Exactly How to Offload Every Task You Hate Doing at Your Gym

A photo of a stressed gym owner doing 4 jobs at once, with the title "Exactly How to Offload Every Task You Hate Doing at Your Gym."

Mike Warkentin (00:02):
Hey, Coop, tell me about the day your daughter was born. What happened?

Chris Cooper (00:05):
Well, of course it was an amazing day, and she was born around 3 a.m., and I spent a little bit of time with her and my wife, and then I went back to work before noon because I had a client, and I had nobody who could take the client, and I had nobody who I trusted to train the client. Nobody knew what the client’s program was, and we had no process in place for handing that off.

Mike Warkentin (00:27):
So you literally left the hospital to go work at your gym because the business was in your head and not on paper?

Chris Cooper (00:32):
Yeah. I can remember vividly walking out of the hospital parking lot because I couldn’t even afford to pay for parking, finding my truck, and driving down the street to the gym.

Mike Warkentin (00:42):
This is a true story, and listeners, if you’ve ever been in a situation even close to this, we’re going to help you today. We’re going to help you get your business out of your head, onto paper, and tell you how to get people to do what you want to your standards and run your business so that you don’t have to do it every single second of every day. This is “Run a Profitable Gym.” I’m your host, Mike Warkentin. With me is Chris Cooper, Two-Brain founder and CEO, and we’re going to get right into it because this is one of the most important concepts that we teach: how to systemize your business. No successful gym owner that I’ve had on this show has ever said, “I don’t have business systems.” Every single one of our top gym owners in the world have systems. So, Chris, walk me through the concept here and let people understand: Why are we doing this? Like, what is the purpose of systemizing a business?

Chris Cooper (01:26):
Yeah, so your business does not rise to the level of your marketing. It falls to the level of your systems. And what that basically means is how your business runs when you are not there: Do you deliver classes to the same level? Do you deliver personal training to the same level? If, heaven forbid, you got sick or injured as I did at another time at a powerlifting meet and you couldn’t go into work the next day, is there somebody else who could just show up, open up a book of instructions and say, “Got it. OK. I know how to train this person.”

Mike Warkentin (01:52):
You crawled into work that day, right?

Chris Cooper (01:54):
I did, yeah. Yeah, I knew it. I tore something at a powerlifting meet in a U.S. prison. It was a 510 deadlift, so 1,000% worth it. I had never done that before. But I had to put my powerlifting belt on to get in my truck in the morning, and my wife is like, “You can’t work.” And I’m like, “We need the money. Like, I have to go.” And of course, it was eye-opening to me. The clients didn’t even notice, or they might notice, like, “Hey, he’s wearing a powerlifting belt under his polo shirt—like, what’s going on?” But, you know, so what should have happened in that case is one text, “Hey Mike,”—who was working with me at the time or Tyler or Tim, one of the other trainers—“I’ve got Mavis coming in at at eight o’clock this morning. Can you take her? You know where her program is.” And they’d say, “Yeah, no problem.” And then, they know how to open the place up. They know how to check if she’s got sessions left; they know how to find her program, all of that. And none of that happened, and I had to go to work.

Mike Warkentin (02:50):
So this is literally like—this is the icon problem times 1,000 where it’s not just like you are the figurehead of the business, it’s like the entire business is in you, and if something happens to you, the business is done. No one can cover for you, right?

Chris Cooper (03:01):
Yeah. You’re very, very fragile when you’re in that state. You know, in the book, “The E-Myth,” the author says, “You haven’t built a business; you’ve bought yourself a job.” And that’s what it feels like. It feels like you’re constantly working for the landlord, working for the government. You know, you don’t own the business; the business owns you. And the way that you flip that around is you turn it into a business by getting every SOP, every task out of your head, writing it down, step by step by step, like 8-year-old easy, for somebody else to follow. And then you can just hand it to them.

Mike Warkentin (03:32):
And I’ll give you an example of this that’s going to hit home. Darren Thornton—one of your buddies there at Defy in Toronto, old school guy who’s joining our mentorship team—I emailed him to ask him to come on the podcast. He doesn’t even get his own email. His client success manager gets it and responds for him, or looks through the stuff that he doesn’t need to deal with and forwards him only the stuff that he needs to deal with. And that has happened to me when I deal with our Tinker gym mentors more than once. They have people that are screening for them, that are taking care of low-level stuff that they don’t need to do, deleting the stuff that doesn’t matter, and then they can focus. So, let’s talk about that: protecting time and focus. I need to hear about this because this is the concept—sell this to gym owners because a lot of us are going to say, “I don’t have time to get this stuff out of my head.”

