How To Handle Drop-Ins At Your Gym

A close-up shot of a droplet of water falling from a kitchen faucet with a brick backsplash.

You sell coaching.
Your clients come first.
When you became a CrossFit affiliate, you didn’t take a vow of poverty. No one asked you to give strangers free coaching and charge full price to the people who put food on your table. But somehow, affiliates who do charge for drop-in visitors are sometimes attacked for being “not very CrossFit.” These poor manners were on display again at the CrossFit Games all weekend (“But my nephew is a Games athlete in the 14-year-old-division! You have to coach me for free!”)
No, you don’t. And you shouldn’t, because every additional participant in your class reduces the coaching your REAL clients get. One more client in class means your attention is split 12 ways instead of 11. And the additional background work required to host a stranger means they should really pay FAR more than your daily clients.

Here’s How the Perfect Drop-In Situation Should Work

  1. Visitor contacts the gym a week in advance and fills in a “visitor” form. He or she pays for the visit, chooses the class (peak times are reserved for real clients), and provides the name and email address of his or her primary coach.
  2. A coach at the gym contacts the visitor’s coach and receives training background and notes.
  3. Visitor arrives, gets amazing coaching, loves CrossFit more than he or she did before.
  4. Maybe visitor buys a souvenir (not included in the price.)

Here Are the Top Mistakes Gym Owners Make With Drop-In Guests

  1. “Buy a shirt and work out for free!” You are not in the T-shirt business. And your margin on shirts isn’t great. If someone pays $20 and you subtract the price of producing the shirt, you’re probably charging under $10 for coaching. What do your regular clients pay? Do THEY get a free T-shirt for every class they attend?
  2. “Your first drop-in is free!” You’re prioritizing strangers over the clients who keep you in business. Do THEY get a free class every week?
  3. “Just show up and sign a waiver!” If you don’t know a person’s background, how do you know who you’re coaching? Allowing a drop-in to jump into your classes without a check is the same as allowing new clients to do a free trial instead of your on-ramp program. It’s just not good coaching.

Why do gyms make these mistakes? Because they think they sell participation instead of coaching. They think they sell access to group classes. But they don’t.
Selling access to group classes is selling a commodity. If your group can absorb 1, 2 or 5 people without affecting the experience of the others in the group, then the experience wasn’t personal enough to begin with. Every additional body should affect the experience of everyone else.

Here’s How It Works at Catalyst Now

  1. Visitor applies to drop in for a workout.
  2. If he or she is a member at a Two-Brain box, we know the person is positive and well taught. We welcome the drop-in with open arms.
  3. If the person is a member at a CrossFit gym elsewhere, we contact his or her coach first, then usually welcome the person.
  4. If the drop-in hasn’t done CrossFit or isn’t a member at a real CrossFit or Two-Brain gym, we invite the person to book a personal training session.
  5. Everyone pays.
  6. The drop-in buys a shirt if he or she wants a shirt. It’s not a freebie.

Do some people complain? Sure. Some people want to use open gym time to do their own thing while they’re in town. We don’t do that.
Some people think they should receive our valuable coaching for free, while our clients pay for the gym. We don’t do that either.
Some people want to bring their dogs or take our bars outside into the gravel or play angry rap or scream during their last set of thrusters. We don’t do any of that stuff.
We also don’t welcome drop-ins during Hero WODs or on holidays because we want our coaches to be focused on our clients.
Because our primary responsibility is to my beloved clients, I have no problem saying “NO” to drop-ins. They’re usually great people; they’re almost always good huggers. And sometimes they add a new dash of spice to the noon group. But they’re not my main concern. We accept drop-ins who make things easy for us; not the other way around.
When you visit a gym that’s not your own, you should expect to be their lowest priority, not their highest. You should expect to pay more than their clients do. You should practice “beginner’s mind” and welcome a novel opportunity to learn from a coach with a different perspective. You should expect to tell your host a few things about yourself so they’re ready for you.
You should not expect a free ride. And gym owners shouldn’t put their clients aside to give you one.
Need more advice on common problems? Click here to book a free call with a certified Two-Brain Business mentor.


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.