Affiliate R&D: July Guests Experiment


In the last seven years I have learned a lot about starting, operating, and training at a CrossFit affiliate. My knowledge, like many other affiliate owners, has come via experimenting with offering different programs and projects that we’ve either come up with on our own, or ones we’ve borrowed from others. In addition, the Beyond The Whiteboard team has always viewed the CrossFit affiliate model as a sort of research and development program for running a gym. The hands-off approach of CrossFit HQ gives every affiliate a chance to experiment and share (via the journal or their own blog) their findings. Different approaches to programming, nutrition, class structure, etc are forged from this concept. There is a ton of great information out there for affiliate owners just waiting to be discovered; we want to help organize it, as well as contribute to it. We also want it to be data driven. Our plan is to analyze experiments that are happening at affiliates around the country each and every day. Some will work, some won’t, but the goal is to always learn something new. I’ll go ahead and kickstart things with an experiment we recently did at my affiliate.

The Experiment

In February of 2014 we opened our second location.  We were looking for ways to fill the doors faster than we managed with our first. We decided to give existing members at the new location the option to bring 1 “guest” to the gym, for free…for the entire month of July. We called the initiative “July Guests”. In our experience, often times a single intro class, or drop-in, just isn’t enough for new, prospective members to fully grasp the programming, community, and results our box has to offer. Surely, a month-long trial would do the trick.

To fully test this idea we had to drop our on-ramp/beginner classes. On-ramp/beginner programs allow affiliates more time to educate members on the principles/philosophies of the CrossFit program, introduce specific nutrition concepts, and help familiarize newbies with group style training methods, but they still fall short of the complete CrossFit box experience, and that’s what we were after. Although on-ramp classes certainly have their advantages, nothing beats the atmosphere, camaraderie, and intensity of a full blown, jam packed group class. Here’s how it worked:

For Who?

Each current member received 1 “Guest Ticket”. They could give the ticket to anyone they were interested in introducing the gym to.

One of our initial fears was getting too many new members at once (though, doesn’t that sound like an awesome problem to have?).  In an effort to limit the potential class bombardment only existing members with potential guests in mind were given tickets.


Each guest was treated as if they were a long-time, paying member. No effort was sparred.

Guests participated in the same WODs our veteran members did (with appropriate scaling of course). Everything from the initial QOD (question of the day) and skill work, to our warm-up and WOD.

BTWB Account
We created Beyond The Whiteboard accounts for each guest and guided them through the process of logging their scores (we offer free accounts to members).  Most of the “guiding” took place in between classes as needed.  Some of our long time members were also helpful enough to show the newbies the ropes.

Zone Details
Much like the BTWB education (in between classes) we pulled aside each new member and showed them the basics of the Zone diet, offering extra help if needed over the course of a few classes.  Nutrition consultation is important because it shows the broad spectrum of fitness offered at CrossFit boxes, as well as the personal touch prospective members are often looking for.

Photo & Weigh-Ins
We took an initial photo/headshot and put them up on our “New Members” board to help make them feel part of the community. We provided a weigh-in for each of them to serve as their baseline measurements.  A lot of positive changes can happen in a month, especially if the nutrition advice is adhered to.

Guests were also included in our standard follow-up emails/texts/phone calls. These take place regularly over the course of a member’s first two months with us. It’s all part of ensuring the member experience is an enjoyable one.  In addition, after the guests free month ended we sent each two emails, weeks apart, encouraging them to continue their fitness journey with us.

The Goal
To give people the full CrossFit experience as quickly as possible, and, as a result, get lots of sign-ups, fast.

The Results

Of the 23 members that took part, 1 signed up before completion of the trial. In the first full month after (August) we had 3 more take the plunge. The second month (September) saw two more become paying members. In total, 6 of the July Guests are now consistent members at our new facility, which gives us a total conversion rate of 26%.

Month Guests Conversion
July(Free) 23 NA
July(Paying) 1 4%
August(Paying) 4 17%
September(Paying) 6 26%
In September, guests-turned-members were given a questionnaire about their experience with the July Guests experiment.  The questions were as follows:
  1. Would you have come to the gym eventually, or was the “free” promotion the push you needed?
  2. At what point during the free month did you realize you wanted to sign up for good?  How many days/weeks in?
  3. If you didn’t sign up right away (after the month trial), what was the main reason for the delay?

