Ben Bergeron: How to Lead Your Gym to Success

John Franklin (00:02):
Welcome to this week’s episode of “Two-Brain Radio.” I am your host, John Franklin. This week we are talking about virtuosity, and I have a very special guest for all of you. He’s going to be speaking at our Two-Brain Summit in June of this year in Chicago. If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet, go to twobrainsummit.com. They’re still available at 50% off. But let me introduce the man, the myth, the legend, Ben Bergeron of CrossFit New England and CompTrain. How are you?

Ben Bergeron (00:32):
I’m doing great. Thanks. Good to be here, John. Thank you.

John Franklin (00:34):
Yeah, I let you know this on the email leading up to the show, but you were actually the first person I emailed when I decided I wanted to work in CrossFit, and I emailed you and was like, “Ben, I would love to work for free.” And you were like, “You’re too expensive, John.” And that ended up turning out OK. But yeah, you’ve been affiliated since 2007, right?

Ben Bergeron (01:03):
Yes, correct.

John Franklin (01:04):
Does that put you in like a—you’ve got to be like top 10 oldest remaining one now.

Ben Bergeron (01:09):
When we affiliated, I think we were around—we were one of the first 500 gyms, so I think we were around 450 or something like that. And I don’t know how many of those 450 are still around, but yeah, I think we’re part of the OG crowd, you know, the early adopters.

John Franklin (01:27):
Yeah. And I know because I attended some of your original summits, you used to host people at your gym—I don’t know if you still do that—and taught business and basically go through your systems and processes, which at the time was like a very foreign and novel concept in the CrossFit community. As somebody who’s been in this game for a while and someone who has studied the teachings of Greg Glassman, like what does virtuosity mean to you?

Ben Bergeron (01:53):
Well, I think the definition that we all have known to embrace, which is doing the common uncommonly well: It’s a level of mastery. So, if you were to, you know, take any master in any endeavor, whether that is a sculptor, an artist, a singer-songwriter, a musician, an entrepreneur, I think that they would all espouse the benefits of becoming really, really good at the fundamentals. And that’s really what the idea behind virtuosity is, is really dive deep into the basics, even though they don’t seem like the most sexy or lucrative places to be putting your efforts into. That really is the things that move the needle the most. So, in our world that we can all relate to as coaches in our space: the virtuosity of an air squat. Like it’s fairly mundane; it’s fairly boring. There’s 4/5 points of performance: heels, knees, depth, lumbar curve.

Ben Bergeron (02:57):
Then, and only then do you work on creating a more mature with a more upright torso. And we so quickly want to go into the next thing, which is Olympic lifting and cleans and snatches and overhead squats and loading. And most of us rush that process a little bit, whether we are on either side of the spectrum: the student or the teacher, the coach. And what virtuosity says is: Spend more time there than you probably think necessary. I also think it’s part of the that Dunning-Kruger effect, which is when you are a novice and you gain a little bit of knowledge, you think you have a really strong understanding of the topic, and as you get more and more experience, you then realize how little and little you actually understand about the subject. And it’s that conflicting viewpoint of realizing early on, like, “I feel like I got this thing, but maybe I should be spending more time on this.” And that’s where the people that, you know, I think are successful in any endeavor spend a lot of time is—you know, you take someone like Steph Curry who’s arguably the greatest shooter ever, and watch how much time he spends on just the true fundamental—he is warming up—of like dribbling with each hand. And it’s really becoming—that foundational excellence is really what it looks like.

John Franklin (04:26):
And it’s easy enough to envision that in terms of the movement. So, teaching an air squat or a press or making sure that your members are moving well, but what does that mean as an actual gym owner? So, what is virtuosity when it comes to running a gym space?

Ben Bergeron (04:42):
Yeah, entrepreneurship in the gym space is—it’s like any other endeavor where you can get really caught up in the bright lights and the flashy objects, and it really comes down to—running a successful business comes down to four fundamental things. The first one is your culture and your leadership. You know, Peter Drucker says, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” And that’s the reason why it’s the most fundamental thing. And what I think most of us do when we think of culture and leadership is we want to get to the next thing. We want to just go past that. We’re like, “OK, but I got that. I get it. It’s really not going to do the thing.” You know, just reading Adam Grant’s new book, which is phenomenal—it’s “Hidden Potential.” And he talks about hard skills versus soft skills and how we so badly want the hard skills, and we just bypass the soft skills because we think of them as soft.

Ben Bergeron (05:34):
First, he talks about where that terminology came from and how it needs to go away because it actually came from the military. And hard skills were about working with tanks and machinery and soft skills were everything else. And we’ve just turned soft skills as like your personality and your character and your interpersonal skills. And it’s not that at all. And what he speaks to so well is they took two groups of entrepreneurs. One, they gave them training in, quote, the hard things: accounting, finance, marketing, operations. The other ones, they gave them training in character, getting crap done, being—how do you relate to people, being disciplined. And the people that they gave the character training to outperformed the other group by 30%. So, it’s like, so that’s the first one. It’s like understanding that it starts there—it starts with our culture; it starts with our leadership, but then it’s really simple.

