3 Reasons Team-Training Might be a Threat to Your Business

Imagine you’ve recently opened a gym…

You’re in year one, cash flow isn’t quite where you’d like it to be, and you’re looking for a quick fix.

Suddenly the opportunity you’ve been waiting for comes crashing into your lap. The local club soccer team is looking for a place for their “hundreds” of athletes to attend for sport-specific training this coming winter and they want to “send the entire program your way.”

The quotations in the last sentence are there because the headcount and proposed attendance are probably both entirely inaccurate. Sure, every club has a series of age groups and rosters they intend to fill, but few of them operate at the capacity they advertise to people like you and me. Even fewer of them are effective in convincing even half of their athletes to specifically pick your business for training. It is rare to find a serious teenage athlete that has not yet established relationships with fitness service providers close to home these days, so it’s difficult to convince them to drop everything and try a new place “because my summer coach said so.”

Nevertheless, you plow forward with dreams of big paychecks and a full gym.

Fast-forward a season or two and the cracks are beginning to show on your master plan of taking an entire program of young athletes and turning them into lifetime customers. Retention numbers are beginning to fall, headaches are piling up, and you’re beginning to realize that the service you are offering is no longer representative of the one you envisioned on the day that you received that first inquiry from the soccer club president.

If this sounds like a direction you could be headed, I want you to consider the following noteworthy reasons why team-training of this nature may be more trouble than it is worth for you and your fitness business:

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1. Like it or not, you’re going to compromise on pricing strategy

There isn’t a coach or club owner in this country that will approach you with his “hundreds” of athletes expecting to pay full price. He’s going to request volume discounts and special exceptions, as he believes himself to be holding all of the cards.

When he does, you’ll feel compelled to do him a solid, offering a 25% discount to each and every one of his athletes. Those kids will happily pay $150 for a month of training that typically costs $200, and you’ll feel just fine about it because the cash infusion they’re making into your operation is going to cover that new power rack you’ve got your eye on. Life is good.

This continues through the winter, kids get stronger under your supervision, foot traffic is steady in the gym, and you’ll be just about ready for a breather the moment all of these guys get back outside for practice and game play.

And then the spring and summer seasons will come and go…

Business will grow steadily during the time that these soccer players are in-season and you’ll be feeling good about having them back in for a productive off-season ahead. You’ll find a way to plug them back into your now far busier calendar.

So my program is still $150, right? I can’t afford to do this at $200 per month. That’s not what I was sold in the first place.

You’ll explain that this was a discounted rate that was offered initially contingent upon an entire program worth of youth soccer players training in your space. But here we are a year later, and only 8 of the “hundreds” are back for more.

The parent standing in front of you holding the Amex doesn’t care. He wants his discount, and he wants it in perpetuity.

So what are you going to do? Trust me when I tell you this…you should do anything and everything you can to transition that athlete to regular rates in the immediate future. Explain the justification for your standard pricing structure, including constant reinvestment in the business in the form of quality coaches, top-notch equipment, and ongoing staff continuing education objectives.

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There’s nothing wrong with honoring the prior price point for a month or two, but it needs to be made clear that the move to standard rates will be effective on a designated date, and it is unfortunately non-negotiable.

Or, you could just never offer a discount to that entire program in the first place and let your product and results speak for themselves in justifying the pricing strategy that already exists. Your call.

2. You’re also going to compromise on training philosophy

If you’re anything like us at Cressey Sports Performance, you take pride in the training model you’ve put in place. Attention to detail is paramount, and individualization is arguably your biggest and most compelling differentiator.

This model is going to take a hit the moment you begin watering down your procedures in order to accommodate multiple athletes for on boarding in a tight window of time. Those meticulously crafted personalized programs are going to begin showing up hand-written on a marker board in the middle of the gym, designed to work for the fifteen athletes who show up at 3:30pm, because they all play the same sport and “all look pretty much like the same kid.”

They’ll probably all get a great training effect, as it doesn’t take much to drive positive progress in the untrained teenage athlete, but will you feel fulfilled after compromising on the exercise selection format that you had in mind as you designed your initial business plan?

To be clear – I see absolutely nothing wrong with good old-fashioned group programming and group training. There is a time and a place for everything, and many of the best gyms in the world crush it in this model. My point here is that this adjustment is a significant deviation from the business and training model you’ve built your reputation around, and you need to ask yourself if you’re comfortable delivering a service that isn’t in line with the expectations of the athletes and parents who may already be aware of your brand..

Speaking of your reputation…

3. Athletes slip through the cracks

The smaller your client-to-coach ratio is, the more control you have over the product that results from your instruction. If you’ve got eyes on every rep of a training session spent supervising a small handful of athletes, it is unlikely that improper execution takes place, or dissatisfied clients go unnoticed.

As those groups grow larger, and entire teams roll through your space, the likelihood of quiet athletes remaining disengaged in the back of them room increases. While you know they’re getting the instruction they need to avoid injury, you may not be delivering an experience that makes them passionate about the training. The athletes who truly thrive in this setting are the ones who are advocates for themselves, while the quiet kid is the one who goes home feeling uninspired.

That very same quiet kid is likely to fall on the wrong side of your retention issues when the next off-season rolls around, but that wont stop him from discussing his experience in your space.

I went for months and didn’t get any stronger...and the gym was too crowded and I felt like coaches didn’t pay attention to me...and I hurt my hamstring on the first day of tryouts after training with them all winter so they obviously didn’t prepare me for the spring.

The thing you need to remember is that every single athlete who walks through your door has the potential to either be a valued brand advocate, or a destructive word-of-mouth force that crushes your lead-generation objectives. It doesn’t matter if they worked with you for a single day, or multiple months…they all leave your space with the ability to discuss the experience.

So, you need to be honest with yourself – are you putting your business in a position to maximize the odds of delivering a positive training experience that will be discussed in a positive light further on down the road? If churning a whole team worth of athletes through your space is going to result in a less-than-inspiring training experience for a handful of kids, is it worth the potential damage that could be inflicted on your brand reputation?  

Before you dive in…

I may not have sold you on the idea that biting on that offer from the local club team is a bad move. That’s fine, as I have no business telling you definitively how to run your business. This being said, if you’re going to move forward, I implore you to identify the gym or gyms in your part of the country that have mastered the art of this large group team training concept and get into their space to see it in action. They’ve likely spent years fine-tuning their approach, and built a model that was designed to accommodate this format from the start…not because they needed a quick infusion of cash.


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If you enjoyed this, or any of my other “hot takes” on fitness business ownership, I think you’d enjoy our upcoming Business Building Mentorship. Eric Cressey and I are hosting this event once again on April 7th at our facility in Jupiter, FL.  

Please shoot me an email if you’d like to discuss further. We’d love to have you.

Email: pdgymsolutions@gmail.com

Misconceptions About Niche Development

I’d imagine there’s a 99% chance you’ve found my blog because you’re aware of the gym I co-founded. There’s also a 99% chance you are aware that we’ve established a reputation for catering to the needs of the baseball-playing community. We’ve captured a niche, and it’s been good for business.

So, let me ask you this…

Do you think we earn our living exclusively by training baseball players? Do you think we close the metaphorical door in the face of general fitness population inquiries that come our way? Do you think that we had some sort of geographic advantage in chasing a sport-specific athletic community while operating in a region that rules out outdoor sports entirely for a third of the year?

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I’ve recently run into some pushback on the topic of niche development. A couple of weeks ago I published a Tweet stating that it is the generalists who can pay their bills, but the niche owners are the ones who are in a position to plan for retirement. My mindset while posting this thought was that you can crush it in your local market, but unless you are running a gym in Manhattan, the number of bodies in your immediate vicinity is eventually going to present a ceiling to your earning potential.

If you want to take that ceiling up several notches, your options are to add locations, or to become known for something that draws eyes to your content, inspires people to get on a plane to come see you, and delivers opportunities to spread your message in front of engaged audiences around the country.

Nonetheless, a fellow gym owner in the midwest took issue with my statement:

Easily said in Jupiter, FL and Mass. There’s not a niche market for prone trap raises in middle America...most athletes/ballplayers just want to get generally more athletic.

This person went on to describe my post as a “one-size-fits-all statement.” My business partner Eric was quick to chime in. He explained that he is aware of successful baseball-focused facilities in Houston, Arizona, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, Nashville, Wisconsin, New Jersey, New York, and Washington DC.

You read that right, there is an established baseball-specific training space in the state of Wisconsin. Who woulda thought?

Having a niche does not mean…

As you probably inferred earlier in this post, the baseball niche we cater to here at Cressey Sports Performance is not our sole means of revenue generation. Our client roster features people from a variety of athletic backgrounds, along with parents, grandparents, and even employees from businesses down the hall. There is no mandate that we only make our services available to a single targeted sub-set of the sports world.

