efficiencies on the front end of a visit to CSP, ensuring the clients get into the warm up area, get appropriately prepared to move some weight, and get onto the fun stuff.

We removed. We simplified. We streamlined.

Do you enjoy my spin on fitness business concepts?

I publish my “Friday Four” newsletter at the end of each week featuring links to useful articles and insights on applying concepts from each to your own fitness business endeavors. Check it out here.

My Gym is a Decade Older, and So Am I

Confession - I’m terrified of becoming the David Wooderson of the performance enhancement facility world.

Long before winning an Academy Award for Best Actor in the film Dallas Buyers Club, Matthew McConaughey played a “20-something year old loser who still hangs out with high schoolers” (IMDB character description) named David Wooderson in the movie Dazed & Confused. His character is best known for saying:

"That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age."

I used to think Wooderson was a creepy but lovable character, but now I just find myself wondering if the high school, collegiate, and professional athletes pass me in our gym and see me as the guy who is obviously far too old for the party. I am acutely aware of the fact that while I keep getting older, our target market does not.

wooderson.jpg

When we opened the doors of our gym and began targeting primarily athletes, being 25 years old was a pretty good thing. I was just old enough to be taken seriously by parents and coaches, just young enough to be respected by the high schoolers, and enough removed from my undergrad experience to understand how to communicate with college students.

In what feels like the blink of an eye, my window of relatability with youth athletes has passed. Connecting with, and influencing 15 to 22 year olds is much harder at 35 years of age than it was at 25.

Losing sleep over your ten-year plan for personal development is probably a waste of time when you should be concerned with surviving year one. However, if you are fortunate enough to maintain a profitable business for long enough to completely age-out of effectively serving your target market, these are the three best pieces of advice I have:

  1. Hire young. The only way to keep the identity of your business youthful is to find young professionals to share your training philosophy with the world. You could bring your friends on board because they’re fun to work with, but you’d better be ready to reinvent yourself as the newest general fitness pop service provider on the block.

  2. Coach your coaches instead of just your athletes. While your clients may not see you as a role model like they used to, your employees may. Take the role of developing young fitness professionals seriously and you’ll likely find it to be as rewarding as your time working with athletes.

  3. Capitalize on the harsh reality that you are now closer in age to a lot of your clients’ parents than you are to their kids. The silver lining here is that you’re better positioned to understand the psyche of the adults who spend their time waiting in your lounge. As a result, you are properly equipped to pitch your training services to them as well. As your young staff is creating a memorable training experience on the gym floor, you should be focusing on cultivating a new target market in the office. The bulk of our first dozen or so CSP Strength Campers were recruited in this very context.

Surviving ten years of business operations is a great problem to have, but it’s a problem nonetheless if you resist accepting the reality that you’re no longer the relatable 20-something that you were at the onset. Mature businesses need to be managed by mature business owners. Instead of faking your way through relating to teenage clients, I encourage you to age gracefully with your business. It isn’t easy.

3 Lessons Learned in a Year of Gym Ownership

This week I have a guest post for you from Peter Meakin. Peter is a former consulting client of mine and the founder of Perform Gym, located in Liverpool, England. He's officially got a year of business operations under his belt, and some lessons to share. Enjoy!

Perform Gym - Liverpool

Perform Gym - Liverpool

Having officially passed the one-year mark as an independent gym owner, I can honestly say I’m happy it’s behind me. Not because it went badly, but because the transition from personal training to gym ownership hit me like a tonne of bricks. 

Over this past year, I have spent a lot of hours researching the best ways to run my new business. I've reviewed the systems used at many established facilities and read any fitness-related business literature I could find (which is how I found Pete).  

Everyone says the same thing: Start small; keep overhead down; it’s going to cost more than you think; it’s going to be tougher than you think. 

I struggled to relate to these successful facilities and trainers. They were saying how tough running their business was, but all I could see was their success. 

And lets be honest, does anybody discuss how tough business is until they’re successful enough to say that they’re past that point now? 

Here are 3 lessons I learned in year-one and want to share from the viewpoint of someone who isn’t out of the woods yet: 

1. It's best to limit your offering. 

When you are conceiving your ideas, you think that you can do it all. A year ago I was a one-to-one personal trainer. I thought I’d carry on with one-to-one training whilst growing a semi-private model, a bootcamp, build upon my strength & conditioning background, add holistic fitness options, and sell supplements. The list goes on and on... 

In trying to serve everyone, I was serving no one. My time disappeared quickly. I found myself saturated, and wasn’t making much profit because of the increased overhead. 

This is where creating a singular focus or niche comes into play (I never really understood how to do this with the general population, until recently). 

Pick a primary offering (I chose semi-private personal training) and a target market. At Perform, I target semi-affluent 30-50 year old general population clients looking to get healthier, leaner and improve their lifestyle.  

It is a good idea to have a secondary option for those who fall slightly outside the scope of this offering. My secondary service offering is a bootcamp program which is available at a cheaper rate. 