Ben Bergeron (06:29):
After that, it’s your product. Can you—are you constantly refining and make your product better? And again, most of us go like, “Oh no, we’re running good classes. People are coming and people are getting fitter, so we’re running good classes.” And virtuosity would have you say, like, it’s doing the common—like the best restaurants in the world serve some of the simplest dishes. It’s doing it incredibly well. So how are you truly serving those dishes every single day? After that, it’s your marketing—working people through the funnel and understanding how to do that. And finally, it’s your finances and understanding finances. And if you understand those four foundational, fundamental things and you do those exceptionally well at a foundational level, you will be a successful entrepreneur.

John Franklin (07:16):
And you go to a lot of gyms; you talk to a lot of affiliate owners. Where do you think the affiliate community at large is weakest?

Ben Bergeron (07:24):
Hmm, that’s a good question. I would say probably in the first category: the culture and the leadership. And it’s probably where most people go, “No, that’s where I’m the best because community, community,” and forever we’ve been like, “CrossFit and it’s about community,” and you know, written right into the original mission statement of CrossFit, which was to create community and improve human movements. But you know, I like this understanding of—what we’re not saying is from an individual perspective, it’s not about your personality; it’s about your character. Personality is how you behave in peacetime. Personality, peacetime. Character is how you act when you are being challenged, when you are in wartime, when you’re battling, when you have everything stacked against you, when—that’s your character. Well, your personality is—I’m sorry, your culture of your gym is that mix of those two things, just like you are the mix of those two things.

Ben Bergeron (08:22):
Like you can be a fun, bubbly, great person to be around, but when you get triggered or things don’t line up with your expectations, how do you act and behave? That’s who you are. It’s the same thing with our gyms. They can be fun and great places to go to, and you enjoy working out there, but then you hear the rumor mill spill up or somebody doesn’t like a new change, you’re making in your gym or dot, dot, dot, you fill in the—someone doesn’t like your new CrossFit kids’ coach, you’re going to raise rates, you’re going to do all the—like, now all of a sudden, the true colors of the place pop up, and it starts with the leader and then the leadership team in place, and then all of the employees of the organization. And for us to understand that that matters, and it’s not just something that happens, you have to systematically create it: I think is missed in a big way in our space.

Ben Bergeron (09:17):
But then I think all the others are—now that I think equally across the board, each one is—there’s so much opportunity for each of these things because we could do the same thing with how you’re running your classes, delivering your product. We talk about people’s 90-day onboarding process and people from the funnel. And we could talk about people paying attention to finances. That was certainly what I was—was my biggest one. I didn’t look at my finances probably for the first eight years of running a business. It was just like, “Oh, we’re profitable, so we’ll keep this thing going.” So, coming on almost 20 years later, it’s a very different picture that we try to create on a month-to-month basis.

John Franklin (09:55):
So the leadership thing makes sense. And a lot of people will listen to that. And I’m sure many of them will be like, “I’m a great leader,” like you’re saying, “My gym’s got the best community; it’s got the best culture.” But for those who acknowledge that that’s probably an area in which they can improve—you know, obviously learning is a big part of this. You’ve quoted off half a dozen books since we started 11 minutes ago. But what other things can you do to cultivate the traits of a good leader? You know, how can you be someone that good people want to work for?

Ben Bergeron (10:24):
Yeah, I think it’s learned. I think that this big—there’s this big misunderstanding like, “Oh, he’s a strong leader; he’s a strong leader, but she’s not. And she—you know, he’s …” It’s a learned trait just like anything else. You’re not inherently a good, strong leader. I think that we misplace the traits that we commonly associate with strong leadership, and they’re misplaced. Like somebody who’s gregarious or can hold a room or a good public speaker or engaging: Those help, but they don’t make someone a good leader. Leadership goes way beyond that. And it’s sharing—to me, it starts with this CVS. Like, are you doing those things? First one is culture, next is vision, and next is standards. Are you doing the things necessary to create the culture that you want to create?

Ben Bergeron (11:12):
And if you don’t, it’s going to grow into something, but it’s not going to be something you want. Culture needs to be groomed and manicured like a garden. And if you don’t, a jungle happens. You’re constantly pruning. You’re constantly revisiting. You’re constantly shaping this thing at all ends. So, what do I mean by that? When you have your weekly meeting, what are the things that you want to see in your space? You want to see people take initiative. You want people to be responsible. You want people to have excellence, emotional intelligence, and people-smarts. You want people to go above and beyond on your team. Well, you should have a process in place on a weekly basis that highlights those things. If you don’t, no one knows that those are of value to you—if you put them up on a wall or anything else. When you are evaluating people, how are you evaluating them?

Ben Bergeron (12:04):
What we’ve done in the past, which is very powerful, is we don’t do manager-to-employee peer reviews in terms of their character—because that can be very subjective—we do peer-to-peer character things. And the way we do that is we list out very clearly what it is we’re looking for. We want people who are humble, meaning that they take feedback, they’re a part of a team, and they want to grow. They’re growth-minded, they are hungry, and they have incredible work ethic. They go above and beyond, and they believe in the pursuit of excellence, and they’re happy. They never whine, never complain. They have incredible emotional intelligence, and they know how to deal with people in a very tactful way. We then have 10 definitions, 10 examples, of the way those pop up. And we have our peers rate our peers on how they believe they’re doing.

