Chris Cooper (00:00):
Some gym owners are taking home more than $20,000 per month. How are they doing it? I’m Chris Cooper, and this is “Run a Profitable Gym.” Today, I’m gonna show you what our top gym owners earned in January. Not how much revenue the gym made but what the gym owner actually took home to their family. Here’s how we’re gonna do this. First, the big reveal: I’m gonna show you the top three earners on our leaderboard. Now, every month we publish leaderboards for a bunch of different metrics internally. And we share those numbers inside Two-Brain, and we interview the people who are at the top to find out what they’re doing differently. We publish some of those interviews on our podcast to help gym owners who aren’t even in Two-Brain learn from them. And you’re gonna hear that later this week. So after the big reveal, I’m going to talk about the things that everybody, every gym in the top 15, had in common.
Chris Cooper (00:47):
They all were doing the same three things to earn a higher income for their family—all 15 unanimously. I’m gonna tell you what those three things were. Third, I’m gonna tell you what stops most gyms from getting to higher profitability. And finally, fourth, I’m gonna tell you why you should care. It’s gonna sound funny that I’m leaving that to the end. But here’s the reality: We wanna track net owner benefit—your income from the gym—because that’s really the measure of how successful your gym is. Net owner benefit, it’s a measure of how good you are as a CEO. Net owner benefit is the sum total of everything that you make from your gym. So that could be your income, it could be your profit distributions, it could be that your gym pays for your cell phone or your truck, which is right outside my window here.
Chris Cooper (01:33):
It’s the net benefit that you get as owner instead of as coach. And hopefully you can make more as an owner than you would working for somebody else. Now, on this chart that I’m about to share with you as I reveal our top three owners for net owner benefit, I’m gonna share their rolling three-month averages. So this is how much money they made per month over the last three months. It’s not how much they earn over the last three months, but I want a three-month average. And here’s why. Sometimes people will say, “Oh, I made 20,000 bucks last month,” but they took a big profit distribution. They don’t earn $20,000 every month. For these people, when I say they earn $20,000 and they’re all over $20,000 a month, this means they do that every single month. It’s not a projection. It’s not a guess. It’s not “if things keep going well, this is what’s gonna happen.”
Chris Cooper (02:22):
This is what they actually took home. Okay? We don’t use projections. We also don’t really care about headcount. You know, headcount is for show; revenue’s for dough. But net owner benefit is what actually feeds your family. And so when I talk about what these three gyms have in common, here’s a peak ahead. What they don’t have in common is a lot of members. They’re all over the board with members. But I’ll get there. Look, here’s the bottom line: if you’re not making a good income, your gym will not last. I learned this the hard way, and I’m gonna share a story about my lowest point as a gym owner in a few moments. But first, who are the top earners in net owner benefit from the last few months at Two-Brain. The third place, and this is outta the U.S., this gym owner took home $20,293.33.
Chris Cooper (03:10):
So $20,293.33 in January. Okay? They also took home a similar amount over at least the two previous months, so that we can expect that to just continue. It’s not a fluke. It’s not a one-time end-of-year payout or anything like that. Second place in January, also from the USA, was $20,340 even. And first place was also from the USA. The top three were all from the U.S. In January, this gym owner took home $21,267.71. That’s their regular salary from the gym and profit together. Now, all of those top three were in the U.S., and if you’re watching this in Europe, you’re probably saying, “Yeah, but the U.S. doesn’t have the energy fears that we have.” Or if you’re watching from Australia or Canada, you can say, “Yeah, but the U.S. doesn’t have a crap currency right now.” However, while the top three were all inside the U.S., there were some very high-ranking gyms from Sweden, Norway, the U.K. and Australia all in the top 15.
Chris Cooper (04:10):
The top gym outside the U.S. was just under $20,000 in take home last month. It was $19,896.94. This gym is actually in Sweden. So now the top three, again, $21,267.71 cents. Imagine taking that home in a month from being a gym owner. Like the top reason that you opened this gym is not to make money, right? That might be reason like number three or four. You’re really doing this to change lives. And these people are changing lives, and they’re receiving their reward for it. Second place again, $20,340. Third place: $20,293.33. So what did these gyms all have in common? When I went down the entire leaderboard, the top 10, which we only publish inside Two-Brain with actual names and gym names, I found that they were all doing the same three things. Now the top 15, again, were worldwide.
