Meet Tom Mahood seven months ago.
After 10 years working in corporate real estate, a self-described mid-life crisis urged Tom to open a gym. Tom has been the owner of GAIN Fitness for three and a half years. He coaches five classes a day, and although he has a wife and newborn, he doesn’t get to see them very often.
He took a look at his books recently, and it was a wake-up call.
“I sat down and asked what did we make last year, what did we make the year before, and what am I projected to make this year? [That was when] I started to look at it more as a business. … No one would buy my business off me looking at that sheet. I was embarrassed about it. Because if I showed someone that sheet, they would ask me, ‘Why are you doing this? You are wasting your time.'”
Tom knew he had to change something to make this work, so he started by asking himself what he really wanted from this.
“What I really want from this is freedom from the day-to-day lifestyle, to be able to provide for my family, long-term, as well as earn just enough money to live. And to enjoy what I do again.”
Tom was burned out.
Do you know someone like this?
I know a few, and none of them are gym owners anymore.
The only difference between Tom and those ex-gym owners is that Tom did something about it.
Fast forward seven months, and Tom no longer works “24 hour days.” He coaches three classes a week; he has hired full-time staff, to include a General Manager; and his membership almost doubled, going from 179 to over 300 members.
How did he do it?
“We didn’t do any crazy marketing campaigns. We didn’t do anything mega at all. We just got the shop in order. Everything’s in order now.”
It wasn’t anything mind-blowing.
Every week for the past seven months, Tom worked with Dara O’Boyle, one of the coaches at Affiliate Solution, and slowly, Tom transformed his business, one day at a time.
What exactly did he do?
A few simple but major changes:
- Re-evaluated revenue streams and expenses
- Increased prices (after providing more value)
- Hired full-time staff, to include a General Manager
- Created and implemented business systems
Tom used the new and bigger facility to add revenue streams, most of which he now outsources to independent contractors: nutritionist, chiropractor, massage therapist, beautician, yoga instructor, coffee bar, and CrossFit Kids instructor.
The additional revenue has allowed him to hire more staff, pay them well, and give his family the quality of life he has always wanted to provide.
Not only is Tom committed to provide for his family, but he is also deadly focused on offering the most premium customer experience at GAIN Fitness. This was a big mental transformation Tom had to make, as he came into CrossFit back when gyms were grungy and absent of customer service.
Now, he always looks at things from the customer’s point of view, understanding that for as long as he provides the utmost value to his members, he can expect a happy membership of over 300 people, who return to his gym every day.
So, let’s summarize.
Systems, showing value, hiring full-time staff, and re-evaluating expenses.
Sound boring? Even Tom said, “[This is] not a great story. It’s just following simple business rules.”
That’s the beautiful thing about Tom’s story, though.
When all of us first became gym owners, remember how we got carried away with romantic notions of running our own gym? Cleaning our own toilets. Creating Regional-level athletes. Having no boss. Dictating our schedule. Working out whenever we wanted.
Then eventually the reality of gym ownership hit.
We got tired of scrubbing toilets.
We got tired of yelling “tall chest!” for the 17th time that day.
We got tired of athletes nowhere near Regional-level asking to get their memberships comped.
We got tired of driving to the gym when our family was asleep and driving back home when they were getting ready to fall asleep again.
We wished we had a boss, and we learned that we had even less control over our schedule than when we had a “real” job.
What do you do when the odds are stacked against you?
What do you do when you no longer have hope for the type of life you originally came into this looking for?
“I didn’t get into this to never, ever have time to myself.”
This pivotal moment is what separates successful gym owners from those who used to be. This is the unforgiving realm that only few pass through.
Because it’s tough. Even when you decide to get a coach and finally get the help you need, it is still hard.
For Tom, it wasn’t easy stepping away from the gym to see others work in his stead.
“If I’m not in the gym early in the morning, [I think], ‘Is it on fire?’ … It took me quite a while to get out of that mindset … I’m only just starting to get to the point where I don’t feel guilty for not being at work, which is a strange feeling. Why should I feel guilty? I do. But not anymore.”
It was challenging for Tom to see others take his “baby and run with it,” but he was wise enough to understand that he needed to accept these changes if he wanted to have his time back.
Another fear Tom tackled along the way was one of not being able to afford the changes his business needed.
“My biggest mistake was not having people [who were more involved] in place already. I should have done that, then tried to grow, rather than tried to grow then employ them.”
He also believes this is a challenge not only he faces but one many other gym owners face as well.
“[Many gym owners] feel like they are not financially able, and because they feel that, they never will be financially able unless they step out. You have to do it, before you think you think you’re able to, for it to be able to happen. … Gym owners think they can’t afford to employ someone to do what they’re doing. … They can’t afford not to.”
Tom went on to explain why it’s so important to have a good staff around you before anything else.
“The game has changed so much that people are expecting a much slicker, more corporate type of experience, and you can’t get that by just employing a few coaches by the hour or just doing it all yourself. It’s just not possible to provide that level of service. … For there to be enough money for it to be worth it long-term and for me to be able to step away a bit, I needed it to make it much bigger.”
Take the leap, and you’ll figure out the rest.
This is what Tom and other successful gym owners understand.
Tom shared from personal experience what could happen if you don’t find a way to afford the help you need, “I’m pretty sure I made bad decisions when I was overtired, hungry, and had 5 more classes to coach. You know, it’s tough.”
The scary thing about failing as a gym owner is that it is not always obvious on the surface. We always think it’s when we finally move into a cardboard box that we decide it’s time to make a change, but what about many of us who are simply getting by?
“[A lot of CrossFit gyms] don’t really fail. They just don’t ever do any more than work 24 hours a day, and so they just [quit] because they don’t want to work anymore. Because they’ve got that ultimate burn out. … I spent three and a half years not having a proper plan. We did OK, but when you look at what we did at the end of the year, I wasn’t proud of that. I couldn’t provide for my family. I couldn’t sell it. … [The gym] wasn’t worth anything.”
Does a gym that runs “OK” make you excited to get up every morning? Does it afford you that two-week vacation to Southeast Asia?
“[If your gym isn’t growing], you’re dying. You just don’t know it yet. You’ll either lose your love for it, or someone else will do it better.”
That’s a morbid reality Tom shares, but it’s one gym owners should understand if they want to propel themselves to the next level.
Because, if you’re a gym owner, you are no stranger to hard work.
You worked hard to get to where you are today, and you work hard to transform people’s lives for the better.
How did mediocrity suddenly become a good look on you?
As Tom had to do, remember why you originally started your gym. Ask yourself what it is you envision your perfect day being.
Tom came to Affiliate Solution because he wanted his time back, and he wanted to “enjoy what I do again.”
Most gym owners are no different.
They are often a humble bunch who don’t have extravagant needs. They love helping others, and they are not in this business to make millions.
Gym owners just want to be afforded the ability to enjoy their personal life and their purpose simultaneously.
Time, for gym owners, is wealth.
Waking up excited about the day, for gym owners, is wealth.
And Tom? Well, he got exactly what he came for.
Author: Chelsea Ricketson
Chelsea runs CrossFit Lobo with her boyfriend Lee in San Antonio, Texas and is the Affiliate Solutions latest staff writer. She also writes about her journey as a gym owner on the great Almost Elite blog. Check it out!