How to Take Your Gym From Good to Great

How to Take Your Gym From Good to Great

Chris Cooper (00:02):
Every gym owner wants to own a great gym. In fact, we all want to own the best gym in town. I know that I do. I’m Chris Cooper. This is “Run a Profitable Gym.” And today I’m going to tell you how to take your gym from good to great. And if you’re familiar with Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great,” some of these are going to be familiar to you, but I’m going to translate them into the gym world and show you exactly what you’ve got to do. So, let’s start with what great gyms have in common. After working with over 2,000 gyms worldwide, we’ve learned that a great gym can have 30 clients, it can have 300 clients, it can have no staff, or it could have 15 staff. It could be in a dingy warehouse, or it could be in this like pristine spa, right? What great gyms do have in common though, is not the client headcount.

Chris Cooper (00:46):
It’s not really their location. It’s that they all get clients the results that the client wants. They create a third place for their clients to go, which is like a place other than work or home, where the client just kind of wants to go as often as possible. Great gyms create good careers for their staff, and great gyms pay their owners more than the owner would make if they were working for somebody else at another gym. So, every gym is different in its own way. Even though we’ve worked with 2,000, none have been the same, but the great gym has at least three things in common. Okay? And today, I’m going to break down those three areas of commonality, and we’re actually going to start with the niche. So, let’s go here. I’m going to help you find your niche and identify it, and that’s going to actually increase the greatness of your gym and help you build all these other things too.

Chris Cooper (01:36):
So, the first exercise we’re going to do here is actually identify who your niche is. A lot of gyms who are struggling to get from good to great really don’t have a clear concept of this. They just think, “Well, we’re for everybody, and we’re going to try and attract anybody in our town who wants to work out.” But the reality is that the gyms who niche down—who know who their target audience is and who they can serve—they get their clients better results. They create a place that their clients really love to go. They create better opportunities for their staff, and they create better income for their owners. And they do that by niching down instead of trying to just please everybody. So, here’s how you do it. To find your niche, you’ve got to first think about your area of passion. Okay, like what are you most fired up about?

Chris Cooper (02:21):
You know, I love cycling, so for me, my area of passion might be cycling. For you, your area of passion might be CrossFit. That was mine for like a decade. Before that I was a powerlifter, so my area of passion might’ve been powerlifting. Okay? So, you want to put down your area of passion, whether it’s yoga, Pilates, CrossFit, bootcamp, strength and conditioning, HIIT—whatever you want to do, put that in your area of passion. Okay? Because I’ll tell you, we say that the method matters less than the model, and that’s very true. But the reality is that if you want to be great, your passion will show, and your clients will know. Next, you want to ask yourself: What can I be the best in town at? Okay? Now Collins, in his book, would talk about like best in the world, but he’s talking about massive companies.

Chris Cooper (03:05):
We’re talking about running gyms in your hometown. And so, you want to ask yourself: What can I actually be the best at? Now in a lot of cases, this might be something where you have no other competition. You might be the best at training people for hockey. You might be the best at training people for weight loss. You might be the best at training people for CrossFit competition. Or you might be the best at training golfers or cyclists or whatever that is. You want to determine a place where you know that you can actually be the best. The last thing you want to do is be the second-best CrossFit gym in town, because there’s a massive delta between the best and the second best. In fact, if you’re the second-best CrossFit gym in town, and your clients don’t differentiate you any other way, you’re really providing kind of a staircase to the best CrossFit gym in town because your best clients will ascend to them.

Chris Cooper (03:53):
And then third, you’ve got to look at: Where do the economics make sense? So maybe you can be like the best gym in town, but you can’t also be the cheapest gym in town. If you’re the best access gym in town, then the economics have to work to make sure that you can get new equipment and stuff. If you’re the best CrossFit gym in town, then you have to be charging more than the other CrossFit gyms, so that you can pay for the coaches and the staff, and the equipment and the space—all that stuff. Right? The economics have to work. So, to figure out if the economics work, what you want to take is clients, and you want to divide that into revenue to create average revenue per member. That’s ARM. Okay, you need to make sure that your ARM works. No matter if you’re running a group CrossFit model, a group yoga, Pilates model, whatever, one-on-one training, semi-private, it’s this metric that has to work for you.