Ben Bergeron (12:54):
So you’re giving real fee—this is the way you create real culture. This is the way you create real leadership, and you show the people that with how you’re doing it. Much like the Dunning-Kruger effect, I think back in the early days when I was starting my gym, I would’ve said that I was probably a pretty decent leader. I think about 5, 6, 7 years ago if you asked me, I’d have said, “I’m average at best,” because there’s so much. The great leaders get people to do things that they don’t want to do in a way that makes it look like they want to do it. That’s what a leader can do. A leader—and I think of people like leading in the military, which is just such a phenomenal example of that because you can’t fire the people below you, and you didn’t hire them.

Ben Bergeron (13:39):
Hiring and firing is such a luxury that we have because we get to truly morph and mold our teams in a really, really systematic way. “You don’t fit. See you later.” “You seem like you’d be a great fit. Come on board; let’s see how this thing goes.” In the military, that’s not the case. You’re on a battleship; you have these 900 sailors that you’ve got to get them to jump on board literally and figuratively to the mission, or it doesn’t, it doesn’t go. And I think that that’s what we’re trying to do. So, every single time something doesn’t go the way that we want it to, the leader has to own that. The leader has to go, “Well that’s because I didn’t communicate it very well. I didn’t hold people accountable. I didn’t train them up enough. I didn’t describe what ‘done’ looked like well enough.”

Ben Bergeron (14:28):
To me there is no—you know, much like they said in the karate kid—there are no students, only bad teachers. I don’t believe that there are necessarily bad employees, but only bad managers and bosses because managers and bosses are the ones who got those people on board, and if they don’t feel like the right people, they shouldn’t be on board. So, it truly is that, like, it’s the hardest job in the world. Like being a leader is the hardest freaking job in the world because you not only have to deal with all of your issues and insecurities and opportunities and shortcomings, you have to deal with every one of your individual employees’ issues, shortcomings, opportunities, the rest, and then the interconnectedness that they have with each other as well. I think it takes a lifetime to become a strong leader.

John Franklin (15:20):
And I’m sure that you’ve fired before. You said it is a luxury to hire and fire. And we can probably spend a whole podcast talking about hiring and firing. But you know, we speak to gym owners all the time. One of the most common things we hear, especially in top level gym owners, is like they will have someone on staff who probably isn’t a right fit for them or isn’t performing to expectation. And more often than not, it tends to be in that GM position. Like it seems like that’s the toughest one to hire for and retain. And so, you’ve probably had to fire people in your career. How do you know it’s my failure as a leader working with this person, or how do you know it’s the person, and I’m probably better off starting over and hiring again?

Ben Bergeron (16:05):
Yep. So, I think you can do it—it’s twofold. One is very systematic, and the other short answer is it’s your gut. And one is not better than the other. The systematic one, and I’ve stolen this from Gino Wickman from EOS, which is Entrepreneurs Organizational Systems, is you assess people based off of two different areas, which, the first one is: Are they the right person? And the right person is—you have to be very clear of what your traits are. They’re looking for, as we listed out, it’s humble, hungry and happy. If they’re humble, hungry and happy, then they are the right person to be on your team. Cool. Because they espouse the same shared values that you have. The next is, do they GWC? And this is—are they—so the character traits get them on the bus. The GWC determines whether they are in the right seat on the bus or not.

Ben Bergeron (16:59):
So, the GWC is do they get it, do they want it, and do they have the capacity to do it? They get it is: Do they wake up Monday morning excited to do this job? Some people don’t get excited to walk into a CrossFit gym every day. You’re looking for people that are. The next is, in terms of they get it, is: Do they understand the roles and responsibilities? Do they get how it impacts the rest of the team—or I should say that’s the get it part is: Do they understand how the roles impact the entire organization? The want it is: Do they get excited to wake up on Monday morning, come to work every morning? And the capacity is twofold: Both do they have the skillset to be able to do this, and do they have the bandwidth to be able to do this?

Ben Bergeron (17:39):
So it’s a time and skill perspective. If they’re not the right person because they don’t have the right value set, they shouldn’t be on your team. It’s not you. If they don’t GWC the role, then maybe you can find another role for them on the team. If there’s not one open, they shouldn’t be on the team. If they have the right character traits and they GWC the role, and it’s still not happening, it’s the manager’s fault. You’re not setting them up for success. And that’s really how it comes down to it.

John Franklin (18:12):
And would you say that most gym owners fall in the latter category? Or is it—you know, how do you get an honest opinion on where you are as a leader and as a manager? You know, it’s difficult because your employees are not going to give you that. Right? You mentioned EOS, like are you working with someone in EOS? Do you have a team of peers that you bounce ideas off of? Like where are you getting these—where are you getting hard talks from?

