“Find a big motivator to help drive you.”
Meet Phil Morton. He and his wife, Maria, are the owners of CrossFit 1864, a gym in London, UK.
They also live in Denver, Colorado.
Yep, you read that right.
Phil is a bit of a unicorn in the CrossFit world, where many of us have heard rumors of gym owners who run their gyms remotely, but none of us believe they’re real.
Well, Phil’s story is 100% true. As you’ll find out, it is not only possible to run your gym remotely, but your gym might be a lot closer to achieving this reality than you think.
Up until recently, Phil lived in London for 10 years. He started CrossFit back in 2009 at CrossFit Thames when they first opened, eventually becoming a coach and then partner in the ownership team.
A few years later, Phil and Maria fell into an opportunity to open up another CrossFit gym at their friends’ parkour gym. The space and equipment were already set up, so they bit the bullet and opened up CrossFit 1864 in 2015.
For over three years, Phil juggled ownership of two different gyms, until he finally sold his share of CrossFit Thames in late 2018.
From that point, things started to move quickly.
Although they had been content living in London, they knew at some point they wanted to move to somewhere that wasn’t as chaotic and stressful.
“One of the big reasons we wanted to move to Colorado was for the lifestyle. Living in London for 10 years definitely takes its toll. It’s a very stressful environment to be in, […] and it’s not somewhere I’d want to raise a family. ”
Life has a funny way of giving you exactly what you need, though, and in April 2018, they welcomed their son into the world.
This was exactly the catalyst they needed to make the change they always knew they were going to make at some point.
“It was always the goal for us to actually move, but we didn’t have a solid timeline in place. When we had the baby, we knew it was now or never.”
Getting the help they needed
It was at this point that Phil really buckled down on his vision to run the gym remotely. With Dara O’Boyle, one of the Affiliate Solution coaches, he worked on finding the right staff and implementing necessary systems.
“We’ve been working with Dara since November of last year. So we’ve been working on that stuff slowly. Then when we told him we were going [to Denver], it was quite a big turnaround. […] Because of the work we had already done, it was just about fine tuning everything. So far it has worked well.”
Phil and Maria committed to run their gym remotely when their son was born in April 2018. Within 5 months, they moved 7 time zones away, to the location and lifestyle of their dreams.
How did they do it?
Two words: systems and staff.
“A lot of it comes down to putting the systems into place, which we did with Tye at Affiliate Solution. Without those, this would be impossible. The work of putting all that into place has been a massive help. It’s easy for someone to come in and replicate what we want to replicate.”
Even then, Phil and Maria didn’t feel quite comfortable with leaving the gym entirely, but it was their staff that put them at ease.
“It was only once we found the right people and we felt comfortable with the systems we had in place. We did the [3 week] dry run and realized it didn’t need us to be there. You always think, ‘If I’m not there, stuff isn’t going to get done…. or I have to do it.’ […] We have people in place who can do this better than we can, [and] we realized, ‘We could have done this sooner.'”
Phil attributes most of their success to the General Manager they have running the gym, who has been a member since the beginning.
“We’ve been really lucky. The general manager has been a member for a long, long time, since the start, so he has grown with it, as we have grown with it. So, he understands what it is we want, how we want it to run, the values, the atmosphere… he understands it. This has allowed us to basically step away and have it be run the way we want it to be run.”
What does their life look like today?
Phil and Maria both run the gym from Denver, relying on their General Manager to run the day-to-day operations at 1864.
“My wife pretty much oversees everything, from the States, management-wise. That’s kind of her job. She looks after the baby as well. At the gym itself, we have a General Manager, who does all the daily admin and things like that. We have someone who manages the facilities for us as well, so he’s in charge of cleaning and maintenance, and we have a team of part time coaches.”
As for Phil, he continues to do what he loves most.
“My wife is still very much involved, on a day to day level, and I’m hands off. I just do the programming and things like that. It’s been working really well so far. […] I get to do what I really enjoy doing.”
Phil has finally found the work-life balance he always sought.
He works full-time at Zenplanner as a Customer Advocate, and with that and programming for CrossFit 1864, he and his wife have the luxury to enjoy their weekends (and nature) again.
When do they visit their gym, if at all?
Only recently have Phil and Maria moved from London to Denver, but their intention is to visit the gym two to three times a year. They want their staff and community to feel like they are still around.
“We want people to feel like we have a presence. We don’t want to be completely hands off. If we get to a stage where we’re hands off, that’d probably be about the time to have someone else take it forward. We enjoy still being involved in the community.”
That being said, Phil and Maria are unlike many gym owners, who often can’t bear to be away from their gyms, let alone forgotten.
After their first visit back to London, Phil described, “It feels like we’re not missed, but in a good way. It hasn’t felt like we left. [The staff does] such a good job keeping in line with what we want, and that’s the best compliment we could get, that it still feels like we’re here [when we’re not].”
What gave them the idea to run the gym remotely?
When Phil and Maria first opened the gym, they figured if they ever wanted to move away, they would have to sell the gym.
It wasn’t until Phil and Maria went to an Affiliate Solution seminar did they entertain a different option, one that could benefit both the gym and their personal lives.
“We went on an Affiliate Solution seminar and they mentioned [the idea of running your gym remotely] a lot. That was the first time we seriously considered keeping it. People are doing it, so there’s no reason we can’t do it. They gave us the tools and explained what we needed to do to make that happen.”
Stop learning, start acting
That being said, attending a seminar can only solve so many of your problems. When you return to your gym on Monday morning, there are decisions and actions you need to take to bridge the gap between what you’ve learned and the vision of your gym you want to realize.
One of the most important things to Phil and Maria is taking care of their staff, to ensure that ultimately the staff is taking care of the gym as if it were their own.
“[We] keep the staff fulfilled, making sure they have what they need and making sure they still have a life. […] As a gym owner, that can disappear. The key is to make sure they feel like they have progression, and they see some sort of growth or future with the business. They have an input on the systems and how [the gym] is being run. Giving them that sense of ownership really helps.”
Living your best life
“The biggest challenge is that a lot of gym owners get in their own way. They doubt this is something they can do. I know from being in this situation, but you almost can’t see a way out. You can’t see how you could take a weekend away, nevermind live somewhere else, because you are literally doing everything. […] they think that’s what running a CrossFit gym is like, so they settle for that.”
Although Phil understands the plight many gym owners face, he knows, from his personal experience, that there’s always hope.
The first step is simply, “hearing someone else’s story. Having someone give you an example of how it’s possible opens your eyes a little bit. That’s the biggest thing is to be open to the possibility. That if you want to, that you can. You just have to put in a little hard work.”
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!