My Biggest Leadership Blindspot, and the Moment it was Exposed

Imagine you employed a team of six strength coaches, and rather unexpectedly, three of them left to start a competing business…

This is the game we played at Cressey Sports Performance - Massachusetts (CSP) during the second half of 2017. As you might imagine, it was a time of turmoil in a business that was just passing its ten-year anniversary of operations. There were challenging transitions in our business that followed, and so many valuable lessons learned that my business partner Eric and I could probably write a book about the experience.

Today, it appears we’ve righted the ship, having positioned ourselves to make an honest run at CSP’s best year ever just 16 months removed from the third and final employee defection. It is important to note that we absolutely, positively, did not do this ourselves. Eric and I have leaned heavily on spouses, incredibly motivated and talented employees, and each other along the way.

As the dust continues to settle on a tumultuous period in our entrepreneurial journey, there is one lesson that stands above the rest in my own personal adjustment. I’m sharing it with you now because I’m certain that any gym owner who reads my material is either dealing with challenging times, or vulnerable to them in the not so distant future.

The lesson I learned was not an instantaneous one, but instead a necessary adjustment that took place over time. It was during recent a transatlantic flight that I stumbled upon a quote that made this experience all seem so simple and obvious in hindsight. And as they say, this hindsight stuff is always 20/20. 

The quote read as follows:

“No one yet has managed to figure out how to manage people effectively into battle; they must be led.”

Quote pulled from this bad boy. Great read.

Quote pulled from this bad boy. Great read.

Competing with former colleagues is a business battle of sorts, and I was fully aware of this reality in 2017 as we worked to rebuild our team while taking care of existing clients. I was not aware, however, that my efforts to manage the situation would be unproductive if I continued to misconstrue micromanagement for leadership. I’d somehow convinced myself that the things we needed were limited to tighter systems and as much structure as I could possibly throw at my organization.

I wasn’t wrong that these needs existed. 

I was, however, wrong to assume that my time was best spent being the person to deliver change on this front. As it turns out, an intelligent and detail-oriented employee was perfectly capable of dealing with the complexities of management, while only I was truly in a position to handle the biggest responsibility of leading us through a period of change.

Employees wanted clarity on the direction we would be moving with the structure of our staff. They also wanted to know that there were strategic objectives in place for retaining existing business and repositioning ourselves to generate new leads. At the time, I was capable of creating a strategy to address these factors, but too bogged down in the mechanics of managing to find time to share the message of where Eric and I saw us to be headed.

I needed a manager to assume control of all things relating to staff coaching assignments, continuing education calendars for the team, and so much more. The man for that job was (and continues to be) John O’Neil. 

While John was the first coaching hire we made following this staff shake up, it was nearly eight months before we realized that I needed a Chief of Staff, of sorts.

Today, John serves in a Director roll, and has assumed what I would call a leader-manager identity at CSP. He deftly handles the surprisingly complex logistics of delivering a quality semi-private training experience in an operation that averaged 102 athlete training sessions daily during the month of June (a 25-session/day increase from where we were at when the wheels came off in 2017). He also serves as the unofficial voice of the team, helping me to stay better in-tune with the collective attitude of our staff at any given moment in time.

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I, in turn, am now able to spend more time behind closed doors discussing strategy with each of my employees. I am also given the opportunity to address circumstances of employee dissatisfaction in something closer to an immediate style, as opposed to in a retroactive format as was my habit in years past. Lastly, and arguably most importantly, this newfound freedom from the technical process of managing helped to free up time to drive more business through the doors. 

In short, I got my head out of my ass, stopped confusing a busy spreadsheet and calendar-management life with productivity, and got back to allowing my employees to see me as someone willing to lead.

Want to know the best part, outside of the revenue growth? John is better than me at every single task he inherited. Feels good to put that out there.

Does this sound like you?

Identifying and addressing our blindspots is hard as hell. Thing is, you’re probably already loosely aware of those blindspots, and just not willing to acknowledge them. Do yourself a favor, and empower an ambitious employee to assume some control of your operation. Shell out a few additional dollars in conjunction with a promotion in title, and use your newfound time to generate business that will far outperform the resulting increases in payroll commitment. 

The minute you stop trying to manage your team into battle, and instead start leading, you can expect to start winning.



WANT MORE OF THIS STUFF?

My business partner Eric and I are going to spend Monday, September 23rd digging deep into everything from lead generation, to pricing strategy, gym design, and everything in between. If you’re interested in learning exactly how we’ve attacked building and maintaining the model we’ve had in action since 2007, this packed day of information is for you.

*** Take note that this registration includes complimentary attendance to the CSP Fall Seminar which is set to take place during the two days before our mentorship event. This one will be a good bang for your buck continuing education opportunity.

Check out all of the details HERE, and make sure to shoot me an email (pdgymsolutions@gmail.com) if you have follow-up questions.

2 Counterintuitive Sales Tips for Your Gym

I spent six months repeatedly crashing and burning during the sales process when we started Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) in 2007.

Day in and day out, leads would roll in to our voicemail and email accounts, and my business partners Eric and Tony would sit alongside me in a tiny little office listening as I delivered cringeworthy fitness instruction sales pitches despite having never actually instructed fitness myself. This period of trial and error was a necessary evil, as the guys knew I’d be a far more effective salesman in the long-term if given the opportunity to develop my own approach, as opposed to simply memorizing and regurgitating a canned pitch.

Here we are, almost twelve full years later, and I’ve got more than 4,500 pitches under my belt. During that time, I’ve come to learn that the effectiveness of my pitch is often more driven by what I’m not willing to commit to during the process, than it is by what I’m willing to promise.

With this in mind, I’d like to share two of my favorite counterintuitive selling lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Lesson #1 - Sometimes clients need to hear what you can’t do

I’d venture a guess that roughly 80% of the parents of young athletes I speak to will ask me what kind of training outcomes can be expected. How many pounds will my son gain if he works out with you? How much faster can I expect him to become? My boy is a pitcher…how much of a velocity increase can he expect?

If my answer to any of these questions is anything other than “that depends on your son’s commitment to the process,” I am doing my business a disservice. As gym owners, we need to fight the urge to assume optimal training outcomes for each of the potential clients we pitch. This doesn’t mean that we need to tell parents that their kids likely have a shitty work ethic. Instead, it means that a little transparency and education in your response can go a long way toward closing a sale.

“You know, Mr. Johnson, your son’s potential in the weight room and on the field is really a function of his ability to put a number of good habits together. What he does here in the gym will be an important piece of a big puzzle. We’re going to give him all of the tools he needs to be successful in this space and make sure he has an understanding of how to execute the material properly. Assuming he compliments this training with quality nutrition habits and plenty of good sleep, increases in athleticism will be an inevitable outcome of the process.”

Translation: We can’t be accountable for the lifestyle habits your son maintains outside of our space, but we can guarantee that we’ll knock our role in the overall process right out of the park.

To date, I have yet to have a parent take issue with this response. In fact, more often than not, they find the honesty and logic refreshing. When every gym in town is promising the world to you during the sales process, it must be a nice change of pace to find the rare one that is willing to be brutally honest about the challenges ahead.

Your post-it should probably read: “Be honest and up-sell less.”

Your post-it should probably read: “Be honest and up-sell less.”

Lesson #2 - Up-sell in the gym, not on the phone

It is appalling to me how eager the average performance gym owner is to process payment on a 4+ day/week training package for a pre-pubescent thirteen year old with zero training experience. Is there a single thirteen year old on planet earth that needs to lift weights four days per week and mix in some recovery days and movement training?

If your answer to this question was anything other than “hell no,” then you’re thinking with your wallet and not your head. I make a habit of telling every one of those parents that I refrain from making training frequency recommendations without the benefit of actually assessing an athlete in-person, and that I can’t imagine a scenario where we’d advise for a kid that age to train more than two or three times in a given week.

“But I talked to a guy at XYZ Gym down the road and he insisted that my kid wont make the progress he desires with anything less than four days a week on a twelve month contract. What gives?”

If I make a habit of selling young athletes more training than they need, I’ll eventually be exposed as someone who is more interested in monetizing an immediate opportunity than I am in taking an athlete’s best interests into account. That 13 year old can make great progress in one or two sessions/week, and will soon grow up to buy justified three and four day/week packages from me when the time is right.

Try it Yourself

You’ve probably been programmed to “always be closing” over the years. At the same time, you likely have not been programmed to say no to potential clients who are dying to give you money for services they don’t need. Take a transparent approach to your sales process in moments such as these, and you’ll soon earn the reputation of being a guy who delivers desirable results while maintaining integrity.

People like to recommend that guy’s business to friends.


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Gym Owner Musings - Installment #15

Every month or so the “content ideas” page in my iPhone notes app begins to fill up with topics that aren’t quite beefy enough to justify an entire blog, but also a little too bulky to cram into a Tweet or Instagram post. I’ve once again hit that point, meaning it’s time to unload a couple of quick-hitter discussion topics that have been kicking around in my head (and notes app).

