Going Big: Scaling a PT Business From 1 to 23 Locations

Going Big: Scaling a PT Business From 1 to 23 Locations

Mike Warkentin (00:02):
It is a very special edition of “Run a Profitable Gym.” In this episode, John Franklin of “Gym World Worldwide” chats with Curtis Christopherson about scaling his fitness business to 23 locations. Please hit “Subscribe,” so you can run a profitable gym too. Now, here’s John Franklin.

John Franklin (00:17):
Hello, and welcome to “Gym World Worldwide.” We have a very special episode for you today. We are bringing on Curtis Christopherson of Innovative Fitness. He is a personal training gym mogul. We’re going to hear his story of scaling from one to now 23 locations, doing over seven figures on average per unit, per location, hiring 200 to 250 trainers system wide. And we’re actually co-publishing this episode with “Two-Brain Radio” (“Run a Profitable Gym”). And so, we want to get this in the hands of a lot of gym owners because we think Curtis has a lot to teach y’all. So, how’s it going? Good morning. What do you have to say to the gym world?

Curtis Christopherson (01:02):
Yeah, good morning. Thanks for hosting me, and yeah, it’s time to get going today—like every day.

John Franklin (01:09):
All right, let’s rock and roll. So, tell me: What is Innovative Fitness?

Curtis Christopherson (01:13):
Yeah, we’re—Innovative Fitness is exclusively a one-on-one personal training model and gym chain. So, we have now 23, up to 23 locations, boutique model, so about 4,000 to 5,000 square feet. And we exclusively deliver one-on-one and two-on-one services.

John Franklin (01:30):
Like how long—you were like the original founder of this, right? It’s kind of got an interesting story behind it, right?

Curtis Christopherson (01:36):
You know what, uniquely enough, I’m actually not. Yeah, in 1997, our two founders, Matt Young and Jeff Sharpe, founded it out of university. They were about 11 years my senior. Our first location opened up opened up in ‘99, and I was like the seventh employee. And after, in 2002 when I joined the company, we had one location opening up too, and they looked at me and they said, “Hey, we’re going to lose you. Do you want to be part owner of this?” And so, I opened up our second location. I owned our third. There were three of us; we owned one each. And then, I kind of joined the ownership group right then and there. And, in 2017, I actually bought out the two founders and my partners.

John Franklin (02:22):
Oh, wow. Okay because I remember you telling me—I remember you telling a story on a different podcast where you took out a loan. It was like you were 22 years old and took out 400 grand to open the first location. So, was it actually like the third of this chain, or was that a separate thing?

Curtis Christopherson (02:34):
No, yeah, it was our third location, so we had just opened one each, and I was 22 going on 23, took a $450,000 line of credit out to expand our brand and our business. And I did that, and then, you know, the rest is history. So, we combined forces. I led the organization from 2003 all the way up until today.

John Franklin (03:01):
Wow. So, you’ve been in the game 25-ish years now?

Curtis Christopherson (03:06):
Yeah, I mean, the brand and the business has been around for close to 25. I’ve been at the helm for the last 20 to 22. And, it’s been quite the journey; that’s for sure.

John Franklin (03:17):
And I’m guessing you’ve made no mistakes along the way. You just nailed it right out the gate and instantly scaled up.

Curtis Christopherson (03:23):
Yeah. None. Yeah, overnight success, super easy, straight line, and no bird’s nest along the way.

John Franklin (03:29):
Awesome. Awesome. All right. That’s the end of the podcast, guys. I hope you got a lot out of it. Yeah, so let’s get into a little bit about the service, the packaging, and pricing. Because my understanding is you really only offer like one-on-one, one-on-two—is that correct?

Curtis Christopherson (03:45):
Yeah, for the last 20, 25 years, that’s ultimately what we’ve provided—strictly in-person one-on-one, one-on-two. Someone comes in—it’s an employee-based model, and they have a consistent experience and service. And we’ve done that up until now. I think COVID disrupted a little bit and, and we’re looking at evaluating alternative services, such as not only virtual training, but online coaching as well. But, 97% of our revenue is strictly from that one-on-one, one-on two service delivery.

John Franklin (04:19):

And so how do you package and price your stuff?

Curtis Christopherson (04:22):
So it’s not à la carte. We have strictly packages based on credits, prepayment credits, and people, the client, either pays on a monthly, three-month, or six-month basis. We have corporate packages as well. So, 75-, 150-, and 300-session packages. But predominantly, you know, our average customer, they’re coming in, they’re paying monthly, and our average customer comes in between two and three days a week.

John Franklin (04:47):
Okay. And what’s kind of like a baseline for the session rate?

Curtis Christopherson (04:52):
Yeah, it’s about $100. It depends on geographically where we’re located. You know, some locations can justify a higher price point, but for the most part, I think it’s just under $100 is our average price point per hour.

John Franklin (05:04):
So, that puts us somewhere in the neighborhood of 800 to 1,200 a month is what you’re looking at for an average member.

Curtis Christopherson (05:09):
Yeah, correct. I think our average rate now across the board is $825—give or take the average spend per month, per customer.

John Franklin (05:22):
And so, you said you have about 23 locations. What is kind of, like at maturity—what does a unit look like? Like how many members do you have? How many staff members—kind of just run us through the ideal economics at maturity for one of these?

Curtis Christopherson (05:38):
Yeah, for sure. So, I would say that from a maturity perspective, it takes about six to seven years to get up to the numbers I’m going to talk about. The average location will do about 450 billable hours a week. So, we’re talking, you know, 200 active clients at two and a half times a week. So, between 200 and 250 active clients. We would have anywhere between 12 to 16 full-time trainers. And we’re doing anywhere in the ballpark of 1.3 to 1.5 million in revenue per location.

John Franklin (06:11):
And so, 1.3 to 1.5—you said average unit size is around 5,000 square feet. Did I hear that right?

