member feedback

“I Tried to Please Everyone”: A Lesson about Receiving Member Feedback

Listening to gym member feedback can be a slippery slope. Here's one gym owner's story of how the decision to avoid it made his business more successful.

Emily Beers
March 19, 2024
“I Tried to Please Everyone”: A Lesson about Receiving Member Feedback
Listening to gym member feedback can be a slippery slope. Here's one gym owner's story of how the decision to avoid it made his business more successful.

Trying to avoid conflict was where it started. It eventually grew into attempting to please everyone. But no matter the reason, Tyler Sullivan fell into a trap that many owners can relate to. He was letting member feedback rule his gym.

“I would listen to everyone’s opinions on programming,” he began. “I would not raise pricing for fear of them leaving, and I would not address when people were doing their own thing off to the side.”

Badger CrossFit gym community
Members of the Badger CrossFit gym community. (Photo credit: Badger CrossFit)

Sullivan is the owner of Badger CrossFit in Wauwatosa, WI. He opened the gym in 2011 and spent the first five years letting member feedback dictate his actions. The result was devastating for his business.

Making Chaotic Business Decisions.

Sullivan remembers the group class schedule being a particular pain point for his gym. When members would suggest he add a new class, he’d do it.

“I’d randomly open up a time slot or add an open gym time when there was no data to support the decision,” he said.

Inevitably, the class time wouldn’t perform well and Sullivan would have to remove it from the schedule. This only caused frustration in the community, and more member feedback.

Another area that he says “caused unnecessary complexity” was gym programming. Once the feedback door was opened, people were ready to give their opinions. From workout difficulty to movement variety, everyone had input.

Further, he was dealing with members who chose not to attend class, in favor of “doing their own thing” on the side. Sullivan says this “led to cliques and unnecessary conversations that created divides, and rifts in me being an effective coach and owner.”

Avoiding gym member feedback
Avoiding gym member feedback has created a more cohesive community. (Photo credit: Badger CrossFit)

The Impact of Member Feedback.

All of these things aside, possibly the biggest detriment to the success of Sullivan’s business was gym membership pricing. By keeping his rates too low, he was struggling to cover expenses. In addition, he wasn’t able to compensate coaches what they deserved.

Pro Tip: Looking to raise rates at your gym? Check out the Gym Owners’ Guide to Effectively Increasing Gym Membership Prices!

“I wanted to succeed so badly,” he said. “But I had a greater fear of losing members and money. So I would cater to their demands and opinions about how they thought I should run my gym. This fear caused me to please everyone. And all my business and operational decision-making came from this place. Not out of a growth mindset for myself or my employees.”

Then one day, Sullivan had somewhat of a rock-bottom moment. He said he realized listening to member feedback was “doing more damage to myself, and my family and my employees. As well as to eighty percent of my gym base, who just wanted to have a great place to train.”

Turning His Business Success Around.

Once he acknowledged what was happening to his business, Sullivan knew it was time to turn things around. As a result, he began making difficult, but necessary decisions.

It was 2016 when he set out to make changes and said he has never turned back. He raised his membership rates and changed the programming structure. He also had to fire some coaches, and set rules and policies that now actually get enforced. Most importantly, he stopped letting member feedback direct his business decisions.

Badger CrossFit group class
Since making the right changes, Sullivan’s fitness business has continued to grow. (Photo credit: Badger CrossFit)

He also credits hiring a business mentor to help him “develop the confidence to do what needed to be done.” He started working with Barbell Business, which helped him develop a business-first mindset.

“While we serve people, the general population and more, I ensure that the decisions we make on the daily are tied to our vision and mission statement,” said Sullivan. “We use this as our guiding light on all things, and it helps us make a decision.”

Pro Tip: Want to learn more about the tools that can help your gym grow and thrive? Book a demo with a member of the PushPress team today!

In Summary: The Lesson for Gym Owners about Member Feedback.

As Tyler Sullivan looks back over his time as a gym owner, he says there are lessons to be learned in each stage. He admits that, as business owners, we’re all going to make mistakes along the way. And listening to member feedback is a fairly common one.

The most important thing is to admit when you’re on the wrong path, and be willing to make changes.

“Don’t settle for where you’re at now, just because of those past mistakes,” he said. “Work with a mentor or business coach. Set up a vision for yourself and your business, and work backward from there. Because if you don’t, like in my case, people will try to lead you to their ideal version of your business. And all that will do is create resentment, frustration and hopelessness later.”

Emily Beers

Emily Beers is a health, fitness and nutrition writer. She has also been coaching fitness at MadLab School of Fitness in Vancouver, B.C. since 2009.

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