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I’ve said in the past that if you successfully position yourself as “the best” at serving a specific athletic population, you’ll likely be perceived to be considerably above average in taking care of just about everyone else.

If you were the parent of a high school hockey player in need of some off-season training, and your options were a nearby gym that is widely considered to be the best basketball-specific training facility in America, or that place down the road that is “pretty good at everything,” which direction would you go? I can’t spend your money for you, but I will tell you that my kid would be training at the basketball gym.

Having a niche does mean…

When I encourage other gym owners to pursue niche development, I am speaking of becoming singularly focused in your continuing education endeavors, in your content creation, and in your strategic business development. As a gym owner, your baseline fitness knowledge is likely at a level that will suffice in taking care of the average person who walks through the door, so your down time would be well spent on deliberate practice toward achieving expert status in a particular realm.

Claiming your region limits you from being able to attract a specific set of athletes is probably a cop out. Sure, it's a bad idea to open a gym catering to mountain climbers in Nebraska or Florida, but as long as there are athletes playing the sport you choose in your region for some portion of the year, there is opportunity.

We successfully attracted elite baseball players from all over the country to a facility that is buried in snow during the peak of the baseball off-season for nearly a decade prior to opening a second location in Florida. The most committed athletes know that expertise is worth traveling for, and I can say with 100% confidence that we would have found a niche market for prone trap raises in the midwest had we decided to set up shop there back in 2007 instead of Hudson, MA.


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Learn From Other Gym Owners by Asking Better Questions

In 2019 I will finally open that gym I’ve been envisioning…

Does this sound like a resolution you’ve established in the last couple of days? Are you prepared to take the jump you’ve been wavering on for a while now? Are you actually ready?

If you are, the best way to ensure success is to learn from those who have fought the good fight, and are able and willing to discuss their experiences. We’ve all had mentors along the way, and those of us who have extracted true value from their accessibility are the ones who know the difference between thoughtful and lazy questions.

There are good questions, and there are bad ones

Every time my business partner Eric offers an Instagram Q&A, he encounters some form of the following question:

Any tips for a trainer preparing to open a gym?

Sometimes he answers on his own, and others he offers me the chance to do so. More often than not, we both punt on the opportunity, and it is because the question is lazy and lacks direction. There are literally thousands of pieces of advice we could share, but how in the world are we in a position to understand where you’re at in the planning process, or what might bring value to your particular situation when presented with such a vague question.

The next time you find yourself standing in front of a gym owner who has accomplished some level of success, and you have the opportunity to engage with them, ask yourself where you’re at in the gym planning or ownership process before presenting a question. Focus on a single objective instead of trying to go from being a guy with an idea and no clients to ten-year veteran with just a single question.

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For Example

Instead of:

I’m about to open up my own spot, any potential mistakes I should avoid?

Try:

I’m working to secure my first space, any tips on facility size or lease negotiation you might be able to share?

Instead of:

What did you and Eric do to get Cressey Sports Performance to where it is today?

Try:

What can I focus on in the first six months to establish relationships in the community and build a viable client base?

Lazy questions get lazy answers, and you owe it to yourself and the person you are soliciting insights from to deliver an inquiry with some specifics or substance if you expect them to offering some truly useful advice.

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Could Your Gym Survive 100% Employee Turnover in the Coming Year?

Today I have a guest post from my friend and fellow gym owner, Chris Merritt. His business was thrown for a loop in the past twelve months and kept on kicking with barely a hiccup. He’s here to tell you how.


2018 has been an interesting year for our business.  Historically, we’ve had incredibly low turnover of employees, with our two main coaches having been here for the last 4 and 5 years respectively, but 2018 brought major change with three coaches leaving and two coming on board. 

Not that interesting, you say?  Well, what if I told you we only had three employees total? 

Now I know what you’re thinking, with that equating to 100% turnover and all, but it was a series of unrelated events. 

One coach, whom had been here five years, gave us over 6 months’ notice that he wanted to move to North Carolina to be closer to family—and did so in late May.  With that kind of notice we were able to bring a new-hire up to speed and ease the transition between the two. 

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Another, whom only worked here for just over a year, decided she wanted to go into law enforcement and provided about three weeks’ notice that she’d been accepted to the police academy and moved on in July.  That timing left us with zero opportunity to hire before her departure, but we did have a solid candidate in an intern whom would likely be ready by late August.

And the third coach, whom had been trying to get a position as a paramedic for the 4 years that he worked here, finally found out that he landed his dream job in September and would start in October.  And while we knew that he might get the position, he didn’t get confirmation until six to eight weeks before what would be his last day.

So, there you have it—100% of the employees that we started 2018 with were gone between the months of May and September, and new ones started in the final days of May and August. 

To say our systems were put to the test by all of this would be a massive understatement…

My question to you, fellow gym owners, is would your business survive a similar situation?  Do you have the systems in place to keep the ship rolling in times of major turnover?

At the end of the day, that’s your business—a system, or series of systems—and the right people performing them. 

Ours systems, and our team that performs them daily, allowed us to have another record-breaking year of business growth—our 7th in 7 years.

So, what makes a good system?  We’ve found that they should answer the following questions:

  1. What do we do?

  2. What do we say?

  3. If this, then… ?

A good system also leaves nothing implied.  As I learned in geometry: don’t assume, or you’ll make an ass out of u-m-e.  And yet, a good system is also malleable and, when implemented with the right team, leaves room for audibles.

Luckily, we had systems in place for the areas of our business that were impacted by 2018 and all its turnover glory.  I’ll leave you with a few tactics that helped us in developing them so that you can begin the process of documenting yours or improving what you already have.

1. Write down exactly what you do

I first did this is 2013 after reading The E-Myth Revisited.  I was a one-man-band about to hire my first employee.  I literally shut my eyes and pictured opening the gym in the morning and documented every single thing I did—arrive 15 minutes early, unlock the door, hit the lights, check the space to make sure everything is presentable, turn on the music to this station at that volume, pull the clients’ programs and lay them out by hour, greet every single client by name and with appropriate physical contact (fist bump, high five, hand on the shoulder, etc.) as they arrive…the list goes on and on.

This was our original opening system—laid out as a checklist, laminated, and hung on the wall beside the desk our coaches threw their stuff down behind.

 2. Get feedback from others who do the thing. 

Our coaching systems have turned into a full-on coaching manual.  Initially, my business partner, Todd Bumgardner, and myself sat down and compiled an outline of what would need to be included:

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As you can see from the picture, we initialed who was responsible for each section and when it was due.  Once finished, we shared the initial draft with our coaches and asked them to provide feedback:

  • Did we miss anything altogether?

  • Do we need to expand on anything?

  • Any other thoughts/comments/concerns?

3) Continually update your documentation. 

This is something that we’re in the process of implementing as I type this.  Our employees will have access to all of our manuals—management, coaching, program design, sales and consultations—each in a three-ring binder readily available in the gym at all times, as well as access anywhere, anytime, through Dropbox.  The three-ring binder approach allows us to easily pull pages and replace with the most up to date information and Dropbox allows us to immediately share that with anyone impacted by the change.  Don’t let changes pile up, which can result in dated systems.

I see you sitting their shaking your head and saying you already know this. 

Yeah, but have you done it?

Will you be ready if 2019 drops a 100% turnover of employees on your business in just four short months?

If you don’t have your systems fully documented and right people performing them, what do you have?

If you’re craving more detail…

Want a glimpse at our personal development, program design, coaching, expansion systems, and so much more? The Spring 2019 Strength Faction is open for Early Bird enrollment. Learn more and get signed up here.

Gym Owner Musings - Installment #12

I’ve seen an uptick in Twitter engagement in the past couple of weeks, so I thought I’d take the time to elaborate on three specific tweets that triggered productive discussion:

1. The evolution of a gym owner…

Tweet - Attention gym owners: Stop concerning yourself with being seen as “the best coach on staff” and start focusing on building employees who are better than you. Your operation will never scale if you waste energy self-identifying as an exceptional technician. 

How many gym owners do you know who wouldn’t be thrilled to see their gym overcrowded and in need of more space?

The funny thing about most of said gym owners is that they are uneasy with the administrative realities that come with growth of this nature. More clients in the gym means more coaching opportunity, but scaling business in this way is unsustainable if the owner isn’t continuing to design and implement long-term strategic marketing and promotional objectives that will help to maintain momentum.

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You can’t just hire a “marketing guru” and expect her to understand your vision or unique voice during the early stages of your business, so stepping away from the training floor and trusting your employees is and important step in the process if you want to make more money. This starts by empowering your coaches, positioning them as thought-leaders in the eyes of your training community, and then fighting the urge to micro-manage.

Build up talented employees, and revenue will follow. On the flip side, if you concern yourself with being perceived as the superior talent on the team, you can expect yourself and everyone around you to stagnate.

