Starting a new affiliate can be daunting. Anytime you begin a business you will have uncertainties, questions, and even doubts. I have helped quite a few affiliates get their gyms up and running. I have helped build their pull up bars, given training sessions, answered financial and billing questions, and just about everything in between. I have no problem telling a new affiliate owner how to avoid the mistakes I made when starting CFW.
Hands down, the best advice I have given to all of them, has been to be your own gym… do not try to copy another’s model and find your own niche. CrossFit affiliates can be, and should be very different from one another. If we were all the same, our target market would be very small. At CrossFit Wilmington we focus on training and results. We train our clients with the best technique… relentlessly we correct and coach. Excellence is the goal. Achieving personal excellence is the “fun” and reward for our clients. Gyms like CFW leave room for the fun gyms to thrive. Not everyone enjoys the structure and focus of affiliates like ours. The average CrossFitter just wants to have fun exercising. They are attracted to the “fun” gyms and intimidated by the top ones. There is also a market for other niches… endurance, powerlifting, or Oly lifting can be an affiliates focus. But specializing means you need to be able to excel in the specialty. You’ll look foolish if you promote yourself an Olympic lifting focused Crossfit, but you teach weak form and never take your athletes to competitions. I tell new affiliate owners to look for that niche and focus your efforts. I may just mean following the main site model and just be good at being a good CrossFit gym.
The other piece of advice I give new affiliate owners is to study business, economics, and marketing. If I had to guess, less than 20 percent of my reading and study is made up of exercise physiology and training blogs, publications and articles. I have flipped through Box Magazine only once and sometimes I’ll read through a CrossFit Journal article. Most of my reading is medical studies and business articles. The med stuff has its obvious transfer to my interests in diet, health and performance. But I think it is the business world I get much of my best information and education from. The business world is all about performance… it makes a lot of sense as an owner of a performance based business to look to the financial geniuses for guidance, trending, and even ethics. Few CrossFit affiliate owners have business degrees… not that they really matter very much. Like an exercise physiology degree is to a trainer, the business degree is to business… almost worthless.
Luckily, CrossFit gyms are about as simple as businesses go, but you still need to know business basics. Besides, once you start a business you are no longer a trainer, studying your new profession can improve your marketing, expand your sales, and increase your bottom line.
This article got my attention last week. I was happy as I read through it and be able to answer positively to each question. CFW continues to be an industry leader because we lead. We innovate, adapt, and improve with each day. While others lack innovation and vision, we are making changes that improve our facility and program every day.
One of the greatest luxuries an industry leading company enjoys is not having to be reactive. We do not have to concern ourselves with our copy-cat competitors. Industry leaders are busy moving the industry forward. The competition, is riding the coat tales of the companies driving the train. Competitors have to think tactically just to survive. Industry leaders are able to think strategically. As a CrossFit, you need to be able to see where this train is headed and make adjustments to the market, not your perceived competition. In the past six years, I have been asked quite a few times about how I engage my competition. “CFW doesn’t have any competition”. It sounds cocky, but I am confident when I say that no other gym does what we do. They cannot. They are not me and they do have my experience. They do not have my staff or their experiences. So therefore CFW cannot be replicated. Trying to keep up and mimic a larger, more successful business makes you look foolish.
Look at like this… if Jobs had not retook the helm at Apple, the company would be bankrupt. Instead of continuing to try and compete with the Windows PC, Jobs took the Mac down its own path. He created a successful company, not by trying to outdo the PC, but by going after a piece of the market the PC did not have a tight grasp on.
A good example of where some new CrossFits are making big mistakes is trying to network with the big companies. Only the top CrossFit athletes are profiting from teaming up with companies like Reebok, Rogue, and Progenics. Linking your small gym to the big companies only profits them. Our clientele base is too small to support a solid return on investment on retail sales. Especially if the product is something that can easily be ordered from the internet when you are out of stock. If you are going to do retail, it needs to be unique and also improve your members’ results. I teamed CFW up with Poliquin Group a few years ago because the supplements are high quality. Not anyone can sell Poliquin products. A trainer must attend the BioSignature course and get the education Poliquin believes necessary to properly recommend supplements to a client. It is an excellent course and an excellent program. My point is, all industry leading firms are set apart from others in the market place by things that cannot be replicated.