Curtis Christopherson (06:20):
Yeah, just shy of that. I would say our older locations are a little bit smaller. They were in the range of 3,500 to 4,200, and now we’re looking at—just based on space and optimizing that—like it’s around 4,800 to 5,000.

John Franklin (06:35):
And what other models run something like this? Because I’ve heard of personal training studios doing these kind of numbers—not on this type of scale—but a lot of times it seems like they run out of a smaller footprint. This seems like a larger gym, so what was the rhyme or reason behind that square footage?

Curtis Christopherson (06:51):
Right from the beginning, we’re always about the premium side of the market. So, we have beautifully designed amenity spaces, so for all the clients, shower facilities, which takes up quite a bit. And then we have typically—we have a good-sized staff room for the staff, so that they actually have the ability to do the work—online programming, coaching—and stay connected as a team. The training floor space is about anywhere between 2,000 and 2,500, and the remaining is divided up between shower facilities, front desk reception area, and then the staff room and staff facilities as well.

John Franklin (07:27):
And you’re primarily located in like Tier 1 cities, right? That seems to be the—if I’m looking through the location list here. Eh, some of these are—

Curtis Christopherson (07:36):
Yeah, I mean, we usually anchor in Tier 1. So, Vancouver is where our home is and where we started. And we usually expand in like a hub and spoke model where we’ll plant the brand and the business—not necessarily in downtown or the center—but we we’re in Vancouver, and then we’re in eight suburbs around Vancouver. So, the suburb markets that are anywhere between 30 and 45 minutes away from downtown do extremely well for our business.

John Franklin (08:06):
So, I’m guessing your bread and butter is probably like 45-year-old mom or 45-year-old working dad. Is that about right?

Curtis Christopherson (08:15):
Yeah, pretty close. I think our average client is around 48 or 49 years old. Typically, CEO, executive, stay-at-home mom, stay-at-home dad, and 50/50 split. Every location’s slightly different, but on average, it’s about a 50/50 split between male and female.

John Franklin (08:35):
It seems—the price point sounds like relatively reasonable for higher-end personal training. So, is a hundred dollars a session usually like top end of the market in most of these places? Like, I know there’s a lot of disposable income floating around in Vancouver, Toronto, some of these Tier 1 Canadian cities, and the burbs.

Curtis Christopherson (08:55):
Yeah, I would say it’s a very competitive price point. I wouldn’t say it’s the top end. But I also wouldn’t say that I think— We’re in Vancouver. Unfortunately, a lot—there’s a significant amount of competition, and I would say some of that competition is actually due to our longevity in the space. We’ve been in the space for the last 25 years, and we’ve had—especially early on, we had a lot of ex-employees leave to only open up a very competitive or similar model. We don’t get that as much anymore just because of the systems, the processes, and the opportunity that we’ve created. But the competition in Vancouver is—I’ve been to LA, New York, and other high-end locations, geographical locations, and I would say it’s probably one of the most competitive markets in North America. And so, that just keeps our price point where it is when, in Toronto, our average point price point is $140 an hour, and you’re going to see obviously one-on-one services scale to 200, 250 in some areas.

John Franklin (09:55):
Wow. I was looking at a place near—I’m in Jupiter, Florida, and so that’s where like a lot of the pro golfers are—and I was looking at a place, and the session rate they’re charging is between 250 and 300. That was one of the spicier ones I’ve ever seen. Yeah. Baseline membership was $2,200. It’s like, wow.

Curtis Christopherson (10:13):

John Franklin (10:13):
There’s a lot—there’s a different game being played.

Curtis Christopherson (10:16):

John Franklin (10:17):
So, we talked—these price points, I’m assuming, are one-on-one. One-on-two, I’m assuming, is like me and a buddy or me and my wife want to go in and train with you. Like, how does that work? Is there a discount, or is it 200 for the session? How, how do you package?

Curtis Christopherson (10:31):
Yeah, no, it’s a slight discount. So, it’s probably about 60% per person of the actual price points. So, instead of $100 an hour, it’s in the range of $65 to $75 per person. And depending on the discounts and the packages that people pay, so it’s a discounting fee, and it allows, obviously, just like small group does, it allows the price point to be more achievable and open up your adjustable market.

John Franklin (10:59):
Yep. And so, we’re talking 200, 250 at maturity—200 to 250 clients at maturity. You said six to seven years, which is a longer ramp up than we hear from a lot of other people. So, either, you know—sounds very realistic and believable. How do you get bodies in the door? What’s your marketing?

Curtis Christopherson (11:19):
You know what, we spend 1% on digital—like 1% of our revenue is dedicated for digital advertising. You know, anything from search or digital ads. That being said, 90% of our business comes from word of mouth. And because of our strong retention—I think our average right now, pre-COVID anyways was 7.2 years—so we don’t need a significant amount of new clients per month or per year. We have a retention rate of anywhere between 90 and 92% typically. And so, we’ll have 8% attrition just based on travel, finances, moving, or just transitioning out of the business in terms of they’re done with the services. So, for us, 90, 99% is word of mouth. Brand awareness obviously plays a big part of that, but it’s all about experiences. And if we can create great experiences and great results, then the rest of the rest of the magic happens by itself.

John Franklin (12:20):
Are you saying—that 90 to 92, is that monthly or annual? The attrition?

Curtis Christopherson (12:25):
Yeah, so we have about, give or take, like I say, between eight to 12% attrition on an annual basis.

John Franklin (12:35):
Okay. Wow. So, that’s pretty impressive. Do you find that that’s a result of personal training? Like I would’ve guessed the opposite—that like a personal-training-focused gym would probably—you know, I feel like once people hit a certain threshold, it turns into more of a therapy relationship and less of like a training one. But I just may be coming from a group training background, so maybe I’m just—you know, you’ve got to shatter my belief here.