Ben Bergeron (18:35):
Yeah, I worked with a business coach from EOS for a number of years. I did it on my own for a number of years before that. I have a few close peers who I bounce ideas back and forth off of to understand what—get an outside perspective. I really think it comes down to: How is your team executing? So, I’m a big believer in creating a vision for the organization and systematically rolling that out and then seeing if the team is executing on it. And if they are not, then it’s you. It’s—you’re in charge; it’s your thing. You know, I’m a big believer in just taking ownership of this. It’s the same thing I would do with my clients. You know, if you’re not seeing results, you have to look at yourself. No one’s forcing you to eat that thing, or no one’s forcing you to not go to the gym.

Ben Bergeron (19:25):
You are making these choices. And we have to understand as entrepreneurs, if we’re not where we want to be, it’s because of the choices that we are making. Like, you are the dog; you are the lead dog. You are determining where all the other sled dogs are going. No one else is saying, “Nope, we’ve got to go this way.” As a gym owner, it really falls to us, and we’re not going to be good—like we’re not just going to be good at this inherently. It’s not just something that’s like, you know, you’re born and it’s like, “Now you’re going to be a great gym owner.” It’s like, we have to continue, and your community is awesome for this because they’re so eager to learn, and they’re so hungry, and they want more, and they’re humble enough to say like, “Hey, I don’t have this figured out.”

Ben Bergeron (20:07):
“What do you think we should be doing?” That’s the community that’s going to move forward. The community that is putting their head in the sand and going, “Nope, I got this whole thing figured out. You know, I know how to do this thing,” that’s where we’re going to stay stuck. You know, I’m a big believer in continuing to educate yourself in whatever form works for you—if it’s a mentorship, if it’s a coach, if it’s reading, if it’s whatever. I like reading a lot. I feel like I know I have, you know, a half dozen mentors because I can just read their books.

John Franklin (20:38):
Yeah. So, I want to pivot a little bit. You’ve made content around the topic of retention, especially in the first 90 days, and it was something you brought up earlier in the show. What does it look like to have a good first 90-day experience? So, if I go to your gym, like what are you doing for me that the average CrossFit or gym owner isn’t, that will make me more inclined to stay with you versus going someplace else?

Ben Bergeron (21:02):
I like to think of it in terms of if I was to go and do something that was scary for me, that I have no understanding of. And I always use this example of, like, if I’m going to go join an MMA or like a Brazilian jiu-jitsu gym. So, what would that experience look like for the first 90 days? And what are the things that they could do to get me to be more committed to this? And in the beginning part of that process, it has to be understanding how much the new member is questioning themselves and what they’re really trying to do—us as social beings is understand the singular question: Do I belong here? Is this a place for me? And if we can anticipate those questions, we can help alleviate them a little bit. What you don’t want to do is put people through a free trial class or an elements or a one-on-one session or have them just jump into class, and they’re just in this machine, in the cog, and they’re just going along.

Ben Bergeron (22:09):
Instead, what we want to do is, as much as possible, start to anticipate the questions that they’re going to have, which is: Is this place for me? And start to answer those. And the first thing, I think that the most important thing is if you were going to a new school, you’re going to be transferring schools as a sophomore in high school. What’s—I’m going to ask this to you, John, for real. If you’re going to be entering school, 10th grade, you’re about to go to your first day of school, which is in the middle of the school year; you’re going to join on February 5th. What’s going through your head as you get out of the car and start walking towards that school?

John Franklin (22:49):
I mean, you want to fit in. I’d want to know, like, what are my classmates going to be wearing? You know, you don’t want to be wearing something weird. Am I going to be behind in the curriculum? Like, will I look stupid because I’m not into whatever’s going on. Where can I find a group of people who are congregating and are into the things that I am, so I can try and fit in? Yeah, I think it’s mostly going to be socially-related stuff because that’s going to be the hardest hurdle to get over.

Ben Bergeron (23:16):
Love that. Absolutely. So, what we want to do is try to head those off before they happen. So, there’s different levels of what a gym can do to make this happen. So, the highest level would be: Imagine you walk up to that school and as you’re stepping out of the car—now we don’t do this at my gym, but this is the highest level—imagine you’re stepping out of that car to go to that new school. And another kid comes up and goes, “John, John, hey, hey, hey. I’m Ben. I heard you were coming today for your first day of class. I just want to make sure you feel welcome.” So, and they just—and they walked through the door with you for the first time. Right there, you’re kind of like, “Oh, that feels a lot better.” And then, you know, I’m going to make sure you’re not sitting by yourself at lunch.

Ben Bergeron (24:02):
I’m going to make sure you know where the lockers are. I’m going to make sure that you—and you create that environment for them. Now how you bring that to life in your gym could be a whole bunch of different ways. It could be an email beforehand to say, “Hey, wear athletic shoes and shorts or pants or whatever. Show up five minutes before, and I’ll be at the door waiting for you, and I’ll show you where the locker room is, and I’ll show you—” But this is what we want is, like, try to head off the scary things, like the things that they’re scared of. And then we just want to have those touchpoints throughout the first 90 days. At gyms, it’s just like any subscription service; most of us lose 50% of our members in the first 90 days. If you could hold on to half of those more, you retain 70—

Ben Bergeron (24:50):
It just—it fundamentally changes your business. It doesn’t happen on its own. You have to put the structures and the systems in place to make that happen. So, whether that’s a lowest level—an email campaign that’s automated that goes out to touch people from, like when they sign up for their first class, after they take their first class, to as they’re getting ready to go to their next class, to the end of their next class. And you just kind of, like, whether it’s automated—that’s the lowest level lift—or it’s the highest one, which is you and or a peer in their class are actually having the conversations in real life, which does happen at a lot of schools. There are really high-level schools that they do that. “Here’s Mrs. Johnson, she’s going to be your counselor. She’s going to be making sure that she’s going to talk to you every single day to make sure things are going well.”

