In The Trenches catches up with JB Fitts,owner of CrossFit Crown City to discuss leadership, principles, values, planning, staff development, and a “before, during, and after” look at “readiness and resiliency” through this crisis
JB Fitts is the owner of CrossFit Crown City in Pasadena, CA. In this episode Eric sits down with JB to discuss leadership, principles, values, planning, staff development, and a “before, during, and after” look at “readiness and resiliency” through this crisis.
Eric LeClair: Welcome to In The Trenches, a weekly podcast series dedicated to entrepreneurial leadership, the principles and values that define and develop it, as well as actionable steps that you can take to immediately lead your team to victory.
Good afternoon. This is Eric LeClair from PushPress, and I am impressed and happy to have JB Fitts from CrossFit Crown City in Pasadena, California, a neighbor of ours, joining us for the third installment of In the Trenches, a portrait of leadership in a time of crisis. One part of the selection criteria, at least for me and the staff at PushPress, and looking at the different gym owners that we talked to, is in the character of the owner and really the community and culture that they develop and build. And I have been watching from afar who you were before Crown City, who you became in the old Crown City, and what you’ve done with the new Crown City, so for those that don’t know you, let’s dig a little bit in on your past.
JB Fitts: No, for sure, thanks for having me, Eric, thanks for the invite, obviously flattered to be here, flattered to accept it, very cool, and thank you. My background, probably a lot of your guests are gonna have owned gyms a lot longer than me. I’m a four year affiliate owner. So it’s not a long time. How long were you an affiliate owner for?
Eric LeClair: 14 years.
JB Fitts: 14 years. So you’re sitting here with a guy who’s owned one for four years.
Eric LeClair: You’ve impressed upon a lot of folks in four years.
JB Fitts: My background is in fine art. I got undergraduate and graduate degrees as a fine artist. That was how I made my living. Um, really strange background to come from that into CrossFit. But I was a member of a gym. I began coaching at the gym. Um, eventually, that owner wanted out. The gym was faltering, and I took that gym over. No experience owning a business, no experience, basically even paying my own bills. I married a really smart woman. That kind of always kept me in line, but I lived day to day, week to week, months to months so I had no business owning a gym, none whatsoever, but no one talked me out of it so…
Eric LeClair: So immediately did you recognize, like, I need help or I need a mentor or I need…how did you do it?
JB Fitts: I think I’ve always been really good at recognizing what I don’t know. You know, maybe I could do a better job of giving myself credit for things I do know at times, but I understand what I don’t know and understand when I need help. I reached out for mentorship instantaneously, brought in a coach to work with me one on one. And I’ve had a coach, I’ve always had a coach, I have coaches today, multiple coaches that I work with now. I mean, I just signed up for continuing education, Harvard Business online classes, I’ve reached out when I need to reach out.
Eric LeClair: Feel free today, you’re more than welcome to plug any service that you have found value in, if you feel comfortable, you’re more than welcome to, so what have you, what was Crown City and then what have you grown into today?
JB Fitts: When I took over Crown City, I mean, it was a great gym, but it was going one of two directions that time, it was probably either going to…well, it was going one direction, it was going to close probably, it was maybe on death’s doorstep at the time. So I purchased the gym in 2016 this month, it’s been four years now. We’ve grown by, revenues probably doubled, membership has doubled. We actually had a huge space, basically a 9000 square foot space, we reduced the size into a space that’s every bit as expensive, but it has a lot more character and a lot more feel, a lot more atmosphere, so a 5000 square foot space.
Eric LeClair: And a lot more natural light.
JB Fitts: Yeah, I think sometimes gym owners want to have a space that’s really impressive, something impressive about saying I’m the gym owner with the biggest gym right. But we have a really nice looking gym.
Eric LeClair: It’s beautiful. It is beautiful. All right. Do you study or read or spend time learning about leadership? Has it ever been a topic of discussion or a passion of yours?