Chris Cooper (05:05):
So the U.S., Sweden, Norway, U.K. and Australia were all in the top 15 in January. But they all had different size of gyms. They all had different ownership structure. They all had different amounts of coaches and how much they paid their coaches and how many clients they had. But they had three things in common though, and that’s what helped them be this profitable. So the first thing they had in common was a Prescriptive Model. None of them in the top 15 did “come and try a free class. Hope you sign up. Put your credit card in on the way out the door. We’re just gonna toss you into classes and hope it sticks.” Not one gym in the top 15 does that. They all have a Prescriptive Model where somebody comes in—they sit down with that person, talk about their goals, measure their starting point, and then as an expert coach recommend the best course of action for them.
Chris Cooper (05:54):
“Here’s how often you should work out. Here’s the type of workouts that you should do.” And probably judging by how much profit they had, they were probably prescribing nutrition with exercise. They probably weren’t just selling exercise. So there might have been personal training, there might have been group training, there might have been nutrition coaching or habits coaching, depending on the client. For some people it was just group classes, but their price point is high enough to actually make their gym profitable. Now, profit doesn’t mean you’re greedy. Profit means that you are successfully running a gym that’s gonna be around for the next 30 years, provide meaningful opportunities for your coaches to make a good career and stick around to actually change people’s lives. If you open a gym and you close three years later because your family isn’t getting fed, that affects the hundreds of people whose lives you could have changed.
Chris Cooper (06:42):
All right? So the first thing that they had was the Prescriptive Model. So they, you know, they did an intake interview, they made a prescription. Three months later, four months later, they measured the client’s progress and changed the prescription if it was warranted. Okay? That’s really important. The second thing that all 15 gyms had in common was a high average revenue per member (ARM). Now, that doesn’t mean that they were charging really, really high prices, though they would tend toward the right-hand side of our scale, right? They’re probably charging around $205 ARM per month. Now, before you say “I can never charge 205 bucks for a CrossFit membership at my gym,” this is the average revenue per member, not the average price of a membership. That just means that when some people want more, they can get more without going somewhere else. If I wanna do my workouts one on one with a trainer or in a semi-private setting with a few of my buddies, I can do that.
Chris Cooper (07:35):
I don’t have to leave the gym and go somewhere else to do that. So they all had a high ARM, and they focused on ARM, okay? Client headcount was all over the place. Like there were gyms in here with under 200 clients. There were gyms in here with over 400 clients, but what they all had in common was a very high ARM, and that’s what made them sustainable. The third thing that they all had in common: every gym that I looked at in the top 15 had a client success person. So this is a part-time person whose primary job it is to get people showing up to the gym. Look, we run the hardest business in the world. And the reason it’s hard is because even when people get excited about starting at a gym, they’re usually never excited to continue at a gym at least every day.
Chris Cooper (08:19):
You know, I love going to the gym, but not every single day. So it’s helpful to have somebody in the gym who’s responsible for retention, reaching out, giving me a call—”Cooper, where you’ve been? It’s been three days. Are you coming to the Wednesday noon group?” You can’t rely on your clients to just do that. You can’t rely on your staff to do it. They’re busy. They’re focused on other things. You need somebody whose job it is at least 10 hours, 15 hours, 20 hours a week to just focus on retention. We call it the client success manager (CSM), and we teach it in Two-Brain. This is not an expensive role. This is not like a general manager salary or anything. It’s just your friendliest, happiest person who’s gonna remember to send that birthday card because you’re too busy to do it. Okay? So the three things that all of the top 15 gyms had in common were a Prescriptive Model, a high ARM and a CSM person dedicated to retention.
Chris Cooper (09:08):|
Their client headcount really didn’t matter, the size of their gym really didn’t matter, how many coaches they had on staff really didn’t matter the most. Profitable gyms focus on those three things: a Prescriptive Model, a high ARM, and somebody who’s dedicated to retention. Okay? So what stops gyms from earning more net owner benefit? You and I are both not on that top 15 list, okay? My gym is not the top in Two-Brain—not even close anymore. And maybe your gym isn’t either, and you’re saying like, “Well, how come I can’t get on there? What do I have to do? What do I have to add?” The reality is there’s probably something that you need to stop doing, okay? What stops people from getting a higher net owner benefit is three things. They have no focus, they have no plan, and they are distracted.
