“We’re Full”: Why CrossFit Leiden Has Capped Membership at 400

A picture of gym owner Jeroen Van Duijn and the title "'We're Full': Why CrossFit Leiden Has Capped Membership at 400."

Mike Warkentin (00:02):
CrossFit Leiden has capped its membership up. They are full, and they have a waiting list. One of the owners is going to tell us how he did it. This is “Run a Profitable Gym.” I’m your host, Mike Warkentin. Please hit “Subscribe,” so you get all of our shows. Our December 2023 leaderboard, the client count—it ran from 324 to 1,034. That’s 1,034 members. I’ve got one of the top 10 gym owners with me today. His name is Jeroen van Duijn, and he’s the co-owner of CrossFit Leiden. That is south of Amsterdam, Netherlands. His gym is full, and you can take a number if you want to join because he’s capped his membership. We’re going to get into that today. Jeroen, thank you for joining me today. How are you?

Jeroen van Duijn (00:40):
Very good, Mike. Thanks for asking me. I am feeling very honored to be here.

Mike Warkentin (00:44):
I am excited because it’s rare that you see a gym that actually caps its membership. So, you’ve done this magical thing; you’ve reached a place where you actually don’t want more members. I’ve got to ask you, why don’t you want to increase your client count? What’s going on?

Jeroen van Duijn (00:56):
Well, first of all, I never thought we would be a 400-member gym at all. Like, it all started off as a hobby, you know, thinking I knew business, but never thought we would be at 400 members. So, but once we got to 350, 400, we changed. We’ve been changing a lot over the years: pricing, number of people in the class. The one thing we noticed growing to 400 is that it’s exponentially harder to keep all the relationships. So, my team is like—sometimes they feel like their heads are exploding with all the relationships they have to maintain with the members. So, talking with the team, they felt 400 is a great number. But if you look at actually a number, so if you want to have—like, it’s nice that my staff doesn’t want any more members, but actually I can’t have any more members because the way we organize it right now we have a regular, a bigger group class with 14 people in there.

Jeroen van Duijn (01:56):
And currently we have—I think it’s—I’m reading it down somewhere, but we have 65 classes per week, and they’re almost always full. There’s still some spots left, but we can’t have any more members than 400 to make sure that everyone can come and visit us three times a week. So, that’s part of “the gym is full”: the regular group. We also have a small group offering or a semi-private setting. We still have some spots over there, but it’s like on times that are less attractive to potential clients. And you really need a—like, you need a good coach. And we love the team we have right now. We love the number of members. Our bottom line is—it’s perfect. So, for this gym, we feel great; we just want to maintain this right now.

Mike Warkentin (02:48):
OK. Tell me a little bit—how many staff members do you have, and how much space do you have? Like, I want to get a sense of why you’re bursting at the seams and packed and don’t have any more room.

Jeroen van Duijn (02:56):
OK. So, I have 10 staff members. From the top of my head—I should probably know every detail, but we have around four full-time employees. One of them is more like a contractor, but making full-time hours. And then, the rest is part-time. But part-time means—like, on average it’s still 15 to 20 hours a week. The space of our gym is around 500 square meters. I have no idea what it is in your metric.

Mike Warkentin (03:31):
Oh times. You know what? I’m not even going to hazard a guess. I think that’s going to be—you know what, I’m not even going to hazard a guess. We’ll just go with 500 square meters.

Jeroen van Duijn (03:40):
So, 500 square meters. And on a day like Monday, we have around 23 classes. And of those 23, there’s around eight—I would say seven to eight time slots that have two classes running at the same time. We basically only have between 1 and 4 that there’s no class running at all. And now we’re offering services to firefighters, rugby teams, schools. So, we’re filling up those times with those kinds of customers actually.

Mike Warkentin (04:16):
OK. So, you’re physically—you’re full. And even in those few hours when you have a little bit of extra space and time, you’re now filling them with special groups like firefighters and corporate programs. And then you recognize that maintaining relationships with these 400 people is more important than adding people. That will definitely make it confusing, and you might end up losing people because you’re fractured. Have I got that right?