Here’s your July edition of Gym Owner Musings:

1. Standardize Your Seller

Everyone on your team should understand how to deliver the sales pitch, but it doesn’t mean that everyone should do so. Whenever possible, I encourage gym owners to standardize the staff member who delivers an explanation of the service model and pricing structure. Assuming you have a most popular training model (CSP is 95% semi-private training, for example), it is safe to assume that you are vulnerable to consistent service misconceptions.

In our semi-private training format, this means that parents and athletes need to be informed in advance of their first post-evaluation training session that they should not expect to have the same coach assigned to them every time they walk through the door, that the client-to-coach ratio will sit at a maximum of 5:1, and that sessions should run roughly 90-minutes in length. If I were to allow six different staff members to deliver six different versions of this message, I might end up with clients that expect sessions to run:

  1. “Never less than an hour”

  2. “Definitely under two hours”

  3. “As long as it takes to get it done properly”

  4. “Roughly 75-90 minutes”

  5. “Depends on which coach you’re working with”

  6. “Depends on who writes your programs”

While none of these answers are definitively wrong, they collectively will fill a busy training space with a wide variety of service expectations. In short, only one or two people on the team should qualify as your “go-to” seller. The rest can tag in during unique circumstances where absolutely appropriate.

In case you’re wondering, this is what a compelling sales pitch looks like.

In case you’re wondering, this is what a compelling sales pitch looks like.

2. Getting “Buy-In” is a Matter of Transparency

I had a question pop up in a recent Instagram Fitness Business Q&A that read as follows: How do you get potential trainers and clients to buy in to your methodology?

I temporarily wavered on the answer to this one, thinking that if I dug deep into our systems, I’d somehow find language in place that says: “Here’s how we get buy-in!” Turns out this hypothetical document or system doesn’t exist. It doesn’t need to, because in everything we do, we go further than just “the how.”

From the moment you walk through our doors, be it as a client or an intern, you’re bombarded with “the why” behind our actions. Interns learn why our warm-ups are designed to work from the ground up, and why we list our packages from most to least expensive in our pricing sheet. Clients learn why we’ve built specific corrective exercise into their warm-ups that don’t show up on any other programs in the gym, and why we might be advocating for a three-day full body format as opposed to a four-day upper/lower split. In short, we’re teaching as much as we are instructing.

Buy-in is a byproduct of procedural transparency to all. This is exactly why we don’t protect our gym’s “secret sauce.

3. Behavior Unchecked Becomes Behavior Sanctioned

Another of the 40+ questions I answered this past week on Instagram was what one thing I would change about my business habits if I could go back in time. I explained that I’ve made the mistake of letting bad attitudes exist for extended periods among staff members in years past. Every time a perpetually grumpy employee moves on, I am surprised to learn that clients were seeing and feeling it every bit as much as (if not more than) I was.

I’m guilty of avoiding the responsibility of being the bad guy because I like a given person, and it is never the right thing for the business, our clients, or even the employee in question.

If you have a disgruntled coach on staff, and you’ve genuinely made an effort to improve their work circumstances to no avail, you don’t have time to waiver. Clients quietly leave without complaining following bad service interactions. Fellow employees emulate that which they interpret to be socially acceptable based on your failure to act as a manager, and your business catches on fire all around you while you hope someone “just comes out of a funk.”

The best time to terminate an unpleasant service employee is weeks or months ago. The second best time is today.




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Stop Bashing and Start Observing

You have to carry a big basket to bring something home.

This is a quote from a fascinating story told in the book titled Range, by David Epstein. In it, he explains the story of an education event attendee complaining that he wasn’t taking anything of value away from the experience. Epstein went on to state that a mind kept wide open will inevitably take something away from every experience.

Does this disgruntled event attendee remind you of a number of fitness professionals you know who love to bitch about the quirky service alternatives in their market?

Crossfit is just a dangerous model featuring reckless programming and minimal supervision.

OrangeTheory is a fluffed up service that counts on distracting you with trendy technology.

The Title Boxing Club down the road is just a passing trend where no one actually gets better at boxing.

Imagine color translates to open-minded exposure to local competition…this basket is nice and big.

Imagine color translates to open-minded exposure to local competition…this basket is nice and big.

You name it, I’ve heard the bullshit whining. And guess what…I catch 100% of these people by surprise when I’m not complicit with their agenda. In fact, I like to remind people that Crossfit has generated enough awareness to justify mainstream television coverage, a partnership with Reebok, and a level of demand that allows for multiple locations to pop up in some of the smallest towns you can imagine.

I also like to point out the fact that OrangeTheory did 137% growth in revenue between 2015 and 2018, and is currently operating 800+ locations. Now I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand in front of numbers anywhere near this level in my own business.

So maybe, just maybe, there is something to learn from these titans of brand development in our booming fitness space. Instead of complaining about the local competitor, you think it might be a good idea to open your mind to the fact that they’re open (and thriving) for a reason?

Spend a little money to experience their services. Infiltrate their operation and expose yourself to their best practices that could likely be easily replicated in your own shop. Accept the fact that your shit stinks just as bad as you’ve convinced yourself theirs does.

In short — carry a bigger damn basket.


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Cost-Benefit Analysis: More Than Just an Exercise in Dollars & Cents

Why don’t you guys have batting cages in your gym? Why aren’t you open for semi-private training in the mornings? Why haven’t you guys explored franchising your operation?

These are just a handful of the many questions that my business partner Eric and I encounter on an almost weekly basis. They all make sense. In fact, if I were observing a fitness business that clearly caters to a baseball-specific population, I would also wonder why pitching instruction is available, yet on-site hitting is nowhere to be found.

The answer to these questions, in part, lies in the answer to the question of why we decided to open our own gym in the first place. I can’t think of a better reason to start your own operation than to design a model that allows for you to enjoy your craft while maintaining some semblance of work-life balance.

That right there is exactly what we did.

There’s more to cost-benefit analysis than this…

There’s more to cost-benefit analysis than this…

People hear the term “cost-benefit analysis” and immediately assume there was a calculator involved. However, the exercise applies to decisions in gym ownership that can be as simple as determining what time to open your doors for the day. The answers to all three of the questions I opened with are driven by our willingness to prioritize quality of life over the tireless maximization of dollars collected:

1. We don’t offer hitting instruction in our gym because we don’t care to listen to the pinging of aluminum bats all day long. We’re cranky old men who don’t want to deal with that stuff.

2. We don’t open until noon because we have decided to serve a segment of the athletic population that doesn’t care to roll out of bed at 6:00am to train. We also realize that we deliver a better product following a restful morning that prioritizes our own personal affairs and training efforts prior to being locked in with clients.

3. We’ve chosen not to franchise to date because we’ve prioritized the quality of the product (and resulting brand image) over the need to scale geographically in a chase for a quick cash infusion.

In short, we’ve asked ourselves if the benefit of more dollars coming into our operation would offset the cost of compromising our own personal time, training outcomes for clients, and sanity within the workplace. The answers were no, no, and no respectively.

The end result? We filled our gym, during the hours of our choice, with the athletic population we selected. This was all made possible because we were (and continue to be) fired up to come to work every day, and remain singularly focused on the task at hand when we are here. A more engaged staff leads to a higher-quality client experience, and a great client experience enables the kind of word of mouth advertising need to allow for us to work exactly the hours we desire.

With this in mind, I encourage you, the gym owner, to be a little selfish as you firm up the details of your hours, services, and growth strategy. After all, it is YOUR gym, and you aren’t doing your clients any favors by creating a dynamic you are unhappy with simply because you’re chasing short-term dollars.


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Mistakes Happen - How Does Your Business Respond?

Imagine the last time you took an employee or new intern through an orientation at your gym...

You probably explained how important your systems are, and how they allow you to eliminate slip-ups in the client experience. Stick to this plan and we won't have any problems, you said.

Well guess what...problems happen. In fact, the most systemized businesses in the world stumble from time to time.

We could have 100 staff meetings at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) in the coming year regarding timely program design, but sometimes those clients show up a day earlier than expected. Sometimes printers break. Sometimes employees are late due to extenuating circumstances. Stuff, in general, goes wrong from time to time.

But I’m not worried about stuff going wrong. What I’m worried about is how we respond to it.

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What is Service Recovery?

The art of solving client problems is sometimes referred to as “service recovery,” and it is as important to the long-term success of your business as the systems you’ve designed to theoretically eliminate mistakes in the first place. You know that moment when an olympic gymnast loses her balance for a split-second on the beam before self-correcting and continuing on with her routine? Yeah, that’s what great service recovery should look and feel like.

So how do you react when things don’t go according to plan? Do clients see flustered chaos, or do they walk away from the experience with a positive attitude about your operation?

The biggest danger to you as a business owner in these circumstances is an employee who is too adherent to the operational rules you’ve put in place. “I’m just following protocol” is a shitty response when a customer has to wait for you to fix an error. Clients want to feel heard. They crave empathy and authenticity in your responses. And, most importantly, they expect a prompt resolution.

With this in mind, an employee shouldn’t need to run a proposed solution up the managerial chain when one can be reached in a quick and low-cost manner. This means that if a program isn’t finished when a client arrives, my Office Manager Julie doesn’t need to come to my office to ask if she can pull a coach off the training floor to prepare material on the fly. Instead, she apologizes for the delay, moves quickly to offer a resolution, and maybe even throws in a bottle of water and a protein bar for the inconvenience.

