I’m a Business, Man: Starting A CrossFit Gym Part 9

After being a coach at CrossFit South Brooklyn in NYC for 6 years I moved halfway across the country to open my own affiliate, CrossFit Lumos, in Austin, TX. This series will chronicle my experience opening the gym and what I am learning along the way. This article is the final piece of the adventure, before I’m a real live gym owner. Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4. Part 5. Part 6. Part 7. Part 8.

Growing up, I never envisioned myself as a money hungry kind of guy. When I was a little kid I wanted to be President of the US (ha), and I stayed interested in politics and service as I got older. My kid brother Luke was always the hustler- he used to charge my dad service fees to organize and roll up his spare change to bring to the bank. My goal was to get a good job with the government that paid me enough but allowed me to focus on helping people and serving my country, and I did just that, before the tangible enjoyment of directly helping and teaching people every day brought me to coach CrossFit. My brother works in sales.

This was never a big issue when I coached at an affiliate. I worked my group classes, some specialty stuff on the side, had some private training clients, but largely didn’t have to hustle too much, just show up on time and coach my heart out. I was good at that.

Owning an affiliate has presented some, ahem, learning experiences that I didn’t entirely predict. My job does not begin and end with the classes I coach- I’m responsible for every little bit of what goes on in my gym, and I’m also responsible for making sure that enough people are there that the gym can pay rent each month, keep the lights on, etc.

For the first few weeks after the gym opened my main focus was on getting my product right. I worked on perfecting our programming, how classes ran, got to know my members better, and had fun. It felt great, my members were having a good time, and it was a needed break after a hard push for the last few weeks of our build out.

The problem was that I was just playing Head Coach, and not Owner. A few weeks later and it became clear that we were growing a little slower than our projections, that some people were slipping through the cracks in our signup process, and that we weren’t yet at the point that organic membership referrals would sustain us. It was time for a little hustle.

I was doing a great job of converting people who came in to take our Free Intro class, but that only works if people actually come in the door. The gym management software I use tracks “leads,” and there were a number of people who had signed up for the class and never showed up, a few who had taken and not bought a membership, as well as a list of people who had come and worked out with us in the park while the gym was being built.

The first step was to tighten some of the administrative processes and automation. Whereas before signing up for our Free Intro was really just a broad declaration of interest, I made it so that people had to select a class when they signed up. This would give them a greater sense of commitment and put a date in my calendar to follow up with them. With some help I built out our email automation so that you were getting reminders and encouragement throughout the signup process. Still, there was one remaining task to handle, and I dreaded it. I had to hit the phones.

I hate talking on the phone. I’m right on the millennial cusp, so maybe it’s just from growing up in the age of text messages and social media. I worked as a political organizer once, a job that involved 12 hours on the phone every day, including weekends, for six months, so maybe its lingering trauma/resentment from then (dude, it sucked). Maybe it’s because I hate when people cold-call me, and usually just hang up on them, if I even pick up a call from a number that’s not in my phone.

So I enlisted the help of the best phone guy I know- my brother. We sat down, and I listened to him make a few calls to some of the people on our list. He’s charming and funny and the conversations went pretty well. I felt ready to take a crack. My very first call was with a guy who had come in to try a class a few weeks earlier, and by the time I had hung up he had committed to come in and sign up for a membership that night! I was jazzed, and breezed through the rest of the list, with good success.

Each day that week, I called through the list which grew as people signed up online. I started each call by saying, “Hi, it’s Coach Noah from CrossFit Lumos. You signed up on the web/took an Intro class with us, and I just wanted to make sure to follow up and answer any questions you still might have or provide any information you need to help with your decision.” What I found completely surprised me- everyone I talked to was happy to talk and many were impressed by the level of care and personal connection I was offering. I hit our monthly membership goal in that first week, and now follow up calls are part of my daily routine.

If you’re like me and don’t relish the task of running down leads on the phone, here’s my advice. First, unless you peeled off from another gym and brought a bunch of members with you or magically have people just filing into the door to sign up, you’re probably gonna have to do it.

Second, it will probably not be as bad as you think- I actually enjoy it now, it’s an extension of my coaching and leadership at the gym, helping people learn and make good decisions about their health and wellness.

Finally, do something to systematize it. When you own a business, and especially with a CrossFit gym, you live and breathe it. It can be tempting and sometimes natural to do things intuitively, but it’s easy to lose the forest through the trees that way. Make sure you are taking the time to do your upkeep- block out specific time to make calls, have a defined start and end goal, and build a process that ushers people along from initial interest to sign up. I’m hoping I eventually get to a point where the gym is bustling enough that it becomes self-sustaining, but until then if you sign up on my website chances are you will be hearing from me.

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