The Secrets of Huge Client Counts in Coaching Gyms

The Secrets of Huge Client Counts in Coaching Gyms

Mike Warkentin (00:02):
I get into real gym owners every week on this show, so be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any tips. I want you to run a profitable gym as well. Now, Jake Fields runs CrossFit Devotion. That is in Kent City, Washington. It’s near Seattle. He has a lot of clients at his microgym, and we’re here to find out how he did it. Jake, welcome. I can’t thank you enough for being here today. Warning: we are going to talk about a gym’s client count today. Now, this can be a trap because you could have 10,000 clients and no profit whatsoever. So let’s get this outta the way first. Jake, do you run a profitable gym?

Jake Fields:

Mike Warkentin:
Now that’s the most important thing. Next, we can go on to question two. Did you earn a spot on Two-Brain’s top 10 leaderboard for total clients in October?

Jake Fields (00:41):
Yes, sure did.

Mike Warkentin (00:42):
All right. Will you share your secrets and tell other gym owners how you got and kept your clients?

Jake Fields (00:47):
Definitely, yes.

Mike Warkentin (00:48):
All right. I appreciate that. This is Run a Profitable Gym. I’m your host, Mike Warkentin. Now Jake Fields has a lot of clients at his gym, and we’re here to find out how he did it. Jake, welcome.

Jake Fields (01:05):
Thanks, Mike. Glad to be here.

Mike Warkentin (01:08):

Right. We’re gonna talk about two things: retention and acquisition, but we’re gonna put the most important thing first because I know you’ve got a really cool thing going on for gym retention. You can’t grow your client base if everyone is leaving. A lot of people think about adding new clients, but you gotta hold onto them. That’s more important. So what are the key features of the retention plant at CrossFit Devotion? Bring us up to speed.

Jake Fields (01:28):
I would say for us it’s been our coaches for one. We have excellent long-term coaches. That doesn’t mean full time, so don’t get that confused. But they are amazing humans. We definitely hire the human first and then train them. So I’ve made that mistake in the past going the other way. So we have an amazing staff, so that really helps to keep members.

Mike Warkentin (01:56):
Personal engagement, right? So you’ve got coaches who actually connect with members, not just tacticians who can spot, you know, early pulling on a clean.

Jake Fields (02:02):
Exactly. Like our members actually come to see the coach, you know, so that’s a big thing. Like they want to come see that person because they’re friends and they have interest in them. And so that’s been huge. That’s been a huge game changer. And then the other side is we just keep refining our 90-day journey, and we keep adding little pieces. The CSM has been probably one of the biggest things that’s kept people the longest, just to get that feedback from the members. Like, “Hey, what’s working? What’s not?” We actually had a team meeting last night, and we’re gonna redo our intro process because of the feedback that our CSM is getting from the new members. And so just always refining that is really important. And if we didn’t have that feedback there, we would never refine it. We would just think it’s working.

Mike Warkentin (02:56):
So, listeners, CSM is a client success manager, customer success manager, whatever you wanna call it. That person’s job is to make sure current clients are super happy. Retention is the job of that person, making sure no one is leaving the business. Tell me a little bit more about that role. Cause I understand you have some interesting wrinkles in the CSM role at your gym, and I want hear about that.

Jake Fields (03:16):
Yeah. We do it in an interesting way, not really by choice, just how our staff is laid out. We have two, and actually we’re bringing on a third one on Monday. All three of them are part time. So they work five, maybe 10 hours a week in this particular job, maybe like that’s top end. And one of them is in charge of kind of the new people coming in, like from the marketing, getting them in for a consultation and then getting them set up and making sure that process is warm and welcoming and flawless. And then, so that’s kinda like the “new-client success manager.” And then we have another one that does our intros. And she also is the “90-day journey CSM. And so she focuses on making sure they have everything they need and want in that first 90 days. And she also follows up on the people that haven’t checked in in like a week. So she’s kind of that “ghosted-members person.” So she has a real tight hold on what the members are feeling, what they’re thinking in and out of the intros.