The best thing you can do as an employer to get ahead of service recovery failures is to empower your team to break the rules, alter the routine, and help the customer.

For example, you could set a cap on how much money an employee can spend without permission to improve a client’s experience. You could keep a stack of free drink coupons for the coffee shop around the corner to help ease the blow of the occasional delayed consultation start time. You don’t even necessarily need to make a financial investment in a service recovery. As long as people feel like you’re taking action quickly, you’re headed in the right direction.   

The Bar is dreadfully LOW

A client walked into my office earlier this week to tell me that, while he is appreciative of the training he receives while at CSP, the thing he has valued most to-date was Julie’s willingness to drop what she was doing and resolve a problem of him being double-charged the day before. The mistake was entirely ours, and here he was telling me that one of the best things we’ve done for him was to quickly solve the problem.

That’s just how low the customer service bar is currently set thanks to the many businesses that have conditioned their clients to expect bad service. Don’t miss the opportunity to take advantage of these disappointingly low expectations.

If a service recovery plan or policy doesn’t currently exist in your business, put it at the top of your agenda heading into your next staff meeting.

You wont regret it.


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16 Meandering Thoughts on Gym Ownership

Want to jump inside my chaotic and unpredictable gym owner mind?

I tried hard to lock down a single concept to write about this week and couldn’t keep from bouncing from idea to idea in my brainstorming efforts. The end result? Sixteen quick thoughts, including some tips, a rant or two, and likely some concepts that I’ll figure out how to develop further in future blogs.

Maybe one (or 16) of them will change the way you do business starting today...

An inside look at my content selection process this week.

An inside look at my content selection process this week.

1. You’re never too young to lead, or too old to learn. Embrace this mentality, and make sure your employees know you believe it. Otherwise, you’ll never extract their actual potential.

2. It only happens a couple of times per year, but those three payroll months really sting when it comes time to cut checks to owners. This assumes you’re on a bi-weekly pay schedule and manage a reasonably large team.

3. If you do a good enough job, you’ll eventually find yourself training your competition. This includes former interns, employees, and even clients. Consider it a compliment and never stop learning or you’ll fall behind the people you helped jumpstart.

4. Some of the best equipment investments I’ve made include a ping-pong table, mini-basketball hoop for the warm-up area, and a cornhole set-up. Everyone likes to talk about making their gym a third space for their clients, but most don’t deliver the amenities that inspire said clients to embrace that mentality.

5. Clients break clipboards at an astonishing rate. In close to 15 years of strength training, I can’t remember a single moment where I found myself dropping a dumbbell on a clipboard. How do I find myself replacing 50 wood clipboards annually?

6.If you say you open at 12:00pm, you can expect the phone to ring repeatedly from 11:55am until 12:15pm, and roughly 1% of all callers will leave a message. The rest will just hang up and call back continuously until they break your will.

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7. If your lease is expiring this year, and you intend to renew, start the dialogue 6-9 months out. A good landlord will do this for you, but many of you have less-than-good landlords. You never know if they intend to sell the building, choose not to offer you to stay, or even triple your rent. You can’t afford to begin a new property search 30-90 days prior to needing a new home.

8. The canned responses feature in Gmail just may be the single most impactful time-saving mechanism you’re not using. I’ll bet a quick search of the term using the Google Machine just may get you pointed in the direction of productivity if you’re interested.

9. When a fitness business tries to reposition its training model, it exposes itself to the risk of alienating the longtime customers who chose their gym for what it was in the first place. You can’t just declare that your established personal training facility will be a semi-private gym moving forward and expect clients to fall in line. Remember the haphazard roll out of “New Coke?” That’s about how well you can expect it to go.

10. Your coaches and interns need to know that you believe in their potential, and simply adding them to the team isn’t enough to convey that message. The next time a coach tells you that he aspires to one day coach in the NFL, tell him you know he can get there. And then ask how you can help.

11. Self-proclaimed “efficiency gurus” are going to tell you you’re leaving money on the table if you waste time swiping credit cards, answering phones, and sweeping the floors. Those are tasks to be delegated 100% of the time, they’ll say. Ask them to remind you of how many gyms they’ve owned and operated. None of us are above doing an undesirable task in our small business.

12. There is no such thing as a perfectly harmonious fitness operation. Don’t be fooled by the beautifully crafted Instagram stories and filtered images. We’ve all got “stuff,” and there’s nothing wrong with admitting it.

13. My gym started with a blank spreadsheet and an operating account with $0.00 in it just like yours. In fact, every gym you’ve ever followed and maybe admired did. Your chances on day one are just as good as anyone else’s.

14. Attempting to maintain an existing gym culture instead of allowing it to evolve is a recipe for failure. Culture isn’t installed. Instead, it is the manifestation of a collection of fascinating personalities coming together to make something special. When clients leave the gym, the culture changes. When interns finish up and go back to school, culture changes. When you make a new hire, culture changes. Embrace change.

15. In my experience, there are two types of employees: the ones who thrive on busyness and demanding to-do lists, and those who can’t wait to tell you how exhausted they are when we come out of a quiet time of year and get smashed by an influx of returning athletes. As much as it terrifies you to do so at the start of a busy period, you’ve got to clean house of the coaches that fall into the latter category. You’re better off short-staffed with motivated team members than you are fully-staffed with uninspired contributors. Tear that bandaid off as quickly as possible.

16. Our optimal client-to-coach ratio at Cressey Sports Performance is really just that...ours. We started by putting two kids in the gym with a single coach and quickly realized that adding a third, fourth, and eventually fifth would work perfectly fine without compromising the quality of the product or the client experience. Like everything else in life and business, getting to that point was nothing but a series of trial and error. Stop looking for other business owners to dictate your optimal semi-private model, and start experimenting.




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What if Your Gym Was Chasing a 3-Star Michelin Review?

I’m a big proponent of the cliché: “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have.”

This attitude applies to far more than the outfit you wear on a given day. If we were to think this way about customer service in the fitness space, we could say: “Deliver the client experience expected in a $200 personal training session, while knowing that we only offer $40 semi-private classes.”

So, where do you find your inspiration for world-class customer service outside of your own business?

Maybe you’re a Disney enthusiast, a hardcore believer in “the Zappos way,” or even just trying to recreate the vibe of a well-run Trader Joes. The origin of your inspiration is less important than simply having an inspiration.

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In my case, I like to look at the way a high-end restaurant operates.

My wife accumulated years of customer service experience serving in nice restaurants prior to transitioning into the corporate world. Despite being nearly a decade removed from her last serving experience, she continues to be an astute observer of the art of exceptional hospitality at well-run restaurants.

It drives her crazy when servers walk past empty plates and credit cards awaiting processing simply because it wasn’t their assigned table. In the world she operated in, the best teams functioned as just that, a team. This meant that, to an extent, every table was her table, and she acted accordingly. 

Katie only had to point this out to me once or twice before it became a pet peeve of my own. I began to realize that at the best restaurants, “my server” was really just the person who took my order and graciously provided the bill. Otherwise, there always seemed to be an army of hospitality-centric faces coming and going from the table.

This is exactly why I could stomach the idea of paying $50 for an 8oz cut of meat and a couple of $22 side plates of potatoes and asparagus.

So why does the experience in our gym have to be much different? 

Maybe, instead of walking past the client unloading a trap bar in between sets simply because you haven’t been assigned to work with him, you stop to help out…with a smile.

Maybe the next time you walk past the front desk to find your Office Manager handling a phone call as a client waits to schedule her next session, you stop and promptly take care of that task for her?

Maybe you start thinking of every client as your own client, and every task as potentially your own task, and the overall client experience will improve.

If you begin to think of your gym as a restaurant that is competing for a 3-Star Michelin review, you just may be able to justify doubling or even tripling your rates in the not-so-distant future. At the very least, your retention figures will skyrocket.



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Eyes Forward, Gym Owners

(2-minute read…I promise)


My 5 year old son loves to take off sprinting every time we go for a walk. Without fail, every time he hits top speed, he looks over his shoulder to see if we’re trying to keep up with him. 

No matter how many times I tell him to keep his eyes on the road to avoid stumbling, he can’t bring himself to stop being concerned with what might be creeping up behind. 

One of these days he’s going to fall. The consequences will likely involve tears, Neosporin, and a few bandaids. This seems to be a lesson he will have to learn the hard way. 

The mistake Collin is guilty of making again and again is much like the one we as gym owners routinely make. We can’t help but lose sleep over what the competition is doing. We monitor their Instagram feeds, we second-guess our own training decisions based on what we think they may or may not be doing, and we lose sleep over things we can’t control. 

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So, I’ll tell you the same thing I tell Collin every single night as we take our post-dinner family walk...

If you’re already sprinting as fast as you can, there’s no point of wasting the limited energy and resources you have left on being concerned with what’s potentially sneaking up behind you. Unless you’ve got a gear we’re all unaware of, your best is going to have to do, and you can’t react to the hurdles approaching in front of you when your eyes are pointed in the wrong direction. 

