My Favorite Thing About Owning A Gym

I’ve decided on my favorite aspect of owning a fitness facility.  Aspiring gym owners are probably not going to like it.

The best part of owning your own “performance enhancement center” isn’t working with professional athletes or avoiding the obligation to cater to the needs of the fat-loss community.  The supposed autonomy that comes with owning your own shop doesn’t come in the form of “making your own hours”.  In fact, you can go ahead and kiss your predetermined and predictable schedule goodbye because that’s as good as gone the moment you decide to open the doors on your own space.

The best part about owning your own gym is the part of the process most people dread: the laborious hours spent hauling equipment, laying flooring, and getting your hands dirty in general. 

This past summer, CSP-Florida Co-Founder Shane Rye managed to grind out 52 consecutive days of work between his gym and on-field coaching duties.  And you know what?  He didn’t bitch about it once.  He realizes that what makes or breaks a young business is the level to which equity holders are willing to go to ensure its success during the earliest stages. 

Shane, Eric, Brian and Tim’s fingerprints are all over the success found in our Florida location.  Eric actually jumped in on the demo process down there and his fingerprints are now all over this toilet as well:

Every once in a while I find myself reminiscing about “the early days” of our business, and none of those memories ever feature specific client training sessions or the high profile athletes we’ve accumulated over the years. 

Instead, I end up laughing about the initial 14-hour workdays culminating with heavy farmers carries at 10:00pm in a space featuring broken windows and no air conditioning.  I remember the 48-hour span where we relocated an entire gym across town using a rented U-Haul truck featuring a lift gate that sat two feet lower than the loading dock at our new space.  You ever try to lift a functional trainer out of a dark truck and on to a loading dock at 3:00am on a school night?  It sucks.

This past Friday I spent my day off replacing the turf in CSP’s pitching cages.  It took me and three other guys a little over four hours to get it done.  I walked away with a sore back, a cut on my right hand that probably could have used a stitch or two, and the memory of a morning at CSP that will likely stick with me for years to come.  When an athlete, parent, or other fitness professional walks through our door and tells me that they love the look and feel of our gym, I can take pride in knowing that I helped to drag all of this shit in here and set it up just right.

In addition to my desire to personally impact the look and feel of our business, here are three reasons why you’ll always see me cutting the turf, mounting the speakers, and hanging the jerseys:

1. Hard work is hard

Owning your own business isn’t supposed to be easy.  Sometimes things need to happen at inconvenient times, under inconvenient circumstances, and the owner needs to suck it up and get it done.  This is why Eric, Tony and I realized early on that our best interns and employees seemed to be products of small family businesses.  We’ve learned that the blue-collar entrepreneurial nature that successful small business owners typically possess is inevitably baked in to the work ethic of their kids.

During elementary school and middle school I had the pleasure of spending the occasional snow day riding in an oil truck alongside one of my dad’s employees.  We’d move from one house to the next hauling a hose from truck to house, delivering home heating oil in miserable conditions. 

So what if your friends are sledding…mom and dad couldn’t stay home from work today so you’re going to learn the value of earning a few bucks the hard way.

By no means does my role at CSP involve continuous manual labor.  My point is that getting your hands dirty every once in a while and stepping outside of your comfort zone for the good of your business is important.  Hard work is hard.  Deal with it.

2. You discover other people’s true character

There are two kinds of clients in my world:  The ones who ask you why you haven’t rolled out the new rolls of turf in the pitching cage yet…and the ones who ask what time you want them to arrive the next day so that they can help with the process.

Chris Carmain and Ryan Leach fall into the latter category.  These two are aspiring professional baseball players who showed up close to 4 hours before CSP opened last Friday to help me and Matt Blake lay some new flooring.  They didn’t ask what was in it for them.  They volunteered and never shied away from unpleasant work.  All they requested was coffee and the opportunity to be the first two guys to throw when we finished the job.

We’ve accumulated a whole lot of clients like Chris and Ryan over the years, and I am immensely grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to welcome them into my network.  While we intentionally align our business with the most recognizable professional athletes on our client roster, the heart and soul of the CSP Family is made up of athletes willing to give up their free time to help me do the dirty work of maintaining a facility.

3. Opportunity to lead by example

“Leadership is being able and willing to do what you ask of others.” 

This is CSP Strength Coach Greg Robins’ definition of leadership.  He discussed the concept in great depth in a guest post on my site this past summer, and I agree with every word he had to say.  I could have assigned a couple of my employees the responsibility of giving our pitching cage a facelift last week and they would have done a fine job.  However, I also would have been perceived as having “big-leagued” (a popular term in a facility overflowing with baseball players) a task that I didn’t want to be burdened by.

Roll up your sleeves.  Demonstrate a willingness to execute the projects that your employees are dreading.  The message needs to be clear: we’re all in this together.

Make some memories

Back in the summer of 2006 I began the One-Year Full-Time MBA Program at Babson College.  From Memorial Day until Labor Day, we got pummeled with homework, exams, and a curriculum that had us on campus 12+ hours a day at least 5 days a week.  There were moments when it felt like a living nightmare, but I survived.  I then eased my way through the lighter workload of the fall and spring semesters leading up to graduation.  When I look back on all of it, I think fondly of the summer experience, and can barely recall classes and projects that took place during the rest of the year.

Owning your own fitness facility has turned out to be a whole lot like my graduate education process.  The early stages will push you to the brink of insanity, but you’ll eventually settle into a comfortable rhythm.  When all is said and done, nobody reminisces about rhythm.  The hard part is what you’ll remember, and for some reason it will all seem enjoyable in hindsight.

Accumulate some sweat equity.  You won't regret it.