Mike Warkentin (04:32):
I love it. Split. I’m gonna ask you some specific questions, but I’m gonna ask you first about the third person. What is that one going to do?

Jake Fields (04:41):
I don’t know what to call it, but she’s like the “operational client success manager.” So she’s gonna make sure that from start to finish, and beyond in the years, clients continue to feel like they’re being appreciative and being counted on. So she’s gonna run more of like the “are we communicating by all social platforms, email and texts?” You know, the schedule. Does everyone know the events coming up? Does every client know the workouts that are coming? Do the coaches know everything about new members coming in and out? And so she’s gonna be the sticky glue that connects us all together. Maybe in a perfect world that’d be all the same person, but we’ve just been so blessed with multiple awesome people that could do it part time. So if anyone’s thinking they need to hire, you know, pay someone a salary to do this job, just find some really awesome people with five hours that are really good at this particular thing. And you can run it that way. And we’re doing it really successfully.

Mike Warkentin (06:01):
So this all relates to your client journey, which you mentioned. You’ve got a clear idea in your head of how you want clients to come into your business from their first interaction, whether they see your sign or your ad or whatever, to the very end, which is hopefully five or 10 years down the road. But you know everything about the client journey, and you know that in the first 90 days, everything you do to make that experience better is going to increase your retention. Stats bear that out. We have that data. We know that the first 90 days are critical to success. So you see in this path roles for three different people. Like it’s that important to you to make sure that these clients are happy.

Jake Fields (06:39):
Right. Yeah. I mean, the third person we’re bringing on for the long term. I mean, 300 members, you know, is a lot of members. And so it’s a lot of people to take care of. So having someone on the front end, and then having someone in that beginning 90 days, and then making sure the people that have hit a thousand classes or five years or 10 years are still being appreciated—that’s hard to do for one person. So we’ve kind of broken it up into you know, those three different sections of not knowing us, barely knowing us for the first 90 days, hoping to capture them for life. And then what about those people that have been there for life? How do we still continue to appreciate them?

Mike Warkentin (07:23):
There’s an interesting thing here. Chris Cooper has often talked about 150 members as a real sticking point for a gym. And it goes back to human social groups. 150 is kind of that number where it’s like, “I know about 150 people,” and at 200 you don’t really know anyone. Right?  I found it very difficult when I got to 150 members to know everyone and connect with everyone. So if you kind of break it down, you’ve got just about 300 members, and you’ve got two CSMs. You’re creeping over 300 members, and you’ve now got a third CSM. Kind of an interesting number that maybe you didn’t plan on, but it kind of syncs up with some of the thoughts on social groups. What do you think about that?

Jake Fields (07:57):
A hundred percent. Yeah, exactly. That’s where we were talking like, well, we never said we wanted to get to 300. That was never a number in our head. Really, we were more just like the making sure that we’re profitable so we could keep good people and good coaches. But ever since we started implementing these new CSMs, less people are leaving. You know, more referrals. And so we’re just growing a lot more that way. So yeah, I definitely think now that we add another person, we could easily get to 350 and still not have the wheels fall off.

Mike Warkentin (08:32):
So you mentioned a couple of important things. You’ve added these people, but you are seeing a return on investment through referrals and increased length of engagement. Correct?

Jake Fields (08:41):
Correct. Yeah.

Mike Warkentin (08:42):
Was it pretty obvious when you added this stuff in? Like when you put these roles, responsibilities and people in place, did you see numbers changing quickly?

Jake Fields (08:51):
I would say yes. Like quickly as in six months to a year quickly. So yeah, definitely. And really, it’s the feedback. Our gal that does the intros and the client follow-up, she’s so good at getting feedback and then you, you know, we just have to be humble enough to be like, “Yeah, we need to change that” and then make that change. And so when people see you doing that, I think that that goes a long way. And she’s really good about bringing that feedback to us. And so just trying to adapt, you know. People are in a different spot than they were five years ago. They’re coming in differently. So it’s good to have that feedback. And if one person was doing that, I don’t know if they would have the capacity to do that with bringing in new people, doing the intros, making sure the new people are good, and making sure that eight-year members are getting a cool T-shirt. Like, that’s a lot. That’s just too many roles for one person.