Curtis Christopherson (13:01):
Yeah, you know what—I think the reality is that we’ve been pretty strong at not only building great rapport and relationships and building trust with our clientele, but creating community—especially before COVID, before that disruption happened—but you know, when you create community, create connection, create trust, and really integrate the client within the experience that’s going to obviously lengthen the longevity of a client and increase retention. Another thing that we’ve done extremely well is we focus less on the weight and focus more on challenges and really reestablishing goals along the way. I mean, I think it’s inevitable if you’re in the fitness industry—if you only focus on the scale, there’s only so much weight you can lose. And if you don’t reengage with the clientele or the customer on setting new goals after they’ve achieved their body weight goals, as an example, or any kind of body composition goals, it’s inevitable that they’re going to move on. And so for us, we’ve always instilled this opportunity to reengage in some other lifestyle goal, whether it’s running around the block pain-free, hiking a mountain, running a marathon, cycling across wine country, whatever it might be, and engage them into a lifestyle, so that not only has it encouraged them to keep on going, but from a business model perspective, it helps us retain our clientele.

John Franklin (14:27):
I’m coming off of a back surgery, so I’m on the jogging around the block pain-free. That’s a 2023 goal, so nice. We’ll see how that goes. So, you said community building and one-on-one training. So, in my head, those don’t go together. You mentioned like keeping people focused on some type of goal. What other things are you doing to make these people engaged? Get them to stick around, keep paying for over seven years?

Curtis Christopherson (14:55):
Yeah, I would say one of our probably biggest strategies to do that and incorporate them into the brand versus the individual person is we have something called the rotational training system, which we’ve done for 23 of the last 25 years, where when you come in as a client, you don’t work with one trainer. So, typically, if a client is training three days a week, they’re twice with one trainer and one time with another trainer. If they’re twice a week, they’re one-on-one, meaning one time with one trainer, one time with another trainer. So, we call it a consistent variety. And that consistent variety not only provides a little bit of variety, obviously through the training week, but it also provides a little bit of stickiness within the business model because the relationship is developed with multiple people versus just one.

Curtis Christopherson (15:45):
So if there’s any transition with that trainer, they go off and either move out of the industry or go on their own. There’s a connection that ties to the brand through the other relationships that exist. And so that’s one thing that we do for sure. And then other things like just community involvement. So, we will—not only do we have group events and experiences that we’ll create, but this destination travel, which we’ve been known for probably the last 20 years, is that we take people to Machu Picchu, Kilimanjaro, cycling the Tour de France. We’ve taken people all around the world and engaged them into lifestyle experiences. And when they go and do that, they’re traveling with like-minded people. They meet people that belong to the same community, which is innovative fitness, and they get to know each other. And that provides a little bit more stickiness as well.

John Franklin (16:37):
Whoa, I didn’t know—so where would I go to find that on your site? Or it’s just a secret page? The travel. Do you market this, or is this “I’ve got to be in the club to know about it”?

Curtis Christopherson (16:47):
No, no, no. We market a little bit. It is mostly internal, but it’s funny you mentioned that because our site—I’d say probably 12 years ago, you’d go to our website, and you’d think we were an adventure travel company versus a personal training company. So, people really got confused what we did. And so, it is a vehicle and a strategy to engage people, create community, and create a level of challenge for our customers to embark on lifestyle specific health goals and take them to a way of thinking that full, holistic wellness isn’t just about the scale.

John Franklin (17:24):
Interesting, interesting. Yeah, because we’ve been talking a lot about outdoor experiences, getting your gym members outside of the gym as a retention tool. But this is the first time I hear of someone doing like big life things within the gym. And I’m guessing with such a network, you can probably do a lot of them, right? Like with 23 gyms, you can run one of these things like every month or two, I’m assuming.

Curtis Christopherson (17:46):
Oh, yeah, for sure. Like, we do probably one a month. And they’re significant. When I look back probably 20 years ago—and how this started is that as we developed our model and developed our philosophies and knew it wasn’t going to be about the scale, and it was about challenging people outside their comfort zone and trying to achieve more than just what they saw below their feet. When we challenged people to go do a marathon, our clientele told us, “I’ve always—,”or challenged them to do a run per se, they’d be like, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to do a marathon before I’m 50.” Like, they were setting bucket list goals before “The Bucket List” movie was even existing. And so, what happened was is that we said, “Okay, well why don’t we do the Vancouver Marathon?”

Curtis Christopherson (18:31):
And they obviously could afford international travel, and they said, “Well, if I’m going to do a marathon, I want to do the Tokyo Marathon or the London Marathon or something like that.” And that was a good sign for us that it’s like, okay, instead of thinking small, why don’t we think big? People have aspirations and goals, but they hesitate to actually check them off the list because they don’t feel they’re adequately prepared, they’re not healthy enough, they’re not focused, they don’t have enough support, they don’t know where to start. And so, we essentially help them achieve their goals through physical fitness. And we’ve taken—I mean, even myself personally, I’ve been lucky enough for the last 20 years travel around the world just because of the nature of our business.

John Franklin (19:12):
And is this something where you coordinate all the details and charge the members and make a little bit of money off of it? Or is it just like, “Hey, we’re going to go run it Tokyo book at this hotel” and like it’s an at-cost thing?

Curtis Christopherson (19:23):
No, we coordinate everything. We coordinate everything. It’s not a massive revenue generating part of the business, but what we do is we factor in for every 10 clients that go one of our trainers that’s leading the event goes at no cost. And so, for us, it’s a retention tool for our training staff as well. They get to experience the world; they get to check things off their bucket list, and typically, there’s a lot of shared bucket list items. And that’s another thing we did. In 2003, I created a “While I’m Alive” list. It’s a little bit what I’m known for. This is before “The Bucket List” movie came out as well. And I sat down, created a “While I’m Alive” list—at the time, it was actually “Everything I Want to Do Before I Die.” I switched it, made it a little more positive, and I created a list of everything, like all the physical accomplishments, the sightseeing, and the world travel that I want to accomplish before I die. And that turned into really looking at what events we want to do because I knew that if I had these on my list, other people did too. And so, a lot of our events came from that.