2. Client experience is about more than just the training floor.

Tweet - Maybe it isn't your systems, your coaches, or even your programming. Maybe the problem is that you don't have a smiling face at the front desk. Nothing kills your chances of delivering a positive experience quite like an unpleasant interaction before even stepping into the gym.

When I was in grad school I had an internship at the local sports network, NESN. With close ties to the Boston Bruins and Boston Red Sox, recognizable athletes and television personalities would come and go on a daily basis. During that time, one of my jobs was to manage the reception desk in the lobby during the traditional lunch hour so that the staff member manning the desk for the rest of the day could get a meal in.

For the entire six months I was there, there was not a single moment where a full-time employee was serving in this roll. Instead, it was a revolving door of people with administrative experience from the local temp agency. While they were all most definitely competent on paper as far as the job goes, none of them were put in a position to be truly good at the job. This was because none of them had a chance to learn names and settle in to the culture.

As a result, there was a distance and coldness in every interaction of the day. Rarely did a guest of the network walk past the front desk feeling as if their visit was off to a warm and welcoming start, and that really ate at me.

Seth Godin says: “Every interaction ought to reflect the whole. Every time we see any of you, we ought to be able to make a smart guess about all of you.”

This applies to television networks, fitness facilities, and any other client-facing service operation. You’ve got to have a smiling face at the front door.

Our Office Manager Julie doesn’t need to be reminded of this rule.

Our Office Manager Julie doesn’t need to be reminded of this rule.

3. Are you so good they can’t ignore you?

Tweet - Social media hack: Instead of seeking the recipe to the FB algorithm, or the perfect combo of IG hashtags, maybe try understanding your subject matter so intimately that your audience is automatically drawn to your words. Nothing improves engagement better than true expertise.

There are many fitness professionals who claim to hate social media, and some genuinely do. However, some make this claim because they feel uncomfortable on camera, or because of a deep-rooted feeling of imposter syndrome that sets in just before to hitting the publish button.

There’s good news for the latter group…

Very few of us who are consuming information on these social media platforms are concerned with the delivery of the information if the material is strong. With this in mind, we should all be focused on applying a deliberate practice approach to our professional development. You can’t get better on camera unless you get your reps in, and your audience is going to patiently work their way through those reps with you if you keep churning out thoughtful content.

A bonus lesson buried in this post…

While it wasn’t my intention, this blog post was as much about extending the reach of your content as it was about explaining my thought process behind a handful of tweets. In retrospect, this was an illustration of how a single thought, on a single platform, could evolve into useful content on another, and maybe even eventually inspire a blog post to follow.

You’re probably already sitting on a goldmine of material if you’ve been reasonably consistent on any individual social media platform.

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3 Avoidable Leadership Mistakes

Manager. Leader. Mentor. Executive.

None of these words found their way onto the page as I outlined my objectives for gym ownership back in 2007. If I’m being honest, the list probably looked a little more like this:

  • Wear sweatpants to work.

  • Avoid cubicles at all costs.

  • Side-step silly office cliches such as “paradigm shift,” or “push the envelope.”

My goal was to successfully delay any possibility of returning to corporate America, and opening a gym seemed to be the biggest deviation I could take from the direction that my fellow MBA classmates seemed to be headed in. Here we are 11+ years later, and I’m realizing it would have been a good idea to put some real thought into the four words I opened this piece with as I pondered long-term objectives for my business more than a decade ago.

This is workplace hell to me…

This is workplace hell to me…

Managing people is hard, and few of us are born with leadership skills. I’ve learned a great deal on this front since my business partner Eric became a part-time resident of both Massachusetts and Florida in 2014 when we opened our second location. At the time, I was thrust into the role of being “the guy” at our flagship facility for more than half of each year.

Of the platitude of lessons learned, there are three in particular that seem to continually circle back as I manage our northeast team. I rarely learn from my successes, so these three takeaways are grounded in mistakes I’ve made, and will be positioned as such:

Mistake #1

Assuming that being a workaholic will inspire employees

Working long hours is a right of passage for entrepreneurs, but it isn’t expected to be so for employees. We (gym owners) rarely make our first full-time hire until we’ve got a minimum of a year of operations under our belts, and many habits are established during that first twelve months. As we quietly keep our heads down and plug away at building something special, we lose sight of the fact that it isn’t normal for everyone to answer emails at 11:30pm and lose hours of sleep mentally strategizing lead-generation strategies.

Your business is your baby, not that of your employees. The sooner you come to terms with this, the sooner you’ll realize that your coaches aren’t lazy. Instead, they’re probably employees who are less motivated to grind off-hours by their hourly wage than you are by your hefty equity stake. Upside matters in employee drive, and you’re likely not delivering a whole lot of it.

If you own a gym, late-night email is a business owner problem, not an employee expectation.

If you own a gym, late-night email is a business owner problem, not an employee expectation.

Your coaches can and should be immensely productive during working hours, as that’s what they’ve signed on to do. That is, however, where you need to draw the line in your expectations. Stop expecting people without an ownership stake to act like owners, and you’ll soon realize you’ve got some quality contributors on the payroll.

When my first child was born I managed to convince myself that leaving work earlier than I had in the past to make a daycare pick up prior to 6pm would be a sign of selfishness. All of my employees are going to resent me, I thought to myself.

Instead, they went out of their way to compliment me on committing to work-life balance, and for demonstrating a standard that family comes first, regardless of business growth objectives.

Mistake #2

Confusing a lack of structure with valued autonomy

I was micromanaged in my last role prior to entering grad school. My manager genuinely cared if I was sitting in front of my computer at 9:01am instead of 9:00am, as if my contributions to the marketing department of a publicly traded company were so time-sensitive that the users of our products would be impacted 40 points of contact down the line. This is not to say that I don’t value punctuality. I do, but my experience in this environment led me to vow never to supervise in this manner if given the opportunity to manage a team.

As our staff has grown at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP), I’ve stayed true to this commitment. Lunch breaks aren’t measured in length, bathroom breaks aren’t monitored, and employees are expected to understand reasonable boundaries and function within them.

Raise your hand if you crave structure in the workplace…

Raise your hand if you crave structure in the workplace…

This system consistently works. The problem, however, is that I have a tendency of taking this hands-off approach to an extreme if my own to-do list is long enough. This became evident to me as I “managed” a staff meeting in 2016. The topic of conversation that day has since left my memory, but the comment my then employee Chris (now independent contracting manual therapist at CSP) made during our meeting will never leave me:

“Would you and Eric just tell us what to do instead of trying to give us ownership of every single decision? At some point you should just be the boss and we’ll be fine with it.”

Woah.

He wasn’t wrong in either his message or his approach. Chris was by far our longest tenured employee at the time, and had earned the right to be so direct. I’ve since built more structure into my own decision-making and leadership styles. Sometimes I need to fall back into the “because I said so” mentality, and employees are at peace with it.

Lesson learned.

Mistake #3

Providing hand-picked colleagues without asking for help

While mistake number two implied that the boss always knows best, the third one will show you that this approach isn’t universally applicable. When it comes to populating your training floor with competent coaches, your existing employees would love to have some say in the people that they’ll have to spend upwards of 40-hours per week with.

With this in mind, taking a solo approach to making hires can result in mismatched personalities and communication styles in the gym. Can you afford to employ a team with so little chemistry that clients feel inclined to pick sides?

If you have the time, freedom, and flexibility to get team members involved in the employee selection process, do it. This is why I never finalize my intern candidate pool without at least one other staff member reviewing applications, and will not execute interviews on my own. This is also why Eric and I will only interview former interns for paid roles once they’ve been nominated by current staff members as potential fits.

When all is said and done, Eric and I will spend far less time working alongside our next coach than our existing ones will, so we owe it to them to provide an ownership stake in the process.

If you skimmed this one…

I’ve got your three takeaways boiled down to some easily processed bullet points:

  1. No one wants to have a complex about not working as many hours as the boss.

  2. Employees crave structure.

  3. We all want to have some say in the people we’re forced to spend well over 1,000 hours of our year with.




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Make Your Complimentary Services Work for You

My landlord once walked into my office and offered to cut a door into the wall behind the pitching cage, allowing for throwing clients to access that portion of the gym easily without impacting the flow of foot traffic in the training space.

His idea made sense, and was certainly appreciated…but I politely declined.

A space often referred to as “the birdcage” here at CSP

A space often referred to as “the birdcage” here at CSP

While pitching clients are asked to enter our office space, say hello to our Office Manager, and proceed into and across the gym to begin their lessons, I would hardly qualify our set-up as a burden. If I were to further streamline this process by modifying their point of entry, I would be foregoing a huge opportunity to expose potential clients to our services.

Thanks to our existing layout and set-up, we have the chance to hit an athlete with a pleasant “hello” and a smile the moment they walk through the door. Next, we expose him to a quality training environment as he makes his way through the space.