Mike Warkentin (09:45):
And let’s be real, how many of us make this mistake? I am guilty of this, of having your long-term members, who are your most valuable members, who have given you tens of thousands of dollars, and taking them for granted. It sounds horrible to say, but you sometimes do it, right?

Jake Fields (10:00):
All the time.

Mike Warkentin (10:01):
Because they become like the furniture in the sense that they’re always there. They’re always working out. They always supported you and you’re just like, “Oh, Tim will always be here.” But if you don’t show your appreciation … . And why give a new toaster to the person who opens a bank account when the existing customer doesn’t get one?

Jake Fields (10:16):
Exactly. Yeah. And we’ve learned that lesson the hard way. And so that’s why I’m so excited about this new person because I want to just really surprise and delight our old members who, really, they’re not really expecting it. I mean, I’ve been with Two-Brain for a lot of years, and I’ll get random things in the mail. And I’m just like, “Wow, five years later I got this cool shirt, cup, backpack. It’s like they still like really care about us.” So definitely just that surprise and delight to the old members is gonna go a long way.

Mike Warkentin (10:48):
And listeners, I’ll give you one thing to do right now. If you have five minutes, you should send five texts to five clients and tell ’em why you appreciate them. Pick any five and just do that right now, and it will increase your retention. Guaranteed. Do that. Retention is so important you can’t pass on this one. That’s why I wanted to put it first. But the other side of it is acquiring clients. So you hinted at some referrals and some stuff. Where are you getting all these clients from? And then you’ve got your sticky trap where they stay in the gym. But where do they come from?

Jake Fields (11:18):
Yeah, we have an excellent marketing guy. Like he loves Google ads and Facebook ads. So he loves it. Like, he loves the follow-up process. He loves the making the ads and stuff like that. And he shines at it. He loves sales. He loves to make sales friendly and non-slimy. He’s just really good at that connection piece. And so mostly Facebook and Google ads. And then every quarter we do a bring-a-friend week and so they can come for the whole week for free. And we get a lot of referrals that way, especially when it’s scheduled like that. We get a lot of referrals. But yeah, mostly Facebook, Google, and then with our transformation challenges and stuff like that. And then of course four times a year we do that bring-a-friend week that’s really popular.

Mike Warkentin (12:16):
So you’ve obviously got a clear marketing plan that involves some paid advertising, but it doesn’t just involve paid advertising because your best source of clients in most gyms is going to be your current clients because they know, like and trust you. They have kids, friends, family members, coworkers, hobby buddies—all the other stuff. So I wanna get into the bring-a-friend week a little bit. I’m guessing that’s not just “hey, bring a friend. We’ll make them vomit and then hope they join.” I bet there’s some structure around that.

Jake Fields (12:43):
Yes, definitely. The programming is always like super fun, not complicated. We used to do bring-a-friend week where we’d really bring it down a notch and do body-weight stuff all week, but then that wasn’t the actual product people would be getting. So we kept the lifting and kept all the CrossFit in. We just kind of brought it down a notch. And so they still knew that we lifted weights and went heavy and went fast. And so yeah, we basically do a week at the end of the quarter and they can come all seven days for free, and then if they sign up during that week, we give them a little bit of a first-month bonus, like with a welcome box and like T-shirts and things like that. So we don’t wanna discount our price, but we wanna upgrade them through different things and then get them into our intro classes.

Mike Warkentin (13:45):
That’s a big deal. Discounts can kill gyms. Bonuses don’t cost gyms a ton of money, but they have a huge effect on clients. So if you’re thinking about discounting, you might wanna look at “what can I give a client to add value that doesn’t equal a discount that will bite you later on?” Chris Cooper has written about this on the Two-Brain blog, and I’m going to put in the show notes a link to an article that talks about selling with bonuses. So what kind of conversations happen around those bring-a-friend weeks? Like do you make a point of like connecting with these people, you know, making sure you get their email addresses and then make sales pitches? So I’ll use that slimy term, but that’s not what I actually mean. Do you do consultation stuff with them?

