Almost 5 years ago I opened my gym, Spark, on a quiet street in a part of town with poor demographics.
Average household within 3 mile radius was single, broke renters (around $32k/ year). Not exactly your avatar for a premium service business.
The average walk-in visitor was lost and looking for the DES building nearby (that’s where people go to file for unemployment).
It was near the university, which brought some upside of a young, active base of people in.
But they couldn’t afford a $150/Mo gym membership so I’d have to deeply discount and every year they’d leave for the summer.
I’d get to the gym and coach at 5am, I couldn’t afford staff so I’d be there, coaching EVERY CLASS, until 7:30p at night to close up.
Then I’d be working every free hour in between and late at night ON the business.
Working on the website and doing things like search engine optimization and managing my Yelp listing.
In between all that I was also the head janitor. Someone had to mop the floor, maintain the equipment and keep the bathrooms clean.
That guy was also me.
I was so worn out by the end of each day that I usually just slept at the gym if I knew I had to back the next morning.
That’s tough, because you have to bring ENERGY when coaching a class. Otherwise people don’t stay for a run-down, boring fitness experience.
They want an upbeat coach who is on their toes and ready to push and teach them everyday.
For the first year the newness of the adventure and my excitement to do what I am passionate about carried me.
I was excited to change people’s perspective on fitness. Because I knew that if they had the experience I had it would blow their minds and they would pay whatever to be a part of it.
If they could experience my gyms one-of-a-kind community, coaching and programming they would stay forever.
And that’s true. If you deliver a truly world class experience you will get true fans who will tell everyone.
When we first opened we had a strong, promising start. 100 members in the first year, just by getting the word out and offering a lifetime “founding members” rate special.
In year two I hit 150 members but just couldn’t seem to break through to the next milestone.
In an effort to break past this plateau I tried many things...
... Facebook ads
... free offers (try us for a month free)
... low barrier offers (3 months for $200)
... yelp ads
... paid traffic
... you name it. I had tried it.
I also had a monthly member value of around $96/ month. I couldn’t sell a full price membership if I tried!
After rent and all the costs of running the business there was very little left to pay myself, let alone pay someone else to start coaching some of the hours so I can work ON the business.
This is when it got dark, really dark.
I had intended to quit and sell my previous business so I could pursue my passion.
I had the realization that what I had really done was bought myself a JOB.
The worst kind of job. One where you can’t quit. Because if I do it would crush me financially. I’d be left in ruins with a pile of debt from my startup costs.
A job where I couldn’t take a sick-day.
Got the flu? Guess what, you’re coaching.
As they say, “you can’t pay the bills with passion”...
...And now that the passion had run out it was simply thank-less WORK.
It was hard for me to be passionate anymore.
My own fitness even began to suffer. Since I was there all day, the last thing I wanted to do with what free time I had was be there more to workout.
I had taken something I truly loved and had changed my life and turned it in to something I began to hate.
I had reached full on burn-out.
At this point I was willing to try anything to make this thing work.
So I began to think back about things I had done successfully before in business.
In my past life I was previously an entrepreneur. I had built a local landscape installation company out of my garage with a single Chevy pickup truck into a multi-state corporation.
I started that business in 2008 the “early days” of internet marketing.
Just like now with Facebook Ads, at the time Google AdWords were the “new hot thing” in marketing.
Most people were skeptical and it was easy to blow a lot of money and not see anything for it. Sound familiar?
Thing was, I had a ton of success back then.
It wasn’t the Google Ads.
Most all of my competitors tried running similar ads but couldn’t figure it out and were incredibly negative on marketing online.
I’d see them at trade shows and they’d kind poke fun at me and say I was wasting my money on all that “internet Mumbai jumbo”.
Little did they know I was crushing it. We were seeing 10x or more return on every dollar we were spending on ads.
This was during the recession and it wasn’t a forgiving time for small business.
Most of them didn’t make it and I bought a lot of their equipment for pennies on the dollar and hired all their talent when they went out of business for failing to adapt to the times.
Not sure why, but I never thought to apply what I had learned back then to my current gym business.
I always figured my gym should grow organically and present itself as an environment where people will buy simply because we are good people with a great community, program and coaching.
As gym owners we know what people NEED is great community that makes them welcome and part of a tribe...
... a great program with fun, challenging workouts and coaching that will keep them moving safe...
...and moving confidently so they can see progress.
If they can experience that they will stay forever and bring all their friends. And that’s true.
Problem is all my competitors were saying the same thing, even if their version of it all sucked.
It’s not a unique marketing message.
And now that I had reached bottom, I said “fuck it”...
...this is a BUSINESS... And it’s time I start treating it like one.
So I went “old school” on ‘em.
I began to dive deep and add to my toolbox, I spent my last dollar on books, courses, tons of testing, some thing’s that I heard about and some thing’s no one was doing.
What I quickly realized is that you have to give people what they WANT before you can give them what they NEED.
When I started to use the tools available to do that it started to turn around.
Two and half years ago I started to implement these strategies
And over the last couple years this has happened...
... we went from 150 members to over 350 members
... we had to expand our space from 3,000 square feet to 6,000 sf and then again to 9,000 sf
... our average monthly revenue went from $15,000 to over $50,000
... our average monthly member value went from $96 up to $142
... our average member stay increased from 6 months to over 13 months
... I went from a staff of 2 to a staff of 11 with a couple of them being full time staff with benefits
... I hired an admin person to do all the stuff I don’t like doing (ugh... paperwork)
... I pay myself a solid, steady salary every pay day
Amazing how it all changes so fast.
I now coach only 2 classes a week for new program I just created that is unique to my gym. I do it because I love it again.
I am now working ON my business and instead of IN my business.
Full circle, we are back to why we started. We change peoples lives, a lot of them.
With more passion than when I started.
It wasn’t any grand scheme.
It wasn’t a magical marketing campaign.
I didn’t get up one day and point the bat to center field and take a huge swing for the fences.
It was consistency. Fundamentals. It was base-hits everyday.
It’s making your prospect the hero.
It’s knowing what they REALLY want.
If you’re ready to learn and put in to play the habits, strategies and routines that actually work and break through barriers...
...or maybe you’re just stuck...
...or maybe you read all the way here and just want to give a virtual high-five
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