State of the Fitness Industry: Your Brand

On a deserted, tree-lined street, a bus shack sign that reads "what would you put here?"

Your brand is more than your logo. Your brand is the way your service meets the world.
Your brand determines where you fit on the workout services spectrum. Think of the impression you make as “branding” yourself on your client’s brain. These impressions are usually made in the first interaction and remain unchanged forever.

Top Lessons From 2019


1. Simplicity beats art.

It’s more important to say “we are a gym” or “we are fitness coaches” than to try and invent a new category. “We are movement specialists” moves you into a category that 99.5 percent of your potential clients don’t understand. Is that like rehab? Are you a doctor of something?

2. Make your website clear.

StoryBrand is growing in popularity; think of it as a “101-level” course for branding.

3. Publish a lot or be lost.

If you’re not producing media, you don’t exist. Most of the huge fees you’d pay a franchise go toward media production and marketing. If you’re not paying franchise fees, you have to do those things yourself.

4. Position yourself as the “meta.”

Yes, you have a position on the keto diet. Publish it. Yes, you have a position on deadlifts. Share it. Don’t rely on people to know anything, and don’t allow your message to be dictated by others. Saying “yeah, what she said” doesn’t establish you as an expert.

5. Present yourself as a solution to a problem rather than as a representative for a method.

Put client success before dogma.

6. Build your brand by telling more stories.

Your brand is the sum of the stories you tell (or the stories told about you). If you don’t tell stories about your practice, your coaches and your clients, someone will—and those stories might not be the ones you want told.

7. Think of your gym as your private practice.

It will level up everything you do.

8. Once every year, ask your staff, “What do we have to do to be the best in town?”

Now is a good time.


Should You Buy a Franchise?

Maybe. Below are the criteria to consider.
Buy a franchise if:

  • You love fitness but don’t want to have to figure out the business part.
  • You want the security of “done for me”—marketing, equipment choice, layout, staff uniforms, pricing and playbooks (sometimes).
  • Your vision is a five-to-10-year business (you won’t have the flexibility to pivot, but you might not need it).
  • You don’t want to have to think about workouts or how to pay coaches.

Don’t buy a franchise if:

  • You want to control every little detail of your business and be responsible for execution.
  • You want to do it all yourself.
  • You want the cognitive challenge of “figuring it out.”
  • You have a better option to professionalize and scale (like the Incubator. It’s seriously better than a franchise.).

Should You Be a CrossFit Affiliate?

I’ve been a fitness coach since 1996. I opened Catalyst Fitness in 2005. I affiliated with CrossFit in 2008.
CrossFit is the most powerful tool I’ve ever seen for making people fit. It’s my method. It’s not my brand.
Should it be yours?
Probably. Below are the criteria to consider.
Become a CrossFit affiliate if:

  • You believe in the mission and method.
  • You are prepared to seek out a business model on top of the brand (the affiliate model isn’t a business model; it’s a license to use the name).
  • You are prepared to be an evangelist for the brand.
  • You want to buy some quick brand recognition.

Don’t become a CrossFit affiliate if:

  • You want a clear playbook to follow or to have your media done for you.
  • You don’t want to work 14 hours a day for the first year or so (because you have to do all the stuff that a franchise would do for you).
  • You just want to coach.

If you’re an affiliate, should you deaffiliate?
Probably not.
CrossFit is probably the only recognizable part of your brand. You don’t have a better idea.
If your clients describe you as “a CrossFit gym” to their friends, then you’d be crazy to take that away from them.
And if you can’t describe your service without using the word “CrossFit” (even if you say “it’s like CrossFit, but …”) then you owe Greg Glassman some money.

Who Are You?

To sum it up:
Your brand is the sum of the stories you tell.
No one else is telling these stories for you. At least, not positive ones.
More than ever, you have to publish content.
People will judge you by your actions more than by your words. Therefore, your brand is determined by your leadership.
Finally, consistency is more important than everything else. Special treatment and discounts might make you feel like you’re doing people favours … but they actually erode your brand by making you less trustworthy.

Other Articles in This Series

State of the Fitness Industry: 2019
State of the Fitness Industry: New Tools
State of the Fitness Industry: The Disappearing Middle
State of the Fitness Industry: Rebirth


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.