Chris Cooper (09:52):
Like your deadlift, your net owner benefit improves when you consciously pay attention to it and you are very clear and purposeful about increasing it. Your deadlift might have improved a little bit just with general fitness when you started doing fitness, but after your deadlift hits like 300 or 400, you have to be intentional about improving it. And when you open up a gym like me, you might be able to just commit to paying yourself 900 bucks a week because your family will starve if you don’t. But over time, if you want to increase your profitability, you have to be intentional about it. And if you’re intentional about it, you’ll build better systems and you’ll build a better gym and you’ll earn more revenue. So earning more yourself is kind of a forcing function to build a better business that helps everybody around you too.
Chris Cooper (10:38):
Okay? So lack of focus is why most people can’t increase their net owner benefit. Lack of a plan is another reason. There are some great plans out there to increase net owner benefit. One of them is called Profit First. My friend John Briggs wrote this book called “Profit First for Microgyms,” and you can follow Profit First if you need a plan. You can also just follow like a pay-yourself-first strategy of pulling out your checkbook, like a real checkbook, and writing yourself a paycheck every single Friday for the next six months in advance. You can add other tweaks to that plan, too. Like you can automatically write yourself a 6% raise every quarter if you want to, you know, write these checks in advance, deposit them in the bank. Then it’s outta your hands. You don’t have to make the decision on whether to pay yourself or how much every single week.
Chris Cooper (11:22):
Okay? That was—that’s still my strategy. The third reason that I said that a lot of gym owners are unable to increase their net owner benefit is entrepreneurial distraction. Because it’s easy when you’re an entrepreneur to start something new and it’s hard to grow what you currently have. Like most people, they grow to the level of their knowledge about marketing and then stuff gets really uncomfortable. Okay? Like, “Well, I don’t know how to improve my sales. I don’t know how to improve my marketing. I don’t know how to improve my retention, so I’m gonna go start something else.” Right? This is the reason that most gym owners don’t make a hundred thousand dollars a year. They’re always starting a new thing because they don’t know how to grow their current thing. It’s also the reason that most gym owners will never make a net worth of a million dollars in their career.
Chris Cooper (12:09):
It’s why they’re burned out, overwhelmed and ready to quit way too early. It’s distraction. And distraction is the inability to focus on what’s most important right now to grow your primary business and do the work required, even if it’s boring. It’s what makes you be attracted to the new marketing thing, the new promise by the guru, the new tactic or whatever, instead of doing the things that you know work over and over—or delegating them to somebody else. And I’ll be honest with you, this is my Achilles’ heel. Every single month somebody approaches me with some new offer or an opportunity or a business idea. And in my earlier days when I was less disciplined, I would be so fired up to do this. I would start these new companies or I would like start working on the project. I’d go register the domain.
Chris Cooper (12:55):
I’m not kidding. I have over 80 domains registered in GoDaddy and another two dozen registered in Google Domains because these are ideas that I was about to act on until I learned how to stay focused on my primary business and just grow that. So for example, I did this a couple times: “Oh, man, my gym needs more members and more revenue, but I’ve also got a great idea for concussion testing that nobody else is doing.” And so I’d go build a concussion-testing program called concussionpro.com. I don’t even know if that website’s still up. And it would take me like two months of study and putting it together and checking it out, and then I’d have no idea what to do with it or how to sell it. I might sell two or three concussion-testing packages. And after that was all said and done, I was three months down the track, my gym still needed more members and hadn’t grown.
Chris Cooper (13:42):
And my whole career is this like long road of companies that I’ve started and then killed or like sold for a dollar. Some of them I sold for a decent profit, but the reality is it slowed the growth of my primary business. If I had poured the same amount of time into growing Catalyst and then Two-Brain, I would’ve been way further ahead. But instead, I was attracted to the “easy-hard route” of starting something from scratch because that’s the road that I know and I’ve done it over and over and over again. Think about this. You’ve been hired to be the CEO of your company. You were hired by yourself and your family, but you can only be CEO to one company at a time. If you hired somebody else to be CEO of your gym and they said, “Well, actually, I’m also gonna be CEO of that yoga studio down the street,” you would say, “Hey, what the hell are you doing? You’re supposed to be focused on growing my gym.” But there’s nobody to hold your feet to the fire as CEO of your gym. And so you give yourself a little bit of leeway, right? You chase, and you start all these other things. You get distracted. You design your own T-shirts instead of just hiring somebody to do that for you because maybe you can make an extra $3 per shirt, but it’s gonna take you three days, when really you could be growing your business, right? It’s true in gyms, it’s true in software companies. Most software companies grow to about a million bucks in revenue, and then they don’t know how to grow to $5 million. So they add a new product line instead, right? They think “I gotta build something new” because they’re technicians. And coaches are technicians, and we build. We’re builders.