Focus on being the best version of you that you can be, and you’ll be able to say that you’ve put your gym in the best possible position to survive. I’ll promise you this — the gym that’s chasing you has their eyes forward, and they see your operation as one of those aforementioned hurdles just waiting to be leaped. 

Can you afford to slow down by looking back?



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Gym Owner Musings - Installment #14

Every month or so the “content ideas” page in my iPhone notes app begins to fill up with topics that aren’t quite beefy enough to justify an entire blog, but also a little too bulky to cram into a Tweet or Instagram post. I’ve once again hit that point, meaning it’s time to unload a couple of quick-hitter discussion topics that have been kicking around in my head (and notes app).

Here’s your May edition of Gym Owner Musings:

1. On Selling: Don’t Take the Email Shortcut

The opportunity presents itself to me time and time again...

“Would you mind emailing me pricing information for your training services?”

It’s not a rude or unreasonable request. In fact, this is probably exactly how I would go about engaging with my business if I were an interested consumer exploring my fitness options in the area. The problem for the gym owner, however, is that emailing a pricing sheet all but eliminates your opportunity to counter the hesitation we routinely encounter with price-sensitive potential clients.

You already know your premium priced services are justified by the level of attention to detail you deliver, but how are you supposed to convey this message when the email recipient scans the material you sent looking for a dollar sign, and immediately jumps to a conclusion on the viability of you as an option based entirely on a number that comes with little to no context?

You’re doing yourself a disservice by taking the easy way out and sending off that email without requesting an opportunity to jump on a quick phone call to discuss the options available. If you’re going to personalize your training material, you should also make a habit of personalizing your sales pitch.

You’ll close more sales on the phone than via email…I promise.

You’ll close more sales on the phone than via email…I promise.

2. On Educating: Never Quit on an Intern

A typical internship at Cressey Sports Performance runs somewhere in the vicinity of 100 to 150 days in length, with the shortest period being our summer session. With just over three months to make an impact on a young coach in the shortest scenario, it would be easy to conclude that bad apples come and go, and your best option when one is identified is to make sure said coach isn’t put in a position to hurt anyone or reflect poorly on your business. In effect, sweeping the under-performers under the rug with the mentality that it will all be over soon.

This sucks for a number of reasons, with the first being that the intern in question likely put a number of other opportunities and responsibilities on hold to come learn from you. Often times the worst performers are blissfully unaware of just how far short they are falling in relation to their peers. One-strike policies on underperformance are unacceptable in this realm.

The second reason why you can’t afford to can’t afford to look the other way when an intern fails to meet your expectations is that, like it or not, that coach is going to move on to a next step in the fitness industry and your business name is likely to sit at or near the top of his resume. I’ve written in the past about the surprising lack of reference checks I receive on former interns, despite there being well over 200 of them out there these days. Can you afford for a shitty intern to be presumed competent simply because he apprenticed under your supervision?

All it takes is one coach with a bad attitude to list you as a former employer and quickly eliminate any future coaching opportunities in a given organization for 100% of the fellow intern alumni hailing from your gym. Telling yourself “sometimes we’ve just got to make it to the end of this internship period and move on” is both short-sighted and dangerous for your reputation.

3. On Scaling: The Biggest Bottleneck for Growing Gyms

I’m always looking for trends in the questions presented to me by fellow gym owners, and the latest is regarding how and where to find quality coaches as businesses grow quickly. When we started our business, there weren’t dozens upon dozens of fantastic resources floating around to assist us in scaling as fast as possible. Today, it seems everyone, with the right work ethic and advisors in their corners, can build a viable operation quickly.

You need help designing a logo? Just download a free version of Canva to your phone and throw a nice looking one together this afternoon.

Need help with Facebook advertising? Pop on to your good old Facebook feed and crowd source recommendations for the best free PDF on the topic floating around these days.

Everybody has “a guy” when it comes to FB ads, and many are delivering free content.

Everybody has “a guy” when it comes to FB ads, and many are delivering free content.

In search of time management hacks and business book recommendations? Do yourself a favor and sign up for Mark and Michael’s (Fisher/Keeler) newsletter over at Business For Unicorns and begin seeing your account flooded with information that probably should cost thousands of dollars entirely free of charge.

Point being, the tools for success are in place and shockingly accessible if you’re in the early stages of business. The road from zero dollars in revenue to, say, $200K+ is far shorter today than it was a little over a decade ago.

However…

I’ve yet to find a free resource that explicitly outlines how to quickly find the perfect coach once you’ve hit capacity on your existing staff. My inbox is filling up with gym owners who’ve achieved early-stage success in a rapid manor, but suddenly hit a wall because they keep striking out on finding competent employees to help them jump past the newbie gains threshold.

Bad news, friends…

The best resources and consultants in the world cannot point you to a shortcut or “learn from my mistakes” solution to creating badass coaches. You want the perfect coach for your operation? You’re going to have to build that person, and it sure as shit doesn’t happen by executing a checklist found in a PDF.

It is for this reason that I advise 100% of my consulting clients to begin outlining some form of an internship or mentorship program starting as early as their first year of operation. This is not to say that I believe a brand-new one-man operation can or should employ interns. What I mean, instead, is that the thought process needs to start long before the need or opportunity presents itself.

Ask yourself: If I wanted to manufacture the perfect employee, what books would I like him to have read? What courses should he have attended? How many hours shadowing on my training floor would be optimal? If I were delivering an online college course touching on private sector strength and conditioning, what would the curriculum look like?

The process of building your dream employee is a long-vision game, and one that needs to be played if you have aspirations of running a seven-figure fitness operation. The best time to begin educating your next perfect coach is days, weeks or months ago. The second best time is today.



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Life, Fitness, and The Road to Hana

I need to know everything you can tell me about Hana, I explained.

I was discussing an upcoming trip to Maui over a meal with my good friend Michael Keeler (Co-Founder of Mark Fisher Fitness). We’d already touched on his favorite restaurants and meals on the island when we got to the topic of the popular excursion known as “The Road to Hana.” 

Michael spent two and a half years in Hawaii fine-tuning his customer service and management skills while working for the Four Seasons about a decade ago, and he quickly proved himself to be the most-informed trip-planning resource in my network. 

You want my best piece advice, Pete? Stop at the spots that fascinate you, buy some banana bread from a roadside vendor, and then turn yourself around and head home the moment you feel like you’ve got your fill. Experiencing the road to Hana has little-to-nothing to do with Hana. It’s about the experiences along the way. 

The thought of only completing a portion of the trip hadn’t even crossed my mind. What’s the point if you can’t say that you made it to Hana, I thought. Michael had quickly repositioned my expectations and objectives for the experience ahead, while also showing me that the road to Hana is a pretty good metaphor for life in general.

I went home from that meal and pulled up a list of the dozens of potential stopping options on the journey, highlighting the five or six that specifically matched with the interests my wife and I share. (If you’re interested in seeing why this is such a popular trip, drop the term into a google image search and it will all make sense.) 

As it turns out, we made it to Hana and never even bothered to stop. There was nothing in that little town that garnered our interest, so we kept on rolling past it to the last potential stop along the way, Haleakala National Park. There, we did a wonderful two-mile hike to the most beautiful waterfall I’ve ever seen in person. We never once lamented the fact that we’d taken the Hana out of the road to Hana. 

The picture doesn’t even begin to do it justice.

The picture doesn’t even begin to do it justice.

What the hell does this have to do with fitness, you ask yourself?

Well, your current and future clients mostly share the same bad habit I brought to the table when preparing for my travel experience...they come to you with nothing but a destination in mind. 

To some, it’s a specific body fat percentage that’s going to suddenly make them happy. To others, it’s looking good at their approaching high school reunion. It could even be an aspiring powerlifter who has convinced himself that capturing the elusive 500-lb deadlift will equate to him finding his own personal promised land. 

It doesn’t really matter what the singular goal is, because your objective as a fitness service provider is two-fold: manage expectations on the longer than anticipated road to supposed happiness, and make sure that the client stops to take in the scenery along the way. 

You’ve got to deliver life lessons on the nutrition front that will carry forward far beyond a singular event on the calendar. You’ve got to teach people to think strategically about their own fitness needs the next time they walk into a hotel gym while on the road and don’t typically know where to start. You need to hammer home the importance of quality technique to the dad who will one day set up a rack and some weights in his basement so that he can teach his son how to prepare for football tryouts. 

Every single thing we do with our clients in the weight room is about getting them to the metaphorical waterfall on the other side of an initial target that usually just turns out to be nothing more than an unremarkable sleepy village. 

Teach your clients to celebrate the process instead of the outcome, and you’ll actually leave a lasting mark on some lives.


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Why I Bother to Write a Newsletter

Every Friday at noon I email a newsletter I’ve titled the “Friday 4.”

In it, I share a quick link to my own weekly blogging efforts, and the links to four pieces of content that caught my eye during the week prior. All of the material at least loosely impacts the way that I think about (and actually go about) running my business, and I share two to four sentences explaining why and how. While the concepts are not my own, the spin I put on the information is.