Ben Bergeron (25:40):
“And this is Jimmy. Jimmy’s going to be your buddy for the first five days, and you guys can sit together in class and at school and recess. He’ll make sure you’re on his kickball team,” and you can just kind of guide people through that process. It’s not rocket science, but it does take effort. The next thing you want to do is give people something to look forward to. So, what happens in our space in the CrossFit gym world is—OK, so you come in and take your first class: What’s the next thing that happens? You take your second class, and then what’s the next thing that happens? Well, you take your third class, and then what you realize is there’s no system to the way that we run our gyms at all. It’s just a movie theater where you come in and you sit down, you experience a thing; you get up, and you walk away.

Ben Bergeron (26:27):
Or it’s a restaurant where you go in, you–that’s not the way it necessarily should go. We should be more like an academy or more like a true onboarding where there are these touchpoints along the way, not only for you to check in, but for you to look forward to. We want to know that there’s this thing out there that I’m trying to get to at this next point. And you put those systematically in place in the customer journey and now it changes from this, like, “Well, yeah, I think I’ll go for another month. We’ll see how this thing’s going,” to “Oh, there’s that thing on the 14th next month. I’m excited for that.” And the thing of, like, “Should I join another month or not?” goes away because it’s all about that thing next month that we’re all going to do.

John Franklin (27:11):
And when you say, “that thing,” that’s like an event; it’s an in-house competition. Like what does that typically mean for you?

Ben Bergeron (27:18):
It could be—your creative ingenuity is the limitations. It could be we’re doing a nutrition challenge next month. It could be we have your free 90-minute one-on-one session at the end of your third month. It could be we’re doing this benchmark workout. It could be anything that—you know, a social event. It could be any of these things to break up the monotony of this thing. That’s why it’s kind of nice to have a twofold thing. There is the 90-day onboarding process with set touchpoints that should be happening every single month. So, they’re in there, but then you also have the year calendar that you’re going to go through. So, you’re speaking to both things that are overlapping. “So next month, John, you’re going to have your one-on-one with me for 30 minutes after your 12th class. That’s where we check in on some of your attendance and the goals that we talked about.”

Ben Bergeron (28:11):
“And we really establish a personalized plan for you. So, I’m really looking forward to that because I’ve seen how committed you’ve been over the last couple months of this thing. Now, we’ve got this base built up, and you understand the way these classes go. What we’re going to do going forward after that X timeline is we’re going to create a really structured, systemized personal plan for you based off of your goals, which was to do that bodybuilding competition”—or to run that marathon or to try to compete in the sport of CrossFit or to lose 50 pounds or whatever it is. “And by the way, we have our January nutrition challenge coming up. So that’s something that we can look forward to and talk about.” And then, and you get it, and that happens throughout the year. Every quarter you want to have some sort of social thing that you can point to, so no one is more than three months away from that thing that we want you to participate in as well.

John Franklin (29:05):
One of the things that CrossFit gyms especially have gone back and forth on throughout the years I’ve been involved, at least, is the actual onboarding process itself. So, you know, we’ve talked about checking in, making them feel welcome, dangling a carrot so they don’t cancel, always having that next thing they’re striving towards. In terms of the actual execution—so taking someone who is unfamiliar with the type of exercise you do in your gym and preparing them for a group setting—what does that look like? Because you’re still primarily group, right?

Ben Bergeron (29:34):
Yes. Yep.

John Franklin (29:35):
So what percentage of CrossFit New England, like your revenue, comes from group training?

Ben Bergeron (29:40):
98.

John Franklin (29:42):
Yeah, so, the goal for you is to get somebody ready for group, and so, what does that look like?

Ben Bergeron (29:47):
I don’t think that there’s a right way to do this. I think there’s different ways that work with different parts of where you are in the business lifecycle. So, we have done everything from there is no intro at all—jump in, try a class and then you’re just off and running. We’ve done it where it’s a month long, 12 sessions that are mandatory before you get into class. And we’ve done everything in between—from one days to three days to group to one-on-one. After doing this for 15 plus years, there is not “the right way.” There is—every single way has a pro and a con to it. And you have to figure out what the right way is for you for where you are right now in your business lifecycle. What do I mean by that? Well, certain ones create higher barriers to entry.

Ben Bergeron (30:35):
So, do you want people to be able to get in and experience the thing now? Well, then there shouldn’t be much, but barrier-ized entry might yield longer retention on the other side of that. What does your staff look like? Are your staff full and can’t do a whole bunch of other stuff at the time? And you can’t bring on somebody to do just pure onboarding classes or one-on-ones; then that’s the way you form and shape it. So, there isn’t a set, fixed way to do this. And we have tried ev—as many different variations as I could possibly think of. And every single time I change it to the next iteration, I’m excited about the next one.

