Why Chris Cooper Wants You to Be a Millionaire Gym Owner

Mike Warkentin (00:02):
“Millionaire Gym Owner”: It’s more common than you think. In fact, it’s so common that Chris Cooper’s eighth book is a profile of 14 gym owners who’ve achieved $1 million in net worth. The Kindle version is out now. Check the link in the show notes, and the audio book is coming soon. We’ll tell you how to get it. I’m Mike Warkentin. This is “Run a Profitable Gym.” Please hit “Subscribe” wherever you’re watching or listening. Now with me today: Chris Cooper, founder of Two-Brain Business and author of “Millionaire Gym Owner.” Chris, I’m going to dig right in. Why did you write this book, and why should gym owners care, especially gym owners who right now aren’t anywhere near millionaire status? They’re drowning.

Chris Cooper (00:37):
Yeah, thanks Mike. Super good question because most of the gym owners that we work with, they didn’t get in this for the money; they got in this to serve. What I found though is that after battling through that rough state where you’re just like trying to survive, you look up for a second and you think, “OK, I’m doing OK, but like, how am I going to last 20 years of this? My kids are getting older; they want to wear clothes. You know, my family likes groceries, and how am I going to stop working 70 hours a week? Like, what’s going to happen when I’m 50?” Or you know, for me, I got a powerlifting injury, and it was like, “Oh my goodness, what happens if I can’t work anymore? Like, we’re done.” And so, you start to think about “What am I putting away? How am I planning to exit this thing?”

Chris Cooper (01:24):
“Like, how am I going to retire?” A lot of our parents, they had these career jobs where they had a pension or a 401k or whatever set aside for them; their retirement was predetermined. An entrepreneur doesn’t have that. You have to create your own options for retirement, and you should start doing that right now. So, this book exists to teach entrepreneurs how to do that, but more than anything else, it tells them how to create wealth. The cool part about being an entrepreneur is that retirement doesn’t have to mean the same thing for you that it did for your parents. You could retire right now. You could take many retirements throughout the year, or you could just be done at like age 45 or 50 if you want to. It’s up to you. But if you don’t start creating that wealth for yourself right now, it will never happen. And eventually you’re going to hit age 50, realize that you bought yourself a job for 30 years, you’re burned out, you’re broke, and you’re going to have to keep going for another 20. I don’t want that to happen.

Mike Warkentin (02:21):
A lot of gym owners are younger. I mean, I was younger when I started my gym. Same thing with you—20 years ago or whatever it was for you now—and you got a lot of energy, and it seems really fun to do the grind. You get up at 5 a.m., close at 9 p.m., but then all of a sudden families start cropping up and life expenses start cropping up, and you do start to think, “What am I going to do here?” And like when you started your gym, was there a path to retirement? Or was it just like you run your gym till you burnout, and then you quit, and you sell real estate? Like what was that path? What did it look like?

Chris Cooper (02:47):
Yeah, I mean, I didn’t even realize that I needed a path until about three and a half years in. And we had my daughter, and I took a morning off to go to the hospital to see her, and then I worked in the afternoon, and I’m like, “Well, wait a minute. This isn’t sustainable.”

Mike Warkentin (03:02):
What did your wife say to that? I got to ask, what did your wife say when you’re like, “I got to go coach.”

Chris Cooper (03:06):
She is incredibly patient. Yeah, she understands that this is part of the trade-off, but also she was like, “When’s it going to get better?” And I think that was the key. And so, I started at that point realizing like, “Holy crap, you know, I can work really hard, and I think I’m pretty smart, but I’m not just figuring this out. And so, OK, well I’m going to look for somebody else in the industry who’s done what I want to do and just do what they—I’ll copy them.”

Mike Warkentin (03:31):
Did you find anybody?

