Coaching Excellence in Gyms: How to Serve Steak Instead of Sandwiches

A picture of Two-Brain mentor Oskar Johed and the title "Coaching Excellence in Gyms: How to Serve Steak Instead of Sandwiches."

Chris Cooper (00:02):
Oskar, welcome to “Run a Profitable Gym.”

Oskar Johed (00:04):
Thank you very much, Coop.

Chris Cooper (00:05):
So, Oskar is on the road, on the CrossFit Seminar Staff, and he’s a very long-term Two-Brain mentor, and that’s why he’s kind of the perfect one to have this conversation with. Oskar, where are you right now?

Oskar Johed (00:17):
I am currently 90 minutes south of Brussels in Belgium. So, I don’t really know what distance because there was a massive traffic jam, so I could potentially be 30 kilometers from Brussels, or it could be miles and miles and miles. I really don’t know. It just took forever to get here. But I’m finally here, and I am honored to be on this call with you, my friend.

Chris Cooper (00:38):
Yeah, man. So, over the years, you and I have had this conversation in small chunks, and I think it’s really worth having here because everybody knows you should be a good trainer, but we also know that that’s not sufficient. It’s necessary, but insufficient to have a great gym. And so today we’re going to talk about: How do you make sure that you’re offering a great service at your gym, and where does that stand on the list of priorities? But let’s start with talking about your gyms. Can you just give us a quick recap of the two that you own?

Oskar Johed (01:14):
So, Karl and I—my business partner, Karl Solberg, who’s also a Two-Brain mentor—we opened our first CrossFit gym in 2014 in downtown Stockholm. It’s a 2,200-square-foot room where we started. Nine-foot ceiling, still in not the best part of town. Well, it’s a pretty attractive part of town, but there’s some neighborhoods around it that are not awesome. And especially when we opened about 10 years ago, it was way worse. Like there was a homeless shelter across the street. So, we’ve seen a lot of things that you don’t really want to see, unfortunately. But nine-foot ceiling. We have the Red Cross Center for Tortured Refugees right above us, so we cannot drop any barbells because they do treatments for people with severe PTSD. So, we started there in 2014, grew out of that in 2016, maybe 2017.

Oskar Johed (02:07):
So, we expanded in the same building to another room that is actually a bomb shelter. It’s probably doubled in size. So, we can run two concurrent classes with 12 individuals. And we have an area for PT as well. So, that gym was up and running, and we did the whole “crash the bus,” “hit by the bus” test in 2019 where we moved away and said, “Let’s not talk to each other for six months and let the GM only call us when there’s pure chaos going on.” And nothing really happened. We decided not even to work out at the gym. So, we went to other places to work out, and at the end of 2019, we found a location for another gym and thought, “Why can’t we just do this again?” It’s fun to start something.

Oskar Johed (02:55):
We want to expand our reach, create more opportunities for staff to make more money than needed. And so, we found a location and opened our second location—another CrossFit gym, relatively similar in size in February 2020. So, that was quite interesting. In terms of COVID, we were never shut down in Sweden, yet it was obviously very hard times, trying to navigate that landscape—at least the first six months or so. So, that’s where we are right now. Uh, both gyms—this morning—had 423 group members. We have about 30, probably 35 individuals that purely do PT. And then we have some members that do a bit of both, like some semi-private and stuff like that. So, we average over a hundred thousand U.S. dollars in revenue per month with decent profit margins.

Oskar Johed (03:51):
We currently have 12 full-time staff—full focus staff that gets their primary income from us. We stick with—we do group training and personal training. That’s what we do. We have almost nothing else currently. So, that’s where we are. We are highly invested in CrossFit, the methodology and everything it stands for. Avatar, I’d say 65% or so are women. We used to say it’s +45, but we’re close enough to 50. So, somewhere between, I’d say 48, 49 when I checked a few weeks back. That’s where we are. And Karl and I are currently not necessarily too involved in the business. We like to coach, we still coach, we do a bit, but we have an integrator or like a COO that runs the company. And we have two location managers and then staff on each location that runs the day-to-day.

Oskar Johed (04:42):
So, our job now is to focus more on being gym openers rather than gym owners. Our goal is to have at least 10 locations because we think we have something unique in terms of creating meaningful careers for staff. We also think that our goal from the start has been to fundamentally improve the health and quality of our members and their families. And we think we have found a really good way to do that. So, we just want to keep expanding on that. So, that’s a—not necessarily a Twitter version of where we are and where we’ve gone through over the last 10 years—but it’s a pretty neat summary of where we’ve been, what we do, where we currently stand, and where we are going.

Chris Cooper (05:24):
Alright. And as people are going to see, and they just heard from those numbers, you’re a good gym owner. And the thing that I really admire about you guys is that you take a virtuous approach to gym ownership. You focus on the basics, and you do the basics extremely well, and you don’t add a million different things. Before we get into how those come together in your business though, can you just share your CrossFit journey, what led you to this point on Seminar Staff, and why you’re always passionate about it?

Oskar Johed (05:56):
Yeah, so my background is ice hockey. It was sports, but ice hockey was the one sport I played for a very long time to the point where I was watching the Olympics with my wife, and she asked me why I was on the couch, and all my friends were on TV. So, I played hockey at a decent level with like that Swedish—everyone that played at the nice level in Sweden. So, hockey was my sport. I played it up until I was like 22, and then I went to university instead. Tore my ACL playing recreational soccer during the summer of—I can’t quite remember this—’09 or ’10. Tore my ACL, ran into an old body of mine who was doing MMA at a gym in Stockholm, and he said, “Hey, you should come and try CrossFit at our gym.”