John Franklin (31:13):
And so what are you currently running with?

Ben Bergeron (31:14):
We currently have—you can do a free class that we run a couple times a month. It’s on a Saturday and then—or you can do a drop; you can’t do a drop—or you can meet with a coach one-on-one before you come into the regular classes. We allow people to drop in if they have former CrossFit experience, but if you want to start this thing up, it’s try the free class that’s set up for you or meet with a coach. And then from there there’s an option to meet with a coach for three more times or jump right into the classes, and it’s the customer’s choice there.

John Franklin (31:51):
And when I would go—I’ve been to CrossFit New England a few times to just take classes and learn and observe. You were running some pretty monster classes at the time, you know, 24 to—I think the cap was somewhere in the 24 to 30 range. I actually—I don’t even think you were capping it, and then you had like two or three coaches on the floor at the same time. Are you still running at that size and volume and have that amount of staff out on the floor for all your peak times?

Ben Bergeron (32:17):
We run classes with one coach, and our average class size is about 20, but that includes some of the really low classes that we average like four—like our 6:30 p.m. class for some reason just can’t catch fire. We just brought it back. We hadn’t—we stopped it after COVID; we just brought it back. So that class averages four people. But our 5:30 a.m., like most people, is our busiest. That averages about 27 people. Big classes are 33. The 8:30 and the 9:30 are the next two biggest, and those average about 27 and big classes are 31. But we run classes with one coach. We try to double down on group management. I’m a big believer in this that if the class is very well organized—you know, if you’ve been here, you’ve seen it like how I am with equipment set up and cones, and everyone knows where they’re going. I really believe that’s really vital. And then we also do a decent job, I wouldn’t say a great job, but a decent job of understanding who in our class is new and having structured—I don’t remember the, I don’t use the word scaling—structured ways to modify the workouts for those individual athletes. And they’re very—as you said before with virtuosity, we keep things very fundamental, and we make it very normal not to do the same workout as the person next to you.

John Franklin (33:38):
And I looked at a post you created posted onto your Instagram, and you were talking about three things to think about when opening an affiliate. So obviously you started in 2007, and what CrossFit looked like in 2007 is incredibly different than what it looks like today.

Ben Bergeron (33:57):
Dragons and skulls and affliction.

John Franklin (34:00):
Yeah. Pukie and yeah, yeah.

Ben Bergeron (34:01):
Pukie, right? Yeah. And dirty gyms and warehouses. Yeah.

John Franklin (34:04):
Yeah. It was—you know, sometimes, I’ll be talking with guests, and we say, like, “Hey, the day of like, maxing out your credit card to start a gym are probably over, like the consumer wants a little bit more than that now.” And you may or may not agree with that, but my question would be, if you were starting over from scratch today, if you weren’t Ben Bergeron, if you didn’t have this brand-name gym, what would you be building?

Ben Bergeron (34:27):
What would I be building in terms of what? What do you mean by—

John Franklin (34:29):
What would your gym—would you take the same size space? Would you offer all group training? How would you kind of set yourself up?

Ben Bergeron (34:36):
No, I would’ve—one of the big things we’re trying to reshape here is I would’ve made one-on-one training more of the norm, if I was to start from scratch. We’re trying to turn this cruise ship because we have such a legacy built into the way that we operate both from a staff and a customer standpoint of what the expected product and service is. I would’ve done a lot more one-on-one training. I would’ve made class the norm, but I would’ve made doing personal training as an auxiliary product a really normal part of the user journey. And that would’ve systemized that into this. In terms of the facility itself, I really—I feel like I lucked out with it. You know, I got a location that—you know, I always say that you should be hitting three things:

Ben Bergeron (35:21):
Do people live there, do people work there, and do people commute through there? If you have that, you’re going to be busy all day. If you only live in one of those three, you’re going to be busy at certain times, but not the others. We lucked out. I knew what I was looking for in terms of ceiling height and the structure of it and no neighbors and parking lot. I searched pretty hard for that type of stuff. But yeah, the no neighbors one’s a really big one. Like, don’t share a wall with somebody if you can.

John Franklin (35:48):
I’ve been sued by my neighbors before running a CrossFit gym. So yeah, I’m very familiar with that story. So, who are people in the fitness community who you think are doing a great job? People you look to for inspiration?

Ben Bergeron (36:01):
Hmm. Well, I really like Kelly Starret; he’s a friend of mine. I admire what he’s done and what he’s created both from a brand and from what he’s done to be able to help people from both spectrums—from the elites and the professionals to everybody else. I think he’s got a good head on his shoulders. I really like what EC Synkowski’s done with nutrition. Same thing: very much a virtuosity aspect to nutrition, which is like, “Hey, don’t get caught up in all these fancy fads, the bells and the whistles. It really is about the thing that we’re doing.” And, then I look to people outside of our space a lot, you know, if I’m trying to get what—I’ve researched really hard, particularly when I was doing competitive CrossFit coaching stuff, Chinese weightlifting. I’m a big fan of their methodology in terms of what they—how they go about training. It just, it jives really well with my beliefs in terms of how to get people to perform with the Olympic lifts. I like Louie Simmons with West Side. I like Mark Rippetoe with Starting Strength.