JB Fitts: It wasn’t previously. I remember actually I went to the 321Go Summit with Clay Weldon, Matt Scanlon, and a bunch of the great owners. My mentor, Jamie Gallagher, was there, really great guy, taught me a lot. He asked everyone to raise your hand if you’re a leader. And this was my mentor. I did not raise my hand. Everyone in the room raised their hand but I didn’t feel comfortable, I didn’t feel confident saying that I was a leader at the time. Like I didn’t earn the right to be a leader. Like sure I’m a leader, I own a gym.
Eric LeClair: Right. You bought into it.
JB Fitts: Yeah. But like cutting a check to buy the gym doesn’t make you a leader, does it, you gotta earn that. I earned it. And he kind of got on me about that. And at that time, that was two and a half years ago, I wasn’t a leader, like today I’ve earned it, I can lead my community, I can lead my staff, but yeah, I’ve done the reading. I’ve worked with other mentors like I understand how I effectively lead. You know, sometimes people lead by telling people what to do, but I understand what my leadership style is. So, yes, I have invested a lot in leadership, learning to be a leader. Like I said, I just signed up for Harvard Business class online, another leadership program, but kind of looking outside CrossFit and then peer groups that are in different businesses and learning from them as well. Investment of time and money.
Eric LeClair: Right on, and so have you been able to take those concepts and then, in turn, develop your staff because of it?
JB Fitts: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. I mean, I think there’s a lot of it you probably dismiss, I’m sure you seen it as you read books, you’re like, that’s just not me, I’m not gonna be the guy that leads in this kind of way, it doesn’t fit who I am, like you’re former military, you’re gonna have your own style. I’m a former artist, like I’m gonna have my own leadership style. But yes, I have some of the things that we do really effectively now is that we have team buy in on everything. Our organizational chart now is no longer me here, and here, here, here, our organization is circular like we all have to agree to this. We all have to buy in, like my vote might carry more weight, but my team’s not gonna do it unless we are all part of making that decision. So, like us, like maybe an evaluation like we’re gonna evaluate our coaches. Well, the coaches need to dictate what they’re being evaluated on or else it doesn’t make sense to them. So they create their own evaluations and then we judge them on that, but they set the criteria. And that way you’re held accountable to that criteria.
Eric LeClair: That they’ve created, and you’re helping assess them on it. Awesome. Outstanding. Do you have a guiding principle or a set of maybe guiding values that were maybe your personal values that you infused into the company? Or do you have, like, a charter that you’re operating off of for Crown City?
JB Fitts: You know what we tried that we tried to have, like, the seven pillars of core values, but we don’t know. We just operate with delivering a very high customer experience every day. All decisions have to be run through that filter like does this enhance the customer experience or does it not.
Eric LeClair: Right, like does it detract from it or doesn’t it? Yeah, I dig it.
JB Fitts: We wanted to have, we have the things printed on the gym. You came, you saw the core values. But it just…
Eric LeClair: Little cheesy?
JB Fitts: It’s just not us, man. It’s not who we are.
Eric LeClair: Well, it works, right? It works for you. Works for your staff, clearly works for the community, right?
JB Fitts: It does. It does work.
Eric LeClair: Why I like to try to get kind of background on these owners and coaches that are, you know, leading and creating teams is that I believe if we put the work in before this crisis came in, now, and I would believe, you’re more apt to handle this. So talk me through. Like we as in California, we got a chance to see other states go through it a little earlier than us. Did you guys choose to shut down or did you wait until LA County said shut down?
JB Fitts: We waited. We waited, we were shut down on that Monday at noon when the ordinance came through to shut down.
Eric LeClair: Okay, so what were you doing or what were you delegating to your staff to do the week before? Like in anticipation of this?
JB Fitts: Well, we had begun designing the tracks already for the home workout programming. I wouldn’t say that we were prepared for the closure. I would like to tell you we had all these things in place, but we didn’t. What did help us out, though, is that we are fairly organized, and we do have buy in from the staff. So once we decided, we were able to pivot really quickly. That being said we were really hesitant. We knew we had a window where we could be down for 4 or 5 days, before we rolled out like online classes because I would rather roll out a well produced product.
Eric LeClair: Then just like crap thrown out.