The responses were as follows:

  1. All 6 said the free month is what got them into the gym.  A few mentioned they were planning on trying out the gym at some point, or that they were in the market for a new gym, but the fact that it was free, plus the timing of the promotion, were the determining factors.
  2. 2 said they wanted to join after the first day.  2 knew after the 2nd week. 2 said they knew they wanted to join by the end of the month.
  3. 2 waited to commit because of financial reasons.  The other 3 simply had other commitments (family, school, etc) they needed to attend to before signing up.
Reached Goal?

Yes, and no.  We were able to get a lot of prospective members (23) into the gym in a relatively short amount of time.  We were also able to get them fully integrated into the box experience without having to provide additional times or services.  However, 6 new people in a month isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, a lot of sign-ups.  That number is exceeded regularly at our first location in the same amount of time, minus the free month promotion.  Few people would argue that 26% is a commendable conversion rate. Unless, of course, you are struggling for members. In that case, any amount of new members is a success.

However, 6 new people in a month isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, a lot of sign-ups.  That number is exceeded regularly at our first location in the same amount of time, minus the free month promotion.  Few people would argue that 26% is a commendable conversion rate.


Based on the answers given by the signees, the free, month-long period was an important choice. It got everyone into the gym faster than they would have had it not been there.  As for making the promotion a month long, 4 of the 6 signees claim to only have needed up to 2 weeks before realizing our box was for them.  Originally, we “hypothesized” that it would take up to one month before a person might come to that realization.  We were correct in thinking we needed more than a day, but, as it turns out, a month is more than necessary.  Two weeks seems to be enough of a time period to capture most interested parties. This opens up the possibility of doing more frequent July Guest-type promotions throughout the year, but in 2 week intervals.

 Two weeks seems to be enough of a time period to capture most interested parties. This opens up the possibility of doing more frequent July Guest-type promotions throughout the year, but in 2 week intervals.

It’s also worth mentioning, however, that the 2 signees claiming to have needed the entire month gave answers falling perfectly in line with our original ideas.  One said it were the strength increases, and the body composition results, seen in the final week of the promotion that ultimately convinced her.  The other claimed to have been so fully invested in the trial that it was a complete surprise to find out he couldn’t come the next week unless he signed up.  In fact, he felt so much apart of the box because the “trainers just [focused] on [our] workouts [rather than] pushing [us] to sign up or sell their products“.  There is a market for individuals like these.  Given the low-cost nature of the program, it would be wise to consider month-long trials on occasion in order to capture such a market.

Per their answers to the third item on the questionnaire, there’s nothing we could have done to get 3 of the guests back into the gym any earlier after the promotion.  Unforeseen commitments will always pop up.  It might be worth it next time, though, to offer a special discounted rate for individuals that make it through the promotion and choose to sign up within the first week.  This would have helped to get the other two in earlier than they did.  Plus, it may also have convinced numerous others to sign up in the first place.

Size Matters

Class size is very important with a program like this.   We used the size of our classes (which were still small) to our advantage.  Adding a few people to each wasn’t difficult at all. The structure of the program was also such that no additional work, energy, or resources were required.  We didn’t open up extra time slots to accommodate the extra guests.  We didn’t teach them independently from the rest of the current members.  We didn’t require additional trainers to help out in the classes. In short, the simple, non-invasive, undemanding structure of the program helped to keep it business as usual. I would not recommend this approach if your gym already, regularly, has classes over 10 members.


The largest drawback, for me personally, was not having an onramp program. Through no fault of their own, it was a struggle to get a guest to fully understand the “hows” and “whys” of CrossFit.  In my experience the best, most loyal, members are the ones that fully engulf themselves in the culture of CrossFit. That is very hard to accomplish if they don’t completely understand what it is they are doing. This could lead to cancellations further down the line, and could very well be the reason 18 of the 23 guests chose not to sign up.  If  nothing else, this experiment has shown me how important an on-ramp program is.

Perhaps an improved system with a way of instilling more CrossFit knowledge to the new guests, still within the confines of the basic structure, would be more beneficial.  A one day intro class, independent of the regular classes, and including a welcome packet with CrossFit terminology and philosophy, might do the trick.

Talk To Us

My hope hear is to give gym owners, both current and future, insight into ways in which memberships can be built.  Perhaps, with minor tweaks here and there, your “July Guests” initiative could be doubly as successful as ours. What do think? Feel free hit us up on twitter or facebook or .

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