John Franklin (37:02):
Some of the OGs. Yeah, we don’t have to go all day. You know, you can only—you can have three to five. And you mentioned Kelly Starrett; you said brand, right? And you have a personal brand yourself. That’s something that comes up in a lot of these gym owners’ groups and gym owner meetups is how do I build a personal brand? How do I build a personal—how do I grow a following? And I’m assuming people ask you this. And what do you usually tell them?

Ben Bergeron (37:28):
People don’t usually ask me that. I don’t have something I normally tell them. I don’t know. So, this is like a—I’m probably not the right person to ask about this because I don’t like that part of this. I don’t like it at all. I enjoy this platform: I enjoy podcasts. The traditional way that people are doing it through posting through social: I am such a reluctant participant, so I am not the person to be asking about that.

John Franklin (37:56):
So how’d you do it on accident? Or how did you do it despite—

Ben Bergeron (38:01):
I tried to create a real—so really early on I was very—this is what I meant by leadership in the beginning. I was very clear on what it is we wanted to create. I sat my team down, and I said, “We want to create the best CrossFit gym in the world.” Now whether we achieve that or not, it doesn’t matter, but it creates this vision of what this thing looks like. So, I asked them, I said, “Each of you come back with 20 things that you think the best CrossFit gym in the world would do and what it would look like.” And together between—there were only three of us at the time. It was me, Mat Frankel and Mel Ockerby, who are awesome people and gym owners themselves now. We sat down in my office, and we created this big list, and we came up with 50 things that we wanted to do to be the best CrossFit gym in the world.

Ben Bergeron (38:45):
And it was things like host Level 1 seminars, have top 10 CrossFit games athletes, win the CrossFit games as an affiliate, get on Level 1 seminar staff, be featured on crossfit.com, contribute to the journal. Like, we just listed out all these different things, and we started plugging these things off. Building a brand is not—I just don’t think it’s what people think it is. It’s not like shouting from the rooftops about like, “Look how my—” Like, go and do the things and let that speak for it. So, when you get your 15th individual athlete to the CrossFit Games, you’re not going to have to worry about the brand building because it’s going to be there. It’s like people put the cart before the horse, and they want to be like, “Well I want to be known and look for this.” It’s like, “Well you’ve go to go do that thing.”

Ben Bergeron (39:35):
So really high level: What’s the thing? What’s that 10-year vision? That’s what we call—so you have your North Star, but then we call—I’m a big believer in AOS—I’m sorry, EOS again. This is all Gino Wickman stuff. So, what is that thing in 10 years you want to be known for? We want to be known as the best gym in the world. Cool. In three years, what do you need to have accomplished in three years to get closer to that? And that’s where we come with that list of 50 things. Cool. Now go do those.

John Franklin (40:02):
And you bring up vision because every—you know, it’s one of the most common things you hear if you listen to business podcasts is you need a vision. You need a vision; you need a vision. And I know early on in my journey, it was always like, “Let’s come up with some highfalutin thing, like we’re going to cure obesity.” But what you’re talking about here is you need to have a much more granular vision. So, like, where are you writing? What type of members? Who’s working out in your gym? What does the gym look like? And so, it creates more of a vivid picture of the day-to-day rather than, you know, just this thing that’s 10 years in the future that is very difficult to visualize.

Ben Bergeron (40:39):
Yeah, I think that vision comes down to four components. The first two, people are going to do the eye roll thing, because they—it’s what you said is like that, “Oh, OK, here we go.” But what are your values? Like what values are is: What do you think is important? When we change those words from that to that, people go—you know, because they go, “Integrity and honesty and humility.” It’s like no, truly like push comes to shove, what’s really important to you? What’s really important to you? And like, work on that for a while. The next is the mission statement. And forget about this, like, “Cure cancer.” Like a mission statement to me is not that. It’s what do you do, who do you do it for, and why are you going to win? I say this again like what do you do, who do you do it for, and why are you going to win?

Ben Bergeron (41:22):
So we—it’s very directive, and your mission statement can change. This is like—it can be different five years from now than it is for them. “We provide top level coaching to middle school athletes focused on speed and explosiveness.” Like, that’s like middle school athletes, high-level training. What is it? Speed is the—speed and explosiveness through, you know, the most advanced technological systems available. Whatever it is. Like that’s your mission. Now, it’s like those are your guardrails. But then from there, those are like the ones that everyone throws out. The next ones that I think people miss is what you’re saying and what I was saying before is: What is your 10-year big, hairy, audacious goal? So, what is your 10-year like—say it. It doesn’t have to be measurable.