People seem to appreciate the information, as open-rates have remained far above what I understand to be acceptable levels in the three years I’ve been publishing, and many kind folks even take the time to fire over the occasional “thank you” email in response.

One such recent email included a simple question that I’ve never been asked before:

I’d love to know more about why you prepare a newsletter, if you would recommend other facility owners/industry experts doing so, and what benefits you’ve seen from having one?
— Stuart A.

I typically refer to my newsletter design habit as one of content curation, which, according to Wikipedia, “is the process of gathering information relevant to a particular topic or area of interest.”

So…why bother?

I should start by saying that my intention for curating content each week is different today than it was when I started a few years ago. Since early 2016, I've come to see a number of benefits that I didn't initially expect. 

Here's how that looked:

The 3 reasons why I initially started a newsletter

  • Everyone said (and continues to say) that the only list you can actually own is your own, so I figured I had to do it. This makes sense, as social media platforms are positioned to pull the rug out from under you on a whim, leaving your earning potential in their hands.

  • It would afford me the opportunity to remind people that I've published material each week beyond announcements on social media. Since we can never be sure that our “announcements” of new material will beat the algorithm and find their way on to everyone’s feed, more exposures to the message is always a good thing.

  • I could use it to drive revenue-generating initiatives. I don’t currently have products to sell, or a habit of pushing affiliate links. For the time-being, my readers are enjoying an influx of content with little to no selling. This can, and likely will eventually change, but for now, I’m in the midst of delivering a series of what Gary-Vee would call “jabs.”

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Why I have Since come to see it as valuable

Much like my experience in brick and mortar business ownership, establishing yourself as a trusted content provider is effectively a never-ending game of trial and error. I spent a year or so churning out these newsletters with the agenda of focusing on the perks outlined above, but eventually came to realize that the real value came from these six outcomes:

  • Curating content forces me to consume a bunch of material each week. I’ve never found that the first four articles I clicked on hit the target, so I read a TON. I’ve got roughly a dozen standard content sources that I frequent for ideas, and there is thankfully no shortage of free information floating around on the areas of business that interest me.

  • These reading initiatives expose me to a number of different concepts that inspire creativity in my own blogging efforts. Interesting articles lead to interesting takes relating to running a gym, which I am happy to kick out in posts like this one every Thursday.

  • Sharing material in this format requires that I continue to develop my own writing style. As mentioned above, every link I share is accompanied by a blurb explaining why the material I am sharing is relevant. I’m not what one would call a great writer, but I’m far better today than I was when I started. In my case, practice makes passable. I’ll take it.

  • Delivering information of this nature every week allows me to stay on radars of fellow gym owners who may one day need my consulting services. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that I’m not occasionally looking to make a buck. A little transparency here wont stop you from reading, right?

  • In that same vein, preparing a newsletter is the perfect way to continuously reaffirm expertise in the eyes of potential consumers so that when it comes time to fill the room for one of our CSP Business Building Mentorships, I have a far easier time asking for that sale.

  • As mentioned above, people respond every single week to either say "thank you," or put additional articles on my radar that they think might be a fit. Either way, a wonderful outcome, as anyone who blogs knows, there are many times where you find yourself thinking: “Is anyone even listening?”

Maybe you should try it?

Whether you’re looking for new forms of inspiration, in need of a habit to keep you accountable, or just seeking an excuse to read as much as possible, a newsletter may be a great idea for you.

I’d be remiss to not mention that you can get a taste of this Friday 4 newsletter here, where you’ll find archived examples of recent installments, and an opportunity to sign yourself up on the left-hand side. Check it out!

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Social Media For Your Gym - Pick a Lane and Stay In It

If you follow Cressey Sports Performance on any social media platform, you’ve probably come to the conclusion that we train baseball players. In fact, you may assume ballplayers to be just about the only type of athletes who walks through our doors in a given day.

Would it surprise you if I told you we have just a shade under 50 adults from the general fitness population who make it in for our Strength Camps three to four times per week? How about the fact that yesterday more than 50% of the semi-private clients who completed supervised training sessions in our Massachusetts facility were over 35 years of age and lifting weights because they knew it would improve their quality of life, and not their fastball?

We now generate roughly 25% of our revenue by working with general fitness population clients. We don’t, however, allocate that percentage of our social media outputs to that segment of the training population.

This isn’t to say that we’re uninspired by this collection of clients, or that we’re trying to hide something from people who follow our brand.

Instead, we’re making a deliberate choice to fine-tune our message. We’re opting to speak to a specific segment of the athletic population again and again. Our attitude is that if we want to be known for something (the baseball-specific training niche), we owe it to ourselves to stay on-message as often as possible. If you’re wondering why we’re okay with only marketing to a single audience, you can find a detailed explanation here.

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This approach would likely work in your performance training business as well. Instead of firing up the Instagram account today and wandering around aimlessly to collect sporadic content, maybe you should step into the gym with an actual game plan.

Here are three reasons why every performance training business could benefit from picking a specific audience and hammering away at it consistently in their social strategy, regardless of the variety of clients walking through the doors:

1. Picking a target reduces the stress of identifying worthy content.

I’ve come across a number of gym owners over the years who both resent the need to generate social media content (to drive leads), and feel overwhelmed by the task of doing so. Curating visuals that are intended to inspire people to pick up the phone to inquire about your services isn’t a task to be rushed, and the best way to alleviate this stress is to be consistent in the audience you are targeting.

If you are only concerning yourself with appealing to a single client avatar, you can be direct in your message and approach. No more snapping shots that vaguely show a mom, an athlete, and a grandparent scattered in the background with the intention of conveying the message that “all are welcome here at my gym.” Unless you’ve named your business “Nothing But Basketball Players,” it’s already assumed that all are welcome. You can stop advertising yourself as a jack of all trades and master of none.

Pick a type of athlete, concern yourself with learning the language of the sport, and begin speaking that language in your content. You’re far more likely to achieve perceived expert status if you get specific than you are in taking a generalist approach to content creation.

2. The feed is too noisy and cluttered to allow for “we do it all” to stand out.

Think of how you mindlessly scroll through the endless feed of Facebook and Instagram posts. For me, it’s the half hour after my wife and I get our kids down for bed. We’re both exhausted from a day of work and an evening of refereeing (this will make sense to you if you have two little kids), and all we want to do is zone out for “five to ten minutes” before re-engaging in conversation.

So, what do we do? We pick up our phones and unknowingly tune out the world for a five minute break that occasionally turns into thirty. When I come out of my haze of consuming images, videos and informational posts, rarely do I remember even 5% of what I just saw.

This sounds like you, right?

Stop kidding yourself...it 100% does.

So what can we do as content creators to break the habits that result in unmemorable material? We can establish a level of consistency that allows for our audience to instinctually identify our posts based on look and feel.

People move quickly through the Instagram feed, often missing quality information simply because nothing caught their eye. If we’re consistent in the colors we choose, the fonts we utilize, and the filters employed, we increase the likelihood that the people we’re trying to reach spot our material while in the midst of an endless scroll.

Your goal should be for platform users to know they’ve reached a post from your gym before even bothering to read a caption or listen do dialogue. People should almost instantaneously think to themselves, that is obviously a post from Pete Dupuis every time they encounter one of my Instagram images showcasing a visual of a recent “business-specific” tweet.

(An example of the look and feel of roughly 90% of my own IG posts…)

(An example of the look and feel of roughly 90% of my own IG posts…)

Remember, your audience is there willingly. You didn’t hit the follow button for them, so you can interpret their strong engagement with any recent post as a demonstration that they’d like to see more of the same. You don’t need to continuously reinvent the wheel if you’ve found an approach that clicks.

3. Picking an audience means picking a proposed area of expertise to pursue.

I’ve yet to find a gym owner who isn’t interested in drawing clients from a wider geographic range than they already do.

How do we convince the kids from outside of a 15-min driving to make the trip to train with us?

The answer to this one is to establish perceived expertise. Youth baseball players can’t convince their parents to spend extra time in the car to go train at that place that makes no effort to differentiate itself on social media. “I’m not driving an extra hour in traffic to pay extra for something that you can get right around the corner for $10/month” is a far more likely response in this case than “let me grab my keys and checkbook.”

And this is good news for you…

I say this because forcing yourself to differentiate by picking a target population requires that you also force yourself to learn as much as possible about training them. There’s more free material out there on strength and conditioning than any individual coach or fitness team could ever consume, so the best way to establish a clear approach to information consumption is to get specific about your goals.

Spend all the extra time you can studying a specific topic, and the outcome will eventually be specificity in the material you feel compelled to share. The more nuanced your message, the more likely you are to establish yourself or your business as a destination training facility and not a fitness commodity.

People tune out the perceived generalists as they endure unnecessarily long commutes and crummy traffic to work with experts.

The algorithm is the least of your worries…

Everyone finds the energy to bitch about the ever-changing algorithm burying their posts from reaching current and potential clients, but few are honest with themselves about whether their information actually brings value in the first place.

So ask yourself: In a perfect world, where I could guarantee that my social media posts hit the newsfeed of my entire desired audience, would those people even hit the pause button as they scrolled by?