Chris Cooper (04:15):
Yeah, well, so the very first thing is you need to buy back your time. You cannot grow your gym without these SOPs in place because you’ll always be reacting and doing all of the things. “Nobody’s going to clean the bathrooms like me. Nobody can run that class like I can. That trainer is not as qualified as I am to coach the client, so I have to do everything.” And so, what happens is you get in this routine of doing the thing and doing the thing and doing the thing, and your business never grows because you’re avoiding the job as the CEO to do all these other jobs. So, what you have to do is completely train these other people to do other things, buy back your time, so that you can work on marketing and sales or whatever your mentor tells you, and protect your focus. And you know, honestly, after having done this—I’ve had my gym now for very close to 20 years—I actually think that protecting your focus is even more important than protecting your time.

Mike Warkentin (05:06):
Do I need to order toilet paper? Like, that’s just not—it’s not a good thing. And there’s an ego aspect, right? Because I did this where, like, “Ah, you know, no one can organize the supply club as like I can.” And the truth is no one cares. Second of all, someone can, right? But I was like, I felt like I needed to have that to just be—that level of OCD that allowed me to exercise my control over things. Once I got rid of that stuff, things got way better. And I only did that with the help of a Two-Brain mentor because I was very much invested in doing these little stupid things, and they need to be done, but not by me, right? So, focus is a huge one. And especially like—give me a quick example. Now you’ve got your gym, you’ve got other businesses, you’ve got the Two-Brain mentorship company—if you don’t protect your focus, what happens to you?

Chris Cooper (05:46):
Oh, I’m done. And none of them grow. I mean, that’s the challenge, right? It’s like, yes, you need time to do the things that your mentor tells you, time to do the marketing, time to follow up with the leads, time to do the NSIs, absolutely. But you also have to have your focus because if you’re doing a No Sweat Intro and you’re thinking about “don’t forget to get more toilet paper; don’t forget to get more toilet paper,” you’re going to be distracted, and you’re not going to optimize the time that you have there. So, you know, it’s actually pretty easy to start. And we teach this in our mentorship program. There are some lower-level tasks where you can just kind of program your clones. You know, I stole that phrase from you, Mike. So, for example, you can write a very clear SOP for the cleaner, and it’s like, “Step one, step two, step three, step four.”

Chris Cooper (06:31):
Now, you can’t do that for running a class, but what you can do is create a framework, and then you can deliver that to your coaches and, and say, like, “OK, here is our culture now. It’s a culture of accountability. You have some freedom and some responsibility within this framework, and here’s the standard you’re going to meet.” Now we’re going to talk about evaluating them and stuff later, but what this does is it allows you to get this stuff out of your brain. And then what goes in your brain? You’re focused on growing the business. Most people, they’ll tell me like, “I just don’t have time to do this homework. I don’t have time to follow this guide. You’ve given us step by step. I just don’t have time to do it.” They’re not even sitting in front of their computer saying that; they’re in their car, but what they really lack is focus. And that’s an entrepreneurial skill. You have to practice it. So, my own rule, you know this, is first thing in the morning, do one thing to grow my business before I do anything else. I don’t check email. I don’t look at Slack; I don’t even look at Facebook. I sit down and do one blog post or message five clients or et cetera.

Mike Warkentin (07:33):
There’s a trap, and I’ll lay it out for you listeners, because you will fall victim to this. I fall victim to this every day. You think as you’re doing something, “I don’t have time to tell someone else how to do this; I’ll just do it myself.” And that might be true one time, but it’s not true the seventh time and the eighth time and the 100th time. If you had just taken that five or 10 or 15 or even 60 minutes to get it out of your head that one time, you would’ve earned all that other time back down the line. You have to make the investment. And I literally know of a gym owner who did this, locked himself in a hotel room over a weekend to get all the stuff out of his head. Like this actually happened, right? And he said, “I’m going to rent a hotel room. I’ve got to get away from my family, everything, turn everything off. No one knows where I am, and I’m going to get this stuff out of my head.” And it was 100% worth it because this business was systemized. So, that’s what we’re recommending here—maybe not the deep submarine dive, but get it out of your head and make that investment. Chris, talk to me about how you’re going to do this. So how are you going to actually make this process happen and make sure that it sticks?