Oskar Johed (06:39):
That’s just going to be very similar to this type of stuff we did off ice during the summer. So, we had a lot of Russian coaches. We did weightlifting and gymnastics and mixed-modality stuff. So, that’s how I started doing CrossFits to rehab my knee before the surgery and after the surgery. And I thought that CrossFit, which is like a version they ran at the gym, I had no understanding that CrossFit was bigger than a program they ran at the gym. And I found that out when I got really disappointed that the gym was going to shut down, and they were going to run courses over the weekend. It didn’t make sense to me that they were going to run a course, but that was actually Greg and Nicole coming in from the U.S. and teaching the Level 1 course back then. So, … I didn’t quite understand that.

Oskar Johed (07:24):

So, I got really immersed in CrossFit right away. Just like most people, I enjoyed doing back squats and running. When we do CrossFit, first workout, four rounds for a time, 50 air squats, 400-meter run. I’m like—I was looking around the room like I saw women, I saw skinny guys, I saw old guys—like, “I’m going to smoke these people,” and like everyone else, that workout completely crushed me, right? So, I’m like, “Ah, I’m going to come back tomorrow, and then I’m going to show them.” And I’ve been doing that since. So, I fell in love right away. The community challenged myself: me against me. It was a very important thing to me. And then in 2012, me and my wife went to Zambia to adopt our daughter. And they told us that we were going to have very limited access to TV or internet, so they said, “Bring books.”

Oskar Johed (08:10):
So, I fell in love with CrossFit, so I downloaded everything from the CrossFit Journal that I could find—the old videos and articles. We were going to be there for about three months; very long story, we spent 11 months in Zambia—never really knew when we were ever going to get home. We had our daughter the entire time, but it was quite chaotic. At some point, we were told that we were going to be stuck there until 2027, which is quite some time from now. Yeah, there, there were some interesting stories back and forth. And CrossFit—you know, my wife and my daughter, of course, they were the center of my life there—but CrossFit gave me something to think about when we were stuck and didn’t really know if we were ever going to get home.

Oskar Johed (08:54):
So, I just kept reading the articles over and over and over again and watched all the videos from back in the day to keep relatively sane. And I had a banking career coming down to Zambia, and I just said that I can’t go back to just being a banker because—I enjoyed it; I thought I was pretty good at buying and selling currencies—but I wanted to make the world a better place. Zambia is one of the poorest countries in the world, but they were very friendly, and I thought that I can’t just contribute to the world by trading currencies. I’ve got to do something better. And the only way I could think that I could make a meaningful change in the world was through fitness. So, I decided there and then that if I ever made it home, I would open up a CrossFit gym.

Oskar Johed (09:40):
So, I ran into an old friend of mine; we grew up together during the summers, Karl and I, and we opened up our first location, and we got it to 150 members. It was great. But then that is not really making an impact in the world. So, we reached out to you because I read some of your articles that you wrote that I downloaded from CrossFit Journal. So, I knew of your name. So, I found you somehow, and we started talking about mentoring because that would be a way for me to expand my reach. If I could mentor other gyms to run profitable gyms for 150 people, then egotistically, I can claim them as my own—to making the world a better place. And at the same time, I thought the same way—a lot of the videos that I watched from the old days were from Seminar Staff.

Oskar Johed (10:30):
Yeah. So, I thought if I can get on Seminar Staff, and I teach courses on the weekends for 50 people, and 50 people go out and open gyms of 150 members per weekend, I can influence 7,500 people directly or indirectly and then their families, and hopefully that creates a ripple effect. So, in 2017, I interned on Seminar Staff and went through the intern—or becoming a mentor for Two-Brain at the same time. So, these are two very important parts of my life in trying to make the world a better place. It might sound corny, but to me, really, it’s still something that’s deeply important to me.

Chris Cooper (11:10):
All right, man. Well, thanks. And I just wanted people to know why I think you are really the expert at the nexus of this discussion. And so, early on, when I opened up a gym, I thought, “Well, my gym will be successful because I’m the best trainer in town.” And I quickly learned that I needed a different skill set—that of owning a business. And even to this day, when most gym owners come into Two-Brain—and there are 935 of them as of this morning with 1,500 alumni worldwide—most of the time, their coaching is a seven out of 10, but their business is a one out of 10. And so that’s where we focus. But more and more the top gyms in Two-Brain reach this point of parody where they really can’t get better without better coaching. And so, really Oskar, I’d like you to do most of the talking today and tell us where do you see that balance? Is it a balance, or is it just a dichotomy of yes and yes, and how do you build that into the business and still remain profitable?

Oskar Johed (12:10):
That’s a lot to unpack here. So, I, yeah,

Chris Cooper (12:12):
So yeah, I thought I’d just ask one question and then go away and come back in 20 minutes.

Oskar Johed (12:16):
Yeah. We’ll see; if I stray too far, just put up the bumpers in the alley if we’re going to play bowling, and I’ll see if I can stick with it. But I think there are things to it that wouldn’t have to start from the beginning. A lot of what I do is obviously centered around CrossFit. But I think some of the things that I might think transcends just the methodology of CrossFit. But a lot of us got into CrossFit, or whatever niche of fitness we’re into, because we’re really passionate about it ourselves. We’re pretty decent practitioners of this thing. Very few get into it to make money. Now there might be investors in different franchises, but they’re not necessarily on the floor. They just bring the money.