It’s probably time for you to get more intentional about the way you attack the content creation process.


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Overcoming the "Best Coach on Staff" Problem

It’s the same story at just about every gym…

The team is stacked with great coaches, yet every new client wants to know if and when they’ll be working with the owner.

How in the world are you supposed to scale your business if every person who walks through the door does so expecting to own a chunk of a single coach’s day? You can take comfort in knowing that I wrestle with this issue every single day of my professional work life.

We created this problem for ourselves at Cressey Sports Performance, choosing to put Eric’s name on the wall upon opening in 2007 (something I’ve written on in the past). As with every strategic decision we make, there are pros, and there are cons. Since one of the pros in this case is the fact that my business partner is a world-class generator of leads, I routinely find myself managing expectations for incoming clients surrounding his involvement in the assessment and training process.

How should I manage expectations of parents and athletes who all think they should be working with me, the owner?
— any gym owner with employees

Today I want to explain how we attack almost eliminating this problem in both our Massachusetts and Florida facilities, specifically by sharing the three objectives we focus on to clearly convey an important message: The CSP product is the sum of many parts, and those parts happen to be a collection of exceptional coaches.

Here goes…

1. We Position multiple team members as the faces of our social media strategy

Gone are the days of glorifying a single personality in our informational content. Sure, Eric still publishes educational material, but he’s just one of the many faces you’ll see when tracking our output on a platform like Instagram.

Say hello to Kyle — Contender for the title of best beard on the CSP staff (also an arm-care enthusiast)

Say hello to Kyle — Contender for the title of best beard on the CSP staff (also an arm-care enthusiast)

Concepts, visuals, and captions for Infographics are generated by full-time staff members. Ideas and lessons shared during staff in-service by coaches not named Eric are showcased in blogs, on youtube, and throughout the campaigns that draw attention to our internship program. Additionally, areas of expertise are showcased in the form of insights from our Pitching Coordinators, manual therapy tips and tidbits from our on-site LMT and PT, and more.

Speaking of areas of expertise...

2. We need to “have a guy” (not named Eric) for everything

Until opening our second facility in Florida in late-2014, Eric handled nearly 100% of the assessment scenarios involving unique injury histories and complex programming scenarios. There were shoes to fill when he left, as kids in Massachusetts didn’t suddenly stop tearing ACL’s and UCL’s.

We realized that we were in need of areas of expertise across our team, so we went to work on positioning coaches as experts in extremely specific realms. We needed an ACL rehab specialist. We needed an elbow and shoulder guy. We needed someone who understood how to handle a braced athlete bouncing back from a spondy.

Gone were the days of me saying: “Sure, Eric can take care of that.” I needed a new approach, and the most effective one turned out to be having the ability to tell a parent: “I’ve got just the guy for your son who recently had a Tommy John. In fact, I’ve got a coach on our team who has been in the operating room to observe the procedure itself, giving him a complete understanding of what is going on in your son’s elbow, and what he will be fighting through during the recovery process.”

When you stop to think about it, you’ll realize that having multiple team members with specific areas of expertise makes far more sense than positioning your gym owner as the jack of all trades and master of none. Sure, Eric knows more than enough to be dangerous on 99% of the scenarios that walk through our doors, but wouldn’t you rather work with the coach who has been religiously studying research journals, engaging with medical professionals, and attending related seminars on the exact topic of your son or daughter’s injury for months on end?

3. We did more than just Declare coaches as specialists

Claiming to be a lower-extremity specialist for the sake of positioning isn’t the same as actually being one. This is where the months of preparation in advance of Eric leaving for Florida came in. Identifying the appropriate staff members to take the reins on specific assessment and programming scenarios based on their background was the easy part. Actually accumulating the appropriate experience was another story.

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Instead of bringing an intern in the room to assist with assessments, Eric took full-time staff members to be his second set of eyes and hands. When a guy with a recent labrum repair showed up in the assessment calendar, he grabbed our soon-to-be “shoulder guy” and dove into the screening process alongside him, taking a teaching hospital approach to employee development for months on end.

When not working directly with athletes, Eric was arranging for team members to meet and engage with orthopedic surgeons outside of our gym, helping them to network with appropriate practitioners in the area, and assigning ample reading materials for consumption. The process was slow moving and arduous, but continues to be a necessity for our operation. After all, I can’t “sell” these employees as credible experts if I don’t truly believe them to be just that, so the education process is one that never actually ends.

Every gym has a perceived “best coach”

Something tells me that this challenge is one that you face on a daily basis if you own a gym and employ other coaches. It’s great that you’ve established the credibility that results in being an in-demand coach, but your business will never scale if you allow this mentality to thrive inside of your operation.

Glorifying a single staff member only serves to stifle your ability to increase client capacity, so you’re better off spreading around the rave reviews in favor of a far healthier bottom line.


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"People Aren't Ready for Semi-Private Training in My Market" is Bullshit

I can’t remember the last time a week passed without someone telling me that semi-private training models are a foreign concept in their market. It’s always the same thing: Personal training is the only commonly accepted practice where I operate. My clients would lose their mind if I took it away from them. 

So what is it about this training format that they’re so in love with?

I’d be willing to bet that if you were to ask them, they’d reel off a list of perks that looks a little like this:

  • I love that you individualize my program.

  • I love that you supervise every movement so that I don’t risk injury while exercising.

  • I love that you keep me on track and get me in and out of the gym in a reasonable period of time.

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You know what they don’t say?

  • I love that you’re the only person I get to talk to between sets.

  • I love that none of the other quality coaches in the gym know that I exist.

  • I love that I never have to engage with other people with similar goals.

You see, properly structured (and delivered) semi-private training takes everything that is great about personal training, tosses out the flaws, and mixes in some additional perks.

Personalized programming? Check.

Eyes on me while I lift? Yup.

Efficient use of my time in the gym? Yeah…that too.

Your clients are unlikely to resent losing your focus in between sets if you mix in a few fascinating people working hard alongside them and looking to make small talk during downtime.

Your clients aren’t going to walk out the door feeling any less “worked out” after executing the EXACT SAME training material, using the EXACT SAME equipment, under the supervision of the EXACT SAME person.

The biggest problem you’ll have when you effectively make the change is having long-time personal training clients come to the realization that they were previously paying 2x (or more) for the same amount of supervision during lifts. Little did they know that for years they’d been paying for roughly 8-minutes worth of lift-offs, spots, and coaching cues in a given 60-minute window. The rest was just fluffy interaction meant to pass the time during recovery.

The mistake you’re making

The best way to mess up communicating the benefits of shifting your training model is to emphasize what is being taken away from a client (start-to-finish face time), instead of celebrating the benefits that are being introduced – more for less:

  • Affordability in training packages

  • Motivation that comes with having training partners

  • Improved social component to the gym experience

  • Potential exposure to new coaches (depending on your model)

  • Engaged coaching from employees who thrive on variety in exercise supervision

Sometimes two is better than one. And, no, these aren’t my boys.

Sometimes two is better than one. And, no, these aren’t my boys.

Converting personal training clients to a semi-private format is like convincing your only child that he’s going to love having a little brother.

You don’t say to him: Bad news, buddy. I’m going to stop making sure we feed you breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’m also pretty much done with making sure you get down the slide safely at the park. I’m all about your little brother moving forward. Best of luck, friend.

Any sane parent paints a pleasant picture in this circumstance. You’re always going to have a friend to play with. You’re going to make each other laugh. You’re going to teach him how to ride a bike, and swim, and be a big boy. You’re going to LOVE it.

So, when it comes to shifting your personal training clients into a new format, why is it that you feel compelled to do so by cushioning some sort of expected blow? These clients’ attitudes relating to semi-private training aren’t the problem. Your positioning of the service is.

Tell a better story.


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Your Most Important Raving Fans May Not Actually Train in Your Gym

Raving fans are everything to a growing business. 

No traditional Facebook ad is going to outperform the authenticity of an actual person telling your potential client how amazing you are. You probably already know this.

What many of my fellow fitness professionals fail to appreciate, however, is that there is more than a single layer to a well-crafted raving fan community.

Take the typical Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) client for example. On any given day, we might see as many as 40+ high school baseball players. In the most basic sense, an optimal service outcome for this type of athlete is one that includes strength gains and body composition improvements, right?

Thing is, when we do deliver on this objective for the athletes from this demographic, there are multiple ways the outcome can be positively interpreted, and they aren’t limited to just the kid who has experienced our services.

For example…

The parents at home celebrate improved habits that often include a new appreciation for a healthy diet, dedication to a process that doesn’t allow for shortcuts, and deliberate efforts to reduce the risk of injury while playing the game of baseball. Show me a baseball parent who claims she wouldn’t appreciate her kid embracing all of these habits, and I’ll show you a liar.

The coaches on field celebrate the athlete that demonstrates a newfound appreciation for warm-ups and arm care protocols, effectively setting an example for a collection of teammates who are likely on the fast track to arm injuries. These same coaches will be the last to complain that a player has become faster, throws harder, and rarely loses time to injuries. 

