Gym Owner Musings - Installment #3

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

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

1. Blindly transitioning to a career in fitness doesn’t mean you’ve escaped “the race to nowhere”

Every day of the week, a whole bunch of people grinding it out in “the real world” decide to quit their job to chase the dream of a career in fitness. I get it. When your life is all work and no play, it’s pretty enticing to make your work feel a whole lot like play. The problem in this scenario is that very few of these career jumpers are prepared to answer some of the most basic questions I ask during a typical CSP internship interview:

  1. What part of the fitness industry would you like to end up in? 
  2. Is there a specific demographic you feel most comfortable working with?
  3. Do you have a preferred coaching format?

More often than not, I get one of two responses:

  1. Crickets. 
  2. “I just want to work with athletes in a place like this.”

I’ve got some bad news for you, friend. There aren’t a whole lot of places like this, and the ones that do exist are rarely hiring. Additionally, there are only so many athletes out there to work with, and very few of them are looking to spend their limited dollars on premium fitness services.

There’s a decent chance that you burned out in a corporate setting because when asked where you’d like for your career to go, your only answer was “up.” Employers aren’t jumping at the opportunity to promote the guy whose entire professional objective is to have the biggest title and make the most money. Similarly, I have no idea where to start when attempting to help an outgoing intern find employment if they can’t tell me what athletic population they are specifically fascinated by or which gender they better connect with on the training floor.

If you don’t have a feel for where you’d like to end up now that you’ve thrown yourself into the world of fitness, you’re still smack dab in the middle of the race to nowhere. The only difference is that you can now go to work in sweatpants.

2. A tip for maximizing the productivity of your charity events

Raising funds for a worthy cause feels good, right? If you do it properly, you can support a good organization while simultaneously introducing new people to your business and training environment.

We host a Charity Strength Camp once every eight to ten weeks here at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP) where 100% of the donations are directed toward a specific charity. These events are open to the public, and typically serve as the perfect “bring-a-friend” scenario for our Strength Camp regulars.

As you might imagine, the best events are those that draw the most participants, as the training environment is at its best when we host larger groups (and donations are obviously higher). One lesson I’ve come to learn in roughly four years of organizing these events is that selecting a local charity to support will dramatically increase foot traffic on the day of your event.

When you pick a national organization, you immediately qualify as “small potatoes” in the grand scheme of their fund raising efforts. While they appreciate your donations, they are hardly mobilizing to put bodies in your gym on the day of the event.

October happens to be Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so we traditionally schedule a charity strength camp with this cause in mind. I could have picked one of the heavy hitters such as Susan G. Komen, but instead opted to go local. For the second straight year, we’ve pulled together to support the Virginia Thurston Healing Garden (VTHG), an organization that focuses on providing therapeutic services and educational programs to women experiencing breast cancer.

Great turnout at our october event

Great turnout at our october event

Since a couple hundred-dollar donation makes a bigger dent at a local organization such as the VTHG, they feel inclined to promote our event both internally (encouraging staff members to participate), and externally (sharing our flyer on their social networking platforms). When comparing your options, you can’t make the argument that supporting a national fundraising campaign carries any more merit than supporting a local cause, so I am always eager to keep our charities of choice local. In either scenario, we’re honoring the objectives of National Breast Cancer Awareness month.

3. Capturing a unique market segment requires embracing trade-offs

Michael Porter is a “strategy guru” whose name came up often during my time in business school. Of all of the strategy material covered during my time as a student, I distinctly remember his message that “a strategic position is not sustainable unless there are trade-offs with other positions.”

As I spend my non-CSP working hours focusing on delivering valuable content to other fitness professionals, I try to stay grounded in the fact that I am chasing expert status in just one place: the category of creating and running a fitness facility. My professional time allows for three things:

  1. Running CSP to the best of my ability.
  2. Learning from my experiences accumulated while executing #1 on this list.
  3. Writing about said learning experiences, and discussing them with other gym owners.

My repertoire doesn’t feature extensive experience with Facebook advertising, so I don’t pretend to be the best at that. I have no experience launching a fitness product, so I wont bite on the request for a consultation regarding product creation and design. My managerial skills are still a work in progress, so I don’t preach about leadership.

In short, I only discuss the things I know inside and out at the expense of developing a skillset which will allow me to declare myself an expert in one of the examples I’ve listed. I’m okay with that trade-off if it means that I’ve captured some decent market share in the realm of my areas of expertise.

Unless the nuts and bolts of running CSP changes dramatically, you can expect me to stay on message with topics such as improving the client training experience, systemizing your business, hiring for fit, identifying operational efficiencies, etc. 

Do you enjoy my fitness spin on business concepts?

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