For me, creating this niche and simplified offering streamlined my business model immediately. My client base now reflects the singular service that I want to offer. The clients who don't enjoy these methods eventually filtered out of our program. Like-minded clients gravitate toward the small group environment, and training has become more enjoyable and motivational for both my clients and myself. The improved training environment organically promotes further business growth. 

2. Clients don’t like change. 

I had an established client base before opening my own facility thanks to my time spent personal training. My clients were committed, enjoyed my training, and we shared good rapport. I thought that opening an awesome new facility with all of the bells and whistles would make everyone happy. My existing clients would benefit, and old clients would return. 

Truth be told, your clients may enjoy what they are doing now, but are not guaranteed to embrace change just because you say it's better. Many of them may be comfortable with your existing facility and don’t want to move, or simply enjoy your current training model. After all, that is what they chose to pay for in the first place. 

Clients want you to understand their point of view and demonstrate patience as they see and experience the new service format on their terms. I sought advice from Pete as I planned a transition to a semi-private training model: 

‘Clients don’t like change. Make the transition from your current offerings slowly, beginning with one or two weekly sessions and building as demand dictates.’ 

It took 6 months to convert my entire client base (other than those who require one-to-one supervision) to my semi-private model. My current clients are now happier than ever with their training system and wouldn’t want to change back. 

3. Step back and think. 

When you're a "one man band," you’re coaching every training session, delivering every consultation, answering every call, cleaning, marketing and handling all of the administrative tasks. Until you are established, I don’t really see a way around it. 

It wasn’t until I took a step back to look at the bigger picture that I identified the obvious flaws in my business and created solutions. 

It’s easy to get bogged down, grinding away in the day-to-day operations of a small business. It’s harder to come up for air, set aside some time for important tasks like brainstorming, marketing, admin, and long-term planning. 

I've come to learn that the more time I spend working on the business rather than working in it, the more money my business earns. 

On to year-two...

While I have no shortage of year-one lessons learned, these three have had the biggest impact on how I operate. They've reshaped the way I approach developing my business, and my enjoyment of the process. Hopefully they can move you from perpetually busy, to efficient and profitable gym owner status. 

About the Author

Combining a high level of academic and vocational study with extensive experience of maximizing performance at the elite levels of professional sport (ranging from professional club level up to Olympic and international athletes), Peter Meakin is recognized as one of the most skilled Trainers in the Liverpool area. His website can be found at www.performgym.co.uk

Want a White-Collar To-Do List? Start With Some Blue-Collar Work.

“Smart work will never replace hard work; it only supplements it.”

I can’t argue with Gary Vaynerchuck on this one. Whether you’re in the tech industry, or in fitness, great ideas are nothing without execution, and execution means hard work.

My buddy AJ has been a client at CSP since his days as a high school athlete. He’s since completed college and launched a business named Lumberlend Bat Co.. Lumberlend was in the black in well under a year despite making hefty initial investments in expensive equipment and materials associated with crafting customized “bat mugs.” He’s also managed to join me for roughly 125 training sessions since taking the jump into entrepreneurship last spring, while simultaneously working 15-hours days for months on end.

Pretty cool baby announcement, if you ask me.

Pretty cool baby announcement, if you ask me.

When AJ shows up to train, he’s typically got paint all over his clothes, calloused hands, and a big smile on his face.

He doesn’t, however, want to vent about the exhausting nature of his job. He could tell me that he’s been up since 4:00am, but instead opts to ask me what book I’m currently reading, who I’ve been learning from, and what my newest strategic objectives are for developing my own personal brand and consulting business.

He’s thirsty for knowledge.

What kind of gym owner will you be?

I admire AJ’s work ethic and drive because it reminds me of the energy that went into launching Cressey Sports Performance. When the dust settles on the first twelve months of business operations at a new gym, there are typically two types of owners:

  1. Those who are considering how they’ll reinvest their profits
  2. Those who are losing sleep over outstanding debt

If you were to audit how each of these business owners spent the previous 365 days, there would be obvious habits associated with each category. The entrepreneurs who are sitting on a little cushion of profits have calloused hands because of the energy that went into cutting rubber flooring for hours on end the night before their gym’s grand opening. Meanwhile, the debt-ridden gym owners are also sporting some banged up palms, because they prioritized their heavy deadlifting session while outsourcing the installation of their turf and equipment.

My hands and back hurt just looking at this...

My hands and back hurt just looking at this...

Unless you’re swimming in unlimited funds, there is no task that is beneath you. Eric Cressey was right there loading the dumpster during the CSP Florida initial demolition process, because he knows the value of blue-collar work during the early stages of a performance enhancement facility rollout. You may be excited to throw yourself into brand management and strategic business development, but working on the business takes a distant back seat to working in the business and earning a little sweat equity as your operation is in its infancy.

Go ahead and open that gym you’ve been dreaming of. But remember this: Your white-collar to-do list will not survive year-one if you don’t embrace some blue-collar tendencies. It’s time to get your hands dirty.