Chris Cooper (15:06):
We’re not marketers and salespeople. So instead of learning the hard thing, we just get distracted by growing and starting new stuff all the time. Why do gym owners start a second gym? Or buy one before their first gym is even paying them a hundred thousand dollars per year? Because they don’t know how to reach a hundred thousand dollars a year in net owner benefit. So they go start another company that might pay them $35,000 a year, and they think like, “Well, three 35s equals a hundred.” But the reality is when you add a second gym, it’s four times the work. And adding a third gym is like six times the work. But still, we choose novelty over routine, even when routine is what’s effective. We chase the easy-hard work of starting over instead of the hard-hard work of staying focused and doing the boring stuff until it works.
Chris Cooper (15:51):
Now, I tried to break this down in my book “Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief” and explain the entrepreneurial journey so that you would know where exactly to focus on different tasks and what you could ignore for now—like what you could put on the shelf until you reach the next phase. So here’s the summary. In the Founder Phase, just focus on breaking even, paying all of your bills with revenue from your gym, and then earning a thousand bucks a month. That’s it. If you can do that, you don’t need staff to do that. You don’t need a big space or a lot of equipment, but you will need the basics of business. You’ll need some good systems. However, those same systems will allow you to scale and expand later. And if you start with that goal in mind, you’ll actually make it through the next phase faster, which is called Farmer Phase.
Chris Cooper (16:35):
In Farmer Phase, your job is to get to earning a hundred thousand dollars for yourself from one location. So hire low-cost skills first, follow the Profit First method to make sure that you’re increasing that owner benefit. Increase the ARM on the clients that you have. Build a model around 150 clients for now, and you know, focus on making a full-time career for yourself. Don’t focus on making full-time careers for other people if you’re not earning a hundred thousand dollars per year. Okay? The third phase is called Tinker Phase, and this is where you start making careers for other people. Now you are making a great income, at least $80,000 to $100,000 a year, and you’re reinvesting by buy yourself time. So you’re hiring a general manager, maybe, right? And you’re scaling up your business. Now you’ve got working systems and models that don’t require your constant oversight.
Chris Cooper (17:25):
You’ve got some freedom of time. You can build, you can buy another business, you can do something online—whatever. You can expand your empire. And then in the Thief Phase, things are rolling on their own. Your goal is to make lots of money and give it away. A lot of people told me that they love that book, right? And I just published “The Simple Six” to be even more granular for gym owners because daily distraction is a massive problem. Now we’ve got social -media alerts popping up all over the place. I’ve probably got like five little red circles since I started recording this. And so you go into the gym at 5 a.m. and right away you’re pulled into a Facebook conversation or something. 9 p.m. shows up, you’ve been busy all day, you haven’t even had a moment to work out yourself, but your gym hasn’t grown.
Chris Cooper (18:09):
You’re grinding and not growing. So the “Simple Six” book starts with this premise: every day, do one thing to grow your business before you do anything else. And that goal is to get you to $100,000 net owner benefit, at least. What should you do in that first half hour? Well, that’s what the Simple Six is there to help you decide. Because look: you’re smart enough. I know you can work more than hard enough, so why aren’t you actually making what you’re worth? Enough to make this a viable career that just pays for your whole family? It’s focus, right? It’s distraction. I use mentors to get me focused, and you can, too. You can book a call with my team in the link below this video. Now, really briefly, I wanna talk about why this is so important. I was probably three or four years into gym ownership before it hit me that someday I would need to retire.