Oskar Johed (12:57):
So, most of us have the skill—we’re pretty good. We can bake the cakes—going back to Michael Gerber’s reference here. So, when we run the classes in the beginning, or run the PT clients or the bootcamps or whatever, we do it relatively well. And that creates—that builds the brand from the start. There’s affinity between you and your clients because you probably know them—at least when we start. Most people, one, maybe two degrees of separation, and the quality of the product was good. And then when that keeps expanding, we are very driven in making the product better because we’re nerds; we’re geeks. We want to really make it better. Right? And that keeps expanding, expanding, expanding until we hire our first part-time coaches.

Oskar Johed (13:45):
What tends to happen—what happened for us as well—is that it creates a pretty big gap between the quality of care that you provide and a part-time coach that comes in once a week to just fill the classes for use. You can be home with your wife. You should probably be there to evaluate them, but you’re so lucky that you either get to sleep in or get the night off, so you’re not there providing a service for them or helping them develop the quality of the service to your level. So, it creates a dichotomy. So, I think gyms are doing quite well until they hire their first part-time coach. And that’s where you have a big gap between the quality of what you deliver and then to see how bad it is in comparison.

Oskar Johed (14:26):
So, that’s one of the issues I’ve seen over the years. It creates a problem. And then the clients are going to, you know: “It’s not like when you were coaching, Oskar.” No, because it is a clear quality difference. That was when we started. I think nowadays, I think it’s starting to get slightly better. At least when I talk to …, there’s a better thought-out system of onboarding new coaches. And most of the gyms I talk to, their people are part-time coaches coming from within the gym. So, they’ve been trained in your systems for a longer time. They’ve been vetted; they understand how to run it. They may not necessarily be as professional technically as we are, but they understand the values you stand for. They understand it’s important for you to run your classes, start and finish on time; they’re going to keep doing that.

Oskar Johed (15:14):
So, I think the quality gap between when some of us started back in the days and nowadays is getting smaller and smaller. But also, now we have these franchises that are—we don’t necessarily have too many here in Sweden—but we used to laugh at them. You know, they’re just instructors. We like the headsets. But the quality of some of the services is pretty good these days. So, it becomes pretty obvious that what we have is not unique anymore in terms of the fitness that we can provide, in terms of the quality. And some of these trainers, not only are they super excited and passionate to be there, they’re actually quite good at delivering their thing. And what I’m going to wrap this up in about is that—obviously we have to bring stuff back to an old dead economist.

Oskar Johed (16:00):
If you can’t cite an old—in this case—Austrian guy, you can’t really be on a podcast. But one of my favorite economists is called Ludwig von Mises. He had his saying—like, Austrian School of Economics is pretty interesting. They looked not necessarily only at the core of the product, not only like the wealth extraction of the land; they looked at the entire thing. And he had a saying like, “There’s no meaningful distinction between the chef and the person sweeping the floor.” And what it meant—sweeping the floor is like marketing. So, if you have a restaurant that is a two-star restaurant, but there’s a smell of feces, and this might be human feces on the floor, improving the food is not going to make your quality any better. When we started, it was okay to run a gym that was dirty or had blood on barbells—like for our case—because our product was the efficacy of the product we delivered.

Oskar Johed (16:56):
Now we compete with gyms—not only franchises—but they’re running really nice, air conditioned rooms, and their fitness is organized, it’s clean, everything. So, we have to bring not only the business side of the product up, but the quality of the delivery has to be there. The marketing, the packaging, everything around it has to be there as well. There’s no meaningful distinction to say, “Well because my methodology is so effective, I don’t have to worry about these things.” So, inevitably you have to bring the quality of everything up, including your part-time coaches and cleanliness of your bathrooms or how friendly you are, or the music you play at the gym, or if it’s too hot or too cold. They have to come up together because the competition we face these days is so harsh.

Chris Cooper (17:43):
It reminds me of a Greg Glassman quote, and he said something like, “‘I want to meet you for lunch.’ And you say, ‘Okay, well do you want me to be at the right restaurant, or do you want me to be there on time?’ And the answer is just ‘yes.’ You have to be both. It’s not one or the other.” So, my question is really just a matter of timing. If every gym owner needs to get better at their systems and processes and marketing and sales and everything else, but they also need to improve their product or improve their staffing, how do they know which one to tackle first? How do they make that decision?

Oskar Johed (18:16):
On an individual basis, there should obviously be someone externally to give them feedback. If that’s a mentor, it could be a formal mentor or—it’s very hard to view a system you’re part of. So, specifically for one case, get someone else’s slightly less biased opinion. But generally—Daniel Meyer has a great book, “Setting the Table.” He talked about, like, “Make your product so good it sells itself.” So, I would think that the product has to be there. I think he said something along the lines of, “Make your product as awesome as a Labrador pup.” Like if it’s that cute, then—in his case it’s all the restaurants: the Shake Shack and Madison, all that stuff.

Oskar Johed (19:07):
If you make it that good, it will sell. So, I think that’s a very important thing. Like it’s going to sell itself. So, the product because that’s going to buy you some time. If the product is really good—if people get, in our case, fitter faster than before, and they really enjoy it, and they feel they’re seen or heard, and there’s somewhere empathetic there—that’s going to give you some extra cushioning in fixing out the billing on time. You can even start classes slightly too late, or you can run over if the product itself is good enough. But eventually that’s going to catch up with you. But so, that’s been our goal from the start: to make a product so good, it sells itself. Because it is quite hard to find good salespeople to sell a product if you’re talking about the No Sweat Intros.