Jake Fields (14:22):
Yeah. Jared does—our sales guy. We have everyone check in, and then we have them sign up through a specific bring-a-friend week signup on our CRM. And so we can just kind of go through there and like, welcome them and thank them for coming in and, you know, tell them how appreciative we are of their friend and how awesome it’s been to have their friend here for so many years. And then we try and schedule a consultation with them the week after for intros from there. So if their friends doing it, it’s pretty easy to get them back in. You know that’s probably the warmest lead you can get. Mostly we get the spouse, you know, if the wife’s been coming a year or two and they’ve had great success. Bring a friend—we usually get a lot of spouses that way. So yeah, that’s worked well for us.

Mike Warkentin (15:14):
I asked you that question for a specific reason. Do you know what I added to my free trial package to get people in the gym?

Jake Fields:
What’s that?

Mike Warkentin:
Nothing. Nothing. I just had people come in and try it and then I let them walk out and I didn’t have a conversation. I didn’t engage them. I didn’t follow up. This was back in the early days where it was just like, “You’re gonna love it and you’re gonna sign up.” And it was a huge mistake. And now I know so much better. If I were to do it again, I would do it just like you. If I were going to do a free trial, I would make sure that I have a process to talk to the people, get their information, connect with them, interview them, find out about their goals, and tell them about other stuff that I can provide to solve their problems. But I didn’t do that, you know. How dumb was that?

Jake Fields (15:54):
Yeah. And to your point, we do like try and get ’em signed up by the end of the week and just add those bonuses. So, you know, if they come and do a class and they love it: “Well, if you sign up today or by the end of the week, you get all these bonuses—some supplements, a T-shirt, this and that.” So we kind of incentivize it and keep the whole price thing not even in the picture.

Mike Warkentin (16:14):
That’s beautiful. If a lead is acquired from a Facebook or Google ad or something, do they do a free consultation with you guys first?

Jake Fields (16:23):
Yes. Yeah, they always do a consultation.

Mike Warkentin (16:26):
How important do you think that is to your acquisition or retention process?

Jake Fields (16:31):
Everything. I mean, we’ve just started doing—so when they call, when they book an appointment, Jared gives them a call actually, and he sends them a little template thing that is their “five reasons why.” And he says, “Before you come in, I need this filled out.” And that’s a good precursor. If they don’t fill that out, they’re not coming in. They’re not serious. And when they fill out “gimme your five why’s” and they bring that in, it’s over. It makes that show rate skyrocket. Cause if they’re not gonna fill that out, then they’re not gonna come in. But if they fill that out, they’re definitely coming in. You definitely know where they’re struggling and you can definitely change their life right from that point. So it makes that process good.

Mike Warkentin (17:26):
I guarantee now that you’ve got those reasons why you now have a powerful retention tool for your CSM because you can eventually show these people “you came because of this and look what you’ve done,” right?

Jake Fields (17:43):
Yeah, yeah. And it also gives Jared a direction—like are they looking for a total life transformation or are they transferring from another gym and they just wanna work out? Cause like you don’t wanna sit down in the office, spend an hour and they’re like, “Oh yeah, no, I just am like transferring from the other city. I just want a place to work out.” It’s like, “Oh, okay, well we could have done that over the phone almost.” So it’s really nice to get those five reasons why. Cause you get the “haven’t worked out in 10 years” or “moving from Texas just looking for a new awesome gym.” It’s like, “Oh perfect.” That intro goes a lot better that way.

Mike Warkentin (18:23):
What are some of the things that you might hear or Jared might hear on the five reasons why? What kinda stuff comes up regularly?