JB Fitts: Just be, like, quick and be like, oh, yeah, here’s our garbage class, we have bad lighting, and the resolution isn’t good work, but like, yeah, we want to test it. We brought in studio lighting, but we brought in things, so the class looks good, but I wasn’t gonna roll it out until that happened.
Eric LeClair: Awesome. Well, you do have an art background, so your production value needs to be there, right?
JB Fitts: Yeah, it matters, man. It matters.
Eric LeClair: It sure does. I mean to this day, we’ve seen OrangeTheories variation, we’ve seen F45’s variation, Barry’s Bootcamp, those are high quality production at home material. And, you know, and then what’s the opposite of the spectrum? You’ve got a coach with a shaky camera trying to film on zoom. And that’s the product, you know. So you have and really to your strength, one of the reasons that you were selected, you seem to have a tremendous amount of variety offered online. Who came up with those?
JB Fitts: Good question. The coaches do, I came up with the youth program. I just think I just felt like there was a lack of offerings out there for kids. And you’re a father. I’m a father. Your four month old is not quite where my 11 year olds are all right, but I have two 11 year olds I’m homeschooling. And so my circle group of friends also has 11 year olds in it as well. Your kids, they’re not getting any exercise right now. So sure there’s like there’s an altruistic play here where we’re just trying to help parents out. But at the same time, yeah, like we want to build on the backend of this. If we can grow our kids program through this time or possibly make contact with parents or more parents in our community through offering this kids program like let’s do it like I’m keeping staff on on payroll, like have people working 35 hours a week like I need to find jobs for them and coaching is what they want to do. So let’s roll a program. So we did that. I mean, the weight lifting program rolled out. I think it’s a little odd to think that we’re gonna be doing online weightlifting. I don’t think many affiliates were thinking that, but you’ve gone to a Level 1 seminar like you hold a PVC pipe for a whole weekend and you come home on Monday night and you’re crushed. And we also know that guess what if you can’t snatch with a PVC pipe correctly. You shouldn’t be doing it, don’t pick up a barbell yet. So we have people working at home, PVC pipe doing weightlifting and really kind of understanding like, oh, this is what the third pull is like, we’re maintaining contact with the bar.
Eric LeClair: They’re using this as an educational time, not just the training piece.
JB Fitts: It’s not like, let’s just work out. This is a chance for us to slow down and deep dive into these movements. Like we can’t do this in class because you guys come in to break a sweat, and that’s all you want, but now we got your attention. So, the weightlifting coach, Javiel, like, blew my mind. Okay, I didn’t come up with the program, and I tuned in just to see what was gonna happen. There’s a 13 page powerpoint presentation. There’s videos. Greg Everett demonstrating things, and it’s like, you know, of course he kept him moving and engaged, but he killed it, I couldn’t have been more proud of my coaches.
Eric LeClair: Outstanding. Talk about providing the canvas for him to create on. I mean it’s a massive empowerment situation that you’ve created and fostered.
JB Fitts: It’s what we hope for all the time. Like, can you be, what they call that, like an intrepreneur? Can you create this own thing within the structure of our business? Like sure, you know, you do have autonomy within the gym to do your own things and create your own programs, and he’s doing it. He’s growing his own following, growing the way with the program right now, while the gym doors are closed. Part of it is also, I think people are gonna lose engagement too right. They’re gonna lose engagement with these classes. So what are you gonna do to keep them interested, like you better start rolling out new offerings all the time.
Eric LeClair: I couldn’t agree with you more, like we don’t offer particularly through PushPress. There’s not a formal mentorship pipeline, but there’s definitely a dialogue with affiliate owners every day on systems and processes and differentiators and whatever, and it’s mind blowing to me the amount of coaches that feel that delivering the zoom content that’s it, right. So you made a post, I think it was a week ago. You had Mike in cleaning the ceilings and you were talking about overhauling the gym and that got me thinking like, this isn’t a vacation for the gym owners. Like, if you are not still working, you’re missing out. So to that point, then, I’m assuming maybe your clients will also get a chance to watch this. But what are you doing in the gym in the absence of your culture coming in every day, the things you’re working on, you’re taking this time to improve something?
