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:
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.
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!