Chris Cooper (04:46):
It’s not head count, it’s not even retention. It’s average revenue per member that you get per month, okay? That niche is really going to be defined by the thing that you’re passionate about, the thing that you can comfortably say that you are the best in town at, and also what the economics drive. For example, you might be passionate about CrossFit. You might be the best CrossFit coach in town, getting people the best CrossFit results in town. But if your ARM is too low, that niche is not going to work for you. Like, you know, you’re just not going to be able to make a living. Remember what the great gyms do, right? They get the clients the results that they want, okay? Check. They also make careers for staff. If your ARM is too low, it doesn’t matter how many clients you have, you’re not going to make great careers for your staff. You’re also going to have high churn. You’re not going to be able to make a great net owner benefit for you, the owner. And that’s what great gyms do. So, the economics have to work no matter what you’re doing. Let’s take this a different way. Let’s say that you’re personal training gym. Okay, so, you’ve got like a really high ARM; maybe you’re even the best personal trainer in town, and maybe that’s what you’re really passionate about—delivering one-on-one training to people. Okay? That’s great.

Chris Cooper (05:57):
So your ARM works, but you can’t reach scale because you’re just selling your time for money, right? So, you actually need something in the difference—in the middle there. But what is really important is average revenue per member. And most gyms running just a group model, their ARM is way too low for them to successfully build a great gym because the niche that they have just isn’t paying them enough. So, you know, you’re missing one here; you’re dividing by too low a number, okay? So great gyms have these three things in common: Their founder and their staff have a clear passion for what they’re doing. They’re the best in town at exactly what they’re doing, or maybe the only one in town. And the economics work. I want to give you an example here. So, in my town, uh, there’s a PhysEd teacher who trains hockey players in the summer, and he’s the only guy that focuses just on hockey, and he just runs it out of his garage.

Chris Cooper (06:54):
He makes about 40 grand a year doing this because he only focuses on hockey. And so, the hockey players think, “Well, if I’m serious, I need to go to this guy’s garage.” And he’s been doing it for a decade. He is the best in town at training hockey players, and he’s put people into the NHL or help them get there anyway. And so, the NHL players, when they come back, they come back to this guy’s gym. And so, the junior players, they see the NHL guys at this gym; they want to go there too, right? He’s creating this kind of like third space. Now, he doesn’t have any staff; he does it all himself because he is super passionate about it. And that really shows. So, he’s got the passion, he’s got the best in town, and the economics work because when you niche down, you can actually charge more for your service.

Chris Cooper (07:36):
Specialists charge more than generalists, and so niching down actually increases client value. Think about like, you need to buy brain surgery—whatever that is—and money is not an object. And you’re looking for the best person in the world. You’re probably thinking already like, “Well, the best person is going to charge the most.” Right? But in a lot of micro-gyms, that’s not what happens. You work really hard to become the best coach, provide the best gym, and then you base your pricing on what everybody else is doing. You can’t do that. The economics have to work. So, the first step in going from good to great is to identify that niche. Now, if you’re coming into this, you own a gym, you don’t know how to identify that niche, I’m going to give you an exercise right now to show you how to do that. Okay? This is really simple, and you can work with your mentor to get deeper on this if you want to.

Chris Cooper (08:24):
Okay, so if you’ve already got a gym, you’re like, “Ah, how do I niche down? I’ve got people who want weight loss. I’ve got people who want to touch their toes. I’ve got people who want to compete at CrossFit. How do I define who my best client is and focus on them?” Well, you’re going to make two lists. The first list is people who pay you the most money. This should be easy. You open up Wodify, Kilo, PushPress, Zen Planner, or whatever that is, and you print off what people are paying you. And then you just rank your top 10. So, top you know—Dave, Kim, whatever, Larry. Okay? And you just kind of go down that list in order. And the next thing that you do is you just close your eyes for a moment and think about the clients who feed you energy, who light you up when they show up. They come to your classes or your appointments, and you look forward to seeing them. They show up with batteries included.

Chris Cooper (09:14):
They raise the energy of everybody else that’s in the gym, okay? And you want to put their names here. One of my favorites is Boo. And then you got Lucy, and then you got Kim, and then you got Derek. Oh yeah, these are my favorite four. So now what I want you to do is I want you to look at both lists here, and say, “Who are the names who appear on both lists?” Well, Kim does, so Kim is one of my ideal clients. Kim is my niche. And then what you want to do after that is you want to say like—you know, you take all the ones that you circled here. So, let’s just for the sake of argument say that there’s more than one. Let’s put Derek on both sides too. Maybe Derek pays you money.