Chris Cooper (03:33):
Nobody. No, nobody. Like, I looked around locally, and it’s like, “OK, well there’s a 60-year-old guy; he’s doing personal training, but he’s still working like a 50-hour week, huh? How is that guy ever going to stop this?” And then I was like, “OK, well let’s look around the broader industry. I was writing for T Nation at the time, and even the writers there who were giving business advice, they were like 50 years old and grinding every single day, right? Like, look what happened to Poliquin. And so, then I was like, “Man, the, the only way this happens is if I create it,” and I mean, even Greg Glassman. You know, I found CrossFit in like 2007, and here’s this 60-year-old dude, and it looks like he’s still grinding pretty hard. Like, OK, so if I’m ever going to be able to have freedom of time and freedom of money, which is what retirement is, I need to set that up. But if it’s up to me to set it up, why can’t I set it up so that it happens at age 50 instead of 60 or 45 or whatever?

Mike Warkentin (04:30):
So I’m going to ask you about the people in the book and some of the strategies they they’ve used, but give me, right now, if a gym owner’s listening at any stage, whether they’re doing well or not well at all, how long would it take them to get to a $100,000 annual income and then about $1 million in net worth? Do you have a timeline for that?

Chris Cooper (04:49):
Yeah, I mean, when we start with a gym—so they start with mentorship right before they even open their doors. I mean, they’re making 100k a year in less than two years. What delays that process and takes some gyms longer is that we have to undo a bunch of the mistakes that they made. This was certainly me. Like—

Mike Warkentin (5:05):
That was me too.

Chris Cooper (5:06):
It took me, I don’t know, like five years to get there. Because I had to fix everything that I’d done wrong. But then once I got to 100k, the path to a million in net worth was actually pretty fast, like two to three years. And that’s because now I was open to just taking other people’s advice instead of making a bunch of bad guesses. So, what we see typically is if a gym—perfect scenario, they start with us before they even open their doors. Within about two years—it’s actually two years, one month, nine days—they’re making about 100k in annualized revenue, income.

Chris Cooper (05:40):
And then two, 2.5 years after that, they can get to a million. And the key though is they do it in steps. So first, you make your income, then you’re making a little bit more than you need, and you start making investments, and then after your investments create wealth, then you start thinking about impact in your community and creating a legacy and creating a business that’s not going to fold, like when you decide it’s enough or you’re going to retire.

Mike Warkentin (06:06):
So I’ll just round it out, listeners, if you’re out there and no matter where you are—and whether you haven’t started a gym, you’re thinking about it or whether you’re running a gym that’s not doing well, or whether you’re running a great gym—in about three years, you could earn or achieve $1 million net worth status if you follow the right path. And that’s—Chris said—that’s the average. Some clients of ours do it faster, some do it slower, but that’s the average. That’s pretty great. So again, think about it: In what other career could you do that?

Chris Cooper (06:32):
Yeah, I think maybe we better define what net worth means.

Mike Warkentin (6:35):
Yeah, go for it.

Chris Cooper (6:36):
Income is what your gym pays you every year. We call that net owner benefit because not everybody takes dollars out of their gym. Like maybe the gym pays for their cell phone or whatever, right? But the net benefit that you get from the gym. Net worth is looking at you as an entrepreneur and saying: If you sold everything that you own for cash, including your business, your building, whatever, and you paid off all your debts out of that cash, and you still had a million dollars left over, you’re a millionaire. And we actually had to define that because we’re in the age of like Instagram millionaires, where somebody makes $80,000 one time, takes a picture leading up against the Lambo, and like they’re calling themselves a millionaire. So, we say that a million dollars net worth is what makes you a millionaire. We audit people on this. We don’t let them just say it. And then when they actually achieve that status, we send them a big plaque. Congratulations, this is—you’ve done it, like you’re a successful entrepreneur. We interview them, and we put them in books like this one. And so, this book is really about like 14 out of the 50 Two-Brain gyms who have produced millionaires and their paths.

Mike Warkentin (07:40):
Let’s dig into that a little bit. So, tell me: Who are these people that are in the book? And then give me some of the strategies, like tease a little bit without giving the whole book away, but what have these people done to achieve this $1 million net worth? Which is such an impressive thing considering that I know that some of them in the book were struggling badly even a few years ago.

