16 Meandering Thoughts on Gym Ownership

Want to jump inside my chaotic and unpredictable gym owner mind?

I tried hard to lock down a single concept to write about this week and couldn’t keep from bouncing from idea to idea in my brainstorming efforts. The end result? Sixteen quick thoughts, including some tips, a rant or two, and likely some concepts that I’ll figure out how to develop further in future blogs.

Maybe one (or 16) of them will change the way you do business starting today...

An inside look at my content selection process this week.

An inside look at my content selection process this week.

1. You’re never too young to lead, or too old to learn. Embrace this mentality, and make sure your employees know you believe it. Otherwise, you’ll never extract their actual potential.

2. It only happens a couple of times per year, but those three payroll months really sting when it comes time to cut checks to owners. This assumes you’re on a bi-weekly pay schedule and manage a reasonably large team.

3. If you do a good enough job, you’ll eventually find yourself training your competition. This includes former interns, employees, and even clients. Consider it a compliment and never stop learning or you’ll fall behind the people you helped jumpstart.

4. Some of the best equipment investments I’ve made include a ping-pong table, mini-basketball hoop for the warm-up area, and a cornhole set-up. Everyone likes to talk about making their gym a third space for their clients, but most don’t deliver the amenities that inspire said clients to embrace that mentality.

5. Clients break clipboards at an astonishing rate. In close to 15 years of strength training, I can’t remember a single moment where I found myself dropping a dumbbell on a clipboard. How do I find myself replacing 50 wood clipboards annually?

6.If you say you open at 12:00pm, you can expect the phone to ring repeatedly from 11:55am until 12:15pm, and roughly 1% of all callers will leave a message. The rest will just hang up and call back continuously until they break your will.


7. If your lease is expiring this year, and you intend to renew, start the dialogue 6-9 months out. A good landlord will do this for you, but many of you have less-than-good landlords. You never know if they intend to sell the building, choose not to offer you to stay, or even triple your rent. You can’t afford to begin a new property search 30-90 days prior to needing a new home.

8. The canned responses feature in Gmail just may be the single most impactful time-saving mechanism you’re not using. I’ll bet a quick search of the term using the Google Machine just may get you pointed in the direction of productivity if you’re interested.

9. When a fitness business tries to reposition its training model, it exposes itself to the risk of alienating the longtime customers who chose their gym for what it was in the first place. You can’t just declare that your established personal training facility will be a semi-private gym moving forward and expect clients to fall in line. Remember the haphazard roll out of “New Coke?” That’s about how well you can expect it to go.

10. Your coaches and interns need to know that you believe in their potential, and simply adding them to the team isn’t enough to convey that message. The next time a coach tells you that he aspires to one day coach in the NFL, tell him you know he can get there. And then ask how you can help.

11. Self-proclaimed “efficiency gurus” are going to tell you you’re leaving money on the table if you waste time swiping credit cards, answering phones, and sweeping the floors. Those are tasks to be delegated 100% of the time, they’ll say. Ask them to remind you of how many gyms they’ve owned and operated. None of us are above doing an undesirable task in our small business.

12. There is no such thing as a perfectly harmonious fitness operation. Don’t be fooled by the beautifully crafted Instagram stories and filtered images. We’ve all got “stuff,” and there’s nothing wrong with admitting it.

13. My gym started with a blank spreadsheet and an operating account with $0.00 in it just like yours. In fact, every gym you’ve ever followed and maybe admired did. Your chances on day one are just as good as anyone else’s.

14. Attempting to maintain an existing gym culture instead of allowing it to evolve is a recipe for failure. Culture isn’t installed. Instead, it is the manifestation of a collection of fascinating personalities coming together to make something special. When clients leave the gym, the culture changes. When interns finish up and go back to school, culture changes. When you make a new hire, culture changes. Embrace change.

15. In my experience, there are two types of employees: the ones who thrive on busyness and demanding to-do lists, and those who can’t wait to tell you how exhausted they are when we come out of a quiet time of year and get smashed by an influx of returning athletes. As much as it terrifies you to do so at the start of a busy period, you’ve got to clean house of the coaches that fall into the latter category. You’re better off short-staffed with motivated team members than you are fully-staffed with uninspired contributors. Tear that bandaid off as quickly as possible.

16. Our optimal client-to-coach ratio at Cressey Sports Performance is really just that...ours. We started by putting two kids in the gym with a single coach and quickly realized that adding a third, fourth, and eventually fifth would work perfectly fine without compromising the quality of the product or the client experience. Like everything else in life and business, getting to that point was nothing but a series of trial and error. Stop looking for other business owners to dictate your optimal semi-private model, and start experimenting.


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