Jeroen van Duijn (04:41):
Definitely. In a perfect world, I don’t want to lose anyone and don’t invest anything in new members. But, you know, life happens. We’re in a city that has a lot of experts, students, so there’s always people on the move. So, we lose around 2.8% per month. I think that’s the attrition we have right now. So, we have to maintain our current level of members with adding around 12 members per month, which we don’t have a problem with at all. So, we don’t have to invest a lot of time in that. So, all our time currently goes to our current members. We invest a lot of time in our current members.

Mike Warkentin (05:21):
So that’s interesting. So, you have very good retention, which is one of the reasons why you’ve reached this number. But you only have to replace 12 members a month, which is pretty doable. If you have a good sales and marketing system, getting 12 more people isn’t that difficult. So, you can maintain this number pretty comfortably. And if you wanted to add to it, adding two people per month, getting 14 people, probably wouldn’t be that much of a stretch if you wanted to. So, you’re in this great position. I’ve got to ask you this: You said your financials, bottom line, are great. So, I’m guessing your coaches are making careers, and they’re happy with the money they’re making as well. Is that correct?

Jeroen van Duijn (05:52):
We probably—like the fitness industry, of course, everyone knows it’s not the best paying industry, but we pay above the fitness standards so our coaches can just make a living from working at our gym, which is special of course, especially also in the Netherlands. Like in the Netherlands, private fitness, I think, is maybe even less paid than on your side of the Atlantic. Personal training is something that has been growing only in the past. So, paying coaches very well is something that has not been done very much so, yeah, I think there’s more gyms like us that are really—I’m really proud of having coaches stick with our gym and feel they get paid well for it.

Mike Warkentin (06:34):
OK. That’s amazing because you often hear about that—where coaches aren’t making enough to have a career at a gym. So, for you to get enough members so that you are happy, live the life you want, and for them to make careers, you’re in a pretty great spot, and now you can focus on other things. So, the question is—obviously you’re focusing on retention because you want to keep the number that you need and you want: What else are you focusing on? Like are you looking at driving up average revenue per member? Or what are you trying to do now to enrich your member experience, maybe make more money or whatever you want to do?

Jeroen van Duijn (07:02):
You know, it’s multiple things. One of the projects I’m working on right now is adding more nutrition to our offering. We’re already offering nutrition, but I always find it a challenge to have more members doing nutrition. I’ve been talking to my mentor and Two-Brain as well, and you notice it’s a common theme among the gym owners, but like going into Two-Brain, there’s been some great stuff on adding more nutrition to it. And we’re doing this group thing right now that we’re testing, and we hope to get at least 10% of our members into the nutrition coaching so that we can drive up our average revenue per member. But also, of course, in the end, the goal is to give them more results. So, we know the people that join our nutrition coaching, they get great results. So, it’s also finding a way to get people in there, and they have that same experience.

Mike Warkentin (07:59):
So, it’s adding value.

Jeroen van Duijn (08:01):
Exactly. Adding value. So that’s one of the things we’re focusing on right now. We also just like to do a lot of fun stuff. So, adding in more and more events. We’re doing the Intramural Open, of course, again this year, which is great. We have currently—we have 130 members actively joined. So, they signed up. So, that’s that the way of doing the Open Two-Brain prescribes. It’s a great way. We’ve been doing that since 2018, even before we joined Two-Brain because I’ve always been reading Cooper’s emails and stuff, so I’ve always been using his stuff. So, but that’s one of the things that is a game changer for your community and also increases the ARM as well.

Mike Warkentin (08:46):
So it’s neat because you don’t have this pressure to add more people. You’ve got this great number now where you can just focus on making their experience better, and then you’ll get compensated for doing so. So, adding in nutrition so they get better results, adding in more events, adding in special things that make them healthier and fitter and happier. They pay a little bit extra. Your coaches win. You win. And the clients win because they’re having a great experience. So, it’s a really neat position to be in. And I know so few gym owners that are here. I’ve got to ask you: What does your client journey look like? Like how do you get these people into your business and get them to stay for so long?

Jeroen van Duijn (09:17):
Well, obviously the first thing we do with them, we talk with them. So, we don’t do any free intros.

Mike Warkentin (09:23):
Like a free trial where you work out with them?

