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Running a CrossFit Facility Tips and guidance on how to open and operate a CrossFit gym.

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Old 12-05-2009, 10:08 PM   #1
Andrew Vincent
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Park affiliate start-up story and lessons learned

(the following was an email i sent to another crossfitter hoping to open an affiliate by starting in a park like i did. I hope it helps someone else too.)


so wanted to write you something short, but then it got long, so i was going to shorten it, but then all i was left with was stuff like "be a great trainer..." which doesnt say much. i think the value is in the details, so here is my life story:

I had a great fitness background but little personal training experience before I started my workouts. Having free park workouts was a great way to cheaply build my experience and develop my own style.

I posted many different workout times, fees and programs on my page for months before I found my current model. which is still in development.

I tried to put a lot of stuff into my webpage, before i even had workouts going, in order to "look" legitimate. what i found is people dont really care about the webpage.

i used to think "hits per day" was a measure of success for my gym, maybe it is a measure of success for my "web page", but who gives a **** about a web page if no one is coming to a workout. there is no way to compete with crossfit.com, i think that is what i tried to do in the beginning, all you need the page for (especially as a park affiliate starting at zero) is to tell people when and where to meet you and how to get in touch with you.

in the very beginning i did a little 1-on-1 training with one of my girlfriends co-workers. i was charging her $40/hr, and we were working out 2-3 times a week. the problem with it was it got me focused on 1-on-1 personal training as the way to make the most money/hour, it did nothing to build me a workout group.

i didnt want the money to put in my pocket, i wanted it to buy more equipment, but it was still too early to be thinking about money.

So then i thought i could make more money by having a "beginners program", also i thought that if i could get someone to sign up for 12 classes i knew i could get them hooked. but the problem was no one was going to make that leap of faith with me, some random dude in a park. so, even though i keep the "beginners program" on my web page, i havent had anyone sign up for it. (i will save my beginner's program for when i open a box.)

i had one guy email me out of the blue asking if he could come join my group for a workout, and i thought to myself, "****, this guy is going to think im a loser because i didnt even have a "group" yet". I overcame my fears and made an appointment to meet up with him. it turned out that he was a trainer at another local crossfit gym, so he doesnt make it to many of my workouts, but i go to his weekly cross fit endurance workouts. long story short he and i are talking about opening a box together. lesson learned, never turn down a chance to meet someone.

a few days after i was at my local park, and i saw a guy doing pullups, pushups and squats, so immediately i think "cindy" so i ask him if he is a crossfitter. long story short, from that day forward he became one of my regulars, he comes to every possible workout. lesson learned, never miss a chance to ask or talk to someone about crossfit or joining your workout group.

in addition, i had one other friend of a friend from high school who i knew was interested in working out with me.

so i thought to my self, well i have these two guys that want to workout 2-3 times a week. so i figured out my schedule, and from that day forward i was going to be at the park 3 times a week rain or shine for these guys and we will grow it from there.

at first i was dragging my equipment out to the park every workout, the problem was sometimes one or both of the guys wouldnt show up, so then i went through the pain in the *** of loading up my truck, the fear that my equipment would get stolen out of my truck while i was working out, etc.

also both of these guys were looking for work and couldnt afford to pay me, yet...

so i had a new idea, i will run free bodyweight workouts 3 times a week. that way no one would be turned off by the cost, and no one would feel any pressure to stick around if they didnt like it. also, all the body weight exercises are pretty simple, take little time to teach and are easy to correct.

i had 3-4 people by now, and one day one of my girls tell me about meetup.com. i went home that night and created a profile.

fast forward to today, i got the other half of my group from the meetup connections and their friends.

my workout group size is on average 7 people. most friday afternoons we get fewer, like 3-5. and then some days a bunch of people will show up, my most ever is 12-14 i think.

we had been doing just bodyweight stuff for a few months, and we had good results. but i started to feel like i was cheating my athletes by telling them that what we were doing "crossfit" without doing everything that crossfit includes.

because no one was asking about my "beginners program" i had the idea to have "skill days".

my skill days focus on one piece of equipment and i teach them everything i can in an hour or so. it keeps what equipment i need to bring simple. and opens peoples eyes to all the uses of one piece of equipment. for example, our kettlebell skill day went through KB deadlift, KB goblet squat, KB swing, KB clean, and KB snatch. i threw clean and snatch in there at the end to give them a teaser of all the cool stuff they could learn in future "skill day" classes.

so far we have had medicineball, kettlebell, olympic lifiting, and dumbbell skill days.

i charge $10 a person for the skill days. i have had 3-8 people show up, so its a great return on time investment. i put all of my fees into buying new equipment. people are happy to pay $10, i tell them its to buy new equipment and for my "pain-in-the-***" fee for loading up my truck.

the challenge has been finding a day/time to do the skill days, saturday mornings at 7:30am have been the most popular because it gets dark so early during the week.

we are lucky to be in san diego. like i said, it gets dark at about 4:30, but we meet at 6pm during the week. so i have had to change my programming with what is lit at 6pm. there are tennis courts at my park, so we use the grass right next to the courts and the stadium seating for box jumps. there are pull-up bars in the dark, so some days we will start with 3 sets of max rep pull ups or, 1,2,3,-10 pyramids of pullups and then go into our workout.