John Franklin (20:31):
Yeah. I saw on your site—it looked like you were pretty deliberate about planning out how you spend your time, who you spend your time with, and what you actually accomplish. So, I just discovered this guy; he was on a podcast. His name’s Jesse Itzler. Have you heard of him?

Curtis Christopherson (20:46):
Oh, yeah. Yep.

John Franklin (20:47):
I was going to say, when I was reading through some of your stuff and going through, I was like, “Yeah, you guys have a very similar vibe,” so very, very cool. People are going to love that. That’s a very fresh idea in our corner of the world. And it’s something where—the newsletter I’m writing this week, it’s about a guy who’s doing really well catering to Gen Z, and it seems like something—that demographic really wants stuff like that. And not a lot of people are offering it. So, it’s very cool to see that.

Curtis Christopherson (21:15):
I think COVID has just accelerated the desire to be involved in community as well. Like when you get it stripped away for two, two and a half years in some cases, I think the desire for connection, community, and just grounding in these experiences, I think it made it more valuable. And so, we saw massive value before the pandemic, but now post-pandemic, I think you’re going to see people wanting to explore their life. And there’s a book called—that I love right now—“Die with Zero,” and it just makes you think like, “What are we working so hard for?” And from a health and wellness perspective as well, it’s funny; people hesitate, the consumer hesitates to spend a lot of money on their wellness, yet they’ll spend money on, I don’t know, the gardener, eating out, any outsourced services, they’ll spend money on to save time and be efficient yet, usually the last thing that they spend money on is actually outsourcing their health.

Curtis Christopherson (22:15):
And when it comes down to it, they’ll spend endless amount of money to extend their life by two weeks at the very end of the day. And so, why not spend money on travel, community connection, adventure—let alone health—now, so that you can enjoy the last 20, 30, 40, 50 years of your life.

John Franklin (22:34):
Yeah, I mean, it’s hard as someone who works from home and has family at home, like I leave my house maybe like once or twice a week, and it’s not to like interface with other people. So, it’s like, if you don’t live in my neighborhood, chances are I don’t see you. So, I understand that, and it’s definitely something I’ve been thinking a lot about myself.

John Franklin (22:54):
You’ve mentioned COVID a few times, and rumor on the street is you have an interesting COVID story. I mean, every gym owner got kicked in the teeth, but it sounds like you got a couple extra kicks in the teeth. So, a rumor on the street was you had about 13 locations doing around 17 million, and you had just taken out a big old bank loan to expand, and what happened?

Curtis Christopherson (23:17):
Yeah. You know, it’s a story I’ve told a couple times—maybe more than a couple—and it was, you know, we’re not quite through the war story. Yeah, but we’re out on the other side, that’s for sure. And I look at, in 2019, I remember looking at my wife going, “We finally made it after 22 years in the business.” You know, we were expanding, we were doing well, all of our locations were thriving. And in January of 2020, we worked to the banks. And if anybody knows the banking industry, especially in Canada, actually, they don’t like to finance our industry. So, being the second highest failing industry in North America, one being restaurants, two being fitness, it’s really difficult to get expansion capital. And after the length of time that we’ve been in the industry and the success we’ve had, the banks were knocking on our doors in January of 2020.

Curtis Christopherson (24:09):
And, I closed out a $4 million expansion credit line to expand our locations actually down to the U.S. And so, we closed that mid-February, or end of February, and I remember getting on a plane, I think it was—don’t quote me, but I think it was like February 18th or 20th, and I went from Vancouver to Toronto, Toronto to New York, New York to San Diego, San Diego to LA, LA to Seattle, and Seattle back to Vancouver. And in that process, I had signed a couple leases, I signed two offer-to-purchases, so we were going to buy two boutique gyms, and I had signed two significant leases, especially one in Toronto on Bloor and Yonge Street. And I came back, and you know, within the first week of March, and I knew something was up. Especially going through New York, like you knew something was going down.

Curtis Christopherson (25:01):
And sure enough, on March 15th, we shut our doors. And I remember looking at myself going, not only did I take all this risk, we were just there—like we were after 20 years plus in the industry and making it as far as we did, and then getting the capital to expand. You know, we went from the top of the world to figuring out what the hell we were going to do, you know? And we had to navigate 13 locations. Lucky enough, with our expansion plans to the U.S., we also had the desire to build our own software. So, seven months prior to the pandemic, we were developing our own software because we felt like the industry needed something that didn’t exist. You know, you had Mindbody on one side and you had, you had Trainerize on the other—two great software solutions but didn’t really solve the need for a one-on-one experience, scheduling, billing, invoicing.

Curtis Christopherson (25:53):
At that time, Trainerize was predominantly an engagement tool and a programming tool. And so, we started developing our software that we needed to expand successfully down to the U.S., and we had enough code and enough of it put together that we were able to accelerate the go-to-market, and we brought it to market, attached a virtual streaming solution to it, and deployed that within two weeks. And so, March 15th, we closed our doors, and March 30th we deployed over 200 trainers to deliver high-end, personalized virtual training services all paid to our clients. And we didn’t lay off—well, we laid off one person who was in charge of expansion; we weren’t expanding brick and mortar, and we weren’t designing any new spaces. And so, and yeah, that’s how it—that was the first couple weeks of COVID, and that that quick pivot, that fast, quick go-to-market just enabled us to lay down a pathway for us for the future. And looking back, it saved us for sure.

John Franklin (26:57):
So you pivoted to the software and moved your members online. And were you able to retain a decent amount? Or, you know, we talked to some gym owners. We had another guy on here, Matt Wilber; he was a Fit Body Boot Camp franchise with a ton of locations. And similar thing, he had just like closed on this $3 million loan and bought a bunch of them, but his was just like all large group training, so it was just like 70% of his business: “poof” gone. With personal training, I’m imagining you probably were able to hold onto a little more revenue than that.

