This past week I asked the Sabertooth members what questions they had about fitness, CrossFit, life, or anything else that they were curious to learn more about. There were two main themes that came out of the exercise: Training questions, and questions about what it’s like to be a gym owner.
Have a question for Coach Chris? Feel free to post in the comments or email it to us — firstname.lastname@example.org
We’re going to start it off with some of the great questions about the gym business! Later this week I’ll answer the training & fitness questions as well.
Walid wants to know: “When it comes to Sabertooth, what is the biggest risk you (you, Matt, and Tim) have taken? And really any insight on the business side of the gym. Partnerships with other businesses, direction/vision of the gym, growth, etc.”
Great question! There’s always risk any time you start a new business from scratch. However, I think it was actually less risky the start the business, than it was for me to leave my day job several years later. When I was still working at Target HQ, if anything went wrong at the gym, or we weren’t profitable, I could simply use my Target paycheck to cover the cost and not feel too much of a hit. Lianna was working full time, we didn’t have Baby J yet, so financially it wasn’t terribly risky. The risk was spread across three owners. The bigger leap of faith came when I had to decide when to leave my job in merchandising at Target HQ, which I’d had for about 6 years.
I had always planned on leaving my day job to work at the gym. It had been a goal from the very beginning. However, I was hoping to be in a position to be taking consistent paychecks home from the gym before jumping ship. It became clear that to take the gym from breaking even to truly being successful, part-time wasn’t going to cut it. I needed to go all-in, or we’d probably get burned out.
In November 2016 I quit my job at Target and pull my full attention into running the gym business. It was pretty scary going from a super secure, relatively low-stress paycheck, to working for free.
From when I left my job, to the time I got to take my first gym paycheck home was longer than I expected. It was scary seeing my savings account getting smaller and smaller each month, but it also kept me motivated to continually take action and keep finding new ways to make our business grow. It took a while to really get things figured out. We’re constantly updating, evolving, changing the way we do things to make sure we’re on the road to a sustainable business, and a sustainable lifestyle for us as owners as well.
This year we hired a business mentor through a company called Two Brain Business, started by a super cool dude named Chris Cooper. He is THE expert when it comes to running a successful CrossFit gym. The best part is, his whole mentality and ethos revolves around Help First — help people get what they want, help people be successful, help people improve their lives first, and good things will happen for you as an owner. Our values are very closely aligned with our mentor’s, which is awesome.
Many of the bigger changes we’ve made this year have come from our talks with our mentor. A few of the most significant changes have been around our intake process — switching exclusively to one-on-one intro sessions, for example. We’re getting to know people much better, learning what their fitness goals are, and what drives them to come to the gym in the first place before they even do their first air squat. We’re serving people better this way, and making sure they are starting on the right track. The results with this change have been fantastic in terms of membership growth, and we are much better equipped to help our new members since we know a lot more about why they’re here in the first place.
We’ve never been short on ideas, but choosing the right ones, and then actually executing on them, has always been tough. Now we have a mentor to hold us accountable and help us see through the clutter. Even your coaches need coaching!
The gym is on a great trajectory, both from a culture and positive vibe standpoint, but also from a growth and financial perspective. We are trying to be the friendliest gym in the Twin Cities, the happiest place in the Twin Cities, AND be a sustainable, successful business at the same time. It’s an exciting time to be at Sabertooth!
Vern wants to know: What is the most frustrating thing about running a CrossFit box? The most rewarding?
I love this job. There are so many rewarding parts it’s hard to know where to start. I genuinely, honestly think I have the best job in the world. I have been doing this for years but my energy and passion for the business still (annoyingly) keeps me up at night sometimes. That’s a good problem to have.
Obviously, seeing people find their inner athlete, find their confidence, and do things they never thought would be possible in the gym is hugely rewarding. Every day when I get to the gym, even if I’ve had a terrible day, or Baby J kept us up all night, as soon as my members start coming in and the class gets started — I get filled right up with positive energy. I get to work directly with people, learn about their goals, confront their fears and their past failures, and help them become a better version of themselves. In the process I feel like they help me become better too.
Outside the physical gym, the skill set you need to run a business like this is super diverse. I am constantly being forced to learn new skills, new systems, new coaching methods…it’s been a CRAZY learning curve. For example, here are a few of the activities and skills I’ll use on a typical work day:
- Coaching CrossFit
- Video editing
- Equipment maintenance
- Graphic design
- Event planning
- Empathizing with a member about their horrible day at work
- Meeting with new clients, other business owners
This makes it very satisfying, because there’s so much room for developing as a business owner and a person. I feel like a human Swiss-Army knife most days, and it’s been very rewarding to grow my skill set.
If I had to pick a most frustrating part…one of the things I’ve struggled most with is that the deeper I get into running the business, the more removed from the community I feel. I’ve slowly replaced myself in many of the member-facing roles, to have more time to work on behind-the-scenes roles that contribute to growth and improvement of services. This makes a lot of business sense but can be challenging personally. I currently only coach 3 classes per week, when I used to do more like 8-10. I LOVE coaching and I think I’m good at it. However, for the long term benefit of the gym, it makes more sense to hire other quality coaches, and keep my focus on the business side since it’s so complex. Luckily for me, I also love running the business — but I miss spending more time with my members, working out with the classes, and just having the free time to hang around and shoot the breeze.
But it’s all worth it. The hard work and sacrifices on that front are getting me closer and closer to my “perfect day”, I can be home with my family more often in the evenings, and ultimately we are helping more people than ever.
Lianna wants to know: Who is going to win the Women’s Individual CrossFit Games title this year?
You might as well pick a name out of a hat — there are SO many amazing women at the top right now, it’s hard to choose. I am personally a huge Kara Saunders (formerly Kara Webb) fan. She got 2nd last year by just 4 points, and absolutely crushed it in the Open. You can’t count out Tia Toomey, Katrin, Annie, or Sam Briggs either. My dream podium is Kara on top, Annie in 2nd, and Briggs in 3rd, but I don’t see Tia slipping off the podium unless she gets injured. It’s going to be a fun ride again in Madison this year!
— Coach Chris