Here are my recommendations from the little you told me:

if you are moving to a cold climate, i only have a few ideas for you: find a highschool gym, church, boy scout facility, or some other public building that will let you use their space.

start small and start free. dont go into debt at first, make sure you love training as much as you love working out before you get yourself into something you dont like. training people three times a week for free had been a labor of love and i wouldnt do it over again any different.

at some point you do need to pay for equipment and you do need to pay yourself. i probably feel like i need to justify my fees to my clients more than i need to, but people will be happy to pay for new skills, good coaching and the use of your equipment.

there are a lot of "bootcamp" type business in san diego, so its important to distinguish yourself from the others. dont lose your crossfit identity. crossfit is hard, it is supposed to be hard. dont take it personally if people dont come back to a 2nd workout.

i used to offer a bunch of different scaling to my workouts for fear of scaring people off. i dont do that anymore. my workouts are all bodyweight stuff, so i try to get them as sore as possible, if they like it, they will come back for more. i figure, if a person isnt willing to try to do 50 squats, how am i ever going to convince them to try to deadlift 2x their bodyweight, or clean their bodyweight. i figure find out early on if crossfit is for them or not.

ok, this is getting long, here is the cheesy stuff:

it seems so obvious now, but all people really care about are the following three things:
1) the quality of the workout
2) the quality of the instruction/coaching
3) the culture/personality/vibe (whatever you want to call it) of the group

in short:

find any piece of flat ground (a pull up bar is a plus)
get people to show up, dont charge them anything at first
kick their ***, with squats and burpees
of the 10 people that show up, find the 2-3 "crossfitters" that will come again
(dont waste your time with friends that say "hey your workouts sound really cool/hard, i should come out some time)
bring in other equipment when they are ready, charge them for it
grow it

hope this helps
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Old 12-05-2009, 11:24 PM   #2
Andrew Thompson
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Re: Park affiliate start-up story and lessons learned

Great post.

It's cool that you are operating out of the Morley Field area.

After I went to the Level One cert, I had aspirations of starting a CF affiliate. Then, the only CF gym in San Diego County was Brand X in Ramona.

I lived in North Park, and then South Park, at the time. I always thought that Morley Field would be the perfect place to start a small, park affiliate.

I run a martial arts school for a living, and love it. The time needed to also start a CF affiliate just never happened.

So cool to hear that someone did start an affiliate in the park I loved working out at.

Keep up the great work!
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Old 12-06-2009, 01:12 AM   #3
Mauricio Leal
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Re: Park affiliate start-up story and lessons learned

Damn, very cool story that's resonating with me in a lot of ways. I am just starting down the path of the CrossFit training biz also, and it's SO helpful to read about others' experiences and difficulties, cause I hear ya man starting from nothing is no joke. I also thought about starting from scratch and not relying on crossfit.com and especially the CF Journal, cause I know I can't afford the cert or affiliation for a while still and I feel guilty blatantly "borrowing" the material even though it's open source. I also agree it is very tempting to sell CF short by toning it down too and giving the people what they want (abs, pilates and "toning" ).

I am of the mind that if you progress people gradually and properly, most won't be scared away. Many are so de-conditioned that strictly weight free basic BW exercises will keep them busy for several months at least. We'll see though, I'm only working with one or two clients at a time now, and in a bigger group setting I imagine teaching to multiple levels can easily become too complex to address everyone's gradual progression, thus some probably get scared away.

One cool idea about equipment transporting difficulties that I learned form a guy who trains with CF out of the park right in my town (beat me to it) is to talk to the park authorities about keeping a "treasure chest." It's just a big ~6'x3'x3' metal box with a big lock on it filled with our favorite toys, tucked away in a corner near the pull-up bars and chained down. I think it might be a tool box like you see in the back of pickup trucks, like these (wfs). You might even be able to find one that can fit oly bars, then you're set. It's heavy as hell of course, and though some intrepid and resourceful thief could probably break it open and pilfer it in the middle of the night, I think the average criminal keeps plenty busy stealing purses from cars and other things less than 50lb of greater value. I'd give it a trial run and just fill it with rocks and see what happens.

Again, thanks for your story.
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Last edited by Mauricio Leal : 12-06-2009 at 01:28 AM.
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Old 12-06-2009, 10:10 PM   #4
Andrew Vincent
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Re: Park affiliate start-up story and lessons learned

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mauricio Leal View Post
One cool idea about equipment transporting difficulties that I learned form a guy who trains with CF out of the park right in my town (beat me to it) is to talk to the park authorities about keeping a "treasure chest."
Thanks for the reply, however a few months ago i did ask the city park and the public tennis club and they both shot me down.

I struggled with the moral dilemma of whether or not to affiliate. I actually went out and bought the name www.cavemaninc.com (wfs). I thought that i would market myself as caveman workouts. I figured it worked with the whole paleo diet thing too.