Curtis Christopherson (27:26):
Yeah, I mean we were still down quite a bit, but it enabled us to stay engaged with the ones that wanted to do the virtual training, and I would say that we were down, 50 to 60% for sure. That being said, it allowed us to stay connected, and it allowed—more than anything—it allowed us to keep our employees employed. We could pay them, keep them in the community, so that when we’re ready to open up, we actually had the employees deliver the services. So, out of anything, I’d say that that was the biggest saving grace. And, you know, if we saved and kept 50 to 60% of our community engaged with virtual training, then the other 40 we had to work hard for to get back when we were open.

Curtis Christopherson (28:07):
And some of them, they just took a two-month break or a three-month break from a hiatus perspective. And we got a decent percentage of those back. But I look back, and I think it was a smart move. You never know, right? You can’t connect the dots looking forward, but you can connect them looking back and, and I think we consecutively made good choices along the way. We made a lot of mistakes, but I think for the most part, we made some small, incremental, good choices that just compounded and allowed us to be where we are at today.

John Franklin (28:40):
It’s gnarly, man. I also pivoted to software, but I did it 2019 when I sold my gym, so I got just lucky. I was in New York where it was the worst. And so, I dodged an absolute bullet.

Curtis Christopherson (28:54):
It was a crystal ball, I guess you had, right? Crystal ball.

John Franklin (28:56):
If it was a crystal—people say that—but if it was a crystal ball, I would be a lot richer. I probably would’ve put some of that money into some stocks in the bottom of 2020. So, I didn’t have that much foresight. So, you mentioned something interesting in your model when we were talking about community. So, you said in a lot of personal training models, it is like the client is owned by a trainer. You said that you swap it up. So, three times a week I could potentially see three different trainers, which is interesting, right? Because when I think of like, what are the threats of opening a personal training studio, one of them you mentioned it is everybody falls in love with your star trainer, and then they leave and take half your business with you. So, was this a process born out of protecting your core business? Or was this something that just made life a little better, so you could like block-schedule trainers?

Curtis Christopherson (29:50):
Yeah, you know what, it happened—we implemented this a long time ago, like 20, 22, 23 years ago. And it was implemented knowing that people would be connected to the brand versus the person. So yes, out of protection for sure, but what we found is that when people actually have that consistent variety, and they actually love it—for the most part, 90% of them actually enjoy that slight variety. We all know if you’ve trained at all, when you train someone—even from a trainer perspective—when you train someone three days a week, it gets a little monotonous, mundane, and you’ve got to do that consistently day in and day out. So having a slight variety changes it up, keeps people on their toes, and it provides a variety to the customer and the client. That being said, we never do more than two. So, if someone’s three days a week, it’s twice with one trainer, one time with another.

Curtis Christopherson (30:46):
We think that having three or four trainers, depending on how many times a week you come is too much variety. There isn’t consistency with the programming. There’s not consistency with understanding and staying intentional about the goals, but having that slight variety and having two coaches is new perspective, new way of doing things, keep things fresh, and everybody sticks to the same program. So, there’s always a consistent program that everybody follows.

John Franklin (31:14):
Oh, so like all 200 to 250 clients are doing the same thing?

Curtis Christopherson (31:18):
No, no, no, no. So, what I’m saying is that if you work with two coaches, they’re on the same path. Like they’re—basically you’ll have a delegated master coach or lead coach, and that lead coach will create the programming for that client, and both coaches in this case will follow that program to a T. So, it’s not—you’re not, from a client perspective, you don’t have a trainer like two trainers fighting over what they’re doing and have different programming for you. There’s one program for the client that’s customized to them; it’s personalized to them, but the lead coach creates that program and the other coach follows that program as close as possible.

John Franklin (31:59):
Got it. And so, this probably gives leeway as well if the lead coach, the lead trainer gets sick or something like that. There’s always just like someone available.

Curtis Christopherson (32:08):
Yeah, sick, moving away, you name it. They’re, you know, whatever, on vacation. It provides a lot of opportunities. So, you know, trainers can leave and go on vacation, or if they’re sick, the client isn’t not booking in for two weeks because they’re used to that variety. And, because of that, once again, it’s not only are they used to the variety, they’re also open and willing to work with some other trainers if someone goes away for two weeks or even longer. So yeah, it’s great that way. By no means—is it bulletproof? No. You know, at the end of the day, certain trainers demand a certain level of presence, and they build trust extremely well. And if they stay in the industry, there’s still risk from a business-model perspective, but that risk is heavily reduced.

John Franklin (32:55):
So it sounds like at the point of sale, every client has a lead coach, and the lead coach is responsible for the actual programming, right? Is that what I’m hearing?

Curtis Christopherson (33:03):
Yeah. Okay.

John Franklin (33:04):
Got it. And then at that point, that’s when you assign the backup or the secondary,

Curtis Christopherson (33:08):
Correct. Yes.

John Franklin (33:09):
Got it. Awesome. Awesome. So yeah, let’s move into the operations piece because it sounds like you like details, you like systems, you’re into it. I, don’t think you get to 23 studios on a personal training model if you’re not a little weird about that stuff. You know, borderline obsessive, you know?

Curtis Christopherson (33:32):
Yeah. Yeah.

John Franklin (33:32):
So, how do you hire? That’s the first piece. Like that was the first question I had with this thing is like, this sounds hard—getting that many trainers and coaches to offer a consistent service across all these different locations. Like what’s the secret sauce here?

Curtis Christopherson (33:47):
Yeah, I’d say that, uh, experience is, is actually like probably one of the lower characteristics that we look for. You know, our big thing is, first off, are they certified? Are they educated to be in the field? That’s number one. They have to have a certain level of certification or education. And then we look at and evaluate them as an individual. So, are they team oriented? Have they played team sports previously? Are they—what’s their desire to be a student of the game? Not only do they have post-secondary education or some level of certification, but are they constantly learning—are they learners by heart? You know, so team attitude, aptitude, are they student of the game? And then, experience is probably fifth on the list.

