Gym Story from PushPress

How We Grew By Focusing On What We Had - Our Community

Another Gym Story From PushPress PushPress, the makers of your favorite gym management software, is working on a new series, Gym Stories. We’d like to feature gyms in the community (PushPress client or not). We would like to tell your story to the world. If you’re a gym who’d like to tell your story, let us know here! We recently had the opportunity to sit down and chat with the team at CrossFit Dana Point about building a CrossFit community on the coast of Southern California

Sq. Ft.
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Dana Point, CA

The Interview

Hi and thanks for joining us today to talk about CrossFit Dana Point. Let’s kick off the interview by having you tell us a little bit more about how your facility came into existence. How long did you have the idea for before you finally took the idea out of your head and made it a reality?

Owning a gym has always been a dream of mine. (Sorry this may get a little long winded!) I graduated college with an Exercise Science degree and played football throughout my time there, so you could say I’ve always been interested in health and fitness. After graduating I started personal training and in a wonderful twist of fate I landed in the Cayman Islands. I began working with a CrossFit gym there and was completely drawn in by the community (it resonated with my history of a team mentality). Around that time I knew CrossFit was the direction I wanted to go. Soon after, my wife and I moved to California with the ultimate goal of opening a CrossFit gym. With the right tools, mentors, and a great business partner we opened CFDP (within 2 years or so) and my dream became a reality in the fall of 2014!

Why the focus specifically on CrossFit? From a business standpoint, does CrossFit offer any strategic business advantages over other gym types (i.e. lower costs, community size etc)?

In short, I had knowledge I wanted to deliver to the public and I felt that CrossFit was a great vehicle to do so. The idea that the growing awareness of CrossFit would lead people to my gym, and as the coach I felt I could take it from there. The sound principles of CrossFit and the community aspect is second to none – what better way to bring heath and fitness to people?  

After your initial launch, what were some of your initial major hurdles and how did you overcome those early obstacles?

Pride. As both the owner and head coach (in the first two years I taught almost all of our classes), I had to learn how to delegate tasks. By no means did I think I did everything perfectly, but it was definitely difficult for me to let go of certain things. Luckily, I was surrounded by a small but extremely supportive team.

Finding a good work/life balance. I currently have 2 children (with a 3rd on the way), but the gym was my first baby. I put all my time and energy into it (to the occasional dismay of my wife, ha) and once my first son was born in 2016, my priorities began to shift. I shifted my coaching schedule around and started bringing my son to the gym with me. Our community was beyond supportive and made the transition that much easier – it truly does take a village!

How did you go about onboarding your first paying customers and how is that process different from what it is today?

When we first started we offered a free week, essentially eliminating all barriers to entry. In time, I began to see that it wasn’t the best idea for a member OR a coach, so we added a voluntary free Foundations class.  This eventually evolved into two free mandatory individual Foundations sessions. Quickly I realized we wouldn’t be able to maintain something personal AND free (as a business owner you learn time is money!), so we now currently offer a free 45 minute introduction/assessment followed by two fee based personal training sessions then. From here an athlete can choose between personal training or a group class tract. We’ve found this process allows our new members to feel more comfortable and get more out of our group classes.

You’re pretty involved in your community. Have your events and community involvement been a big driver of growth for you?

This is something I am most proud of. I truly believe our community is what sets us apart from other fitness facilities and fads.  We strive to create relationships in and out of the gym. When you have REAL relationships with your members, it creates a trust and bond. When there is trust, people listen and engage, which will open the door to results.

Today, what are your three biggest new customer acquisition growth channels? Why do you think these channels contribute so heavily to your overall growth?

I’ve noticed in my 10+ years being involved in CrossFit there is very little active marketing done.

Word of mouth (both directly and indirectly) contributes immensely to our growth. We provide a great service in a supportive environment and when you really enjoy something, you want to tell people!

Google and Yelp reviews definitely help contribute to our growth. As I’ve previously mentioned, many of our new customers actively search for a CrossFit gym and in turn, come across our positive reviews online.

Our community involvement leads to a strong awareness within our city and surrounding areas. Even our gym location (we’re located next to a RESIDENTIAL neighborhood AND the famous Pacific Coast Highway) puts us in front of a lot of people who may otherwise not know we exist. We’re lucky enough to have a roll up garage door and large outdoor workout space, which tend to draw some curious yet intrigued stares from passersby

What internal systems do you have in place to help keep members happy and keep churn low?

Constantly engaging with members and knowing each of them on a personal level heavily contribute to our retention. We host events, offer challenges, and participate in activities outside of the gym. We do our best to have our athletes set goals and be active inside our community, fostering stronger relationships and creating a bond with each individual, thus reducing the likelihood that they will leave.

From a business standpoint, would you say you focus more on acquisition (i.e. new member sign up), monetization (pricing) or churn reduction?

Churn reduction/member retention is definitely our most important focus. I would much rather focus my energies on nurturing our current members than chasing an uncertain financial gain. I believe in the potential of what we have, not what could have.

I’m sure you’ve seen your fair share of gyms and fitness organizations come and go. What do you see as the three biggest mistakes health and fitness entrepreneurs make and how can other fitness entrepreneurs avoid these mistakes?

Too big: Many new gym owners tend to get excited and jump the gun in regards to size – go big or go home right? With bigger size it’s easy to lose the necessary hands on approach, not to mention all that additional equipment which can be a financial rabbit hole in itself. Bigger is not always better!

Too fast: If it becomes all about the numbers, the growth isn’t organic and there isn’t adequate time to form those strong relationships. Don’t rush!

Lack of plan/experience: It is important to put your time in the trenches and truly shadow, be mentored and ask questions from those in the same industry. Experience is priceless!

How much experimentation do you do with course / class / schedule planning? I see you do group classes, private classes, nutrition planning, community events and many other activities as well. What systems do you have in place to make sure your ideas, planning and scheduling match what your customers are looking for?

Our smaller coaching staff helps to keep communication channels open and creates a check/balance with activities. We are always open to suggestions from members and always try new things. By consistently evaluating our actions, we’re able to see what works and doesn’t work in the community.

Lastly, knowing what you know now about running a gym, if you could go back in time and give a younger version of yourself three pieces of advice on how to best manage and grow a fitness company, what would those three pieces of advice be?

Honestly, I found that trial and error was always a great learning tool. There really is no blueprint for the perfect gym.  Most of what I grew came organically, but at the time it seemed a bit more scattered. Being patient and trusting the systems in place is a great start. Second, don’t take things personally. If a person quits or doesn’t buy a membership it isn’t personal. And last, but maybe most important, don’t devalue yourself and what you do. Be confident in the service you’re providing; it truly is invaluable!

Great ending point Zak! Thank you for taking the time to chat with our fitness entrepreneur blog readers today about your experience as a gym owner. We truly appreciate it. To our readers, if you’d like to learn more about Zak and his Gym CrossFit Dana Point, we suggest you head over to their website here or follow them on Instagram.

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