Chris Cooper (08:34):
Well, the first time I tried it, I did it just as your friend did, but I did it at my coffee table in my living room. And so, Robin would take the baby and visit the grandparents, and I would sit there for four hours and write and write and write. Now I do it differently. And so, what I do is I actually do the thing that I don’t want to do anymore. And I record every single step as I’m doing it. So, for example, like the first SOP that we have people write in in mentorship is: You’re going to get a pad of paper and a pen. You’re going to drive to your gym 10 minutes earlier than you normally would in the morning. You’re going to write down where you parked and why you parked there. “I parked far from the door to save the best spots for the clients.”

Chris Cooper (09:10):
OK, your staff doesn’t know that; you need to write that down. Which key opens the door? Which lights do you turn on first? Do you turn on all the lights or just some of the lights? And you’re going to go step by step and record every single thing that you’re doing. And that’s how you make a good SOP. In fact, if you want to, you could do it all with your phone. “Hey guys, you’ll notice I’m parked far away from the door here.” Whenever I’m doing anything now that I want my staff to take on later, I record myself doing it and say, “Do it like this.” And then later on, I check to make sure that they’re actually following that process. But I really think it’s important for you to do the thing once. This is why I don’t like gym owners just signing up with gym marketing agencies because they don’t even understand what they’re buying. They don’t even know how to measure success. They need to learn how to run that stuff themselves, and then they can choose to delegate it to somebody else.

Mike Warkentin (09:58):
So how do you archive all this stuff? Like do you have a giant staff playbook or a video file, or how do you do this?

Chris Cooper (10:04):
Yeah, so there’s a staff playbook, and that’s kind of the master document. So that’s what we call the “hit by the bus” test. If Chris is hit by a bus, you open the staff playbook, and you are good. Everything is there. And we’re going to show you how to deliver to the Catalyst standard. Within that binder, there might be some video links. So, for example, like the closing checklist, I did that on video this time, but in the binder, it will say, “Here are the steps one to 10. Here’s a video of Chris doing it. Click here.” And the reason that you have to do that, especially with cleaning, is that your standard of clean might not be their standard of clean. Anybody with a teenager knows what I’m talking about. Like you have to show them “Here’s the standard” and tell them how to get there.

Mike Warkentin (10:46):
So here’s a question for you. I’ll play devil’s advocate here. You got a gym owner who says, “If I write out all these crazy details, I’m taking all the freedom away from my staff to kind of just be good employees. What do you say to a gym owner like that who maybe is really hesitant to take all these details and make it like the McDonald’s French fry checklist?

Chris Cooper (11:04):
Well, what you have to do is you have to standardize what good means—what a 10 out of 10 is for you—because that’s different in everybody’s head and they can’t read your mind. So, while they might think that they are pursuing virtuosity and delivering to 10 out of 10, it’s not like your standard, and they don’t know what you know. And so, what you want to do is make it easier than it has to be. The people who are wicked smart and just say, “I get it.” They’ll just read it faster. The people who struggle to make little leaps doesn’t mean they’re dumb. They just think differently than you do. Like they need those steps; they need screenshots. Open up, Zen Planner, log in here, here is the password, click here. Like you’re way better off to make this simpler than it has to be than to skip steps and have people guess because nobody’s good at guessing, especially not me.

Mike Warkentin (11:50):
And I’ll give you—I’ll answer my own question, my devil’s advocate question here, like, I’ve received video SOPs from you for Two-Brain stuff, and it’s great. We go through it and then usually what I’ll do is I’ll make something on a checklist or document or tracking system or something like that, but then it becomes very streamlined where once that thing is in place, and I know that Chris needs this on this date and this thing needs to happen, it’s all very streamlined. I don’t have to go through your SOP every single time, but that established the backbone and now we can cruise through it, and because I can remember it, we make sure it happens. The analogy that I like is the field of play, like a baseball field, and it’s like you can hit the ball anywhere in this diamond. If we’re outside these foul lines, it’s out of play and we’re going to talk about it, but anywhere in here is good. So, I think with some employees, you give them, like you said, these very clear checklists and some employees love checking boxes, like it stimulates them to just tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. And they love it. Other employees kind of want that field of play. But if it’s all there and you have options for people, I think it works pretty well for both sides. What do you think?