I then got to talking to Dave Castro one day and he said "[i] should affiliate", I thought about it and decided in the end it was a small price to pay for everything crossfit has given me.

i wanted to affiliate as "crossfit caveman" but someone already had it, so i went with the nick name of my college workout group my buddies and i started (i didn't know about crossfit at that time). And so "CrossFit Team Savage" was born.

I dont carry any other "personal trainer" certifications, so a Level 1 cert was at least something to "put on the wall"

insurance is a no brainer in today's legal climate.

bottom line, it made sense to affiliate, and it will make the transition to a box that much easier down the road.

I also think it makes a big difference when you can put "CrossFit" on your business card.

I affiliated the first week of Jan 09. I got deployed to iraq for 5 months from March to July, so that set back my plans a little bit.

i grew from zero to my current group (5-10 people per free workout and 2-5 for paying "skill days") from September to November. not bad for 3 months, right? and San Diego is "saturated" with CrossFit gyms.

clients are out there, they are created, not found.

most people dont know they are looking for crossfit. you have to find them, and convert them
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Old 12-06-2009, 10:24 PM   #5
Nathan Magniez
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Re: Park affiliate start-up story and lessons learned

Thanks again AJ for emailing this to me. Great info. If anyone has things to add please chime in.
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Old 12-14-2009, 01:17 PM   #6
Marcus Thompson
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Re: Park affiliate start-up story and lessons learned

Great info! I have a park near to where I live that has a fitness trail (1.9 miles with 15 WO stations). I use many of the stations for CF-ish WO's. They stations are scalable and you can do multiple exercises at one station. If you sprint between the stations it can be a real butt kicker.

I think I'll give it a shot.
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Old 12-23-2009, 03:27 PM   #7
Nathan Magniez
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Re: Park affiliate start-up story and lessons learned

Anyone else have any thoughts on this. I want to start an affiliate by spring when the weather gets better.
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Old 12-23-2009, 03:31 PM   #8
Mauricio Leal
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Re: Park affiliate start-up story and lessons learned

I was looking at CF San Francisco and their canopies and thinking how sweet it would be if you could convince your city/park officials to let you put one of these (wfs) up and build a pull-up structure in the park to run your "bootcamp" or whatever year-round.
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Old 12-23-2009, 03:35 PM   #9
Nathan Magniez
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Re: Park affiliate start-up story and lessons learned

Yah thats pretty much the set up for CF SF. Unfortunately I no longer live in SF. I moved to Maryland and there is about 2 feet of snow outside from last weekend.
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Old 03-24-2010, 12:34 PM   #10
Shannon Franklin
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Re: Park affiliate start-up story and lessons learned

Hey,

I own CrossFit Survival. We operate strictly out of a park. (I'm now searching for an indoor space.) I started back in late April of last year. I put thousand of fliers out to get my first 10 clients. That dropped to 7 after the first week.

However, five of those clients are still with me. I now have 65 regular clients, and it's not even been a year.

Here are some suggestions based on my experience: It's already been said, so I won't harp on it, but GIVE EXCELLENT TRAINING FIRST.

Here are my other suggestions:

1. Work with the parks. The first park I went to wanted $50/hr to hold a boot camp there. Keep searching until you find someone willing to help you. Now I pay about $10/hr.

2. Have a great attitude! If you are honest and tell your clients you're just getting started, cut them a price break, but BE ENTHUSIASTIC, CONSISTENT AND KNOWLEDGEABLE, they will come back.

3. Get new clients in the door any way you can. I tell my clients the price. At this point, I need EVERY client. If they balk. I lower my price until I find something they can afford.

3.5 I did a great promotion wherein I offered 25 gift certificates for 6 weeks of boot camp to teachers. 6 teachers took me up on it. 4 of them have become regular clients. 2 of those teachers brought me 12 clients, who brought me the rest of my clients.

4. I offer 3 free classes. I know they will be hooked after that. I have an almost 100% return rate. I now teach full-on CrossFit in the park. I try to make sure they get a weightlifting day, a mono-structural day and a "typical CrossFit killer WOD" day among those, so they have a real idea of what they're going to get. (I haul equipment when needed in my Nissan X-Terra. I have 4 classes a day now, so it's a pain. I DO NOT COMPLAIN.)

5. After the first 3 classes, get them on a contract ASAP. You need regular income. Nothing is scarier than having people suddenly stop showing up (and paying you) just when you think things are "stable". (I recommend Affiliated Acceptance Corporation for this www.affiliatedacceptance.org)

6. Keep stats. Show your clients how much they've improved. I carry a whiteboard to every class. I post the results every day on our blog.

7. Build a community. We have parties every 6 weeks to celebrate our accomplishments.

8. Call people when they don't show up. Find out what's up. Care about them.

9. Celebrate victories on your blog, Facebook, etc.

10. Offer incentives to bring friends. Reward people who bring you tons of clients (both of those teachers got six months for free).

11. Care about your clients, but don't go easy on them. It's already been said, but they will love that your standards are high. That's why we're CrossFitters after all, isn't it?

12. Find a mentor. I train at Team CrossFit Academy. Head Coach, Eric LeClair has guided and helped me every step of the way. I interned with him for over six months before I got started. Learn as much as you can.

I am happy to help you any way I can. Good luck!
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