Jake Fields (18:32):
Well mostly, you know, if they’re not talking to you directly, they usually get a little more personal for whatever reason. Like when you give them space to think, they can get a little bit more personal. So it has a lot to do with just not putting themselves first. They’re, you know, obviously COVID hit a lot. They’ve been sitting at home for a couple of years and then they need to do something else. Their kids are grown. But usually it’s just, “I haven’t put myself first in a long time and I need something that’s gonna kick me back into gear.”

Mike Warkentin (19:11):
Holy Fran. Right? Like that is some leverage in a sales meeting.

Jake Fields (19:15):
Right? Oh my gosh. Yeah. It’s game changer.

Mike Warkentin (19:17):
Yeah. Cause like all of a sudden, rather than saying “you should sign up for this thing,” you can say, “If you sign up for this thing, you are going to accomplish this powerful emotional thing that you wanna accomplish.” Right? Like, it must give Jared just like all the tools in the toolbox.

Jake Fields (19:34):
Everything, he knows exactly what to talk about, exactly what program might fit best for them. There’s no wasted time on different things. Most people are coming in pretty deconditioned from the last couple years. And so personal training is obviously through the roof right now. Just cause they don’t feel comfortable going into a large class. And so yeah, it just gives him everything he needs to know in that consultation to give them the best ability to pick the right plan so they’ll stay around a long time.

Mike Warkentin (20:05):
I’m gonna hammer this point: Every successful gym owner that I speak to has systems and procedures. You clearly have a retention system. You know your client journey. You have a sales procedure. Did you ever run this gym without that stuff? Like back in the day? Were you kind of doing it by the seat of your pants?

Jake Fields (20:24):

Like for the first 10 years.

Mike Warkentin (20:29):
Yeah. Yeah.

Jake Fields (20:30):
People stayed. I don’t know why people stayed. Maybe we we’re the only CrossFit box in town. I don’t know. But yeah, no processes or procedures really.

Mike Warkentin (20:39):
What year is this for you now?

Jake Fields (20:40):
This is 13.

Mike Warkentin (20:42):
Okay. So three years ago you kind of started formalizing stuff. What happened when you did that?

Jake Fields (20:47):
It was really just because we were growing quite a bit and well—sorry we weren’t growing but we were getting lots of people in.

Mike Warkentin (20:58):

Jake Fields (20:58):
So it was like, “This is weird.”

Mike Warkentin (21:01):
One in, one out?

Jake Fields (21:03):
Yeah. Like two years in a row we were basically exactly the same. And I was like, “That’s weird cause we do a lot of onboarding. So like something’s not right.” So yeah, just getting that CSM there, having people reach out, making sure everyone’s good—that has been just a huge, huge game changer. And people that joined did need a full transformation. But maybe they were just being put into class. And we didn’t really know what they wanted because they didn’t know what we offered. So sitting down and just showing them the menu: “Hey, from what your answers are, I think this is your best bet.” That was just huge for them.

Mike Warkentin (21:50):
Huge for the gym, too. Like huge for them: they get exactly what they need. You get increased revenue. It’s a big deal. Yeah. Do you remember what that number was three years ago that you were stuck at when it was one in, one out?

Jake Fields (22:02):

It was around 220 we couldn’t get past. It was like 220, 240, 215, 235 just over and over. And we always had our core group, but we couldn’t get past that core group it seemed like. And then, yeah, slowly implementing what the CSM would do and having them go from that intro 90 days and past has been definitely a big, big, big game changer.

Mike Warkentin (22:30):
So three years ago stuck at a number and obviously leaving revenue on the table. If people are leaving all the time, you’re doing all this onboarding, but they’re not staying or someone else is leaving while you’re doing that. But three years ago you put structures, systems and procedures in place and all of a sudden look what happens. Have I got that right?

Jake Fields (22:51):
Yeah. I mean it’s all about giving the member or client the best experience possible. And we weren’t. So we’ve just been slowly 1 percent trying to be like, “Okay, how can we dial that in a little bit more for the member?” Not even to make our job easy, even though it did. “How can we make their life easy? How can we make it more digestible for them to come in, get through their 90 days, feel comfortable?” And in turn it’s made our life so much easier.