Chris Cooper (12:48):
Yeah, well, there’s a three-step process to acquiring any skill. And ultimately what you want is for your staff not to do it differently, but just to get better and better and better at doing the same thing, right? Like, you don’t want them suddenly saying, “No, Mike, I’m going to hit it like over the dugout.” It’s really like, “I’m going to try and put it right between center and right field every single time.” So that’s a process of skill acquisition. The first step is always just learning from a teacher. So if you think about how you learn how to tie your shoes, maybe your parents sang a little nursery rhyme to you so that you could remember, or like, “OK, the bunny goes through the tree around the,” you know, like there was a checklist, and it was hard, and you were like, “Oh, I’m not getting this.”

Chris Cooper (13:29):
The second phase is when you’ve got a little bit of autonomy, and you can reliably do it yourself, but you can also look at it and say, “That wasn’t my best work. I tied up my shoelaces, but they keep coming undone. Maybe I need another approach. That kid’s doing a double knotting; oh, I should try that.” And then the third level is basically virtuosity, where you’re so good at the skill that you don’t have to think about it anymore. And this is kind of a trap, and this is where coaching really comes in because I’ve got coaches who’ve been with me at my gym for 15 years—they can run a B+ CrossFit class with their eyes closed, right? The key to good leadership is now practicing virtuosity and now digging into that B+ and saying, “How can we make this an A?” And that’s uncomfortable for people because they’re like, “I’ve been doing this so long, man; I got it.” You know, but this is something that you often do for me with writing is, “Well, you know, you could still fix that.” So I could be comfortably competent without being really, really, really good. And a good leader will show people their true potential and pull or push them to get there.

Mike Warkentin (14:33):
Two-Brain mentor Oskar Johed from Sweden said that when he evaluates coaches, no matter who they are, they get three things they did well and one thing to improve. And if you know that going in, that’s kind of great, right? Because you’ve got an established coach who knows, even after 15 years, I’m going to get three things I did good and one thing that I can improve. And that’s a great way to do it. Right? Like I love that concept. And I’ll tell you this, listeners, take this one down. You’re going to do the process one time yourself, and you’re going to write down everything, and you’re going to deliver that SOP to the staff member to offload it. That is the most effective process. And I’ll tell you, I literally Two-Brain everything around my house, because I’m crappy at home repair. Whenever I do something like my Christmas lights, I write notes to future Mike, and it’s the SOP of how I did it last time.

Mike Warkentin (15:15):
Yeah. I can literally show you a picture on the box of Christmas lights that shows the entire diagram of how it goes and like, “Don’t screw this up. This cord goes here. Do not plug this there.” And I took that from Two-Brain, and it works in my personal life and also works in a business. Now Chris, talk to me about how we ingrain this thing and how we make sure that this system doesn’t fall by the wayside because it’s really great. I made a huge mistake. I created an SOP playbook. It was amazing. Never updated it, and it fell apart. What do you do?

Chris Cooper (15:42):
Yeah, so what you’ve got to do is set yourself up an audit cycle for yourself and for your staff. So, some SOPs, you write them once, you don’t really have to update them anymore, right? Like, “OK, here’s how you mop the floor.” Unless you move gyms, you don’t have to change that SOP; it’s one and done, easy project. Yeah. But what you have to do is evaluate their performance on that. So, what we found with cleaners is the first three months, spick and span, the gym smells amazing; right at the nine-month mark, I’ve got a camera video of this, kid’s looking at his phone, he’s dragging the mop behind him, walking back and forth. Like, I literally have a camera of this. Or another time we had this poor woman, she was with us for about six months and one of my coaches shows up at 9 p.m. because he forgot something, and she’s there cleaning, and she says, “Hey Mitch, how often does Coop look at the security cameras?”