Parents, coaches, and even significant others qualify as low-hanging fruit on the positive word-of-mouth tree for us fitness professionals playing the never-ending game of collecting raving fans.

Pretty sure this guy serves both roles…

Pretty sure this guy serves both roles…

So, the question becomes, what are we doing to make these parties feel valued, and how are we going about making it easier for them to talk about us?

What? And How?

Sometimes we need to fight the inclination to turn every interaction with a non-client as an opportunity to pitch services, when our contact might be better used as an opportunity to say “thank you” for setting a great example for the athlete and positively reinforcing the hard work that is taking place in the gym. Maybe a quick email to a parent saying “thanks for keeping the fridge stocked with healthy options for Johnny” will be all it takes for you to show that you’re concerned with more than collecting dollars.

There’s an old saying that goes: They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Having been in this business for close to twelve years now, I’ve come to learn that, assuming we deliver results to the athlete, and make an effort to communicate to a coach or parent how much we care, we’ll never again need to waste the energy telling people how much we know. The raving fans that don’t even train with us will take the initiative to do that for us.

Continue to work hard to create raving fans in your weight room, but whatever you do, don’t stop there.


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Forget the MBA — Fine-Tune These 3 Skills to be a "Biz Guru" at Your Gym

Outside of filling some additional white space on my resume, the MBA I earned in 2007 doesn’t carry a whole lot of value at this moment in time.

It’s not that I regret going back to school. I don’t.

It’s just that the business world has changed dramatically since that moment in time.

People might make the argument that the term “social media” was coined right around 1999, but I can tell you that there wasn’t a single course of this nature available at my college during the four years that I was an undergrad (‘99-’03), and I have little to no memory of it being a factor as I was in graduate school.

In fact, the inaugural Tweet was published by Jack Dorsey less than 60 days before my first day of graduate classes, Facebook had yet to introduce the concept of the newsfeed or business pages, and the Instagram that we rely heavily on to build business today was still 4+ years away from being a thing.

Imagine running your gym today and generating leads without the assistance of social media...

You can’t, right? I can count on one hand the number of facilities that I am aware of who are able to do so.

So...tell me again how my archaic MBA makes me more qualified to run a gym than anyone out there reading my blog?

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things about biz school that people undervalue

The B2B Marketing concentration I pursued over a decade ago may not be a great reflection of how gyms and businesses in general function today, but the staples of a business school core curriculum will never go out of style. Managing profit and loss statements will never be a passing fad. Who you know continues to be more important than what you know today as it was in ‘07. And grasping the concept of time value of money is and always will be a timeless skill.

In hindsight, I took some real gold away from my business studies. The thing is, thanks to the abundance of entirely free and accessible information now floating around on the internet, the most important lessons I learned in those classrooms can now be picked up with a drink in-hand at the local coffee shop so long as they have a decent wifi connection.

As I take inventory of lessons learned as a sleep-deprived (and poor) graduate student, there are three fundamental components of the process and curriculum that set me up for success as a gym owner. And there’s good news: All three can be replicated without financing a $50,000+ education.

Here’s a look at the three most important skills I walked away from graduate school with:

1. Biz School Mandates Proficiency in Basic Accounting

The core curriculum of both my undergraduate and graduate business programs mandated that I understand the difference between revenues, expenses, assets, liabilities, income statements, balance sheets, and statement of cash flows. I’ve got an appreciation for the difference between managerial and financial accounting.

All of this stuff is imperative if you want to run a healthy business. This being said, I’m so tired of gym owners telling me I have an upper hand in running a profitable operation because I learned accounting in school.

Guess what...that information that cost me a small fortune and dozens upon dozens of hours of my life to accumulate is now available in the form of a ten minute tutorial on youtube.

Seriously.

In fact, two of the first three videos featured in the results of a Google search of the term “accounting basics” offer an opportunity to learn these concepts in seven and ten minutes respectively. Crazy thing is, I watched one, and it got the job done.

You can stop telling yourself that an MBA would make you better at managing your books. Even MIT (yeah, the freaking Massachusetts Institute of Technology) offers a free online accounting course these days.

2. Biz School Students Are Masters of Networking

If there is one thing that they did well at the Babson College F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business, it was facilitating networking opportunities. The alumni network is engaged and accessible, networking events are plentiful around the country and even globe, and program coordinators made a great effort to get students together both on and off-campus throughout the duration of the program to ensure that connections were made beyond the classroom.

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If you’ve been in fitness for any period of time, you know that there’s a continuing education event option every weekend of the calendar year. As much as the concepts being shared by presenters bring value to your career development, I would contend that the conversations that happen before, between, and after presentations are the ones that are going to blow up your earning potential.

You don’t need to attend business school to fine-tune this skill. You just need to force yourself outside of your comfort zone, and appreciate how impactful the power of reciprocity can be in building your business. These events are where you go to run into the specialists who run complimentary businesses in your area. The sooner you drop the “I’m just too introverted” attitude and start making small talk, the sooner you’ll be funding your retirement account with gym profits.

Build your network, or die a slow death on your gym-shaped island.

3. Biz School Students Either Sink or Swim in Tons of Work

I actually completed a traditional two-year MBA curriculum during a 51-week window thanks to the One-Year MBA Program at Babson. From Memorial Day Weekend, until Labor Day Weekend, we attended classes six days per week for as many as 8 hours/day. On top of the class schedule, we finished each day with a homework load that actually accounted for more reading hours than any individual could ever complete if he wanted to sleep that night.

This meant that classmate collaboration was imperative from a studying and information consumption standpoint, and long nights were the norm.

By the time the summer ended, I was numb to the workload. I’d conditioned my mind and body to expect to be “on” for as many as 100 hours/week, making the two “normal” semesters to follow feel like an absolute breeze. With just four classes on my schedule, I was able to participate in a 30-hour/week for-credit internship, and coach high school soccer during the afternoons in addition to school.

When school ended that following May, and people asked me what the hardest part had been, my answer was always the same: the summer portion of the program. The good news, I thought, was that I’d never need to log those kind of hours again in the future.

And then I opened a gym with two buddies…

One of the biggest mistakes I see new gym owners make is going into the process with the expectation that one can maintain the client volume and workload one had while coaching at the local commercial gym, and “just get the administrative stuff done during off hours.”

The first six to twelve months of running a business will kick your ass. I’m talking “first three months of a one-year MBA program kick your ass.”

We worked seven days a week for months on end, and also knew we had to eat, sleep and breath gym ownership during the hours we weren’t at the facility.

You don’t HAVE to get an MBA to learn to embrace the workload that comes with surviving the early stages of gym ownership, but I’m sure glad I did. The prior experience allowed me to maintain my sanity during the summer of ‘07 when CSP became a thing.

I’m not looking to talk you out of chasing this dream. Instead, I want to talk you into embracing the suck that is early-stage entrepreneurship. MBA or not, you’re gonna have to endure it.

One Spot Left…

Interested in something along the lines of a 1-Day Gym Owner’s MBA? I’ve got an idea for you.

29 of the 30 available seats at our upcoming Business Mentorship are spoken for, and I’d love for you to be the magic number 30.

My business partner Eric and I are going to spend Sunday, April 7th digging deep into everything from lead generation, to pricing strategy, gym design, and everything in between. If you’re interested in learning exactly how we’ve attacked building and maintaining the model we’ve had in action since 2007, this packed day of information is for you.

Check out all of the details HERE, and make sure to shoot me an email (pdgymsolutions@gmail.com) if you have follow-up questions.

Initiative Fatigue is Killing Your Earning Potential

in·i·ti·a·tive fa·tigue

common gym owner mistake: when a leader jumps from one improvement fad to another, draining his company’s resources and his employees’ patience.


Don’t act like you haven’t made this mistake yourself. I have. Dozens of times. Maybe more than 100.

Every spring it’s the same thing…we hit our quiet period of the year, and immediately begin vomiting ideas all over our team.

  • We should start a transformation program.

  • We really need to ramp up our personal training services.

  • Let’s start a youth athlete program!

  • Should we add a smoothie bar to the space?

  • Let’s host another seminar to drive some cash flow.

  • We need to attract a different demographic — let’s launch a volleyball-specific program.

  • We need to beef up our YouTube page.

  • We need to be more active on Twitter.

  • Why did we abandon Facebook?

  • Is Snapchat still a thing? Do we need to get back over there?

  • Let’s set up a Groupon offer!

  • Maybe I should return that ClassPass call. (PS - don’t do that)

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I could go on. And on. And on. For days.

Here’s the thing we all need to remember: If we have more than two to three “important strategic initiatives” in place at any given moment in time, we don’t really have any at all.

The more shit we toss on the to-do list of our employees, the more frustrated they become. Take that frustration, and multiply it several times every time we fail to actually follow through on said initiatives.

As I said before, I am guilty of this, many times over.

This spring is different. I’m fighting this urge to add more, as I’ve come to realize that the magical next revenue-generating move is simply being better at keeping our existing clients happy, and not allowing any of them to subtly fall off the radar and disappear for a few weeks (or months) at a time.