Jeroen van Duijn (09:26):
Yeah. So, we don’t do a free trial workout at all. We don’t believe that you can get the experience of coaching by doing, doing just one class. So, we always start with an intake or a No Sweat Intro, or if you are a friend of a client, you can come to our Flex Friday sessions.

Mike Warkentin (09:42):
I’m going to ask about that later. We’re going to talk about that.

Jeroen van Duijn (09:44):

I’ll talk about it later. Yeah. So, it’s a great way to get referrals. But so basically, everyone, even coming from the Flex Friday, you start with a No Sweat Intro. You talk with our general manager for around 30 minutes. You do some movements so that we understand where your starting position is at. We really want to understand what you are looking for and create a connection from the beginning. So, from the beginning, create that connection. Then after the No Sweat Intro, we go into—for us, it’s a 28-day program. It’s a kickstart—basically kickstart of fitness and nutrition, increasing the connection during the month. So, you train with the same coach in the small group for three sessions a week. So, we want you to have the right frequency immediately from the start.

Jeroen van Duijn (10:33):
So training three times a week, we believe that it’s the best frequency that you can have. And then working on your nutrition at the same time for four weeks so that you get the best results you could have in that first month. All thanks to coaching accountability—basically a team that is supporting you and all the attention that comes with it. And then after that first month, you can go into our regular membership or you go into our semi-private membership, but basically into a membership. But then, it doesn’t stop; then every three months, we like to have new members going into a goal review to talk about what they achieved in the last three months and what they want to focus on in the upcoming three months.

Jeroen van Duijn (11:16):
Maybe helping them add in more PT or putting them in semi-private or just creating that connection. Even if it’s just a 30-minute talk, having that connection with a coach at your gym is a great way to stay connected and never feel that barrier to get into the gym that you feel like—you know, we took over a second location, and they’re not doing that at that gym. And then you really see people struggling to get back in, and they don’t really have that connection with the coaches’ team, with all of them. And that’s something we want to have from the beginning. And then during that journey, we always celebrate. So, if you go to our Instagram, there’s a lot of pictures with gifts that members get. So, if they have 50 visits, they get—I don’t know; I think we give them socks. I don’t know all the visits. I don’t know all the gifts because I’m in a happy position that I don’t have to know every day of the gym. But basically every 50 to 100 visits, you get something, like a little gift, an appreciation, and a celebration, and something that keeps the journey in the spotlight of all the other members and puts a little target for others to achieve as well.

Mike Warkentin (12:23):
So you don’t have to know what the gifts are. Who’s handling this whole thing? What is that position in your gym?

Jeroen van Duijn (12:30):
Well, it’s the team—the day-to-day operation manager, Saskia. She has to do everything that keeps the day running day by day.

Mike Warkentin (12:41):
Is she your client success manager, or does she have a different position?

Jeroen van Duijn (12:44):
Yeah, I call her my “general client success manager.” So, it’s like a mix of CSM with the general manager function. She’s not coaching at all, so she’s only doing GM and CSM tasks. And I have another coach, she’s called Rochelle, so that’s one of my coaches. She’s also adding some CSM work. So, they are both responsible for the CSM.

Mike Warkentin (13:06):
So you have two people in your gym that are your—and they have other additional roles, but they are responsible for making sure the clients are happy, making sure clients are retained, making sure clients understand how they’re progressing through the business, upgrading their services. So, you have these two people. Do you see those—I’ve asked, I think I know the answer. I’m going to ask the question anyway: Is the pay that you pay a CSM—do you get a return on that investment?

Jeroen van Duijn (13:30):
Well, definitely. So last year we hired Saskia. She was over a year ago. Uh, I was still doing what she was doing, and we were at that point: “OK, so I want to create some space for myself to do something else—to maybe start a second business or acquire another gym,” which ended up in acquiring another gym. And we’re at this point where we’re like, “OK, so we have to invest in a general manager, but we have to pay another full-time salary.” We were a little bit—I wouldn’t say afraid; it was exciting or a little scary—but in the end, last year was even better than the year before, even with that extra cost of a GM full-time. It’s a full-time contract. So, we had the best year ever, and it’s thanks to my whole team and adding in Saskia as a GM. So, I would definitely, definitely advise people to—or advise other GMs to add a role in like that.

