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:
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.
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.
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...
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.