Changing Your Model: Using Media to Tell a New Story at Your Gym

A strong, muscular man yells while performing a power clean in a barbell training facility.

When you opened your gym, you probably had a model in mind.

I copied the model of the studio where I’d been working: We did one-on-one training. Our method was a mix of bodybuilding and circuit training. We assigned homework on Catalyst letterhead. Most of our clients visited twice per week. I charged the same as the other studio in town.

Even if you didn’t have a business model to follow, I’m sure you had a method: You were a CrossFit gym, or a yoga gym or a strongman cave, right?

But everything evolves. If you build a business around your clients, it will naturally evolve with them. New technology, new knowledge, new methods and new models will all appear over your 30-year run. This is natural and actually exciting. We track these trends and publish them for free in our annual “State of the Industry” guide.

If you’re good at communicating these changes to your staff and your clients, you’ll build excitement and they’ll buy in more than ever. But if you don’t evolve—if you devolve to dogmatic adherence to an out-of-date model—your clients will leave. And if you don’t communicate your changes well, you’ll push them out the door.

Here are some examples of what I mean for gyms who were considering the CrossFit brand in 2020:

Managing Change at Your Gym

Changing your model means changing your story.

  • First, you have to tell your clients that you’re excited.
  • Then you have to tell them how the change will benefit them.
  • Then you have to introduce little bits of novelty one at a time.
  • Finally, you report that the overwhelming success of your little changes has resulted in the next evolution of your model.

Here’s how we’re doing this at Catalyst right now:

First, we changed our story. We’ve always been Catalyst Fitness Training in our local community. We were around before we were a CrossFit affiliate, so when that name disappeared from our signs, no one even noticed.

Second, we started publishing a lot of content about new knowledge. We sent trainers for new certifications and testing. We were super public about it. We published content about our new “discoveries” and taught our clients how this new knowledge would help them.

Note: We did not talk about rates or class changes or new stuff we wanted to sell them. We’re just talking about the exciting parts (for now).

Here’s an example: the Catalyst Method YouTube channel.

Third, we started introducing some new features to our higher-level clients. These weren’t our competitive athletes but the clients with full, one-on-one plans. This approach allowed our group clients to see new stuff in the gym and wonder when they’d get to try it, too. Years ago, we did the same thing with Level Method.

Fourth, we began testing the system with new clients. Retention is more important than adherence, so we make changes for our existing clients last. They get the benefit of novelty without the demand of a higher price point, at least for a little while.

Fifth, we begin transitioning clients to the new model in stages: first the eager, then the hesitant, and then the reluctant. Some of the reluctant might quit, and that’s OK: This isn’t what they signed up for.

In our case, a few members who wanted to be competitive powerlifters quit when we introduced CrossFit in 2008, and a decade later, a few who wanted to be competitive CrossFitters quit when we introduced Level Method. This is just a normal part of evolution.

Your Broadcast System

If you’ve spotted a common theme of communication, you’re right. You have to upgrade your media production in three ways when you make changes. You must talk to:

1. Your clients, who are at the center of your business. They need to know how the change will benefit them, why you’re making the change now and what the change will be.

2. Your staff, who serve your clients. You need to make at least 25 percent of your media internally focused. Staff must buy into the changes or you could explode on impact.

3. The public, who have maybe been waiting for you to change. We’re starting to get people come in for Level Method training now, and they’re usually people who didn’t want to do CrossFit. It’s very interesting, and exciting, too.

The key to managing change is media. And the key to media in times of change is the CALM model: clarity, assurance, leadership and movement. Tell them what you’re going to do, tell them what you’re doing and tell them what you’ve done.


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.