Mike Warkentin (14:32):
The reason I ask is because people who are not at your level, where they’re still looking for members, they have all these things they want to do; they look at the expense of a client success manager sometimes and say, “Oh, I’m paying extra money. What am I getting for this?” But every successful gym owner that I speak to who has a client success manager says the role pays for itself many times over. And so that’s why I wanted to ask you that question. I’m going to ask you this one. I’m pretty sure I know the answer. I’m going to ask it anyway. Do you have a precise list of systems that you use for your managers to take care of business and make sure that everything, including retention, is taken care of? Do you have a staff playbook that’s just laid out perfectly?

Jeroen van Duijn (15:08):
Well, I wouldn’t say perfectly, but there’s definitely a staff playbook. There are checklists; there are overviews—there’s a lot. And it’s always a work in progress. It’s one of my more challenging tasks because I love to start a lot of different things—completing stuff is a little harder. That’s why I need employees to actually finish stuff. But, yeah, they’re definitely there, they’re always being updated or changed, but without that, it would not be possible.

Mike Warkentin (15:38):
And every gym owner that I speak to who’s successful has systems. That’s just like—it’s without doubt. Every single time I talk to a leaderboard gym owner, they have systems in place. So, listeners, if you don’t have those systems, start with basic stuff. How should my business run? Lay it out and then get people to do it that way. I’m going to ask you—we’re going to circle back now to Flex Friday, and how do you acquire clients? So, you don’t have to acquire a lot to maintain your number, but you had to acquire 400 to get there. How do you find these great people?

Jeroen van Duijn (16:05):
Well, one of the things that we do is the Flex Friday session. It’s every week at noon and in the evening at 8 p.m., and I have two great coaches who are running these classes. And the idea behind Flex Friday is that members can bring a friend. They want to try out CrossFit, and it’s not really a tryout because they still need to go into the free No Sweat Intro, but they get a feel of the vibe of the gym, and they come with a friend. And the Flex Friday session is a low-skill session. So, we won’t do any snatching or those high-skill movements that might scare people away. We want to have a fun session. We want people to win. We actually allow more members in that class than in the regular class because we want to have a lot of fun.

Jeroen van Duijn (16:55):
So we say more people, more fun. And because of the lower scale, it’s possible to have more people in there as well. And my coaches, they always make a surprise workout. So, people have no idea what’s coming up, but they make it—it’s my coaches who are actually making it a great session, putting in a lot of effort in those sessions. And after the session, especially in the evening, it’s like people are going out, they have some drinks together, they chat, they meet new people. And Friday was our slowest evening for years. And now, it’s our most busy evening of the week. And I don’t know any gym that has a Friday evening as their most busy evening—like here, it’s buzzing. It’s really a fun evening.

Jeroen van Duijn (17:40):
And because remember it’s a nice way to go out with a friend as well. You have a workout; you hang out afterwards. You can drink a beer if you want, but it’s also just—we have a nice belt bar area where people can hang out and chill. So, people love it. And that brings in a lot of friends because the most important people—most important thing for our new memories is that they walk out with a smile, and they usually do after a Flex Friday session.

Mike Warkentin (18:11):
OK. So, do you actively tell people, like your members, “Hey, you should bring your friend Bob” or whatever, or is it just so ingrained in your culture now that they just do it? Like how do you make sure that people keep coming out to these events and bringing friends? Because a lot of gyms have trouble generating referrals.

Jeroen van Duijn (18:26):
It’s ingrained. I mean, we’ve been working on this for years, of course. So usually like a few years ago, we had to really tell people, but now, because it’s so part of our culture, like we are—now that we took over the second location, you start to see the differences, right? And now you’re like, “Wow, our culture—like the culture we’ve built is—” It’s like people just know Flex Friday, bring friends, have fun. If we have a potential new member, they go there. Like the people talk with each other. So, it’s all in the culture.

Mike Warkentin (18:56):
OK. So, listeners, if you want to start a bring-a-friend program, know that you cannot get to this level right away. You have to bring—put it into your culture. It’s probably going to take many months, if not years to do that. So, I would recommend when you start these bring-a-friend events, actively target people and say, “Hey, Tim, your sister Cindy—you said she’s running a 5K. I think I can help her. Why don’t you bring her to a bring-a-friend workout,” and actively target people. If you do this enough over a period of months and years, eventually you’ll get to this point where CrossFit Leiden’s at, but you’re not going to start there. So, make it a very active process.