Oskar Johed (19:57):
But if the product is amazing, an average salesperson can sell it. And to the point where we see that in Two-Brain as well: referrals. If your product is so good that your clients cannot stop talking about you, you just have to take the order when they come and say, “I would like to join because my sister’s been raving about you.” So, I think it’s going to come down to the quality of the product itself. Then the other things are going to be important because that’s going to make it easier for you to charge a premium compared to other people. We always want to make sure that the difference between the value and the price is as big as possible. But that has allowed us over the years to increase our rates relatively aggressively because we feel very comfortable in doing that. Because at the end of the day, the product of our gym to the people we serve and the systems we created to support that, it’s way higher than the price we charge.

Chris Cooper (20:51):
And this is what makes your gyms so interesting, yours and Karl, is some people in more metropolitan areas, especially in the U.S., will say, “Wow, there’s too much competition for CrossFit here. And I can’t charge more because all the other CrossFits are charging less.” But you guys are charging more than other CrossFit gyms that are a block away from you. In fact, new gyms opening up near you tend to charge less than you do. Why is that?

Oskar Johed (21:18):
Why do they do it? I don’t really know. And we’ve reached out to some of them and say, “Please, if you want to for any reason charge less than us, do it by $1.” If you think your service is not better than ours, which it is for the demographic they attract, then they should at least charge what we do. But that’s a separate conversation. I don’t know. We like these people because they do something well. They serve the community; they make people better. We try not to spend too much time thinking about what other people are doing. We know if we can create something that’s amazing, hopefully people are going to see that and try to emulate that for their specific niches.

Oskar Johed (22:06):
At the end of the day, we want to be as filthy rich as possible in terms of what the gym can make. Because that means we can open more locations, we can educate our staff better, we can reinvest that, we can give our staff raises, we can do whatever it takes for our entire ecosystem to expand. And our two gyms now, 210 members each or so, they were profitable by 150 members after we figured out that—at one point it was just linear. We just added cost and added revenue, added cost. And obviously that doesn’t make sense. We had to create the gap. So, for every dollar we get in, more for every dollar stays. So, that was something we started changed in 2017.

Oskar Johed (22:50):
But my point is that—unfortunately, I saw this this morning when I left my gym and went across the city to the airport—there’s a lot of unhealthy people, and there’s not a shortage of people who need us. And I only watched the obvious stuff when I was rushing through the airport, like the overweight people. But then we have all the people who are like skinny fat or too skinny. And that’s just the things I can see. But then there’s, even below that surface, obviously all the things related to mental health or negative self-talk, where I think we as gyms, regardless of a facet of it, can make a huge impact. So, there’s not a shortage of people. And honestly, if you can get these people to feel awesome, they’re probably not going to quit.

Oskar Johed (23:38):
Like with medication, if you’re sick, you need it until you feel well, and then you stop taking it. But if you can create a community that will feel great, a lot of people are going to stick around because you are that thing that keeps them going and making them happy. So, if you just keep making the product really well, and if you don’t suck at the other stuff, you will have a really good product. And in our case, we’ve been very specific from the start: why we exist and who we like to target. We get better and better; weekly we say, “Oh, that was not a smart thing.” But we haven’t diverged from the path we set up 10 years ago, and we still think we’re doing pretty well.

Chris Cooper (24:17):
I can remember in some of Greg’s earliest videos—and he was very reluctant to talk about business—but he would say sometimes off the cuff, “If you’re a great trainer, you don’t need marketing.” And I took that to—I was overconfident as a trainer. I thought that I was a great trainer, and therefore I would never need marketing. But Greg had a lot of other things going for him too. I mean his space at that time was about 1,400 square feet. He didn’t have ridiculous overhead. He didn’t have a lot of staff helping him out, and I was never as good as he was. So, what I’d like to chat about is: What made Greg good? There was technical know-how, sure. But there was also—I mean, anybody listening to this who’s ever met Greg Glassman in person, he’s incredibly empathetic and personable, right? So, if that all rolls into what makes the product good, how do you select for that and how do you train for that?

Oskar Johed (25:11):
Oh, that’s a good question. That’s something we’re struggling with—we’re not struggling with; it’s something we are working with right now. I think to come back to where we find part-time staff, that’s from within. These are people that we sat down with during the … to filter out to see if they are a good fit for us in what we can offer them, and if they were a good fit for the community. So, they are people that by and large are empathetic, and they’re a good read in a sense. Training them—I didn’t really have any background in fitness. I did sports, but I’m not a fitness trainer. I went to business school. But I understood how to teach in our …, and now I can teach people to teach their …

Oskar Johed (25:54):
That’s not the hard part. So, if we have empathetic clients, and I agree with you—I’ve met Greg a handful of times. He still remembers my face, and I’ve met him like every five years. So, he is a very empathetic person. And that’s where the marketing is. I also thought that marketing was like billboards. But that, once again, is like talking about the sweeping the floor part. If you are the chef in a restaurant, or in your case the trainer, sweeping the floor could technically be sweeping the floor, making it clean. But it can also be that there’s hot water, or you send postcards to someone. That is just as important as the product itself. So, in our case, when we have trainers that are coming up as members, they are trained to be empathetic. They probably, in our case, received a few postcards when things were going well or when life wasn’t going well, or we do sit down with our members frequently to talk about goal reviews, but more and more, they tend to become philosophical life discussions.