Chris Cooper (07:57):
Yeah, I mean there’s more than one story in the book of a gym owner who wasn’t breaking even three and a half years ago, and now they’re a millionaire. And like, while we don’t say that’s the typical path, that is what can happen. And we include it in the book as an aspirational path to inspire you. So, the first thing they did was fix their business. They started making an income, they reinvested the excess, and now here they are. But there’s a lot of different ways that you can do it. And entrepreneurship gets pretty fun when you have options like this. So, I didn’t just want to tell the story of how I did it. What we did was we interviewed these people extensively, like for hours. What exactly did you do? How much money did you put into your first Airbnb? How much money did you put into this?

Chris Cooper (08:39):
What did it mean that you bought overfunded whole life insurance? How exactly does that work? And like how did that open up these other avenues, and what did you do with that money? So, for example, I’ll talk about Taryn Dubreuil. Four years—she went from kind-of-broke gym owner to millionaire, and she built her gym up to the place where it was paying her a little bit more than she needed. Her family always used to vacation in Arizona. And so, her first investment was an Airbnb property in Arizona. Took her, I don’t know, nine or 10 months to put that deal together because she had to learn about Airbnbs, and she had to learn about buying property in another country, and she had to find the right people. And then through our Tinker program, she made those connections and got that education and then bought her first Airbnb, and then it started paying for itself right away.

Chris Cooper (09:25):
And she bought another one down the street in the same town. And so, that’s part of her wealth strategy that got her there. Other people, they just put money into like other businesses. So, Tommy Alfinito, he took money from the gym—his gym was crushing it, making more than he needed to earn—and he opened up a whiskey distillery, right? Super awesome, but I’m not going to do that. I buy buildings and bonds—boring businesses. It’s like our 3-B strategy, right? Buildings, bonds and boring stuff. But again, it’s because I’m like 48 years old, and I just don’t have the passion to go start a distillery anymore. I just want my money to be working for me while I sleep. And then you’ve got people who are super-duper aggressive with this stuff, like Shawn Rider, and he’s going to talk in the book about the Barbell Investment Strategy.

Chris Cooper (10:12):
He’s going to talk about overfunded whole life. He’s going to talk about his building strategy, which is different, again, from mine. So, what I wanted to do is not just say, “Here’s a bunch of options,” but like literally step by step, “Here’s how this person did it; here’s the steps they took.” And then, you know, one of the greatest points in the book, and my favorite is Kenny Markwardt. And what he’s saying is at this level, you’re probably going to have to try a few things before you figure out what you really like. So, for example, some people in the book said, “I’m going to open a second gym.” And then they discovered that wasn’t their passion after all, and they consolidated back to one gym. Or the opposite could happen too. “I’m going to go buy crypto; actually, I hate this. I’m good at owning a gym. I’m going to open a second location, or I’m going to buy out a neighbor.” And the book walks you through those steps too. So, it’s tactical like my other books for gym owners, but I also want to make those strategies stick by telling stories from people who’ve actually done it.

Mike Warkentin (11:13):
It’s interesting because I know the people that are in the book, and they’re scattered all over the place. So, there are different strategies that will work in different places. And there’s also just different types of entrepreneurs. Like for me, I would not want to run a second location in a gym. It’s just not something I’d want to do. I kind of gravitate more to what you would do. I’d want to put money into safe things where I don’t have to think about it. Tommy, who we’ve had on the show: “I’m going to start a completely new business in a completely new market, and I’m going to make whiskey.” Like how incredible is that? But the point that I’m seeing here is that these entrepreneurs now have options, and they can choose what they want to do because they’ve got the time and the money. Talk to me a little bit about the time because it’s not just—like 1 million net worth isn’t just about the money; there’s got to be a time element in there too, right?