If you’re a youth baseball player routinely walking through a gym full of other ballplayers, you’re eventually bound to ask yourself if you’re missing out on a competitive advantage by only worrying about pitching instruction. As the law of repeated exposures kicks in, most pitching clients eventually stop at the front desk on the way out the door to inquire about strength training.

How likely would they be to do so if they had a private entryway to slip in and out of?

If you own a gym that offers complimentary services such as manual therapy, nutritional guidance, on-site physical therapy, or even a juice bar, you’d be crazy not to physically position the services in a manner that requires at least a little interaction with your primary service offering.

Andrew Millett runs a great PT operation out of CSP Mass

Andrew Millett runs a great PT operation out of CSP Mass

Allow the independent contractor PT to practice in the heart of the training space. Position the massage therapy room in the back corner of the facility and require clients to observe the training action on their way there. At the very least, give people a reason to ask about the action they observe each and every time they arrive to pay for a complimentary service.

You could take the easy way out and cut that door into the wall, or you could take advantage of the free leads that are consistently walking through your door.

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Gym Owner Musings - Installment #11

In this eleventh edition of Gym Owner Musings, I’ve got some thoughts on brand positioning, the value of LinkedIn for fitness professionals, and the direction we need to go with marketing performance-oriented fitness businesses.

Here. We. Go.

1. Sometimes a new product deserves a new name

Do you have some brand awareness at your gym? Maybe you’re known as “the guys for XYZ” locally, or even nationally?

If so, you might want to fight the urge to slap your logo and name on that new service offering you’re considering rolling out to an entirely different segment of the training population than you typically serve. Remember, your well-known brand became well-known because it stood for something specific. Your business already occupies a defined position in the mind of the consumer.

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For example, if we (Cressey Sports Performance) decided to introduce a 6-week transformation challenge component to our service offerings tomorrow, we’d be better served to label it “Fit In 6” than we would be going with “CSP Transformation Challenges.” The consumer shouldn’t be scrolling their Facebook feed asking themselves: “How are the baseball guys going to teach me to lose my spare tire?”

If your new service appeals to a new market, it’s likely time to consider a new positioning strategy.

2. You might need LinkedIn, but not for the reason you’d think

I’ve been toying with the idea of being a little more active on LinkedIn as of late, but the only true motivation I have has been a sneaking sensation that I “should” be on there. I understand that there is a valuable opportunity to build my professional network on this platform, but I also know that very few fitness professionals are bothering to use it.

In fact, thanks to the wonders of the poll feature in Instagram stories, I was able to conclude that only about a third of the people in my audience use LinkedIn.

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In the dozen or so “DM’s” received after posting this question, I spotted three useful insights:

  1. The general consensus is that LinkedIn doesn’t traditionally appeal to fitness professionals functioning in the performance enhancement space. I can’t argue that.

  2. If you’re looking to drum up corporate fitness business for your gym, this platform is a place that you need to be. This makes sense, as the decision makers in a corporate setting who will ultimately make the call regarding where health and wellness dollars are spent are exactly the kind of people that I would imagine LinkedIn was designed to serve.

  3. My buddy Joe Aritari explained to me that college students who dream of one day securing employment following their academic pursuits seem to think that LinkedIn is “the end-all-be-all for finding internships.” Apparently a considerable portion of his business’s intern candidates are drawn from this very platform. Why the hell did it take me until now to realize this (kicking myself)?

My primary takeaway from this Instagram dialogue was that LinkedIn is immensely valuable to fitness professionals if they can get past the mindset that the platform is solely designed to serve as an electronic resume board that only applies to cubicle dwellers. If the educated coaches who will soon be seeking employment are on there along with the people holding the key to corporate fitness spending, I probably should be as well.

3. The path to profitable growth is in satisfying wants, not needs

This is actually a quote I came across in Seth Godin’s Lynchpin, and it resonated with me because of how accurate it is in relation to the way we need to position Cressey Sports Performance in the eyes of the average baseball player.

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You see, 9 out of 10 athletes who walk through our doors “need” to be introduced to quality arm-care protocols and sport-specific corrective exercise, but what they all “want” is to throw 100 miles per hour and hit for power. When it comes time to market to this audience, we’re better off delivering visuals of athletes throwing medballs, sprinting, and explosively moving weights than we would be showcasing how skilled we are at executing a “Half-Kneeling 90/90 ER Hold” (arm-care).

Remember, that thoughtful Instagram post you published yesterday about improving range of motion isn’t going to entice the high school football player around the corner to ask his parents if he can train at your space...he has no ability to envision how or why that will help him to run through a middle linebacker.

You may not like the rules of the game of marketing here in the performance training segment, but the market doesn’t give a shit about your desire to flex your intellectual muscles and call it “advertising.”

One last thing…

If you enjoy this “musings” content format, I think you’d really like the weekly newsletter I publish at the end of each week, titled my “Friday 4.” Each week I round up four fascinating business-related articles, share my two cents on how the message applies to fitness or operating a gym, and drop it into your inbox.

If this sounds like your kind of thing, I’d love to have you take a look at the archives here and maybe sign up.

A Niche Isn’t Required to Start

There’s a common misconception that Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) is the product of a business plan that clearly articulated an objective of capturing market share specifically in the baseball niche from day one. It isn’t.

I finished a one-year full-time MBA program less than 8-weeks prior to us starting our business. Every week for that entire school year, I was reminded that roughly half of all new businesses fail. This fact was not lost on me, so when we opened our doors for business we were more concerned with collecting any money we could get our hands on than we were with collecting it from a specific subsegment of the population.

Sometimes the best thing you can do in your pursuit to identify a niche is to put your head down and work. Work with as many different types of athletes as possible. Work on collecting all of the experience you can with a broad array of injury histories. Work on building your network. Work on identifying your own strengths. Just work.

If you prioritize accumulating opportunities to learn during the early stages of your business and then double down on those that you find to be particularly interesting, the niche thing is likely to figure itself out.

And remember, if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed by a lack of direction getting started, you can take comfort in knowing that CSP was a business without an identity for nearly six months before firmly settling on targeting a specific underserved population. In fact, we didn’t even get our website live until day 93…oops.

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How Do I Know When to Add My First Employee?

(2-minute read, tops)

Every one-man operation in the fitness industry is wondering the same thing: How will I know when the time is right to add an employee or a partner to the mix?

There is no universally correct answer here. Your business is unique, and you shouldn’t take general solutions to unique problems.

How I would attack it…

If I were in your shoes, I would establish a measurable performance target, and make a commitment to “taking the next step” once it has been met.

Maybe it’s a semi-aggressive revenue objective…

“When I get to $15,000/month in revenue I make the jump.”

Maybe it’s an active client headcount…

“Once I’ve got 30+ regulars on EFT, I’m doing this.”

Maybe it’s average workday length…

“I expect to be on the cusp of burnout when my workday starts exceeding 8+ one-on-one sessions, so I’ll pull the trigger then.”

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I care far less about the metric you choose than I do about you respecting the target.

Once you hit that target, you pull the trigger on adding an employee or partner. More specifically, you’re going to need to spend money to make money. You can be 100% certain that you’ll be temporarily reducing your own take-home at the end of each month. Remember, you’re investing cash flow now, to increase your earning potential later.

As you work toward this target, set aside time to outline the tasks and expectations that your future hire will encounter. Establish a job description that you are eager to fill when the time is right, and you’ll be prepared to hit the ground running when you make the informed and strategic decision to take the jump.

Hold yourself accountable

Write down your goal. Paste it on the wall or marker board in your office. Next, work tirelessly to get there. With a defined target to shoot for, you can begin the process of competing with yourself. With this approach in place, that eventual temporary pay-cut will hurt less, making you more likely to honor your commitment to business growth.

The good news is that hitting targets feels great, and this major business move of expanding your team will come with a whole new series of goals to chase.


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10 Considerations as You Plan to Host Your First Seminar

We’ve hosted our annual CSP Fall Seminar seven times since 2012. In that time, we’ve accommodated more than 1,000 attendees, 15 different presenters, and a whole buffet of unanticipated headaches.

A lot of things have changed since we first opened our doors for an event of this nature, including many of the faces on our team, fitness trends in general, and the ease with which event coordinators can fill seats.

Putting bodies in the room gets harder every year. However, this doesn’t mean that hosting an event is a bad idea. You just need to accept the fact that filling the room will present a challenge, and take a deliberate approach to promoting outside of the same old Facebook advertising spending spree that everyone else seems to fall back on.

Assuming you do accept the challenge of organizing a seminar, here are ten common hurdles in the process that you may not have anticipated or planned for:

Your Checklist

1. Website – If you want your seminar to feel legitimate, it would be a good idea to create a website outlining the event. A simple flyer posted on Facebook and Instagram isn’t going to get the job done. List your presenters, provide details on presentation topics, outline the time table, and offer a platform to process registration payments.