Oskar Johed (26:58):
We try to bring them back to something—we can aim for fitness, but a lot of people are just really happy that someone is willing to sit down and talk to them. That’s marketing too. And that creates marketing when they talk to their neighbors, or when they go to the football game, and they talk to the members of the families of the other kids. So, that all is marketing. So, if you are empathetic, you’re probably going to attract people. And that’s marketing too. Then there’s things you can do in terms of marketing, like running ads or creating content. But that is not going to—I don’t know. I do you think that if you are just a nice person, like a kind person, that that is marketing itself. You treat people with dignity and respect. People are going to stick around for quite a long time.

Oskar Johed (27:44):
They give you a lot of room to mess up, and they’re still going to be around. So, we train our staff—we can get into it in a second how we do it—but Karl is doing a phenomenal job now with trying to hire a lot of people and work with them. But the first thing we do is just sit down and talk to them, drink a coffee, let them coach a class. If we can see that they are not a good fit to run a few pieces of the class, we just say goodbye because there’s no point wasting your time. We have to protect our tribe of the current members. So, marketing. Yeah, I think Greg was great at marketing. The product markets itself, the results, the efficacy of the program: phenomenal. Like he always said that he knew the names of the kids, of the client’s dogs—that is marketing. So, I don’t necessarily think there has to be a distinction that marketing is just ads on billboards or something. I think just showing that you are a personable person is just as much marketing to me—or for that matter, writing a blog for 10 years and exposing yourself about all the mistakes you make in business. That’s marketing too. Whether you like it or not.

Chris Cooper (28:49):
Well I think in my case—I mean part of retention is marketing really. I’m just convincing you to come back again tomorrow. And I think that’s the kind of marketing that maybe Greg was best at. I can remember the first time I met him. He ran into Anthony Bainbridge, who has unfortunately since passed away, but there’s this huge crowd around Greg. There’s hundreds of people kind of surrounding him, swarming him. And he says, “Hey Anthony, how are you? How’s your mother?” And Anthony’s like, “Oh, she’s fine. Thank you. Yeah.” And then Greg moves on to the next person, and Anthony just kind of stood there slack jawed. And I was like, “Well that was cool. I didn’t know you were that close.” And he goes, “I haven’t seen Greg in four years,” and Greg remembered that his mother was sick.

Chris Cooper (29:31):
And like that is the kind of marketing that really builds trust, and honestly, Curtis Christopherson was on this podcast two weeks ago, and he said when they’re hiring trainers, what they’re looking for are people who can make others feel great about themselves. And that’s it. Like he doesn’t care about the credential. He says we can train for skill, but if you are somebody who can make a client feel great about themselves or improve their self-image, I want you on my team. So, what does your hiring process look like between you and Karl, and what are you looking for when they’re coaching that class specifically that makes them stand out to be good enough for your team?

Oskar Johed (30:13):
So, the first thing we look for now, is obviously stuff we talked about. It has to be someone we like to be around. When I got on Seminar Staff, there’s the internship, you have to go through a few steps. And on the first internship, you really don’t—at least back in the old days, I think it’s relatively similar today—but on the first internship, you really don’t do anything. You just all walk around and bring coffee to the other staff members and just probably be a nice guy. And ask some of the more seasoned people there, and they’re like, “Well on the first gig or the first internship, we’re just trying to vet you to see if we would like to spend 24 hours in an airport with you because the airport was shut down. If you are not the type of person we’d like to spend 24 hours with, it doesn’t matter how good of a trainer you are.”

Oskar Johed (30:58):
“We can find someone who’s good enough that we can train to teach the things. But if we don’t want to be around you, that’s not cool.” And some of us spend more time with our colleagues than our family. So, it’s very important that we have a fit here—that these are people we like to be around. So, and in our case, we don’t necessarily have any ambition to send people to the CrossFit games or anything. We use the regular people that want to work out three times a week. So, you just have to be able to meet people where they are and be empathetic. But one thing we’ve figured out in the last six months or so is that the number one thing we’d like to see is their ability to apply feedback instantaneously. And you can talk about that in terms of like being growth minded or whatever.

Oskar Johed (31:42):
But our process right now, which we’ve stolen parts probably—I’m going to give credit probably to Nicole Christensen a lot. She’s a very smart person. So, you’re interested in joining us, Chris, then we would give you a session plan. We give it to you. It’s probably going to be simple. I think the workout right now that Karl’s running with is like some deadlifts and box jumps, pretty simple movements. We pick four or five of our members—seed clients—to do a, I think, it’s like a 30-minute session. We give you the session plan. There’s a bit of a general warmup and then some specific warmup on the box jumps and the lifts. And then you—it’s an eight-minute workout, I think. And Karl is going to, in this case, he’s walking like a Band-Aid on you and asking you like, “Hey, what are you looking for?”

Oskar Johed (32:32):
And say, “Hey, okay, see the knees there? Tell them that the knees should be somewhere else.” And it doesn’t really matter what they say. A lot of people just—they get kind of nervous and just keep talking too much. But we might just say, “Okay, you see how the knees come in? You say, ‘Knees out.’ Okay, say it.” If you can say “Knees out,” good. We know that. So, we try to give you instant feedback. Because in the past with the annual reviews—and there’s a lot of sessions that can go wrong in a year. So, now we’re trying to see if you can apply feedback quickly because that’s going to make the feedback loop faster, so we can improve the quality. There’s also going to—we think at least that’s going to bleed over into your ability to be growth minded in all other things that we’re doing.