Chris Cooper (09:52):
It’s going to be really easy for you to identify that a lot of the people who light you up are also the same people who pay you money. Not because they pay you money, they just have that in common. And you’ll see why that’s important in a moment. So, then what you want to do is you want to say is, “Okay, what do Kim and Derek have in common?” and their commonalities are actually going to define your niche. Well, both are married, not to each other, but to other people. Both have professional jobs. You know, she’s an attorney; he’s a dental hygienist or something like that. So professional jobs. Both have kids—different ages, but they both have kids. Both have to commute to work. Okay? Et cetera. Both struggle with nutrition, both lack flexibility when they come in here. Both have a busier time of year at work.

Chris Cooper (10:39):
Whatever that is, you want to list those commonalities, and that is actually going to be your niche. Your niche is really the sum of these commonalities. Okay? That is the problem that you can solve better than anybody else in town. And that—focusing on that is what is going to make your gym great. Okay? So, in the next little span here, what I’m going to do is talk about the next thing that makes gyms great. When you’re moving your gym from good to great, one of the missing elements is discipline. And we’re not talking about the discipline of like working out really hard or getting up at 4 a.m. and taking a picture of your watch. Like Jocko, we’re talking about the discipline of working within a framework with freedom and responsibility. So, I’m going to break down exactly what that means for you here. So, Jocko Willink says that discipline equals freedom, and what he means really is consistency.

Chris Cooper (11:29):
If he’s going to work out every day at 4 a.m.—and if you follow him on Instagram, you’ll see the picture of his watch every day—it’s because that consistency actually creates freedom for the rest of his day. He doesn’t have to think about, “When am I going to work out tomorrow?” He knows at 4 a.m. is going to be a workout. Well, in your gym, discipline also equals freedom because consistency is more important than anything else. And I’m going to give you an example here. Let’s say that you are an amazing coach. Everybody loves coming to your classes. You are a 10 out of 10 coach. And then let’s say you can’t coach every class; you’ve got to hire somebody. And the night coach is—they mean well, but they’re a five out of 10. Soon, what happens is, people who come at night who’ve also experienced your coaching, they’ll say, “Hey, when are you coaching?”

Chris Cooper (12:15):
Or they’ll start to judge the nighttime class, like, “Ah, it’s not as good.” Your gym is only as good as its weakest link. And so, if you’ve got coaches on your bench who are a five out of 10, if you don’t answer the phone when it rings, if your gym is kind of clean, then that’s the level that you can rise to, right? You don’t rise to the level of your marketing; you fall to the level of your systems, and your systems are what give your gym consistency. So, consistency for me means freedom and responsibility within a framework. I’m going to show you exactly what that means right now. And in our blog today, I’ve got some instructions on exactly how to start building these frameworks. So, let’s say that we start off with like the perfect class. Think about your best class in the gym, and I want you to write down step by step what should happen.

Chris Cooper (13:01):
Okay? So, step one: It starts precisely on time. Step two: Maybe there’s like three minutes of banter, okay? Step three: It’s about a 12-minute warmup, okay? And then step four is you get out the equipment that you’re going to be using for the lift, okay? And step five is like 15 minutes of strength or skill. This just flows naturally to me because I’ve done it so many times. Your first time through it won’t be this easy, but basically what I’m showing you here is you’re giving your staff a framework. And if they’ve got a framework to follow, then you know that they’re going to deliver the ultimate outcome at the end, which is finish on time with happy people who love being there and have progressed toward their goal. Okay? On time, on goal, happy. Now what you haven’t done is given your staff a script.

Chris Cooper (13:58):
You haven’t said, like, “Okay, start your watch. Now read this. Here’s the cue card.” You know, you’ve given your staff a framework; they’ve got some freedom within that framework. You know, maybe they’re allowed to make up their own warmup if they want to. We used to do this; now we actually give them the warmup. But maybe you let them do that. The way that they teach the strength, you know, maybe that’s up to them. So that’s the freedom that’s allowed within the framework; however, the framework also comes with responsibility. And that responsibility is you will start on time, and you’ll start precisely on time, and you will spend 12 minutes on the warmup, right? And you will finish on time. And your responsibility is actually for finishing on time, for getting clients closer to the goals that they want, and finishing happy. Those are the three outcomes that you need.