Chris Cooper (16:32):
And at that time we didn’t have security cameras, but Mitch is whip smart and he says, “Oh, every day.” And she goes, “Uh, I’m fired,” and she just left. We have no idea what she did. Right? But the point is that if you’re not checking occasionally, that standard is going to drop to comfortable competence instead of virtuous. So, you know, the cleaning was one example. Another one is the classes: The coaches get familiar with the people who are in there. Yeah, we’re starting on time, but it kind of feels like, “Hey everybody, glad to see you. Here’s everything you need. The workout is up on the board. Is everybody familiar with everything? Cool, cool, cool. Hope you had a great weekend. OK, I’m going to start the clock.”

Chris Cooper (17:21):
“Just go as hard as you can. OK?” Like this familiarity breeds this kind of complacency, but if they know that you’re evaluating them every three months or whatever, they just bring their attention and their focus back to delivering at an A+ level. And this A+ level is not like, “Oh, if I get my CrossFit Level 3, I’ll just deliver better.” No, it’s more like, are you being evaluated, and is the owner of your gym helping you pursue virtuosity at that skill with objective feedback? Because if you don’t have that feedback, it doesn’t work.

Mike Warkentin (17:55):
So evaluation, regular evaluation to make sure that your SOPs are being done to the right standards is essentially—you cannot just set it and forget it. You can set it, but you have to evaluate and make sure things are going correctly. Now, you do not have to do that. If you trained a fantastic CEO or gym owner to work beneath you as the owner, you could delegate that task. That’s doable. You’ve got to find the right person because you’ve got to make sure the standards are at your standards, but you could definitely offload that task as well. Chris is off to talk about the value ladder. You want to offload those easier jobs first, like cleaning—that’s a great one to get rid of first—and then kind of work your way up the chain. But eventually some of our top gym owners get to the level where they’re offloading GM and even some CEO tasks because they just don’t want to do them anymore, which is really cool. Now Chris, talk to me. You mentioned it, but let’s dig into it a little bit more: mentorship and coaching. So, let’s say you’ve got these evaluations in place. How do you start getting people to like “come to Jesus,” as we might say, or get better or improve, or if you’re bad at it, how do you get them to maybe get out?

Chris Cooper (18:55):
Well, low-level tasks are just a scorecard. So, “Your mopping is an eight out of 10,” right? I’m not going to coach you on your mopping, but higher-level tasks like sales, that’s where it’s less of a checklist and more of freedom and responsibility within a framework. And so, what I’m going to do on sales is actually provide some coaching to you. So, I might record your last five No Sweat Intros. I might sit with you during those. I might just look at your close rate, and then what I’m going to do is I’m going to coach you to get better. So, “OK, Mike, we’re going to do role play today. It’s the second Monday of the month. We’re going to sit down. I’ve got five objections here. Are you ready? Go.” And your staff isn’t reading verbatim from a script, but they are operating within a framework. It’s like bumper bowling.

Mike Warkentin (19:41):
I’ll go back to Oskar again because he’s so passionate about coaching. And what he does is he does evaluations. He walks right beside the staff member, he calls it the Band-Aid approach, and he’s like stuck on them. And rather—and I thought this was a really cool concept from Oskar. He said, “What do you often do? You evaluate a coach, you take some notes, then you wait about a week, then you schedule a meeting, then you get them in, and you talk to them, and at that point everything is faded. He’s like, “I want to be right next to them.” And so, I’m going to talk to them. And so, when they say something, and they’ll do, like, “OK, I want you to get some barbells.” Everybody goes off to get the barbells. And Oscar will be like, “Hey, what you could have said there is ‘I want you to get the barbells and be back in 30 seconds because we’re starting the workout in two minutes,’” and he’s giving them immediate feedback. So, that’s an interesting technique, but it proves your point of constant evaluation so that people can improve. And it’s not—you’ve said this one—it’s not abdication; it’s delegation, and you can’t just push it off into the wilderness. I’ve done that; it didn’t work. You have to coach people to get better. Are some staff members uncoachable?

Chris Cooper (20:39):
Well, no, I think it’s really up to the owners to create a culture where they know that that’s part of the culture. You know, for example, if you work for the CrossFit seminar staff, you know that’s happening. Like that’s just part of the culture. You get that. But if you just kind of start doing evaluations out of the blue—and I made this mistake—you stand there in the corner like this, and you’re watching a class, “Oh my god,” you know, you’re rolling your eyes, after the class, that coach is completely keyed up. They’re playing defense. They’re ready to like fight you. And you’re like, “You didn’t do this, this, this, this, this.” Instead, what you want to do—my approach is you have quarterly career roadmap meetings where you talk about “Where do you want to go?” then we say, “Here’s where you are,” and that’s where you deliver the evaluation. And then you say, “Here’s the next step for you.” And that’s what you’re really measuring. I have gone—I’ve flown to Stockholm; I’ve watched Oskar do that with his coaches. It is super-duper powerful. And actually, the clients know that that’s part of the culture too, and so, they expect it too.