Curtis Christopherson (34:32):
I would say, also, do they lead by example? Do they walk the talk? You don’t go to a dentist with bad teeth. You don’t have to be blessed with great genetics, but do you challenge yourself personally and physically like you would expect of your own clients? And so, when we look at those characteristics, whether it’s a team background, someone that’s seeking out knowledge and experience, someone that walks the talk—those are the characteristics we look for. And, you know, if they have experience, that’s just a bonus. But we believe with our systems, structure, and onboarding process that we can help apply people that have significant education in the field and teach them how to be and ramp them up to be a great trainer pretty quickly. So, like I say, that’s what we’re looking for.

Curtis Christopherson (35:18):
We also look for, generally speaking, people that are 23 to 27 years old. There’s exceptions; sometimes, you have some a little bit older veterans in the field that want to work with us. And that’s always great; that perspective for the clients when you’re working with an older trainer. I think they like that. But regardless, when we hire someone that’s fresh out of university, we can help mold them, teach them, educate them, and really onboard them successfully.

John Franklin (35:47):
And so it says here—I was going to ask because you said you’re about 14 to 16 full-time per location at maturity. So, this is something where it’s not like a salary gig, right? Everyone’s paid by the session, but it looks like you offer some benefits and stuff. So, maybe talk a little bit about how you comp because I’m sure that is going to be a question in a lot of gym owners’ minds here.

Curtis Christopherson (36:10):
Yeah, for sure. So, everybody’s paid on the hourly basis. We only have two salaried employees per location. And those salaried employees are typically our manager—our studio manager—as well as our front desk administrator. So, we have our front desk administrator as well. And what we do is as we pay people, they get an hourly rate for the training sessions that they deliver on, but we ensure that they have a minimum of 25 hours to begin with. For us, that’s kind of our sweet spot. If someone is training less than 25 hours and getting paid for less than 25 hours, we know our likelihood of retaining them is going to be low. So, our goal is to build the schedule up to have a minimum of 25 hours when we onboard someone. And then because of our team environment and how we structure the scheduling, we also provide a strong scheduling platform where people aren’t burning out because they’re doing the mornings and the nights and split shifts.

Curtis Christopherson (37:03):
So we have two shifts, typically. Typically, people will train from six o’clock in the morning till three o’clock in the afternoon. That’s one shift. And then, as our morning shift goes on break or lunch, our afternoon and evening shift starts, so they start at 11 and they go 11 to eight. So, we have a six to three shift, 11 to eight. There are obviously exceptions to that, but that’s typically how we structure it. And most of our trainers will train between 32 and 34 hours a week. They get paid hourly, but we include additional medical benefits. We contribute to their medical, their benefit plan—so extended medical; we cover their insurance, and we have some other unique benefits as an employee working for our company.

John Franklin (37:51):
So, basically 25 is kind of what you consider the threshold for full-time. And then how long does it take to ramp? Because I heard you have a very robust training program.

Curtis Christopherson (38:05):
Yeah, so when we—I mean, that’s shifted over the years too. I remember when—let’s talk about that onboarding process—we used to believe that someone had to actually go to the tryouts to make the team. And so, we used to take people into a two- to three-week onboarding orientation process, and it didn’t guarantee that you got a job with us. Employment laws changed quite a bit, so we can’t do that anymore. But what we do is we have a two-and-a-half-week orientation process after an extensive interview process. And once people are brought into the orientation, they’re engaged not only through our values of a company or as an organization, but also our philosophies as well as—really the tactical and technical element of training. And how do we actually provide a level of knowledge, or essentially package their knowledge that they already have and teach them how to apply it?

Curtis Christopherson (39:01):
And so we want to—you know, a consistent experience, not only from a service perspective, but also from a training perspective. And they go through that process for about two and a half weeks, then they’ll start training, and they’ll start training between 20 and 25 hours, as I mentioned. That’s our target goal. And it usually takes about two and a half to three months to get up to that 35 hours of what people want. I mean, I think 40 hours is a bit unrealistic. A lot of people find they’re burning out, and it’s a lot to handle. But that 35-hour mark is usually the sweet spot of when people are staying extremely busy, the paychecks are looking good, and they’re happy.

John Franklin (39:40):
Yeah, 40 is a lot of time on the floor. What are some of the higher-end trainers making within your system?

Curtis Christopherson (39:46):
Yeah, so this has changed quite a bit as well. I mean, you go back 22 years ago, I remember making $17, $18 an hour as a trainer. And that’s what the market would pay trainers. Today, we have to obviously be competitive, so it ranges typically between 30 and 40 is, is typically an hour, is the training wage, but it can go up more than that. And what we want to do is we want to provide long-term opportunity for people. So, whether you want to be a studio manager, we have a franchise solution. So, if you want to own your own franchise, you can do that. And our managers, they’re making upwards of a hundred thousand dollars a year. And that is a very good compensation when you’re 28, 29, 30, 32-years-old with a kinesiology degree. So, it’s—we provide that stability and opportunity, let alone all the other things we talked about—adventure, travel benefits, and everything else that really people should be looking at.

John Franklin (40:50):
I mean, it’s more than, it’s more than double what the average group training studio owner makes based off of our data. So, you know, a hundred grand as a manager of a facility is oftentimes a lot better than owning your own gym, especially since it’s risk free, you know?

Curtis Christopherson (41:04):

John Franklin (41:06):
So, interesting. And so, you said you had six that are studio-owned, or corporate-owned, locations with a few in the pipeline and then about 10 franchise locations. What does the corporate-level staff look like? Because I’d imagine at 23 locations, it’s not just you and your office there grinding out; you’ve probably got a little bit of help.