Oskar Johed (33:14):
So, that’s literally the process we start with. And if you feel that you can take feedback well the first time, we have an … we have a theoretical course of CrossFit Chapter 1 thing, CrossFit Chapter 2 stuff, and some stuff from Carnegie where we’ve created a video series about it. So, people watch them and then answer some basic questions. So, they have a basic understanding of what we do behind the scenes. That’s also something that we give to our members. If they want to understand what’s going on behind the curtains, they can take that course. And along with that, we have them do some practical stuff where the first session is: I will be coaching class; if you are the intern, you and Karl will be sitting in a corner, and Karl will then tell you everything that I’m doing right or that could be better.

Oskar Johed (34:04):
So, you get an understanding of the flow. And then probably the next time, you are going to just do the whiteboard brief, you’re going to talk for three minutes about the class, and then you are going to work on Karl’s shoulders. You’re just going to be walking like a dog, right? Big shoulders, looking at what he’s looking at. Then if you still seem like that’s interesting, we then explain—you might do a bit of a general warmup, and they expand to the specific warmup and then the entire class. And then eventually you do everything. Karl is walking right by you and giving you feedback. And in the past, we call it like evalu—that’s how we do our evaluations now as well. So, if you are a full-time staff member, we tried in the past to, you know: You sit and watch an entire session then get feedback afterwards.

Oskar Johed (34:47):

But that was—it’s not bad. But we feel like if I can walk right by you and give you positive feedback when you do something well, so you reinforce and do more of that. We can once again create a faster feedback loop. Or I can just tell you, “Hey, now you walk by Chris. Go back and tell Chris that he did something well.” So, there and then, we can create that, this kind of, shorten the distance between the stimuli and the response. So, we don’t call it evaluations anymore; we call it just development. So, I would—Karl or I are walking by you when you coach a class, and we give you real-time feedback, and members think that’s pretty cool as well. Because we say that it’s going to be pretty weird that I’m walking right next to someone, but they think it’s pretty cool that we take the time to invest a lot of time in making our coaches better, so our members get better. They see.

Oskar Johed (35:38):
So, that’s something we’ve done now for the last few months, and it’s working extremely well. So, Karl and I trying to do at least two or three development sessions every week to get our staff—to increase the level of our staff. And the goal is by New Year’s, have every staff member scored. We just have 30 or so criteria, pretty basic ones, which are like: “Rarely, “Sometimes,” and “Often.” Because we don’t want to do absolutes because you—but like if you’re green, if you’re doing almost everything almost all the time, then we’re good. So, that’s the process we do right now. And it’s working really well for us. And a year from now, if I’m on this again, I might do something—I might say something different. But that’s where we are right now.

Chris Cooper (36:24):
Well, you guys base decisions on evidence though, which I love. And I was going to ask you how you evaluate because I know that you do. Overall, do you take all of these evaluations and put them together and say, “Our staff is generally getting better”? Or do you look at just the individual?

Oskar Johed (36:40):

No, we’re looking at—so that’s the process we’re working on right now. But we saw that it’s very easy—so, we made a mistake to be very clinical in our evaluations. To look at—okay. We have a tendency—well at least I have a tendency—to look for coaches that are like me. I really enjoy coaching, so I might be pretty loud, and I crack jokes, and I like banter. So, I remember a session once when I was evaluating one of our staff members, Mikayla, she’s kind of reserved, stern faced. And I was watching, grading her, and then I’m like, “Ah, this is not good. This is not good.” And I looked at the efficacy of the class, and she crushed it. I’m like, “There’s something wrong here. What I have here is not what I see.” Because I was evaluating based on what I do in these criteria.

Oskar Johed (37:31):
So, we now have to be better at looking at the efficacy of it: Are we getting results fast? So, we are not trying to extract things that we—trends that we’ve seen. Because we’ve been doing it scattered. Now, we’re starting to track trends. So, our goal now, going into December, is going to be like themes. So, maybe this week or two weeks—we actually just started in November. Like whiteboard briefs took too long, took way too long sometimes, you know, five to six minutes. So, we focused on this week: Make sure your whiteboard brief is the what, the how and the why—no more than three minutes. Like if you cannot explain what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it, and how we’re doing it in less than three minutes—and maybe ask for injuries as well as demonstrating movements—go back again and make it better.

Oskar Johed (38:19):
Your virtuosity, you have to make it better. Go back to the basics. So, we’ve been focusing on that part. And then we’re going to keep looking at the next thing, like are we moving systematically in the rooms? We can focus on that for a week, and then we can work on: How good are we seeing subtle faults? Or whatever. So, we’re like trying to look and extract things, and then that’s what we focus on as a team. And then we can share experiences: “This is what I did this morning in regards to the whiteboard brief. It was a complete failure because I tried something different.” “Okay, that’s good. Never try it again until you think it could work.” And then, we try a different way. So, that’s, once again, a way to create a feedback loop that’s faster.