Chris Cooper (14:48):
So, when you create this culture of discipline, what you’re actually creating here is guidelines, right? The framework and the responsibility to adhere to the framework. The next step though is to bring accountability in because responsibility is sometimes internalized by people and sometimes not. So, you have to create responsibility externally. And you do that by evaluating. So, in this example, the “perfect class” framework, what you would do is you would show up, and you’d have a stopwatch, and you would observe the class, and then you would rate the coach on a scale of like one to 10, where perfect completion of this framework is a 10 and a five gets you fired or whatever. Then what you would do is you would call a meeting one-on-one with this coach. We call that a career roadmap. You deliver this evaluation to them; say, “Here’s where you can improve.”

Chris Cooper (15:39):
And then you say, “Here’s what will happen if you do improve.” Okay? So, the second thing that great gyms have that good gyms don’t is they have this culture of discipline. It’s not just a matter of we want to get our level four certification; we all want to get our black belt. Like that’s personal discipline. Business discipline means that you’re operating with excellence consistently, and you’re only as excellent as your least consistent part. Now look, this is true for all of your ops. It’s not just the coaching. If you don’t respond to your leads who are texting you and asking you questions quickly, sorry, your gym is not great. If your sales office is dirty or you got stinky shoes in there, I’m sorry, you can’t become great. If your bathrooms are not clean on time, sorry. If you’re not evaluating your programming and updating it, I’m sorry, you won’t have a great gym until you do that.

Chris Cooper (16:29):
You have to be consistent in everything. Alright? The third thing that great gyms have that good gyms don’t is they focus on momentum. So, I wrote this book, “The Simple Six,” to talk about the power of incremental gains. Okay? Now, you might’ve heard this as like the 1% rule or something else, but basically the best gyms in the world, they don’t have like one specific marketing plan. Right? Like one six-week Facebook ads challenge is not going to make you the best gym in the world. What they do have is momentum. That means that they’re doing one thing every day to grow their business. I’m going to tell you how to do that, and also how this momentum thing works. Now in his book “Good to Great,” Jim Collins refers to pushing the flywheel. And in my book “The Simple Six,” I wanted to break that down and make it actionable by gym owners.

Chris Cooper (17:18):
So, I kind of drew the flywheel and what it means. Each little cog on the flywheel here—or you could call it a handle if you want—is one metric in your gym. These are the six key metrics that you have to track and improve in your gym to become great. That’s average revenue per member (ARM), length of engagement (LEG), effective hourly rate—you have to be doing valuable things with your time. Head is headcount—how many clients you have. ROI is the return that you’re getting on your investments, like in your space, your equipment, and your staff. And net owner benefit is how much the gym pays you. You have to be constantly improving all these things. And that is way more important than finding like the one magic bullet that’s going to fix everything for you, so let’s start off with a quick little exercise here.

Chris Cooper (18:03):
What I want you to do is just set a timer for two minutes, and I want you to think of all the ways that you can increase average revenue per member. Okay? So, here’s a hint, raise your prices, okay? But there’s other ways too. You can switch to biweekly billing. You can pass on credit card fees to the client. You can sell t-shirts; you can sell supplements. You can, you know, put more clients on personal training, whatever. Set up a timer for two minutes and build out your list. Okay? I’m going to pick biweekly billing for our example. Now—and again, there are so many things that we teach in Two-Brain that will help people boost their ARM. This is just a snapshot of our toolkit. It’s even been updated since here. Like I know that we’re missing a couple of really awesome upgrades right here.

Chris Cooper (18:48):
But you can do all this stuff to boost your ARM. The next step though is you’re going to focus on doing that action. Okay? So let me ask if this is you: You get up early, 5 a.m. You’re thinking about the gym; you’re listening to podcasts—maybe this one—on the way to the gym. You get to the gym, and by the time you look up again, it’s nine at night. You’ve been there for 16 hours. You head home, you’re listening to a podcast, you’re thinking about the gym. You spent an hour with your wife, and then you think, “Did my gym actually grow today?” And it didn’t. You were busy, but you didn’t actually grow the gym. And that happened to me for like 700 days in a row. The key to success and building momentum is at the end of the day, you got to be able to look back and say, “What was the one thing that I did today that actually grew my gym?”

Chris Cooper (19:36):
And just asking that question either will help you sleep, or it will prioritize what you need to do the next day. So, I’m going to tell you what you need to do the next day. You’re going to take this list that you’ve made for ARM, and you’re going to make a similar list for each of the metrics that I spelled out above, okay? Length of engagement is retention. EHR is like higher value work. Headcount is increasing the number of clients you have. ROI is auditing your expenses and improving them. Net owner benefit is paying yourself. And what you’re going to do now is map these out. So, for the next 30 days, you’re going to improve each of these metrics just a little bit. You’re going to build some momentum. You’re not going to make a giant leap; like you’re not going to double your rates or anything like that.

