No Brown M&M’s: Van Halen’s SOP Lessons for Gym Owners

A black-and-white photo of a rock band performing onstage.

David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen didn’t hate brown M&M’s.

They just really liked standard operating procedures.

You might have heard that the hard-partying band Van Halen included this line in the “Munchies” section of its rider during its heyday: “M&M’s (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES).”

It was in all caps, and it was underlined.

This wasn’t just idiosyncratic behavior from the world’s biggest rock stars. The line was there because the band’s shows were massive, expensive productions with all sorts of technical and safety considerations. Nothing could be missed.

Here’s what Roth wrote about the line in his autobiography “Crazy From the Heat”:

“If I saw a brown M&M in that bowl … well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.”

So do you need an “M&M note” in the SOPs for your gym?

Probably not. But you do need detailed SOPs that an 8-year-old can understand. It’s not about belittling staff but about maximizing clarity.

If you don’t create clear SOPs, you’ll always have to do everything yourself—and your business will never scale.

Here’s how to get your business out of your head.

The SOP for SOPs

Put a pen and a blank piece of paper in your car.

Drive to the gym.

Before you get out of the car, record where you parked and why.

Walk to the entrance of the gym. If you use a back door, write that down.

Turn on the lights. Write that down.

Flip on the “open” sign. Write that down.

Turn on the stereo. Write that down. Select the correct station. Write down the one you chose.

Continue until your first class begins. You’ve just created your Opening Checklist.

Do the same thing for every other part of your business, from answering the phone to coaching a class to closing the gym for the night.

Too Detailed or Not Detailed Enough?

Does this process of systemization seem like overkill? Why write the checklist and SOPs as if your staff members are 8 years old?

Because you don’t want gaps. Gaps are bridged by guesses. And no one guesses right more than half the time.

You’re better to be too thorough than to leave any room for guesses. Guessing means mistakes, and mistakes mean correction—uncomfortable conversations with people on your team.

Do you really want to have to tell them they forgot to take the garbage out? Or would you rather tell them to take the garbage out in advance?

Furthermore, think about what happens if a staff member leaves. When SOPs are locked inside heads, transition periods are chaotic and stressful. Your new staff member will park in the wrong spot, enter through the wrong door and crank the wrong tunes—and that will be your fault.

If you have all SOPs clearly documented, you just hand a checklist to the new staff member, walk them through everything and make sure they understand. This saves time, ensures your standard of excellence is maintained and preserves the client experience.

And remember: The checklist is there as the backbone, but clever, experienced staff members don’t have to carry it around and literally tick boxes. Once they know the procedures and follow them, they are “programmed.”

That doesn’t mean you won’t have to check the programming and make adjustments from time to time. You can’t just write an SOP, deliver it and assume everything will be fine forever.

In the next post in this series, I’ll tell you what to do when you “find brown M&M’s in your dressing room.”

But for now, here’s your task: Write one detailed SOP today. If you have SOPs, audit and upgrade one. Then book a time to deliver the new or upgraded SOP to a staff member.

If you follow this plan for every aspect of your business, your gym will run better, your clients will be happier, your staff members will be more efficient, and you’ll have more time and energy to work on growing your business.

Avoid this plan and you’ll be ordering garbage bags under burned-out lights while a coach in flip-flops mumbles a disjointed whiteboard brief to eight seniors who can’t hear him above the death metal.


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.