2. Merchant Services – Speaking of paying to register, you can’t get away with “cash on arrival” events, and nobody pops a personal check in the mail anymore. This means that you’ve got to accept online payments, and it’s going to take some sort of a merchant services account to do so. Be warned: Processing credit cards will run you somewhere in the vicinity of 2-4% of each transaction.

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3. CEU Application – Many of your attendees are going to be looking to accumulate continuing education units in exchange for attending your event. Unfortunately, offering CEU’s isn’t as simple as declaring the number of credit hours you intend to deliver and mocking up your own certificate. You’re going to need to fill out a CEU provider application, and you can expect that part of the process to cost you more than $100 depending on the organization. Wait until the last minute, and you can expect to pay some sort of additional accelerated processing fee.

4. Printouts – Your guests may anticipate printouts of presentation slides. This will prove to be a headache for two reasons. First, you can expect at least one or two of your featured presenters to drag their heels on submitting material in a timely manner, so delivery to the print and copy center is sure to go down to the wire. Second, these things aren’t cheap, especially if you’re trying to keep it classy and offer spiral-bound material.

5. Chairs – How many gym owners own more than a handful of folding chairs? Expect to find yourself renting seating for guests, which will run you $1-$2/chair, plus the cost of delivery, a damage protection fee, and tax. Side note – we picked up 30 chairs from Costco a couple of years back and they’ve proven to be immensely valuable, especially when hosting smaller mentorship-style events.

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6. Projector / Microphone – You’re going to need to showcase those beautiful PowerPoint presentations, so a projector will be a must. Those babies typically start around $400, and are probably worth investing in if you intend to make a habit of hosting events. If you’re anticipating a larger crowd, amplifying the volume of your presenters will be a need as well. We picked up a Bose PA system to take care of this problem, and also invested in a wireless microphone of our own. Neither of these were cheap, but are now worth it after years of use.

7. Registration Assistance – Things move quickly when it comes time to actually welcome guests through the door. Plan on having multiple staff members available to check people in, confirm payment has been made, deliver CEU’s, and point out things like restrooms and places to put personal belongings. As the owner of the gym, you’ll have more distractions than you can handle at this moment, so steer clear of trying to handle this piece of the process entirely by yourself.

8. Presenter Wages – The best way to put butts in seats will be to fill presenter slots with speakers who can attract a crowd. The influencers who can fill a room don’t typically come free, and often live a flight away from your space. If you’re going to entice “a name,” plan on budgeting for airfare and accommodations at the very least. Speaking fees may also be a reality, so address that matter up front in the planning process. This will drive your registration pricing strategy.

9. Follow-Up Materials – We’ve never hosted a seminar at CSP that didn’t feature multiple attendees requesting electronic versions of the slides. Some want access to videos, and some would rather not have to revisit their printouts for takeaways. Either way, expect the requests to roll in, and the least you can do is assemble all of this material in one place and make it easily accessible. I typically save the presentations in a single PDF, and then reduce the size of the document using SmallPDF.com.

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10. Feedback Collection – If you intend to turn your seminar into an annual tradition, it would be a good idea to collect detailed feedback from your attendees. We send a survey to all of our guests immediately following each seminar and ask for specific reviews and ratings for the event. This information helps us to improve future events, and to gather topic ideas to use moving forward. The free survey services on TypeForm.com are perfectly sufficient to get the job done here.

A Bonus Tip

Setting a Future Date – I mentioned earlier that seminars are getting harder and harder to fill, and this is because of the abundance of competing events flooding the market. Every weekend seems to feature a new option. The earlier you can establish a date for your upcoming event, the better.

With all of this information on your radar, you’ll hopefully find that your first seminar moves a little smoother than it otherwise may have. Also, you might feel better equipped to budget appropriately for the event.

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Identify Your Next Hire Before You Need to Make It

If you’re looking to make a hire today, this blog post probably wont be much help in getting the job done.

This is a post about taking a proactive approach to staffing issues. If you’re beginning your search for a good coach because a spot just opened on your staff, you’re already behind the eight ball.

In my 10+ years of engaging with fellow gym owners, I’ve come to realize that the businesses with the best teams are the ones who always know who their first call will be directed toward when an opportunity arises. My good friend Mark Fisher refers to “the bench” when talking about candidates for future hires, and we call it the “the short list” here at CSP. Ours consists of our top-five former interns in the running for a job at any given moment in time.

With this in mind, I have three strategies you can consider employing as you begin your proactive search for employees. Here’s a short-term objective, a medium-range option, and a bigger-picture long-term solution to your hiring problems:

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Short-Term: Network Electronically With Online Communities

The first thing you can do to build “your bench” is to network your ass off. Due to the nature of the continuing education calendar, and the high costs associated with travel and accommodations, attending large seminars and summits on a regular basis isn’t a sustainable solution for networking purposes.

Instead, consider joining a collaborative online community like The Strength Faction or Lift The Bar. These groups feature a collection of ambitious and accomplished fitness professionals who are interested in sharing knowledge and appreciate the fact that a rising tide lifts all ships. I had a hire to make and a distinct lack of candidates, I’d start here.

Engage in the online forums, participate in live Q&A’s, and soak up every opportunity you can to connect with other people. When the time comes to make a hire, you can announce to the group that you’ve got payroll dollars to spend. At that point you’ll know who knows their stuff, and how committed they are to ongoing learning.

Medium-Range: Identify the Talent Developers & Propose Collaboration

The gyms with productive internship programs rarely have job opportunities for the majority of the coaches who come out of their systems. They all want to be able to assist outgoing interns in securing employment, but they rarely have “go-to” gyms that they funnel talent toward. 

We routinely receive emails asking for candidates when gyms have a spot to fill, but I can’t think of a single gym that proactively worked to establish a relationship with us that would position them as a logical employment destination for the great coaches who we don’t have room for.

If I had an up and coming gym with aspirations of growth and no internship program, I’d make extra effort to engage with the fitness businesses I admire. I’d request the opportunity to shadow at places like CSP, MBSC, and IFAST so that I could demonstrate to the staff there that I care about great training models and methodologies. I’d attend seminars and mentorships at their facilities and always make sure to say hello to the entire team and stay on their radars. I’d produce content that positions me as a potential thought leader. And, most importantly, I’d identify the internship coordinator at each site, and let them know that I’d love to connect with every quality outgoing intern in search of work, regardless of my current staffing needs. There’s no such thing as being too friendly or too accessible in this circumstance.

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Long-Range: Build a Productive Internship Program of Your Own

The only way to guarantee that you never make a bad hire (from a cultural “fit” perspective) is to select exclusively from candidates who have coached extensively alongside your team in the past. Every intern on our short-list of coaching candidates has completed a minimum of 300 coaching hours in our space and demonstrated a personality fit with the team and athletes.

Identifying competent coaches is easy using resumes, but the only way to confirm chemistry with the team is by giving it a test-run. A well-structured internship program will give you the opportunity to “try it before you buy it.”

This is listed as a long-range solution because there isn’t a manual that will take you from no internship offering to established program in a brief period. You’ve got to put in the work to establish your own systems and curriculum. It will feel like a grind assembling the pieces and attracting candidates for the first year or two. Take comfort in knowing that our program took three to four years before we began thinking of this as a business within our business. Nothing happens overnight.

Don’t Have a Hiring Need? Start Today Anyway

The important lesson here is that the best time to prepare to make a hire is before you need to make one. Staff members who are the product of proactive hiring strategies will outperform reactive ones 100 times out of 100.

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The Biggest Challenge in Offering Semi-Private Training – And How to Solve It

Let’s talk about the biggest headache I face on a daily basis in delivering a semi-private training model. You might be thinking this has something to do with multi-tasking on the training floor, or ensuring that there is sufficient equipment to accommodate multiple clients simultaneously…

It has nothing to do with either.

My biggest challenge in offering semi-private training actually lies in managing client expectations from the moment they walk through the door.

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In my business, most clients are youth athletes whose parents foot the bill and expect to feel comfortable in knowing that their son is being appropriately supervised. Rarely does a day pass where a parent fails to ask our Office Manager Julie or a nearby staff member: “Who is going to coach my son today?”

My natural inclination is to respond by explaining that semi-private training doesn’t allow for one-on-one instruction permanently moving forward, but this is an urge I have to suppress.

If I respond as such, parents don’t hear: “Your son will always have eyes on him as he executes these complex movements and lifts.” Instead, they hear: “I’ve already got your money, and now it’s time to toss your son into a busy gym and allow him to get lost in the shuffle.”

Language is Everything

The language I use in explaining my model can take my biggest perceived weakness (inadequate supervision), and turn it into a strength in the eyes of a parent. Here’s how I attack this conversation to ensure a positive outcome:

Your son will eventually transition into an entirely semi-private format, but he’s going to have to earn that privilege in the eyes of our coaches before we loosen the reigns on his supervision. He’ll be coached in a one-on-one format until the moment that he demonstrates a capacity to execute the material safely and effectively. When that time comes, we’ll transition to our standard 5:1 client to coach model.   