Jeroen van Duijn (19:27):
Yeah. So, I have to add something in. Yeah, because what we do with our new members to make this part of the culture—like from the start, new members, they join Flex Friday. So, the way we do this, they train three times a week. So, we want them to do three sessions a week. That’s part of our vision or our belief system. And the third session each week is the Flex Friday. We want them to go in there and join with existing members. And because of the low skill, the new members can easily join that session. Then they see friends coming and they just—from the first month, they understand what is happening.

Mike Warkentin (20:06):
So that’s a key part. That’s a really important part. Yeah. Like you just said.

Jeroen van Duijn (20:09):
Yeah, really important.

Mike Warkentin (20:10):
New members see this bring-a-friend program in action, and they have fun in it, and they think, “I could bring a friend.” And now you start to see how this snowball starts going downhill. That’s a really, really cool one. I love that idea that I haven’t heard before, and that’s having your new members come to these bring-a-friend events, have a good time, and be encouraged to bring their own friends. When these people finish these workouts, what happens? Do they just walk out the door and go about their evening? Or do you collect email addresses to contact them? Or what happens?

Jeroen van Duijn (20:37):
The way that the members sign up their friends, we have a little form in our mobile app. So, we always collect upfront, but we don’t do anything that night. We’re not about selling after a Flex Friday session. We just want to keep it easy until—you know, don’t be that gym owner that starts to try to sign people up while they’re having a nice evening. We prefer to call them the next week. So, after the weekends, we call them or send them a message if they haven’t already got in touch with us—again, if they didn’t already get in touch with us. So, we do have their data, everything.

Mike Warkentin (21:18):
Yeah, if you’re listening and you start one of these events, you need to find a way to connect with these people. And,you have to know your market and where you’re at. In some places, you can actually talk to people on the spot and get them to book. You could do a No Sweat Intro that evening, or you could book it for another time. Or you could do what CrossFit Leiden does, and you can contact them after the fact with either in-person or a nurturing sequence or something like that. But you have to get the contact info and then do something actively to say, “Hey, did you have a good time? What can we do to help you?” And away you go. So, know your market, know your niche, know your people, and then set something up that works. And I did the math in my head while we were talking here. Your space—500 square meters, I think, is in the range of 4,500 to 5,000 square feet. So, if you guys were looking for some perspective on that, it’s in that range. So that’s a decent sized gym, but it’s not 10,000. It’s not massive. You’re making good use of good space. 400 people and about 5,000 square feet. That’s probably getting towards the capacity limits of 14 people per class, something like that.

Jeroen van Duijn (22:11):
Happy to hear it fits the math.

Mike Warkentin (22:13):
Yeah, it’s something like that. I may have it if—someone, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think that’s pretty close to it. I’m going to ask you—you talked about your intake process for new clients, but have you adjusted this intake process over the years to make sure that it retains people? Like when you started, did you notice that, “Hey, there’s some things I could do better to make people stay longer?” Did you make those changes?

Jeroen van Duijn (22:33):
Oh, definitely. Oh man. We’ve been changing so much. I’ve been having different mentors as well. And actually—so I started Two-Brain last year, like over 30 months ago. I think this has been my best experience so far because it completely covers everything. Like everything I need basically. And so, over the years I’ve been changing. We did intakes and then we sold them into 10 to 30 PTs. We’ve been playing around a lot, but over the last year we’ve been changing the intake process in such a way that people go into a flow of three times per week training for four weeks. So that’s our kickstart program. They either do that in a small group, in a one-on-one setting or in a PT first setting, and then going into the big group. This has been our last fine tuning. And since then, we’ve had the best success, but we have had so many variations, like I can’t even remember. And then having COVID in between.

Mike Warkentin (23:40):
So, let me ask you this. How does your 28-day intake session, how does the price of that relate to the price of general membership?

Jeroen van Duijn (23:48):
So, for CrossFit Leiden, our 28-day kickstart is around 550 euros if you do the small group variation; that’s for four weeks. Our regular membership for three times a week is at 129 per month.

