Demoting Myself: Starting A CrossFit Gym Part 13

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. Part 9. Part 10. Part 11. Part 12.

Getting close to a year on, things at the gym have stabilized a bit. (At least as much as they ever will!) We have a solid core of members, the culture is strong, and I’ve hired three great coaches who are friendly, supportive, knowledgeable, anchors of the community. My day to day at the gym is fairly set- we’ve figured out hours and classes that work for people, settled on good procedures for onboarding- the gym hums along now without it feeling like any momentum must be externally created.

So I’m “demoting” myself! That’s my reward for getting us this far.

It’s Lonely at the Top

Running all aspects of a gym as the sole business owner can get lonely. I tend to thrive in collaborative settings- I don’t necessarily love “team projects” but I do love being able to bounce ideas off of my peers, have people review each other’s work, and the social interaction between people with similar beliefs and goals.

Last summer I got lucky- a coach moving to the area was referred to me and we hit it off immediately. Steve’s a smart guy, a natural coach, and we have a very similar approach to what’s important in fitness (fun first, community second, competition… somewhere down the line.) He’s also the only Level 3 Trainer in the city with experience coaching at some extremely high quality gyms.

Steve and I can talk for hours- sometimes we close the gym up and stand in the parking lot for 30 minutes just gabbing. I needed someone who I could knock ideas back and forth with because it’s really easy to end up in an Owner Echo Chamber. So, I made him Head Coach- a position that didn’t really exist before, although I was performing all of it’s responsibilities. In doing so, I take a bunch of stuff off of my own plate, as well as secure his time, brain, and viewpoint to help clarify my own thoughts.

Give Coaches Ownership

I’m a big believer in giving people defined roles and tasks. I’ve worked at places before where everyone was technically “equal” with unofficial roles at best. I’ve also worked for the federal government, which has an extremely tight bureaucratic structure. While I don’t think we need to put on suits and ties to come to the gym each day, I find it helpful to have each coach own a “domain” and have a specific role and title. This approach lets you direct questions and comments to someone who has the most experience, interest or simply spends the most time in a specific area of your business. It also empowers, energizes, and ties your coach deeper into the community. Steve was a natural to be the Head Coach and handle the programming, coaches education, and quality control for our classes.

Focus On What “Only” You Can Do

At the same time, adding responsibility to someone else’s plate means shifting stuff off of my own. Since I’m the business owner, this doesn’t mean I fill the time I spent programming with video games or sleep, but instead lets me focus on other things.

For me, I chose to focus on sales, onboarding, and member experience. Since I’m the one looking at the final balance sheet, nobody will be more motivated or knowledgeable than me on the sales process. As the owner I feel a responsibility both financially, but more so interpersonally, to make sure my members are having a great time from the first day they walk in our doors. I’ve been able to spend more time working on this side of the business, developing systems that make things easier for potential members, give value to our current members, and translate to a more stable and successful business moving forward. So far, I’m enjoying my demotion and the gym is a better place for it.

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