Ben Bergeron (42:09):
Best gym in the world. You know, I want a thousand members. I want to be able to retire. I want to win the CrossFit games—whatever it is. What’s the 10-year thing? That’s so much more directional than people give it credit for. And then a picture of: In three years, what is this going to look like? And that’s 15 to 50 bullet points. Like what is it going to look like? We’re going to have a smoothie bar; we’re going to have a lounge. We’re going to have 450 members. We’re going to have a nutritionist and a PT on staff. We’re going to do 80% of our revenue through one-on-ones. We’re going to have a world class blah, blah blah. We’re going to do assessments with biometrics and before and after photos. We’re going to—and you start to paint this—now all of a sudden, instead of “We’re going to cure cancer,” and this like, “OK, that thing,” you have these four different structural components.

Ben Bergeron (43:03):
Think of it as the four edges of a box. And now you have you have—this is what this—this is the vision. Now you’ve created a true picture that we can all have an understanding that we’re going toward this same thing. It’s out there, so it doesn’t need to be as directive as like a quarterly KPI or objective. Those are like super narrow. Those are, “We’re going to move our three-month retention from 57% to 61%.” That’s like pass/fail. These—vision stuff is not, and every year you’re going to reshape the vision, but it shouldn’t change throughout the year. For this full year, we’re all on the same page that this is what we’re going towards.

John Franklin (43:46):
And that makes sense. And so, do you have a formalized process? Like do you have a weekend where you do all this planning and then revisit it quarterly? Like on what type of rhythm are you doing this? I know the answer is probably EOS, and I know that—what that rhythm looks like—but maybe you can paint it out for people who are on—

Ben Bergeron (44:02):
Yep. We do a yearly, so it’s a yearly full day. Then we do quarterly half days; then we do weekly 90-minute meetings.

John Franklin (44:10):
And the 90—and all it is is year, what you just said; the quarterly is progress; and then the weekly is even more.

Ben Bergeron (44:15):
So those are the high-level meetings to make sure we’re searing on the right page. Those are the high-level meetings. And then there should be a weekly meeting with a manager employee. We call those groundwork meetings. And those are very much just—here’s like the simplest way that meetings should go. Everyone should have the—this should be everyone’s meeting. When you’re working with an employee and a manager, it should be: “Tell me again what it is that we decided together was the most important thing for you to accomplish this quarter.” And you say, “It was to revamp our member onboarding process.” “Great. And we had a measurable for that, right?” “Yes, we did.” “What was it?” And you say what the measurable was: “It was to have it live and in action, posted on our website and everywhere.”

Ben Bergeron (45:00):
Like it was just like live, right—live and live by the end of the quarter. “Cool. Are we on track?” “We’re actually not.” “Cool. Why not?” “Came up with these blockers. OK, this is what came up, blah, blah blah.” “Cool.” So, what we’re starting off with is high level. Where are we on the 90-day objective against a KPI, a key performance indicator. From there, the next questions are really simple. It’s “Show me—tell me what you did last week. Cool, what do you think are your three priorities for this week going forward?” And it’s like, you have a discussion. “Do you feel like these are right or wrong?” And the next week it’s like, “Here were the three things we said were your top priorities. How’d they go?” Now you have this level of accountability system rolling. We know what you’re supposed to do for this quarter.

Ben Bergeron (45:43):
We know what you’re supposed to do this quarter. “Are you on track or you off track? Cool.” “We said this is what you would accomplish last week. Did you do those things? Let’s talk about what we think are the things that you should accomplish this week.” That in totality should take about 15 minutes. Honestly, if you give like five minutes to each of those, which is—you don’t need it—then you just go through, “What else is on your mind?” You can talk about career development; you could talk about any issues. You could talk about people; you could talk about opportunities. You could talk about blockers that people are coming up against. And that could be a 20-minute meeting, a 30-minute meeting or a 60-minute meeting. They don’t need to be 60 to be able to—and every single week you have true, ultimate same-page-ness, a real alignment on what is most important, and true accountability that I’m tracking along every single week with agreed upon weekly priorities.

John Franklin (46:38):
There you go. That’s the whole podcast right there. We’ll just cut that five-minute clip. And that’s enough for every gym. If you implement that, do it for a year, email Ben, and let him know how you did because you’ll have a profoundly different business. Ben, we’re going a little bit over here. I want to be respectful of your time. I’m excited for one to see your talk at the Summit. If you are someone in the CrossFit space, you’ve got to get your butt there and watch Ben speak. We’re going to have other leaders from the affiliate community sharing their knowledge and the gym community at large. Just go to twobrainsummit.com to get your tickets. And Ben, if people want to find out more about you, where should they go?

Ben Bergeron (47:16):
The best place honestly is probably like comptrain.com. That’s where—that’s the thing I’m putting my energy into right now.

John Franklin (47:23):
We didn’t even talk about it.

Ben Bergeron (47:24):
Yeah. And then the other place would be, which is again, I don’t want to steer people there because I don’t think—but it is my Instagram handle; it’s just Ben Bergeron on Instagram.

John Franklin (47:33):
Yeah, for those of you that don’t know, Ben has another little business on the side called CompTrain. But, you know, I wanted to keep it gym-specific today. So, Ben, again, thanks so much. We’ll link to your stuff down in the show notes, and I will see you in June in Chicago.

Ben Bergeron (47:48):
Thanks, John. Looking forward to it.

Thanks for listening!

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