JB Fitts: I mean, well, the gym is just getting a full overhaul like the people are out, perfect opportunity, like deep clean, the entire gym. I think that’s about it. We’re just cleaning to make it look better, touching up walls, patching this, patching that just make it look great when people come back in the doors.
Eric LeClair: Yeah, I love it. I totally dig it. That lends to our last really topic is the know that before, during and after effect of this. So we talked about you ramping up your staff for the before and during what you’ve been up to, the differentiators and because you think about it. Now, every CrossFit or at least every micro gym, is offering at home zoom based video workouts. You’re stacking the deck with all your different offerings. You’re thinking forward when this settles down. Are you gonna have a timeframe that if, let’s say I’m a member and I’m nervous to come back into your facility, will you maintain some of your online community for, like, two weeks until I’m really comfortable? Or you just gonna think you don’t shop at the day the doors can open?
JB Fitts: That’s interesting. I haven’t thought about that man. I hadn’t even considered that. That is something to think about, maybe you tell me, do I need to keep that going? I might need to.
Eric LeClair: Yeah, you know, just brainstorming things that we’ve been talking to a bunch of owners about, we know people are gonna be nervous. We know people are uncertain. Um, sure, they trust us, they trust you. They trust the coaches. Um, maybe a week. I know I mean, maybe you keep it going for just a week after the all clear sign is given. Um, who knows?
JB Fitts: Yeah, I didn’t consider that. I guess what we could possibly do is we could potentially live stream the actual class going and project that. So there’s a little bit and we could probably figure out a way to narrate that and have some direct conversations at the same time, all while filming the coach actually lead the class, and they’re given a chance to see people in the gym. Yeah, that’s a good idea. Well, there you go. Thank you for bringing that up.
Eric LeClair: Lastly, what I’ve asked all of the owners for is a message and simply we know that they’re gym owners that are struggling. We know that they’re operating from a space of fear or operating from a space of uncertainty. If you were to pass off a word of advice or if you were to be able to pass off, not even I’m not even asking for assurance, what would you leave them with in this time? What would you feel confident saying to them?
JB Fitts: I struggle with things like this, and I hate to end it on, maybe even a negative note. I do think that this is a time for self evaluation. Like, are you in this thing like are you? What I’m seeing is that gyms, you know, one week in, two weeks in, and starting to break and go out of business already. It’s like I’m sorry you weren’t built to survive month to month but you were only built to survive week to week? I had people calling me harsh in the Affiliate Owners forum and it’s like, look like this might be the time for self evaluation, maybe even re-examine if this career is for you or not or how you’re operating a business, if you decide to come out that this is the thing you’re gonna do, like it’s time to probably take this thing really seriously. So you’re built for stuff like this. I know I did some seminars with Jason Khalipa, he was really big on that when he had issues with his daughter and needed to be able to break away and take care of her any moment. His businesses were built to sustain that. Did I ever think that I was, I heard him say it, but I wasn’t listening, but I was hearing it.
Eric LeClair: You’re like, no, not me. Not me.
JB Fitts: Yeah, because I don’t have any problems, or I’m never gonna experience that. But now I know, like that thing actually happened. So people got to kind of got to cut a knuckle up, man, look at yourself in the mirror a little bit. I’m also hearing people blaming circumstances, like a lot of victim kind of stuff out there. You gotta look in the mirror right now and think what you could have done better leading into this and what you’re gonna do better moving forward. Yeah, a lot of great others out there, and they all want to do the right thing.
Eric LeClair: Agreed. Yeah, man, that’s powerful. I’m glad. I’m really glad you sent that message. There’s gonna be a lot of folks that will resonate with that and take this chance on their off time to really self reflect. That’s huge. I appreciate your time. I totally appreciate your insight. You know, it’s very telling when affiliate owners, I feel like you’re not new, but you’re new, like four years is plenty of time. That’s plenty of time and ride. So by all means, you’ve earned that title leader, ask your coaches, ask your clients, ask the people that they’re in love, not just with the brand, I guarantee it, it’s deeper than the brand, so, man, I appreciate your time.
JB Fitts: Well, thank you, Eric. I appreciate you having me man, and, hopefully, I’ll see you in real life soon.