If the client in question has aspirations of playing sports in college, it is also helpful to remind the parent that this training environment is extremely similar to that which athletes encounter in a college weight room. The ones who thrive in this setting are well positioned to impress influencers such as the collegiate strength staff at a time when making a team is very much in question.

An Important Tip - Assuming you’re larger than a one-man operation, you should be careful about consistently maxing out the capacity of your entire staff in the semi-private format for two reasons: First, being at the absolute top of your advertised client-to-coach ratio means that you can’t deliver nuanced attention to newer, higher maintenance clients as discussed above. Secondly, it limits your ability to accommodate new business on the fly. During our first year of business at CSP we always made sure to book sessions in a manner that would allow for either Eric or Tony (Gentilcore) to execute an initial assessment on short notice as it was common for athletes to show up with interested friends.

Be Honest With Yourself & the Client

Any good coach and gym owner would agree that allowing an unprepared client to flounder dangerously on the training floor simply to prove a point about an advertised supervision format is a bad look. We need to stop acting like we wouldn’t adjust accordingly to provide the coaching needed while having this conversation with an athlete or parent.

Every parent wants their kid to be capable and self-sufficient, but they also want to know that they’ll be guided to that place in an appropriate and safe manner. Give them the piece of mind they need, and make sure they know that your system is designed with the athlete’s best interests in mind, as opposed to simply to drive the bottom line.

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The Important Customer Service Lesson I Learned at a Concert

You want to truly command the attention of your audience? Make sure they know how much you appreciate and value their attention.

I made a trip to Colorado with my wife during the summer of 2013. While there, we decided that our vacation to-do list needed to include a visit to the Red Rocks Amphitheater to take in a concert at one of the most visually and acoustically impressive live music venues in the world.

If I could go back in time I would have got a photo of my own. Instead, this one from Wikipedia Commons will have to do.

If I could go back in time I would have got a photo of my own. Instead, this one from Wikipedia Commons will have to do.

A quick Google search told us that Keith Urban would be performing during our stay, so we made our way over to Craig’s List and bought a pair of tickets. While we weren’t the biggest Keith Urban fans in the world, we knew enough of his music to be excited about the experience.

A band named Little Big Town was scheduled to open this show. We were vaguely familiar with their music as well, so we made to sure arrive early.

Before playing a single song, Little Big Town won me over.

“Holy shit…we’re playing Red Rocks…I’m blown away by this moment,” explained one of the band members as he addressed the crowd.

He proceeded to request that the “house lights” be turned on, allowing for the entire crowd to be illuminated. Next, all four of the band members showed us, the audience, their gratitude by pulling out a cell phone and taking a “selfie” with us in the background. They seemed genuinely touched by the opportunity to perform that evening.

Little Big Town was GREAT

Little Big Town was GREAT

Next came Keith Urban…

Instead of showing any form of gratitude himself, Keith showed up late, proceeded to “thank” an opening act that wasn’t even there that evening, and jumped right into his first song so that he could rush through his set (I’m sure Dustin Lynch appreciated the unwarranted shout-out, though).

Guess whose music I left fired up about that night?

While it may not have been their intention, Little Big Town won that audience over with authentic appreciation for the moment, while Keith Urban lost us by disrespecting both our time and the opening act.

How can I apply this lesson in the gym?

As fitness professionals, we are capable of converting more leads, delivering a more engaging training experience, and fostering stronger client relationships by applying the lesson I learned at Red Rocks that evening. The cliché once again holds true: People don’t care how much you know (or how well you play a guitar), until they know how much you care.

The next time you give a sales pitch, tell the prospect that you are aware of the abundance of training options at his finger tips, and appreciate him giving you the opportunity to outline your service offerings.

The next time you find yourself making small talk during a client warm-up, fight the urge to pick apart his breakfast decisions and instead hit him with a simple “thank you” for setting aside some time to work with you on that given day.

And, if by chance you find yourself standing in front of nearly 10,000 people with a guitar in your hands, remember to thank the proper opening act and the people who paid good money to see you.

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5 Big Mistakes Trainers Make When Opening A Gym (And How To Avoid Them)

A note from Pete: Today I bring you a guest post from my friend, David Crump. With a successful gym of his own, and more time in this industry than I've managed to accumulate, David has gathered a lot of valuable insights for aspiring gym owners. I'd encourage you to take notes if you're entertaining the idea of opening your own space. Enjoy!

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Having played a key role in the opening and expansion of my own gym as well as 5 others, I’ve seen or personally experienced a lot of bad moves. The worst part is that most of them seem to be relatively common and can be avoided with a little extra knowledge or planning.

The last thing that I want is for more fitness professionals to experience these challenges, so if you’ve been considering opening your own facility or are in the process of doing so, here’s 5 potential pitfalls to be aware of and how to avoid them:

Mistake #1 - Not Having Enough Clients

Cashflow is the lifeblood of a business and in fitness that comes from paying clients. Quite often, trainers that consider themselves busy underestimate how many clients they actually need to make the transition to gym owner. This typically occurs because some clients are lost in the transition and the cost to run a facility is generally higher than anticipated.

I’m not here to rain on anyone’s parade but this isn’t Field of Dreams; building your dream gym won’t ensure that people come.

When calculating the projections of how many clients are needed to run your gym, you should expect that you’ll lose 10-15% (potentially more if you work in a big box gym) of your roster. Change is hard for most people and even if your clients like working with you it may be too much of an imposition for them to drive to a new location across town or acclimate to a new environment. It’s best to not take it personal and instead prepare for the worst. On the other hand, if they all do transition with you, you’ll be in an even better position than expected.

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Mistake #2 - Paying Too Much In Rent

Finding a location for your new gym can be tricky because there’s a lot of things to consider such as what part of town you want to be in, how much space you’ll need, and how much you can afford to spend. I often recommend using non-negotiables as a filter to help make the decision-making process easier. However, price is always the most important factor.

A large space can be very appealing, but it’s best to start small and outgrow it quickly than it is to try to downsize if bills can’t get paid. The ideal solution is to find the smallest and cheapest space that will allow you to deliver a great service without breaking the bank. This will ensure profitability which is priority one.

I would suggest spending no more than 20-25% percent of monthly revenue on rent. While that number is actually high for a mature fitness business, it will feasible for a newer business since there should be significant potential for growth.

Mistake #3 - Choosing A Location That Isn’t Zoned Correctly

I learned about “zoning” the hard way. When opening my first location, I found a space that was just the right size and the price was perfect. I marched down to city hall to transfer my business license over to my new proposed location and was swiftly met with a “No, you can’t do that. This location cannot be used for a fitness facility.”

Naturally, I was crushed, but I learned everything a trainer could ever need to know about zoning.

Cities are designed by planners and those planners choose what areas are going to be residential, commercial, or even recreational. Beyond that, commercial areas feature many different designations and those designations determine the type of building construction that can happen and the types of businesses that can exist in those buildings/areas.

The bottom line is that you can’t just open a gym in any building you want and if you sign a lease on a location that isn’t zoned correctly, you’re screwed.

To avoid this, it is critical to make sure that you confirm your proposed location fits the zoning requirements of a fitness facility. This can usually be done by visiting the local property appraiser website or confirming with the folks at city hall.

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Mistake #4 - Not Obtaining Appropriate Operating Documents

There are few things that could be worse than investing your life savings into finally opening your dream gym only to have the local authorities shut you down because you didn’t get some simple paperwork.

Sounds extreme, but it can really happen.

The last thing most trainers are probably thinking about during the planning stages of opening a facility are the licenses or certificates needed, but it’s important to do your due diligence. While requirements vary from state to state, it is likely that you’ll need a city or county business license (maybe both) as well as a Health Studio Certificate from the Department of Agriculture.

The best method to making sure you’ve got your bases covered is to do a quick internet search for the requirements of opening a fitness facility in your state as well as the requirements to run a business in your city. Follow that up with a call to your local city hall to see if there is anything that you missed and you should be pretty well covered. An hour of investigation could save you a ton of headaches or days of lost revenue.

Mistake #5 - Spending Too Much On Equipment

When most trainers think about opening their own facility, they often dream of a large, beautiful space filled end to end with all the nicest equipment. However, that grand vision carries a huge price tag that is more likely to result in financial ruin than a steady stream of clients with cash in hand.

Most clients don’t care about what kind of equipment you have. They only care about whether or not you can help them reach their goals.

While that statement may seem off-putting initially, it’s actually good news. It means that you don’t have to spend a ton of money, because if you’re a good trainer then you can probably get clients great results with minimal equipment and that’s a huge advantage over the big gyms in the area.