Oskar Johed (39:01):
And now, I can talk from experience here that we run one product. It makes it so much easier because if we find something that’s working better, that’s going to make our entire product suite better because we have one product or actually two—group and personal training. But I don’t think it’s wrong to run MommaStrong, Legends—or all our members aren’t legends—but like kids, competitive sports teams; there might be some general themes that could be applied on all, but it’s going to take longer to make improvements on all of them while we can just make improvements on one product right away if we see something that can improve across the board. If that makes sense.

Chris Cooper (39:42):
Yeah, that does make sense. And that virtuosity really, you’ve been talking about it for a long time, but visiting your GMs in the spring of this year, it really smacked me in the face, and it’s like, “Okay, let’s just keep it simple. Let’s be good at two things instead of being okay at five things and just scale up with that,” and it seems to be working right now. So, Oskar, let’s say that I’m a gym owner. Okay. I’m Chris Cooper in like 2008. I’ve got a thousand bucks. Do I spend that improving my business, or do I spend that improving my coaching?

Oskar Johed (40:21):
I think—well in ’08, it would be obvious; it’s a product. The novelty of the product would sell itself. But I would honestly stay there too. I think—I do believe that if your product is really good, that is going to buy you some extra time, that’s going to give you some forgiveness from your members. If the product’s really good, then that will buy you some time to fix the other things. If you just have a good business, whatever that means—but let’s say that the product is not good; the room is nice, but the food is awful—then you don’t want to bring in more people to that. Because that means that you’re just going to take off running, and they’re going to tell everyone in town that you get food poisoning from eating at this place. Or in our case, in the fitness industry, people are just going to come in and leave and say, “Ah, that methodology or that gym is not good.”

Oskar Johed (41:11):
So, yes, you could be tricked into thinking that the marketing side of the business could be effective because you can make a buck or two pretty quickly. That’s true. And dichotomies, I’d like you to fix both. It’s a yes. It’s: “Should I fix—?” “Yes” is the answer. But if you make the product really good, your clients are going to be honest and tell you, “Brother, you need to clean the bathrooms, or you need to start class on time. But dude, I can wash T-shirts on my abs, and I’m so fit these days, it’s okay.” Yes. Right. So, the product—I think that’s where it comes down to—if the product is really good, you’re going to win. And what I think is—I spoke to mentee this week about this—like the whole, what is the product these days?

Oskar Johed (41:58):
Yes. The efficacy of the fitness program is there. He just said that they—he felt that their gym is now back to the way pre-COVID days when people—like in this CrossFit gym, people were proud to be part of this CrossFit gym again. They hadn’t been there. And he said, “We have the lowest number of members we’ve had in years, but our sweatshirt, our hoodie order for Christmas was the highest ever. We had double the amount of members a few years ago, yet we’ve never sold this many hoodies.” So, people wanted to be a part of the gym now. They corrected that, and they’re doing minor things. They’re doing goal reviews now. They’ve started doing that for the last six months. They’re sending postcards. And the postcards are not only about PR, they’re just like, “Hey, I heard this thing you’re going through; we’re here for you” when someone’s going through a divorce and so on. And that is the sweeping the floor of the product. So, you can’t separate them. Like the dichotomy here is that you cannot treat this as, “One thing is the product, and one thing is the service around it.” They’re—I don’t know if we’re providing services or products, but they are the same thing.

Chris Cooper (43:04):
Okay. It’s interesting. As I hear you talking, I’m thinking back through where I was in 2008, and my personal training clients, I had no problem keeping. I did not have a retention problem. People stayed for years and years and years. But I was never a good CrossFit coach. I liked it, but I was never really good at it. And so, my 6 a.m. class didn’t really get busy until I put a very happy, personable young woman named Charity in charge of that class, and she ran it, and they loved her, and they kept coming back—even though she didn’t have the degrees that I had or the certifications or anything like that; it didn’t matter. But having my personal training business gave me the runway to fix the operations in my business. And then eventually, the operations in my business got to a point where I could afford to hire a “Charity.”

Chris Cooper (43:52):
And so it kind of became this ratcheting up effect of one and then the other and then the other and then the other. Are there any clear signs that you can point to where you can say, “Okay, it’s obvious that your business is good, but your coaching stinks,” or “It’s obvious that your coaching is really good, but you’re never going to stick around in the industry long enough because your business stinks”? Or any flags that really stick out when you’re meeting a new mentee or even somebody at a CrossFit seminar?

Oskar Johed (44:21):
Yeah, like the obvious thing is, for a gym owner, when someone opens the gym to train themselves. We’ve seen that over the years, and I thought that was a thing of the past, but it happens today. And if you run a restaurant and you keep eating all the food, there’s not going to be any food to sell. So, I think that’s a red flag. If you want to create—like there’s nothing wrong with it—if the goal is to run the gym where you work out, then that’s the purpose. You can do that with 100% proficiency. But it’s going to be very hard to turn that into a business. Likewise, I think it’s—we’ve seen a few attempts, few and far between, I guess, where people look from the outside. Okay, CrossFit, which is the space I know better: “If we charge $200 per membership, I can get 500 people in. Oh, I can make it; I can look from the outside just trying to make a business like an investment.”

Oskar Johed (45:03):
And it’s going to be quite sterile if you’re trying to—the few attempts I’ve seen of people just trying to turn it into almost like a business proposal, not an owner-operator, that fails all the time because it becomes too clinical. And the reason why I think a lot of boutique gyms work is that every coach is an extension of the owner. They might not be the exact type, but we agree a lot. Like I could easily spend weeks with some of my staff members, and I have; we take them to the CrossFit games, and two years ago, we split a tent, like six of us in a tent. It was flooded, and it was great because it was through rainstorms in Madison, but these are friends of mine.