Curtis Christopherson (41:30):
Yeah, you know what, it’s pretty lean, actually. So, we—2019 especially with the growth capital that we were securing, it got a little bit expansive. You know, we had in-house marketing—there were two people in marketing, there were two people in finance, there was some operational support. We had about three people in ops. We had a franchise-specific individual that looked at franchise support and expansion. And because of COVID, we had to make cuts and reshift and reallocate those resources that were more “boots on the ground.” And a lot of them—kudos to my team, they did that. Like, they said, “Hey, listen, I get it; I’ll be boots on the ground, and I’m going to go into a studio and really provide the support necessary.”

Curtis Christopherson (42:11):
So, for us, the head office is pretty lean. We have about five individuals that span from marketing to finance, to ops, but that’s all that we need because we have individual locations that are self-sufficient, whether they’re a corporately-run location or whether they’re a franchise-run location. Really, at the end of the day, the head office can be quite lean, just overseeing general ops and opportunities, as well as the marketing initiatives and then, of course, finance.

John Franklin (42:43):
Anything else on the—I feel like people are going to be like, “This is drinking out of a fire hose.” We’re just going back-to-back-to-back. You’re bringing the noise. This is great. I want to talk a little bit about some of the lifestyle engineering stuff and how entrepreneurs, and fitness entrepreneurs especially, can live their best life. But is there anything else on the studio side you think that’s interesting and important and worth discussing with our audience?

Curtis Christopherson (43:08):
Well, I think, at the end of the day, we touched on the processes and the systems a little bit. We’ve systemized the personal service as much as you can. Everything from how our front desk people pick up the phone, how they interact with the client, everything from the experiences that we create. I think so many times, trainers get into this industry, especially as entrepreneurs, and they think that you have to be the best technical and tactical trainer to be successful in this space. And the reality is that we’re dealing with humans, and humans naturally like connection, community, and experiences. And so, one of the things that we focus on is actually not about the 20%; it’s about the 80%—that’s what we call it. So, it’s not about the physical; it’s about the social, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional elements of just humanity and people in general.

Curtis Christopherson (43:56):
And so, as an example, when someone walks in the door, everybody yells out their name. So, if there’s 15 trainers on the training floor and John walks in the door, everybody’s saying, “Hey, John,” “John,” “John,” “John.” You know, that’s what we do. And just like “Cheers” back in the day, for those of you that remember that show, everybody knew Norm’s name, and it makes people feel welcome, right? You know, it makes them feel part of a community, and people want to be seen, and they want to be heard. Like that is it, you know? And so, we always say that people don’t come to work with a personal trainer, to achieve weight loss goals. They come there to boost their self-esteem or self-confidence. And now people don’t put that on a card.

Curtis Christopherson (44:41):
They usually don’t talk about that in the consultation process. But let’s be honest, it doesn’t matter if you’re a thriving CEO and executive that needs to outsource their health and wellness; they feel inadequate of where they’re at. That’s why they’re going to get a coach. Like, period, end of story. Even if it’s the last five pounds or bench wrestling that much more, the reality is they’re not satisfied with where they’re at. And that plays into self-confidence and self-esteem. So, how do you actually recognize people, meet them where they’re at, make sure that they’re seen and heard, and ensure that it’s not just about the technical element of the training experience. You know, you can over-index that so much, but for the most part, the general population, people that are 45, 50, 65 years old, whether you’re a CEO, executive, or a stay-at-home mom or dad, they’ve just got to move. They’ve got to be encouraged, inspired, held accountable, and they need the coaching to really move on a regular basis. And that alone, when we just implement movement, they’re going to achieve, a significant amount of their goals and results just from that. Now, there’s a lot of diminished returns, and if you’re a professional athlete, you know that that last 10% makes a big difference. But, for the most part, I think we over-index the training experience, and we don’t pay attention to service side of it.

John Franklin (46:02):
So you’re, I’m guessing, you’re taking a lot of things from the hospitality sector, top-tier restaurants—that kind of like—is that where you go for inspiration?

Curtis Christopherson (46:11):
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, we’ve always been, we’ve been known almost like a Lululemon. I mean, I remember us being featured next to Lululemon 22 years ago in the front page of one of the local newspapers, and so we’ve always been known for that culture side of things and that experience and service side of things. But yeah, I mean, in the hospitality industry, whether it’s Ritz-Carlton, the W Hotel, everything from—I mean even Eleven Madison in New York. From a restaurant perspective, those little touchpoints make a big difference. And so how can you do those extra little things that really separate you from the competition?

John Franklin (46:51):
Yeah. And so, one of the things I miss most about living in that New York area, like the name calling out thing—there’s a restaurant there. When you walk in, it’s the same thing. Like everybody in the restaurant stops, greets you, yells your name, and it’s like this cool experience. Like you just get these little things that you can steal that—you know, it’s tough. Outside of those like big Tier 1 cities, very curious. You said you structured the way you pick up the phone. By virtue of picking up the phone, you’re probably at the tip of the spear for the fitness industry. How do you instruct your staff to pick up the phone?

Curtis Christopherson (47:23):
So just, you want word for word? Basically everybody’s—

John Franklin (47:27):
Give it to me; give it to me. Yeah, I want the script. I want the pitch.

Curtis Christopherson (47:29):
Oh, it’s simple. It’s, “Hi, this is Curtis. Welcome to Innovative Fitness. How can I help you?” Like, it’s as simple as that. First off, introducing yourself, second off introducing the brand, and third off, “How can I help you?” Like, that’s the—“How can I help you?” is probably the four biggest words that we can provide anybody. I think that opens up the door for conversation. So, that’s typically how everybody answers the phone. If you want to call any of our facilities, I hope that that’s how they answer. And yeah, it’s as simple as that.

John Franklin (48:01):
Guys, if you’re listening, call one of Curtis’s facilities, and leave a comment. One, if they pick up, and two, if they follow the script, you know? And Curtis can check, and he’ll make sure everybody’s in line.