The most successful way to go about choosing and purchasing equipment is to set a firm budget that won’t break the bank and start by purchasing only the equipment that you feel is absolutely necessary to get great results for your clients. Obviously, this will be heavily dependent on your training style, philosophy, or client demographic, but if any piece of equipment won’t be used in the majority of programs then it shouldn’t make the cut. Then as the business becomes profitable you can add in some of those less practical pieces without jeopardizing your finances.

 

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About the Author:

David Crump is an entrepreneur, fitness business consultant, and NSCA certified personal trainer. Since entering the fitness industry in 2006, he has climbed the ranks of corporate management, opened multiple fitness facilities, and helped hundreds of clients improve their lives. Crump has been featured in PFP Magazine, NSCA’s Personal Training Quarterly, and is a regular contributor to The Personal Trainer Development Center. Additionally, he currently owns and operates Spark Fitness, a private training facility in Orlando, FL and works with trainers around the country to help them achieve their dream of opening their own gym. More info can be found at davecrump.com.

* If you’d like to learn more about opening your own facility don’t miss David’s presentation at the 2018 NSCA Personal Trainer’s Conference in Baltimore on October 5th-7th.

Is Your Gym Setup Functional, or Just Pretty?

So you’ve found the space, signed the lease, and begun to envision the look and feel of your soon-to-open gym. I’m excited for you. Facility design is probably my favorite part of the entire gym start-up process.

Be warned: Hastily setting up your spot in a way that is visually appealing as opposed to functional is likely to cause a number of headaches for you and your business soon down the road.

Here are three quick and simple recommendations as you map this out in your mind:

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1. Consider the Flow of Programming

When you look at a typical Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) program, you’re likely to see a progression that moves from foam rolling, to mobility work, to movement training on the turf, to the med-ball area, on into the weight training space.

If you were to then review a floor plan of our training space, you’d see that this programming format forces clients to utilize the gym in a way that allows for them to move from one step in the process to the next without crossing the training space or getting in the way of athletes who are in the midst of later stages in their program.

As you design your gym layout, make sure to ask yourself whether the placement of equipment or space for movement training compliments the typical format of your program design. If you’ve got to walk between power racks, across the farmer’s carrying lane, and through a deadlifting station to get to the med-ball area after finishing your warm-up, it’s time to revise your approach.

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2. Put Thought Into Sightlines

You never know when you’re going to be operating up against the top of your advertised client-to-coach ratio while running a semi-private training model. When you are, it is helpful to operate in a space where your coaches can see the entire training floor from just about any vantage point in the gym. Your space should be arranged in a way that a coach could spot something from across the gym and quickly react to share a coaching cue. This is impossible if there’s a big functional trainer sitting in the middle of your space.

Important Note #1: Outside of equipment positioning, I’d also encourage you to avoid spaces with blind spots or multiple rooms. Two rooms means two coaches, even if you operate a semi-private model with just a pair of athletes in the gym.

Important Note #2: There is a point at which the space becomes too large to allow for coaching “across the room,” regardless of clean sightlines. Once you get up above the 10-12,000 square foot space range, this becomes an issue. There’s only so much ground you can cover in a pinch.   

3. Think About How You’ll Showcase Your Space

Whenever I have the opportunity to give the CSP sales pitch in-person, I begin the process by walking the prospective client through the gym. This step allows me to expose him to our training environment and provide a clear visual of our coaches instructing clients through their individualized programming. As I do so, we walk past a series of signed and framed MLB jerseys (social proof) while athletes are showcased working hard (tangible proof).

When executed properly, the gym walk-through can effectively close the sale before I’ve even had to discuss pricing.

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The reason this option exists is because we’ve deliberately positioned our facility to accommodate non-training-related foot traffic (parents, observational guests, etc.). We can transition from office to warm up space without impacting the flow of the gym. This also allows for incoming clients to smoothly transition from checking in at the front desk to kicking off their warm-up.

This approach requires that we tie up some valuable real estate that could otherwise be used for training, but we know that we’ll strategically put it to use as a selling tool. Make sure to ask yourself during the design process if you’ve created a setup that will accommodate impactful facility tours while clients are in the gym.

Not Just for New Gyms

Unless you’ve bolted your equipment to the floor (which you should eventually do with your power racks), there’s still time to rethink your approach. In fact, it took a handful of unpleasant CSP staff member shin injuries for us to conclude that the chest-supported row needed to be repositioned in our first space.

Only time and experience will tell you exactly how your clients will move through the gym, so nothing should be deemed permanent until you’ve found your groove. However, a little planning on the front end will reduce the likelihood that you find yourself taking it all apart and starting over again before you’re out of month one.

 

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Creating Great Gym Culture - Avoid These 3 Mistakes

If you want to achieve long-term business success, the top task on your to-do list should be to establish a memorable gym culture. Commercial gyms may get by by differentiating using equipment selection or amenities, but that’s not a valuable angle for us private sector gym owners who can’t compete with the resources of the larger chains. If we want to thrive, it’s going to take a training environment that people can’t seem to shut up about as soon as they step outside of our space.

While this sounds like a manageable task, there are a few traps that gym owners have a bad habit of falling into along the way. Here are three such mistakes to avoid as you work to build something beautiful:

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Mistake #1 - Lacking Authenticity

I understand why you were fascinated and inspired by the glitter, disco balls, and unicorns showcased at Mark Fisher Fitness (MFF) after watching one of their YouTube videos. What I don’t understand, however, is how you came to the conclusion that you were in a position to recreate it. There’s a reason why those guys embrace the slogan “ridiculous humans, serious fitness,” and it leans heavily on the ridiculous piece of the equation.

Excentricities work for those guys because it is genuinely who they are. None of their friends outside the gym would be surprised to hear that they coach in a leotard, and that’s the key to their believability.

Ann Handley (author of Everybody Writes) says that writers who attempt to use a voice other than their own will end up with an audience that is “allergic to their lack of authenticity.” You can expect the same reaction from your own clients if you return from an MFF event and immediately begin coaching in a cape and tagging the walls with spray paint.

Be yourself, and you’ll never be accused of trying too hard. If you’re secretly obsessed with Star Wars, bring it up in conversation on the training floor. If you’re not comfortable being the high-energy guy, move at your own pace and differentiate with meaningful social engagement. If you love a certain band or genre, crank it up and let it motivate you to do your best work.  

In the end, I just want you to do you.

Mistake #2 - Impatience with the Process

Finding your voice or approach can take a while, but patience is incredibly important. There is nothing worse than a gym with an identity crisis. Don’t be the gym that dabbles in a trendy new complex training methodology one day, and then throws it all completely out the window in favor of ass-kicking boot camp sessions the next. Your culture and business model need to go hand-in-hand, and this means you have to commit to making your objectives work for long enough to know if you’ve got the right system in place.

The “let’s throw shit at the wall and see what sticks” approach to gym culture is both off-putting, and uninspiring for clients. You’re asking your clients to embrace consistency and process...the least you can do is show the same commitment to your craft.

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Mistake #3 - Failure to Appreciate Importance of Relevance

One of the best things you can do in the training space is to showcase your quirkiness, but this initiative is only valuable if your background is aligned with the target market. I’ve made the mistake in the past of hiring fascinating people who don’t share an interest in baseball, and it has backfired because what made them interesting people wasn’t necessarily interesting to the athletes in the gym.

I’ve since made a commitment to hire coaches who are both technically and socially in-line with the needs of our primary demographic, and it has dramatically improved gym culture. In any gym other than CSP, it would be incredibly weird to see John O’Neill walk around the training floor wearing a batting practice jacket and holding a fungo, but it plays especially well in this space.

If you employ coaches who understand the unique personality traits of your typical client, you’re likely to create a fun energy in the gym every day of the week.
 

Important Note -- This article originally appeared in the continuing-ed forum of The Strength Faction, a community of professionals committed to advancing the fitness profession, and their own skills in general. I regularly contribute business-specific content to this group, and would encourage all of my readers to check out the great work they're doing. Their fall session is just around the corner, and I’m sure they’d love to have you!

 

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Speaking the Language of Your Audience is More Important Than Being a Brilliant Tactician

We hired a coach directly out of our internship program this spring. One day Kyle Driscoll was an intern, and the next he was preparing to assist in on-boarding an incoming class of summer interns and begin collecting a paycheck. He deserved it, but maybe not for the exact reasons you'd typically expect. 

Kyle would be the first to tell you that he wasn't the smartest (textbook) or technically proficient intern in his intern class here at CSP. He was surrounded by some truly talented up and coming fitness professionals. He had less relevant academic experience than his peers, less exposure to complex training concepts and methodologies, and a resume that wasn't packed with coaching experience.

He did, however, communicate more comfortably with 90% of our athletes than anyone on our entire full-time team (and continues to do so today). Kyle played four years of Division-1 collegiate baseball at Rutgers University, shined during a summer of pitching in the Cape Cod Collegiate Baseball League, and found time to volunteer as the Pitching Coach at a local high school during his internship. Stepping on to a training floor that featured 85% baseball players was anything but anxiety-inducing for him.