Oskar Johed (46:02):
Like, I really want to hang out with them. So, I don’t think that you could be particularly successful if you’re trying to just have a gym to work out. I see that that’s going to be hard, and I think it’s going to be hard to run it as a standalone business without you being there in the gym because even though you, Chris, are not coaching the majority of the sessions, I think there’s a “Coop aura” in the gym. Like there’s something in the vibe there at the gym which is you, and I guarantee that I—we’ve seen that. I think I got friends all over the world that are not active in their gym. Daniel Chaffey’s a great example. He hasn’t coached a class in I don’t know how long, but when you walk into one of his gyms in France, you know that this is him. Right? He’s a part of this team. So, that could be a very good combination, but I think it’s going to be very hard if you try to keep it separate unless you have a franchise, but then you’re not leaning on—if you do an investment thing, then you’re not leaning on your expertise. That would just be a pure investment. And you have puppets that are running the show, and then the clients are going to be very transient as well.

Chris Cooper (47:11):
Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. There’s definitely a challenge that becomes obvious when the owner of a micro-gym, in which they are the brand, they move away, and they try to keep the gym running. There are very few examples where that’s actually successful, and mine does well without me being there, but it’s literally next door, and I’m there as an athlete three times a week. So, I think like that is important to understand that a micro-gym is usually an owner-operator business model. Now, you can have multiple locations as you guys are doing, but you really have to infuse the staff with not just the ethos, but the spirit of what you’re all about. And that’s where—that’s where it gets tough.

Oskar Johed (47:54):
Yeah. And in our case, I’m coaching a few classes, and there are some members that I love the whole, when I walk into class, and they say, “Are you new here?” I’m like, “Ha.” I enjoy that. Right. I think it’s crazy. So, a lot of members don’t really know Karl and I, but we take part of our classes. Like we eat the food that we cook as well. Like we are the harshest critics, and we are the biggest supporters of our staff. We expect them—that might be a dichotomy to some people, which might be true. I don’t really worry too much about it, but I don’t see a problem with being the harshest critic and the biggest fan at the same time. We have taken our staff—from our gym, there’s two other members of our coaching crew that have gone to Seminar Staff.

Oskar Johed (48:39):
Like half of Sweden’s L3 trainers are from our gym. So, we take coaching very seriously, and I’m the hardest critic on myself, which I think most gym owners are. If you’re one, we are driven. But I’m also quite empathetic. I’m willing to take a lot of time to train our staff or go over their whiteboard brief or record sessions. I sometimes record sessions, and then we can sit down and go over that and see how that could be better. Because I genuinely want them to win because if they win, I win as well. So, I think that passion—the second you leave the gym, which is perfectly fine, then you should leave it to someone else. Because I think that the spirit of the gym is going to die eventually. Then I think it’s better to sell it to someone that can take it and run with it.

Oskar Johed (49:25):
Because if you are a distant owner that is not in the gym anymore, I think that’s going to be hard. It’s going to be hard to make it successful. So, we’re in the gym. I complain, I have opinions about everything that’s going on, but I’m also there to high five every member we have and try to make it better. So, that’s where I think you have to be if you want to make this successful, even if you are no longer an operator, you still have to be there in spirit or eat the cake from time to time because otherwise, I think it’s going to be drifting, and I think the community’s going to fall apart.

Chris Cooper (50:02):
That’s great, man. Yeah, I totally back what you’re saying there. Definitely. I’ve been through prolonged periods away from the gym, and it’s not that the gym is run poorly by any means. The staff are great and stuff, but you almost need to rekindle the fire sometimes after you’ve been away for a prolonged period. So, Oskar, thank you for your perspective. I know you’re crazy busy, and you’re probably eager to loop up with the rest of the Seminar Staff in Belgium before you run a seminar this weekend. But thanks for coming on here, and thanks for living within your values all the time, man.

Oskar Johed (50:34):
Thank you very much for having me. It’s always an honor to talk to you, and then it makes my heart very, very happy when people within Two-Brain, alumni or people outside, just reach out. So, if anyone has any questions or needs advice on anything, just please hit me up, and I will do whatever I can to help you because there’s a lot of people that helped me and Karl along the way, and we try to pay it forward. And the cool part about sharing is that you always win because you get the other person’s perspective back. So, egotistically, I get better by sharing stuff. So, anything I can do to make a coach or an owner’s job better to keep changing the world, then I’m here.

Chris Cooper (51:16):
That’s great, man. We’ll put your email address in the show notes. Are you just

Oskar Johed (51:23):
Yes. I was back when you had—not had megalomania—when you thought that it was just going to be a first name basis for the mentors, and then it just blew up.

Chris Cooper (51:31):
Well, the greatest thing about my job working for CrossFit, other than the people, was that—and this was in my contract—I was, and I held that for probably five years. And that was the most important thing in the contract to me. I would’ve fought over that instead of money. Okay man, thank you so much for helping.

Oskar Johed (51:52):
Thank you.

Thanks for listening!

Thanks for listening! Run a Profitable Gym airs twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. Be sure to subscribe for tips, tactics and insight from Chris Coooper, as well as interviews with the world’s top gym owners.

To share your thoughts:

To help out the show:

  • Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help, and we read each one.
  • Subscribe on iTunes.

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.