Mike Warkentin (21:40):
Yep, to summarize here guys, what we’ve got is you need to standardize your business, get it out of your head, to protect your time and your focus. If you do not do this, you will never be able to ascend to upper-level tasks that include working on the business instead of working in the business. You are going to do this by doing the job yourself, then writing an SOP, then you’re going to give that SOP to a staff member. You’re going to mentor them to success in certain roles. In other roles, you’re just giving them the checklist of “the mop bucket goes in the corner,” but you’re going to give them this stuff, and then you’re going to evaluate down the line, and you’re going to evaluate at intervals forever to make sure that this stuff doesn’t go away. So that’s your quick summary of how this is going to go. Chris, so let’s send people off with something they can do today. Like a simple one step, “do this now,” to start this process. What is it?

Chris Cooper (22:29):
Yeah, perfect. So, this weekend, let’s say that you’re going to do a deep clean on your gym. Just go to the gym with a notepad and write down every single step that you take. And then on Monday, what you’re going to do is hire somebody else to do that job for you. And while they’re doing that job, you’ve bought back your time, hopefully you’ve bought back some focus. While they’re doing that job, you are going to work on your business. You know, for me, I had to do it this way: Our first cleaner was named Sean, and while Sean mopped at 9 p.m. at night, I would do email marketing. I would sit at my desk and send that email, and the first night I did it, I made $300, which to me felt like a lottery ticket. He was getting paid $20. And I’m like, “There’s something to this,” you know?

Chris Cooper (23:09):
So, buying back your time is the one thing, and the other thing is buying back your focus. You know, my biggest flaw when doing personal training a lot was that I would be thinking like, “OK, Patty’s in front of me, but Billy owes me money. I see him over there. I can’t let him leave the gym without talking to him about his membership.” I’m not paying attention to her, and my service sucks. So, then you need to say, “OK, well, here’s the next thing I need to offboard. I need somebody else taking care of these payments so that I’m not thinking about it when I’m working with Patty.” And you just kind of work your way up the value ladder that way.

Mike Warkentin (23:39):
And I’m going to give you the sniff test on this one, guys, because some people will be like, “I don’t know about this process.” Here it is, and this, you’ll get this immediately as a gym owner. You’re spending an hour cleaning gum off your rowers and scrubbing your floors and your toilets. If you pay someone $20 to do that for you, could you sell one hour of personal training at $75 in that hour? Yeah, you could. You could—like everyone knows this. You could do that with your current clients. All of a sudden, you’re $55 ahead, and all you did was trade an hour for better work. And that’s just a low-level thing. You could do what Chris did, work on email marketing and make thousands of dollars. But that’s the sniff test. And if you don’t believe it, try it. Ask some of your members today, “Hey, you’re struggling with muscle ups. You want to book a personal session with me next week for an hour, and we’ll take care of it?” $75. At least offload a cleaning hour. There you go. Done. Chris, thank you so much for this. We’re going to get gym owners to standardize their stuff and move forward. If they want to go further and learn more, where can they do it?

Chris Cooper (24:36): is probably the best bet. A lot of my books actually focus on this, like the “Gym Owners Handbook,” and I couldn’t resist, Mike: the original “Two-Brain Business” book. Yeah, there’s only like one copy of this that I own, but that’s really what the book was about. You know, the first lesson from my mentor was: Your business is not good enough to start marketing. You need to fix your ops first, and this is the first step.

Mike Warkentin (24:59):
There you go. Gym Owners United. If you do one thing at the end of the show, join that group,, and you can talk to Chris and Two-Brain mentors and other gym owners all day every day. And we screen out all the jerks, so it’s just good people giving good advice and helping you guys out. This is “Run a Profitable Gym.” That was Chris Cooper. I’m Mike Warkentin, and please hit “subscribe” on your way out, and make sure you make your way to Gym Owners United.

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