He dominated little league photo day.

He dominated little league photo day.

He is now the only guy on our team who can look a "baseball dad" in the eye and explain exactly what to expect from the perspective of an athlete during the recruiting process. He also saw his own playing career cut short by a shoulder injury that could have been avoided had he been exposed to quality strength training and arm-care protocols at an earlier age, so he can effectively speak to the importance of what we do here.

In short, he’s walked the walk, and can talk the talk.

Do you think the previously mentioned dad holding the credit card in my office is concerned with whether or not Kyle has attended a dozen PRI conferences?

 

If you're interested in further discussions relating to assembling a cohesive team of strength coaches, I think you'd enjoy our upcoming Business Building Mentorship. We'll touch on hiring and all things relating to how we developed Cressey Sports Performance into what it is today during this event. I hope to see some of you there!

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Is Semi-Private Training Overrated?

Semi-private training is not the be-all-end-all of profitable gym ownership, and people need to stop acting like it’s the only logical way to improve a gym’s performance.

I am constantly encountering gym owners seeking guidance in overhauling their existing personal training models so that they can roll out a new format that will supposedly instantaneously maximize the efficiency of each hour in the workday.

Semi-private has worked for my business. 99% of the clients who have come through our doors have trained in this format, but this doesn’t mean I think it is the definitive “go-to solution” for everyone. Yes, putting four bodies in your gym for $45/session will translate to more revenue than a single $99 one-on-one client, but it is short-sighted to think that employing this model is as simple as revising your pricing and firing off an email announcing the change to clients.

Here are three things I want you to take into consideration as you entertain the idea of this big strategic shift:

1. Your schedule is likely full because your clients are happy.

You know what makes clients unhappy? Telling them that you’ve decided to take away something that they currently love. Is it a good idea to rock the boat?

Maybe you haven’t actually hit a ceiling on your personal training rates. Your packed schedule doesn’t tell me it’s definitively time to transition to semi-private…it tells me you might be a little too affordable. Consider increasing prices in your existing format before flipping a properly functioning system on its head.

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2. Your schedule is probably full because you’re a damn good personal trainer.

I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that you’re good at what you do. The bad news is that being an exceptional personal trainer doesn’t guarantee success in a group setting. Coaching multiple athletes is about more than just making better use of the down time between clients’ sets.

It takes hundreds of hours of coaching in our Cressey Sports Performance internship program before coaches fully acclimate to our training model. A parent once described our training environment as a “strength training ant farm” as he observed 40+ athletes moving through individualized programming under the supervision of our team. Do you think that a handful of years of coaching one-on-one has equipped you to dive in to this type of training setting?

Maybe you should embrace the fact that you’re a kick-ass one-on-one service provider and continue to hone that craft. There’s got to be plenty of opportunity to own that segment as everyone else seems to be jumping ship with the “if some is good, more is better” training model mentality.

3. Your operation may not be designed to accommodate a significant increase in foot traffic.

When you operate a semi-private training model like the one we employ here at CSP, you quickly learn that the single most valuable “piece of equipment” you can own is open space. This presents a problem for gym owners operating in facilities that were initially designed to accommodate an entirely personal training-based format.

If you really want to do this, you’re going to need to increase your warm-up space, add second and even third units of equipment you already own (medicine balls, kettlebells, etc.), and possibly reconfigure your floor plan to accommodate a new flow of clients within the space.

You don’t HAVE TO follow the crowd…

Who cares if everyone seems to be saying that you’ve got to move to semi-private? You may have a great operation that isn’t broken, so don’t go looking to fix it if you don’t absolutely have to.

* Some additional recommended reading: My business partner Eric made a wonderful case for the staying power of quality personal training back in 2015. Check it out here.

 

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So You’re Considering Putting Your Name on Your Business...

The private sector gym segment had not yet exploded when we opened Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) in 2007. At the time, many of the biggest players were gyms named after their owners, with operations such as Mike Boyle Strength & Conditioning and DeFranco’s Gym being among the heaviest hitters. These guys established a track record of success for business owners who had made the decision to take their personal brand into the brick and mortar realm, and we followed their lead without hesitation.

In 11+ years of day-to-day operations since, I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly associated with our decision to name this business after Eric. CSP is alive and well today, so we obviously didn't make a back-breaking decision, but was it the right one? 

Let’s take a closer look at some of the pros and cons associated with this strategy, and the answer to the common question of “would we do it again” if we could go back in time:

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Pro #1

Some Level of Brand Equity Likely Already Exists

You’re unlikely to find a gym named after its owner that didn’t carry an existing client roster into day-one of operations. Personal trainers typically open up their own shop because they’re looking to more effectively monetize an already packed schedule, and the best way to fill your calendar is to make a name for yourself locally, and in many cases, on the internet.

This is exactly why putting Eric’s name on our business was an easy initial decision. He delivered a list of 40+ athletes ready to pay for our services, and a personal brand that was rising thanks to content creation, product sales, and speaking engagements on platforms as big as the Perform Better Summit Series. His brand awareness momentum was already gaining steam, so we ran with it.

The outcome was a dramatically reduced risk of failure from the start.

Pro #2

No Concerns About “Finding Your Voice”

It can be tough during the early stages of operating a gym to identify the personality you would like your brand to convey.

Are we going to be the loud and energetic place? Or, maybe we’ll be the more deliberate and research-based type of training model? Should we just try to replicate the most successful gym in our area?

These are questions you don’t have to ask yourself when you name the business after a person with existing brand awareness. The personality already exists, and the market has deemed it valuable enough to fill a training schedule. The last thing you want to do in this circumstance is to deviate from a style and approach that you’re already publicly known for.

This means less time in brainstorming strategy meetings, and more time allocated toward doubling down on the message that is already in place.

Pro #3

Proper Incentive to Bust Your Ass to Succeed

Your reputation is everything in this world, and there’s no bigger way to put it on the line than to throw your last name on the sign out front. This is exactly why it’s rare to find a gym named after the owner that doesn’t feature a CEO with an unrelenting work ethic.

The potential problem here is the common mistake of working harder instead of smarter. It's important to remember that once you’ve opened a gym and put your name on it, you are no longer evaluated exclusively by the volume and quality of your work; you’re rewarded for the quality of the decisions that you make.

Those Are Some Good Pros, But There's a Catch...

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Having an individual's name on the business doesn't always translate to rainbows and butterflies. Let’s get into three BIG reasons why you should think twice before making this move:

Con #1

There’s Only One of You, and Everyone Wants a Piece

You think I’ve ever taken a phone call from a parent that didn’t want Eric Cressey to handle their kid’s assessment and program design responsibilities?

This presents a problem when you take into consideration the fact that everyone needs off-days, the occasional extended vacation, and opportunities to explore professional growth in other capacities. Eric cannot (and wouldn’t want to if he could) handle the workload that would come with one-on-one face time with every person who comes through the door in a scaling business. This is especially important to remember when expanding from one location to two, as he can only be in one place at a time.

This problem is called key-man risk, a topic that I covered in my first blog way back in 2015.

Con #2

Discredits Knowledge & Skills of Employees

When you’ve named the business after yourself, nearly all of your incoming clients will assume that every other member of the team is an inferior alternative to the namesake. Regardless of career accomplishments, if a coach's name is something other than the one on the wall, he is fighting an uphill battle from day-one.

This can limit your ability to attract exceptional talent from an employment standpoint, as ambitious fitness professionals may not be that psyched about busting their asses for results that will ultimately be attributed to the boss first, and everyone else second. This doesn’t make the owner selfish or greedy, it’s just the way things work.

Con #3

If You Intend to Sell, You’ll Never Get Great Value

It may be hard to conceptualize the fact that you’ll one day need an exit strategy for a business that you’re just getting off the ground, but putting your name on it significantly limits your options when that time comes.

If we decided that we were over the gym ownership grind and chose to sell CSP, we’d never get the same value from a clean separation as we would if Eric agreed to remain aligned with the operation. Any smart investor would know that the optics of Eric Cressey leaving this business would negatively impact the existing lead-generation and client retention strategies.

The “Cressey Sports Performance” client list caries less value from a business acquisition standpoint than it would if we’d named our company “Baseball Sports Performance” back in 2007. I realize that few gym owners open up shop purely with the intent to flip it for a profit, but it doesn’t change the fact that everything comes to an end eventually, and it is best to take a long-term vision into a decision as big as this one.

The Verdict

Putting your name on the business is a bad long-term play. Learn from our mistake, and fight the urge to take the path of least resistance when naming your operation.

If you've found value in these insights, I think you might enjoy the upcoming Business Building Mentorship Eric Cressey and I will be hosting on Monday, October 15th. Check out complete event information here.

 

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