Mike Warkentin (24:07):
OK. So about like three to four times—something like that. That makes sense. Sure. And is that priced—is that intake done one-on-one, or is that done in a group setting?

Jeroen van Duijn (24:17):
No, it’s in a one-on-one setting.

Mike Warkentin (24:19):
There you go. OK.

Jeroen van Duijn (24:20):
The intake is one-on-one setting—takes about 30 minutes.

Mike Warkentin (24:23):
OK. Let me ask you this. Would you ever add more than 400 members? What would it take for you to bump that number up?

Jeroen van Duijn (24:29):
A team that wants to or that needs to have more members, but I don’t see why I would need more members; I would rather increase the price. It gets too hectic. So, if my team wants more members, I can do it. If I have a bigger space and I can add in maybe another small group, then I would definitely add in a small group because that’s easier to manage. You have one coach that is actually managing that small group, and that’s easier in the relationship management. But if those clients go into the big group, I wouldn’t add any more members. No, it’s too much. Like I don’t want to go there.

Mike Warkentin (25:07):
Managing lots of clients is very difficult. And that’s not to say you can’t do it, but it’s very hard, and you have to be a great business owner. You can’t just do it as a hobby. You have to have systems and staff. You have to be very good at it. That’s why Two-Brain, we always talk about: Target 150 members first; charge a good amount of money. $205 is a great starting point. You can make $100,000 a year with those numbers. That’s not to say you can’t go further. We have lots of gyms like CrossFit, Leiden with 400 members; we have ones that have 1,000 members. You can do that, but you have to be really good at it. I would recommend you start with 150, then decide, “Do I want to go further?” And what you’ve done, Jeroen, is amazing—where you’ve got 400; you’ve decided, “This is the max that I want to deal with right now.”

Mike Warkentin (25:48):
“I don’t need to go bigger. I can make their experience better. I can make the money than I need and more with this group, and I don’t need to hassle myself with tons of marketing, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of more—additional relationships.” And now you’ve got a stable, profitable business that allows you to do other things. And you said you kind of like doing that stuff. So, let me ask you this question as we close it out. If someone was out there, a gym owner was looking at getting—they just wanted to increase their client count. Wherever they are, what’s the thing that you would tell them to focus on most? What would you tell them if they wanted to just get more members in the door?

Jeroen van Duijn (26:22):
Creating the best experience they can imagine. So, we’ve always been focusing on the gym experience and keeping members in. And the better they experience, the happier the clients, the more likely they will refer their friends. So, I would definitely—that’s the first focus.

Mike Warkentin (26:40):
So, is it fair to say that’s a combination—that’s a retention in a sense, right? You’re making them so happy that they want to stay and tell their buddies about it.

Jeroen van Duijn (26:47):
Yes, definitely.

Mike Warkentin (26:49):
Yeah. And I interviewed another gym owner who’s also in Europe. He’s in Denmark. Rune Larson was his name. He was also on the leaderboard. I asked him what—he has a ton of members. I think he’s got 500 now. And I said, “How did you do it?” He said, “Retention”—exact same thing you did. Nobody on this list has said marketing. They’ve said, “Hold on to clients first.” Yes, there is marketing, and there is some other stuff going on, but retention first. Thanks so much for sharing all this. This has been really fascinating, and it’s so neat to talk to someone who has exactly the number of members they want. Thank you.

Jeroen van Duijn (27:17):
Thanks. It was nice meeting you, Mike.

Mike Warkentin (27:19):
My pleasure. That was Jeroen van Duijn, and this is “Run a Profitable Gym.” Thank you for watching and listening. Please subscribe for more shows wherever you’re at. And now here’s Chris Cooper with a final message.

Chris Cooper (27:29):
Hey, it’s Two-Brain founder Chris Cooper with a quick note. We created the Gym Owners United Facebook group to help you run a profitable gym. Thousands of gym owners, just like you, have already joined. In the group, we share sound advice about the business of fitness every day. I answer questions, I run free webinars, and I give away all kinds of great resources to help you grow your gym. I’d love to have you in that group. It’s Gym Owners United on Facebook, or go to gymownersunited.com to join. Do it today.

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