Curtis Christopherson (48:13):
Right. Yeah.

John Franklin (48:14):
So, I want to be respectful of your time here, but I do want to talk about—we’re on your personal website here. Your headline is “Empowering Wellness Leaders to Live Their Best Life,” which is great. On the Two-Brain front, one of the things that Chris Cooper talks a lot about is you can make all the money in the world, but if you are working all the time and still a slave to your business, are you really rich? You know, there’s two elements. You have to have your time, and you have to have the income to kind of go forward and pursue interesting endeavors. You’re also a family man. You have two kids, right?

Curtis Christopherson (48:49):
Yep. Yes, I do.

John Franklin (48:50):
All right. So, I got some businesses. I’m a wellness entrepreneur. I’ve got two kids. I’ve got a two-year-old and a 10-month-old. And to be honest, man, I’m having trouble balancing it all. It just seems very difficult to keep juggling all these pieces. And I don’t think I’m unique in this, right? I think it’s very difficult. And so, if you’re someone like me who’s probably—you know, I feel comfortable in where I’m at business-wise; it’s just difficult to manage all the other pieces of life along with it. Like what’s the secret? You know, how do I have it all?

Curtis Christopherson (49:25):
Yeah. You said two years and 10 months? Is that what you said?

John Franklin (49:31):
Yeah. Yeah. Tight turnaround.

Curtis Christopherson (49:32):
Oh, yeah. You’re in the thick of things. I have a nine-year-old and seven-year-old, and I’m going to tell you, probably the hardest time that I had was the kids were three and one—from three and one to four to two was probably the hardest and most challenging years. A little one that’s still dependent on you, another one that is still heavily dependent on you, can’t tie their own shoes, and wants to go and explore the world. So, I don’t envy your position, although it’s unbelievable. There’s a lot of sleepless nights, and you’re juggling quite a few things. For myself, you know, we didn’t even talk about our tech business called WRKOUT.

Curtis Christopherson (50:12):
But I manage our innovative fitness business at 23 locations, and at the head of helm at that business. And then we have a thriving technology business, which, we’re working with Chris and some other platforms like Trainerize and NASM, and it’s—even task switching that is hard. So, when you’re focused on a service side of the business, and then you have a tech side of the business and two separate businesses, two separate operating teams and leadership teams, and then you’ve got to go home, and you’ve got to be engaged with a nine- and seven-year-old. And I sit on boards. I coach, I coach soccer, my little guy’s soccer, and you’ve got to stay fit and active yourself.

Curtis Christopherson (50:59):
So, for me, the discipline of time management is a big thing for me. I’ve learned that over the last 20 years. I’m intentional with everything I do. There are times where I have 11, 12, 13 meetings in a day. The other day I had 12 meetings before 2:30 in the afternoon. 12. I woke up at 5:30, and I had either half an hour or hour meetings all the way up until 2:30, and then my day started then. So, for me, it’s learning how to say no. I only do the things that I need to do. Ryan Holiday said something. I spent time with him not too long ago, and Ryan Holiday said, “Can you imagine every yes means no, and every no means yes?” And I said, “Why don’t you expand on that?”

Curtis Christopherson (51:39):
And he said, “Every time that you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else.” So, if you say yes to something, you’re saying no to that hour that you’re spending with your kids, no to going for that run, whatever that is. And if you treat it every no to be a yes, every single time you say no, it opens up the opportunity to say yes to something. It really changes your mindset on what you commit to and what you don’t. And so, I got a lot from how he framed that. He’s a magician with his words. Funny enough, I probably said yes way too many times over my lifetime, but one thing I do really, really, really well is I plan my day very intentionally.

Curtis Christopherson (52:23):
I am—I control my schedule like you wouldn’t believe. And then the last thing is, you just have to hire great people. A good friend of mine, Dan Martell, has a great podcast. And he wrote a book called “Buy Back Your Time.” And if you’re not willing to invest in your team and invest in having people take things off your plate, you’re never going to scale. You’re going to be a victim of your own destiny, and you’re going to be stuck in the weeds for the rest of your life. So, you have to be willing to outsource things, and you have to be confident enough to hire great people and let them do the work for you.

John Franklin (53:01):   

So, you heard it here, guys, outsource, and uh, yeah. Outsource your kids from age one to four, and life’s on easy mode. That is my takeaway from this podcast. That is what I’m going to do. Curtis, this has been awesome. I’m sorry we only scratched the surface. You’ve got other businesses we haven’t even talked about, but I think people are going to get a ton of value from this. If people want to find out more about you, where do they find you on the internet?

Curtis Christopherson (53:31):
Yeah, I think the easiest way is just my site that you brought up. Curtischristopherson.com has everything about our two businesses, Innovative Fitness and WRKOUT, which is wrkout.com. And yeah, I mean, you can contact me. I’m available on email and then obviously on social media. You can easily find me as well with a name like Curtis Christopherson. It’s not John Doe. So, you know, you can find me pretty easily.

John Franklin (53:56):
Yeah, John Franklin—hard to rank first, man. I’m competing into explorers and pro athletes. It’s annoying. Maybe I’ll change my name. So. You heard it here, guys. This has been a special episode of “Gym World Worldwide” in collaboration with “Two-Brain Radio” (“Run a Profitable Gym”). Be sure to like, subscribe, and comment on both, and we’ll see you next week. Curtis, thanks again, man.

Curtis Christopherson (54:19):
Yeah, you’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

Chris Cooper (54:21):
Hey, it’s Two-Brain founder, Chris Cooper, with a quick note. We created the Gym Owners United Facebook group to help you run a profitable gym. Thousands of gym owners, just like you have already joined in the group. We share sound advice about the business of fitness every day. I answer questions, I run free webinars, and I give away all kinds of great resources to help you grow your gym. I’d love to have you in that group. It’s Gym Owners United on Facebook, or go to gymownersunited.com to join. Do it today.

Thanks for listening!

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