Chris Cooper (20:16):

The first thing that you’re going to do is look at ARM. Okay? So tomorrow, when you get up, before you do anything else, you’re going to pick one way to increase your ARM. So, I’m going to look at my list, and maybe I’ve got a dozen things on my list, but the easiest thing actually seems to be biweekly billing. Okay? I’m going to move my clients to biweekly billing, okay? So tomorrow morning at 5 a.m. when I get up, I make my coffee, I walk down to the basement, and I say, “How do I move to monthly billing or biweekly billing from monthly?” Well, you can do some research on the internet and figure it out. Our clients in Two-Brain have a step-by-step plan to do this, including a script to share with their clients. So, if you’re in Two-Brain, all you’ve got to do is copy that script, put it into your email, get it set to send out. Start with new clients if you want to and then move to everybody.

Chris Cooper (21:06):
Talk to your mentor about when to do it, et cetera, but this is a job that you can do, if not finished on Monday, you can have this finished by Tuesday, okay? And you’ve done one thing to grow your business that day. The next day—or as soon as you’ve finished this—you move on to your LEG tactic. And so, you might have like a whole bunch of things that improve retention listed, right? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. Well, you’re going to pick the easiest, fastest one, and you’re going to say, “Okay, yeah, that’s the one that I’m going to do.” And you’re going to start working on that. And every morning, you’re going to work on that thing until it’s done. And then when that thing is done, you’re going to move on to your EHR tactic. How can I spend my time better? Maybe I could hire a cleaner.

Chris Cooper (21:48):
So, the next morning you’re going to start off by writing the checklist for a cleaner. Then you’re going to post a job ad for the cleaner. And again, like Two-Brain clients have all of this, but if you’re not in Two-Brain yet, you can create these things yourself—or sign up for Two-Brain and just get them. So then, you know, you’ve got like all these HER tasks, and “Okay, well it’s going to take me Thursday and Friday to write the cleaning checklist and then post a job ad.” Good. Don’t do anything else until that’s done. And then move on to head count. Okay? Now you’ve got a list of 12 ways that you can increase head count, pick the easiest, fastest way and just do that until it’s done. This is how you create momentum. And I’ll tell you something: The best gyms in the world—the gyms that go from good to great—they have long ago abandoned the idea that they’re going to find like one marketing silver bullet.

Chris Cooper (22:41):
And instead, they have embraced the concept of momentum. Every day, they do one thing to grow their business. Here’s the advice that I give most people. For me, I’m not great at context switching—it exhausts me. So, by the time I’m at the gym, it’s too late to do any work that’s going to grow that gym. What I have to do is get up, and I get up at 5:30, go downstairs with a cup of coffee, and I have 45 minutes before I have to leave the house. And that 45 minutes is spent doing one thing to grow my gym. That one thing might be a blog post, right? It might be like some of the examples I gave here: setting up biweekly billing, hiring a cleaner, or posting a job ad. But I’m going to do one thing because at the end of the day, when I look back and say, “What was the thing that I did that grew my business today?” aha, it was posting that job ad for the cleaner, or it was writing the cleaning checklist, or it was writing that one blog post with chat GPT, or whatever that was. If I can look back on the day and say, “I did one thing to grow my business today,” then I’ve got something really important:

Chris Cooper (23:43):
I’ve got momentum. And the top gyms in the world focus on momentum more than they do finding like the secret answer, reading 50 books every single year, listening to every podcast, you know, attending the webinar—they focus on momentum. That’s how I do it myself. So, I’m Chris Cooper. I’ve worked with over 2,000 gyms around the world. There are 900 currently in our mentorship practice—Two-Brain Business. We’ve produced over 43 millionaires now. And I promise you, the key to making these great gyms is not “I’m going to hire an ad agency,” right? The key is really what I’ve talked about in this show. It’s—you’ve got to have a couple things: You’ve got to have your niche, you’ve got to have discipline—the business discipline—and you’ve also got to have momentum, okay? Niche, discipline, momentum—that combination is absolutely unstoppable. This is “Run a Profitable Gym.” If you want to hear more about this stuff, you can go to That’s our free Facebook group where you can share your tips and strategies for building momentum, discipline, and your niche, and you can hear from other people too. Thanks for your service.

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