In this article posted on Forbes.com, John Hall, CEO of Influence & Co. line out ten things your business needs to be or have to be an industry leader. If you are a new CrossFit, it may help you find your comfortable niche… and keep you from playing the dead end game of follow the leader with the already established gyms in your area. Enjoy.
Is Your Company an Industry Leader?
1. Are you an honest company?
One the things I am most proud of is I have never screwed over anyone in business. Casey and I started CFW for the the right reasons. For the most part, CrossFit gyms are ran by folks with honest business practices who really do want to do good things. It is difficult to screw anyone over in the gym business. Members pay for a service and the gym provides it. Little cash is exchanged so there is little room for a gym owner to get tempted to steal from clients. The one thing affiliates could do better is recognizing and respecting proximity. There are too many instances of CrossFit owners opening gyms with no regard for established gyms in their area. There are cities across the US where the CrossFit gym owners (and members in some cases) all hate each other because of this unnecessary practice. Of course, this is when those same douche bags quote Glassman as saying there is nothing wrong with a CrossFit on every corner. Yes, Gregg Glassman did say more gyms make the market better and the market would rid itself of bad products. However, he is also VERY quick to crush any imitators. So that argument is always laid out by the perpetrators… until it happens to them. Then they cry about. It is a phenomenon unique to CrossFit… and large chain drug stores. The same person who would open a gym on top of another, would not even consider it if they were opening a car wash or other business. If you are a prospecting new CrossFit affiliate owner, do yourself, and the community, a favor… have respect for other affiliates and they will most certainly return the favor.
2. Are You a Source of Trusted Information?
My programs are followed worldwide and my competitors’ programming is sought after by many CrossFit athletes hoping for a shot at the World Games. Just as importantly, I produce articles (like this one, ha.) with information relevant to our industry. They are not always in line with the typically accepted trends, but relevant nonetheless. I could just post links to other peoples’ articles. But I have a brain with ideas that can help folks reach their goals or even help our industry as a whole. I call out CrossFit gyms for being unsafe or even purveying dumb training methods. They get their panties in a bunch, but I only want the best for CrossFit… the better all gyms are, the better our industry is. To increase your trust in a market, you have to show results. You do not have to have the horses in the stable to compete at the Games to be a trusted source of information… but you do need more than a Level 1 Crossfit Cert and or an Exercise Phys degree. Both are a dime a dozen and some of the best coaches on the planet have neither. The best thing to start with is your in house successes. Karen Candia of CrossFit Ocean Isle Beach is the best in the biz at posting her members successes. While many gyms are worried about competing with the area leader, Karen focuses on her clients and constantly posts their successes. She is an industry leader.
3. Are Your Executives Thought Leaders?
CFW has not quite grown large enough to have executive positions yet, but my trainers are undoubtedly thought leaders. From the day they become interns at CFW, I provide my trainers the tools they need to be creative and produce their own style of leading a class. They all go far beyond the Level 1 course. All my lead trainers have competed either at Regionals or at the CrossFit Games. They are the only coaches I know who I would trust to write a CrossFit program for myself or my members. Any of them could open and run an exemplary CrossFit facility. The best way to create thought leaders in your staff is to give them incentives and the leeway to become better. Provide them with the opportunities to better educate themselves and then apply it. Have them write articles or programming. Most importantly, put them in charge of something. It is ownership’s close cousin and ownership builds pride. But most importantly, only hire people that represent your vision. I see young gyms, in a hurry to grow (compete with the leaders) hire anyone they can. Your trainers need to set the example. They do not have to be Rich Froning, but this is CrossFit… they need to be fit and understand physiology. No one wants to pay for an enthusiast’s guidance… they pay your gym for professional instruction, be sure you are providing it. Me, personally, I would only pay the best for instruction. So I would not go to a gym with a weak staff. Another rookie mistake is to put unqualified personnel in trainer spots. This will bite you on the ass. If you think your clients are not smart to enough to recognize when their trainer knows little more than they do, you will pay for it. This is a “duh” tip: do not hire fired trainers… it is a fair assumption if a trainer was fired from one gym, they will pose the same problems at yours. Do not let your perceived need for more trainers outrun the smart business practice of getting referrals for new hires. The best thing is to grow your staff yourself. Identify those with potential, intern them, get them certified and have them learn your ways. Read this: You Are Who You Hire.