There appears to be a direct correlation between being exceptional at generating leads, and being a complete train-wreck at maintaining an optimal retention strategy. New business tends to drown out the fact that existing business is quietly walking out the back door. It is for this very reason that the spring of 2019 at CSP Massachusetts features a single “important strategic initiative.”

This time around, we’re focused on one thing, and one thing only — making sure that we nurture existing client relationships. This means that in-season clients will hear from us every other week at a minimum as their playing schedule precludes them from setting foot in our space, and the ones who do show up are treated like rock stars.

Gone are the days of seeing regulars intentionally disappear for 10-12 weeks, leaving us with the responsibility of effectively having to win back their business annually. Say hello to a time where clients feel like they can’t get away from us because we care too damn much.

We’re playing the long game here, and no amount of trendy new initiatives will out-earn an exceptional retention strategy in the coming six, twelve, or even twenty four months.

Go ahead and tell me that your gym’s retention efforts couldn’t improve a little bit.

I don’t believe you.


Want More of This Stuff?

We’re a little over two weeks out from our next Business Mentorship, set to take place in our facility down in Florida, and I’d imagine we’ve got the room to plug two or three more gym owners into the action. (forgive me if I’m wrong, EC)

My business partner Eric and I are going to spend Sunday, April 7th digging deep into everything from lead generation, to pricing strategy, gym design, and everything in between. If you’re interested in learning exactly how we’ve attacked building and maintaining the model we’ve had in action since 2007, this packed day of information is for you.

Check out all of the details HERE, and make sure to shoot me an email (pdgymsolutions@gmail.com) if you have follow-up questions.

Gym Owner Musings - Installment #13

In this thirteenth edition of Gym Owner Musings, I’ve got some thoughts on improving client retention, being more memorable in your networking efforts, and how to make the most of an initial client assessment.

Here. We. Go.

1. You’ll never get a second chance to make a second impression

Your first inclination was to say that I messed up a common saying, right?

Well I didn’t. I’m all about second impressions. I believe the second visit to my gym is far more important than the first. You see, convincing a client to sign on for month one following an initial assessment is among the easiest of tasks we encounter. The biggest challenge we face, as it turns out, is convincing a client to sign on for month two.

The move from month one to month two is a difficult one, as four weeks often isn’t a sufficient window of time for an athlete to see what he considers to be significant results. While our coaches know that progress is being made, and a foundation for success is being laid, this big picture vision isn’t always common with young athletes. As a result, it is imperative that we show additional value in the form of exceptional customer service.

When you employ a personalized programming approach like we do at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP), a fair amount of one-on-one instruction is involved with new clients. While this hands-on approach to coaching is optimal from a program execution standpoint, it hinders our ability to make staff-wide connections with a single athlete in week one. As a result, we need to be deliberate about ensuring that all employees engage with a new client during his first training session following an initial assessment, regardless of whether or not they’ve been assigned to the athlete.

Here’s an important reminder I share with my team on a regular basis: You start selling month two on day one of month one. Waiting until the last week of a paid month to focus on driving value is a fast track to crummy retention figures.

2. Great networking is about creativity

Let me start by saying just about any networking effort is time well spent. However, some networking approaches are better than others.

Until this week, few things made me happier than receiving an unexpected book in the mail from a friend with a nice note saying something along the lines of: “Thought you might enjoy this one.”

This week I arrived back to work following a family vacation to find a small box on my desk. It featured the return address of a fellow gym owner who I connect with periodically, and was just about the size of a typical book. I popped that baby open thinking I had an idea of what was coming, and soon realized a new standard for networking creativity had been set…

In this box, I found a Nintendo Game Boy, including a copy of the classic game Tetris. Significant chunks of my childhood came rushing back all at once as I handled this beautiful grey device. The hand-written note included read as follows:

“Pete - Hopefully you can dominate your boys in this and enjoy some free time away from the gym.”

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For the rest of the work day after opening, every colleague who stepped into my office immediately asked about the Game Boy, and multiple clients even found their way into my office after hearing about the archaic device sitting on my desk. Time after time, I found myself explaining why I have it, only further extending the reach of a well-placed networking effort.

If you’re going to work to foster and develop a strong network of relationships in this field, the most impactful way to do so is to catch people off-guard with generosity and thoughtful creativity.

Well played, Justin Kavanaugh. Well played.

3. Day one should be about more than working through an assessment checklist

We love individualized program design at CSP. In fact, we’ve built nearly our entire business around this approach. As a result, we have to execute a fairly thorough initial screening process upon starting new clients to ensure that the material we prepare is appropriate for the athlete based on injury history, training objectives, sport of choice, etc.

This being said, we also know that it is easy to fall into the habit of over-complicating day one with endless movement screenings, measurements, and complex tests. When this approach makes up for the entirety of the client experience, you’re more likely to send someone home feeling like the subject of a science experiment than you are to make him feel like an athlete.

This is why we (CSP) dedicate at least 50% of the initial assessment process to executing a thorough warm-up in line with that which every client completes prior to a session, and a taste of the strength training experience.

If you have the time and resources to do so, get the health history, movement screenings and postural analysis out of the way, and move on to the fun stuff that brought your client through the door in the first place. In doing so, you’ll allow the athlete to understand a little bit of what can be expected during the sessions to follow, and also likely gather some additional insights into the direction you should go with the programming once you see just how coachable the athlete is upon stepping up to a loaded bar.

One last thing…

My business partner Eric and I are looking forward to hosting our CSP Business Building Mentorship at our Florida facility on Sunday, April 7th. We’ll spend a day digging deep into everything from lead generation, to pricing strategy, gym design, and everything in between. If you’re interested in learning exactly how we’ve attacked building and maintaining the model we’ve had in action since 2007, this packed day of information is for you.

Check out all of the details HERE, and make sure to shoot me an email (pdgymsolutions@gmail.com) if you have follow-up questions.

Labeling: Your New Secret Sales Tool

“I’m definitely going to sign up. I just need to get in shape first so that I don’t waste your time or embarrass myself.”

If you run a gym known for catering primarily to athletes, you’ve undoubtedly heard this one before. Nine times out of ten, your performance-based reputation probably brings value to closing sales conversations, but there’s the occasional sneaky general fitness population lead that uses it as a counter to your established sales strategy.

So what do you do? How could this deflection tactic be countered? Is it even worth trying?

The solution to your problem, as it turns out, is to eliminate the likelihood of encountering it at all. You can do so by employing a negotiation tool known as labeling.

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What the hell is labeling?

I first encountered the concept of labeling while reading Never Split the Difference, a book written by a former FBI hostage negotiator named Chris Voss. In it, he explains:

“Labeling is a way of validating someone’s emotion by acknowledging it. Give someone’s emotion a name and you show you identify with how that person feels. Think of labeling as a shortcut to intimacy, a time-saving emotional hack.”

When applied properly in this fitness instruction scenario, this shortcut is actually a proactive move to get ahead of the “I just need to get in shape first” retort. If you’re being honest with yourself, you probably realize that every time you’ve heard someone drop this line, it followed a series of admissions of uncertainty relating to the exercise process.

  • I’m not an athlete, you know…

  • I haven’t been in a gym forever…

  • I’m nowhere near as fit as the people I see on your website…

  • Are you guys even interested in working with someone as un-athletic as me?

The most important thing you can do during the selling process is to listen closely and pick up on these signals being tossed your way. Once you’ve identified an emotion to highlight, it’s officially time to label it aloud:

“It sounds like you might be worried about being unprepared to fit in in our training environment.”

Put it out there and allow a moment or two of silence to follow. Let the label have an impact.

Ways this can play out

There are two directions the conversation can go from this moment forward:

Potential Outcome #1 - Your counterpart in this sales process will protest your assumption, effectively eliminating his ability to use the “I’ve just got in shape first” counter when you look to close. I’d imagine you won’t be mad about this outcome, considering it was your objective to avoid it in the first place.

Potential Outcome #2 - Your label will be validated by the person you’re engaging with. Let’s say he agrees with your “it sounds like” approach, explaining that he’s intimidated because of his own perceived beginner weightlifting status. Aren’t you in a much better position to quell his fears after illustrating his potential objection before he has an opportunity to employ it himself?

This is how non-athletes often envision our gym before setting foot in it…

This is how non-athletes often envision our gym before setting foot in it…

When I drop a label of this nature into the dialogue and the hesitance is confirmed, I’m ready to drive forward:

“I totally get it, and would be lying if I said that you’re the first person to feel that way. As it turns out, our individualized approach to program design all but eliminates any likelihood that your training experience is impacted by the people around you in the gym. Everyone is excited to get better, and is working at their own unique pace. We start up beginners every week of the year, so I’m sure you’d feel completely at home in this family environment.”

You know how many people have responded to that statement with a declaration of the need to get in shape before getting started?

The total is right around zero.

The reason this approach has been so productive for me is that I’ve been effective in applying rational words to existing fears, disrupting their impact on the conversation. The biggest challenge in employing this tactic is getting over the fear of bringing your counterpart’s hesitation to the forefront of the discussion. I can assure you of this - the uncertainty is going to manifest itself one way or another during your pitch, so why not put it in play on your terms?

Try it yourself and let me know how it goes.


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