Chris Cooper (11:53):
Yeah. And I know a few gym owners who have gotten to a point where their gym is doing well, like maybe the gym is even doing a million a year in revenue. That’s amazing. But they’re grinding 67 hours a week still—like it’s just not sustainable. And they sell out, close down, and they’re out of the industry now. Or there are other people too who—they got their gym to barely breaking even, and now they’re going to go start a software company or something. And now the software company is making them money, but the gym is dragging their time down, and there’s—you know, freedom of time is—it’s awesome. It’s the best part of entrepreneurship. But it can also be a bit of a barrier too because you grind for seven or eight years; you’ve got this business, “Yes, I’ve got a little bit more money than I need, and I’ve got a little bit of free time.”

Chris Cooper (12:40):
“What am I going to do now?” You know, my first instinct was like, “I’m opening a coffee shop; I love coffee.” And luckily a friend of mine said, “Why would you want to ruin the other thing that you care about?” You know, but I’m super guilty. Like I’ve started probably seven or eight companies since Catalyst became successful and closed them all except for Two-Brain because my time is my greatest investment. Some people though too, like, they’ll say, “OK, now I’ve bought back 10 hours a week; I don’t have to go in on Fridays. I’m not spending Sundays programming anymore. I’m actually going to put that into time with my family.” And David Allen tells his story in the book where he’s like, “I’m smart; I’m good at business. Now I know what to do, but my kids are only going to be three and five once. And so, in this season of my life, that’s where my time is going.” So, there’s a lot of that too.

Mike Warkentin (13:31):
Now, the whole wealth thing is becoming a bit of a political issue and so forth. Tell me why it’s important for a gym owner to want to be a millionaire. Like what happens to a community and the people around that gym owner when the gym owner achieves 1 million net worth or more and freedom of time?

Chris Cooper (13:45):
Yeah, I mean, so the reason that wealth now gets crapped on is because we were all brought up in this culture where wealthy people were bad, like they only got their money by taking it from other people. And even if you look at Disney movies, all the villains are wealthy and all the wealthy people are villains, right? Like, there are very few positive role models. And when somebody is successful to the point of inspiration, like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, the media is going to try and find something wrong with them. Like Elon Musk can’t keep a girlfriend and. Bill Gates, uh, I, I don’t know what the problem with Bill Gates is these days, but like—

Mike Warkentin (14:22):
Something, they find something. Yeah.

Chris Cooper (14:24):
Yeah. And, and we learned from an early age that you trash the people who are ahead of you because they must have cheated to get there. That’s not—

Mike Warkentin (14:33):
It’s jealousy.

Chris Cooper (14:34):
It’s jealousy. Yeah, sure. But that’s not the reality. The reality is that the people who became wealthy most of the time are very generous with that wealth, you know? And there’s nobody more generous than gym owners who opened up their gym to serve, not even expecting to ever reach this point. Like, you want to put money into the hands of those people. You don’t want to put money into the hands of the shysters and the tricksters. And so, making gym owners wealthy, it benefits the community because they create jobs, they pay more taxes than anybody else—like, I’ve paid over a million in taxes this year—they employ people in careers that these people are passionate about, and they save fucking lives. Like that’s what they’re doing with this money. They’re not buying private jets; they’re not investing in oil spills. They are saving more and more lives, and they’re reinvesting in their gym, making it bigger. They’re reinvesting in their staff, giving them better careers; they’re paying more taxes. You know, they’re making their local communities better. And that’s why gym owners need to become wealthy so they can push all these other hucksters and shysters to the side.

Mike Warkentin (15:41):
I’ve talked to a lot of wealthy gym owners on this show, and inevitably when I speak to them, one of the first things they mention as important is careers for staff members. They’re all, to a fault, passionate about creating great jobs for other people. We’re not talking like $35,000, you know, grind-it-out gym, personal trainer jobs. They’re talking about like $80,000 a year gym jobs with benefits and satisfaction. And that’s really cool for me because it’s really difficult to do that. And they’re actually doing incredible work to create these opportunities for people to thrive and expand the fitness industry and reach more people and improve health. And there’s a whole trickle-down effect that’s fairly obvious to everyone in the fitness industry and somehow not obvious to people who aren’t in the fitness industry. And then in addition to that, I’ve heard so many things from these gym owners about the things that they do in their community, and whether it’s like sponsorship of events or scholarships or donations of things or investment in other things, once they have this money, they’re able to do something good with it.