4. Do You Have a Meaningful Relationship With Your Target Market?
At this point I think I have reached more in the CrossFit market than I could have ever thought. The my guidance and advice have reached many. The trust my friends and clients, at CFW and beyond, have in me for training and nutrition advice is more than solid. Everyone knows I do not give advice unless I know it will work. I know what I suggest works because I have done it myself. If you want your relationship with your clientele to flourish, you have to provide industry leading advice and guidance. That requires education and knowledge… get after it. Never stop learning.
5. Are Your Key Employees Known Experts?
Cody Lambert. Amanda Welliver. Melissa Hoff. Josh Edwards. Dawn Hutchison. If you Google any of us, you get results. Google your name. If all you get is hits from your own website, well, that is what is called an indicator. Improve your education by doing more than a bunch of Oly seminars. It blows my mind how many CrossFit coaches think they can seminar or cert their way to being a top coach. In the end, you are either a good coach or you are not. You have to coach top athletes to be known as an expert in a sport. Until then you are only trainer. Be happy about it and be the best trainer you can be.
6. Are You Recognized Consistently with Awards and Placements in Top Industry Lists?
Articles posted to CrossFit.com, CrossFit Facebook page, linked to, shared by, and published in periodicals… check. Ask anyone who is hoping to compete at the MidAtlantic Regionals and they will list CFW as one of the teams they would like to be able to beat. Our trophy case is full. The only athletes and coaches in Wilmington who have ever competed at the CrossFit Games, did so under the CrossFit Wilmington flag. In CrossFit, there are now thousands of little gyms no one has ever heard of. These days, the only way to be considered among the best is to beat them. Good luck… you’re gonna need to start getting up earlier, training smarter, and attracting the talent needed to go to the Games. Lucky for the new gym, to be successful, you do not have to worry about going to the Games… and probably should not. Talking about competing at that level while you are still unable to win even the small local gigs will also make you look foolish. Focus on your members and their results. Give them quality training and hold them to the highest standards. You may find that you already have talent in your halls. Your job is to recognize and develop it.
7. Do You Have a Reputation for Treating People Well?
We have to take care of our people. Few folks can say I have not helped them to my fullest ability when they asked for it or even when they did not. It does not always pay off… I have certainly had to pull a couple of knives from my back and so will you. For the most part, I think treating every person I meet as the most important person I have ever met is the best way to live. But also I have a reputation for treating people like they deserve to be treated… good or bad, you get what you give. Do not burn professional bridges. Screwing over the people that help you never makes your business stronger. Do not be confrontational with other gyms… especially the established ones with good reputations. That is counter productive. They may make things tougher on your than need be. The CrossFit community is what attracts many of our members… being an ass to other gyms and their members will get you no where. You are your business, what you are known for will be what your business is known for.
8. Do You Show Up in Search Results of Your Target Market?
There a many ways to increase your standing on a Google search. Paid ads will put you at the top of the page if you choose your keywords correctly, but folks know the purple background does not indicate anything but a paid ad. Now searchers know the most popular hit is just below the purplish highlights. If your competition is the most popular result, you can try to plug in keywords, even go as far as using their name in your tag line or something. That is a two way street, however. The larger firm can easily take all your traffic by doing the same. The bottom line, the only way to get the best return on searches is to be the most popular, well known business in your sector. To achieve that status you have to do all the above better than your competitors. Putting their name in your ads, posts, and photo links only shows your lack creativity and desire to be like them.
9. What Do People Find When They Are Researching Your Company?
When you Google search CrossFit Wilmington, CrossFits in Wilmington NC, or anything similar, you get CrossFit Wilmington. The next few results are gyms with the words Crossfit and Wilmington in their tag lines, then Facebook hits, then Yelp and few other BS results. Scroll past them and you get a ton of results specific to CrossFit Wilmington. That is what you want people to find. I write and post my own articles. They get tens of thousands of reads. Writing your own instead of just re-posting a bunch of other folks’ work shows the world you are passionate about your work and if you know what you are talking about. It will also help develop numbers 1-5
10. Do you have a presence at major industry events?
CrossFit Games? Again, you do not have to take athletes to the Games to be a presence at major industry events. While the Games are the pinnacle, there are other events you can attend and network with others at. It does not have to be a CrossFit event. Get out there and get known. Even if your reputation only extends to you being a nice person, that may very well be enough to get your affiliate full of members.