Mike Warkentin (23:17):
Yeah. And the reason I hammer this is that no successful gym owner from our leaderboard who has come on this show has yet said to me, “I did it without systems and procedures and policies.” No one said that.

Jake Fields (23:31):
Yeah, for sure. I wish I would’ve done that a long time

Mike Warkentin (23:34):
Oh, me too, back in 2010. I think I’d be retired by now if I had.

Jake Fields (23:40):
Oh, for sure. Oh, I can only imagine the amount of members we lost for really no good reason. Like literally no good reason. Just like, “Well you never called me.”

Mike Warkentin (23:51):
Add the members times the months times the years and times the monthly rate or whatever and you start looking at some six-figure numbers pretty fast. And it’s horrifying.

Jake Fields (24:01):
I don’t wanna do that.

Mike Warkentin (24:02):
I did it. It was not a pleasant experience. My friend, we got into six figures, and I just put my head in my hands and drove my 2008 Honda Civic to buy a bottle of beer. But anyways, that’s why we’re here. Run a Profitable Gym is the name of the show. And we’re trying to help people avoid the mistakes that we made. And so I’m telling you guys, retention and sales systems, put them in place. Let’s close this out. You’ve got a great member total. Now what’s your focus at this point? Are you looking for even more people? Are you looking for higher average revenue per member, increased length of engagement? Like what is? What are your metrics goals right now?

Jake Fields (24:39):
Our metrics would definitely be ARM.

Mike Warkentin (24:42):
Average revenue per member—drive that up.

Jake Fields (24:45):
Yes. And I guess it’s kind of a tie. We definitely wanna keep these people a long time. We don’t really have any growth goals because we think that taking care of the first two, you know, the ARM and the LEG (length of engagement) will kind of take care of the membership count. So we don’t really have any specific growth goals as of right now, but definitely length of engagement would be high for us right now. And getting our CSMs just so dialed in. So every member, whether you’re Day 1 or Year 10, you feel special and the same and no one’s left out. And that’s pretty easy at a hundred, really hard at 300. So that’s definitely gonna be the next hurdle coming up as we grow. It’s just gonna be tougher and tougher to make sure everyone feels good and special and part of the team at the gym. So that’s definitely where our heads are at.

Mike Warkentin (25:47):
But you’ve got staff people in place who have specific roles and tasks and duties to do that, so you’re gonna be further ahead than someone who’s like, “Wow, I’ve got 300 members and no people who know what to do here.”

Jake Fields (25:59):
Yeah, yeah, for sure.

Mike Warkentin (26:02):
Listeners, the secret to a high client total is retention and acquisition, but mostly retention, right? If they leave, it doesn’t matter. You have to keep your clients. You would do really well right now, if you’re listening to the show and looking to add clients, to consider what can you do to keep your current clients. Look at that first. After that, create those marketing sales systems and so forth. Cause those are important, too, but they’re not important if you’re pouring people into a leaky bucket and they’re coming out the bottom. Jake, thank you so much for sharing all this info. I love talking to successful gym owners who are happy and willing to share their knowledge with other people. Thank you.

Jake Fields (26:38):
Yeah, Mike, no problem. Anytime.

Mike Warkentin (26:41):
That was Jake Fields. This is Run a Profitable Gym. I’m your host, Mike Warkentin, and I’ll help you do exactly that, run a profitable gym, every week. Please subscribe for more episodes, and if you’re on YouTube, please hit that like button as well. Now, here’s Two-Brain founder Chris Cooper with a final word.

Chris Cooper (26:57):
Hey, it’s Two-Brain founder Chris Cooper with a quick note. The Gym Owners United Facebook group has more than 6,300 members, and it’s growing daily. If you aren’t benefiting from the free tips and tactics and resources that I post daily in that group, what are you waiting for? Get in there and grow your business. That’s Gym Owners United on Facebook, or Join today!

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