Mike Warkentin (16:37):
So these are good people doing good things with money, not hiding it away and buying private islands that they fly to and so forth. It’s an interesting thing when good people get a little bit of extra money. So, let’s look at this as we close this show out. Gym owner is out there listening to the show, maybe a little bit overwhelmed by the thought of achieving a million-dollar net worth status in three years or less. Step one is going to be that current business. How do they do that, Chris? Like how do they—right now the fires are raging. How do they put out a few fires and start moving forward to get that first business into a good spot?

Chris Cooper (17:10):
It’s very difficult to do by yourself. I mean, we’re all kind of out there in our own heads. You need somebody who’s objective—who is number one: going to tell you what you have to fix. Number two: have fixed it themselves so that they can say, “Here is how you fix this.” And number three: holds you accountable for doing it. So, we say that every gym owner needs a goal, a plan and somebody to hold them to that plan, just like your clients do in your gym. Like if your client has a clear goal, a good plan to get there, and you’re coaching them to get there, you’re going to keep them around. That’s going to solve your problem. And they’re going to actually hit their goal. And that’s what we do with mentorship. It’s: The gym owner has a goal, they have a plan, and they have somebody holding them to the plan who’s actually done it.

Chris Cooper (17:53):
I mean, in the fitness industry, there are so many people out there saying—giving you advice who have never actually done it in their gym. And so that’s really, really important to me. So, the first thing is you fix those fires, but that’s not it; like, it’s not enough to just break even. And that’s kind of the point of the book. You have to have a strategy for growth and maybe your goal for growth is: I just want to provide better income for my trainers. Wonderful. The first step is: Let’s prove that your gym can provide a good income for you, right? Like you are the one that’s the first test of your model. So, if your gym can’t give you a good income, it cannot give somebody else a good income either. There are a lot of gym owners out there who are, as you said, generous to a fault. Right?

Chris Cooper (18:35):
They’ll commit to paying somebody a $50,000 a year salary before they’re making any money themselves. And that—it seems like generosity, but it’s actually like risking that other person’s career because you haven’t proven that your business can pay anybody 50,000 a year. You are the crash test dummy. It has to pay you first so that it can prove it can do it. And then the other thing that they try to do is they try to make investments too soon, or they’re generous with money they don’t have. So, “Hey, my business is breaking even. I’m going to go buy a building.” OK, but when the roof of that building leaks, not only is it going to bankrupt your mortgage, but it’s also going to put your business in jeopardy because now you got to suck the money from somewhere. So, it’s really important that gym owners take this path of making income, then make investments, and then worry about your long-term impact in the community.

Mike Warkentin (19:29):
The path is laid out in the book, and you can read the book and check out who these people are. And honestly, you can work with some of them as a mentor. And if you want to talk about how to do that, link in the show notes. You can book a call, find out exactly how this path would work for you and your unique business. Chris, congrats on book eight. I see a bunch of them behind you. This is—did you ever think you’d get to eight?

Chris Cooper (19:49):
I didn’t think I’d get to one, so eight’s great.

Mike Warkentin (19:53):
That’s cool, guys. And this book, “Millionaire Gym Owner” is now out on Kindle. There’s a link in the show notes; you can get it. The audio book is coming soon, and we will tell you exactly where you can get that if that is your jam. But for now, get that link in the show notes and then take your steps today to start moving from wherever you are to 100k net owner benefit and then to $1 million net worth. Chris, thanks so much for being here.

Chris Cooper (20:12):
Thanks, buddy.

Mike Warkentin (20:12):
This is “Run a Profitable Gym.” I’m Mike Warkentin. That was Chris Cooper. If you want to continue this conversation, please head to gymownersunited.com, and we’ll see you there. Thanks.

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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.