Chris Cooper (18:56):
So when that happened, I hit my lowest point. And it’s interesting to realize the lowest point of gym ownership for me did not happen on my worst month for revenue or even my most unprofitable month. Instead, I actually hit rock bottom during an above-average month. The gym was pretty full. I was coaching more than 40 clients per week one on one. We were paying the rent. I wasn’t missing paychecks, I was paying off my loan. I had one full-time staff person, but I couldn’t figure out how we would even take on more clients because I was full. He was full. We had some part-timers who just couldn’t work anymore. We couldn’t grow. And it still wasn’t enough. Like I was barely paying the rent, even with a packed schedule, right? My staff weren’t making enough. They were working full time, but it wasn’t enough. My clients would only train with me, and I was working from 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. and seven hours every Saturday, too.
Chris Cooper (19:49):
Like, I couldn’t work more. I couldn’t work harder. And at that low point, I was like, “Oh, no. Is this all there is?” I couldn’t see a way to pay myself even another a hundred dollars a week, let alone save for my kids’ education, let alone retire. And even worse, when I looked around the whole fitness industry, I couldn’t find a single example of somebody who had worked as a trainer for 20 or 30 years and then retired to a life of ease. Like they didn’t have to worry about money anymore. That was 2008. 10 years later, a decade later, I had built a retirement plan for myself, but I was still the only one that I could find who had that kind of plan. You know, I had bought my first building and it was now paying me rent. I had reinvested in some other places, so I had a plan, but I couldn’t find anybody else.
Chris Cooper (20:38):
And so I said, well, any plan is better than none. And so I started teaching my plan to our highest level gym owners, and that became our Tinker Program. Last year, the Tinker Program certified more than 25 millionaires. We had 26 people who did our net-worth calculation, and they found that they have a net worth of over a million dollars. So what this means is if they sold everything they own and used that money to pay off all their debt, they’d still have at least a million dollars in cash sitting in their hand right now. That’s just barely enough to retire, but it is enough, and they’re still growing. I mean, most of these people are younger than I am. They’re not even 45 yet. And here’s how they did it. These people could possibly retire right now if they wanted to.
Chris Cooper (21:20):
They’ve got security. They can keep practicing fitness coaching people, saving lives for as long as they want to without worrying about putting food on the table. They’ve got the security of knowing that they can continue to impact lives as long as they want to. So here’s how they reach the million-dollar point, what I would call “functional retirement.” They don’t have to work anymore if they don’t want to. So the first option is to scale up your business. So some of these successful gym owners expanded their fitness empire by first building a really great gym with 150 clients and then duplicating that gym, adding more locations or growing their client base to the next level of 250 or adding different services. So some diversified into overlapping markets like opening a ninja gym or like a nutrition consulting practice. Some duplicated their operation over and over and over again in nearby town.
Chris Cooper (22:12):
And some simply added a higher-ticket offer to their primary business, which was already self-sustaining. All of them invested in mentorship to grow their business, and they had kept investing as they scaled up from Founder to Farmer to Tinker. Some actually leveled up to become mentors for Two-Brain. Because we recruit from among the most successful people, we find the people who can actually coach other people really well and who have done it themselves, and that’s who we hire to be mentors. And that’s why the value of Two-Brain just keeps going up. So I wanna make a quick note here. When I say that they reinvested in their business, I don’t mean like they just left money in their checking account. That’s not reinvesting, that’s just being lazy with your money. You have to actually think like an investor and you say, “If I pulled this money out and I was gonna put it back into the business to grow it, what would I actually spend that money on?”
Chris Cooper (23:04):
It’s not more rowers. You have to think about “how do I actually leverage this profit to grow the business beyond the level it currently is right now?” Okay? So the key to this strategy, basically of scaling, is to just keep reinvesting in your business. The pros are that it’ll probably grow faster than the stock market, right? You’ll have more than 5% growth every year. The con is that it’s gonna require a lot of your time, but if you’re passionate about running your fitness business and that’s it, then this is probably the option for you. The other option is to reinvest your profit outside your business. So after reading “Rich Dad, Poor Dad,” I decided to buy a building. This was probably around 2014, and I figured the building would house my gym as long as I wanted to own it, but then I could rent it out to other people if I decided I was gonna retire or sell my gym.
Chris Cooper (23:51):
So by 2012, I knew I was gonna do this. It took me two years to find the building and save up a down payment, but I did it and bought it in 2014. By 2017, I paid it off. I still own it. Now, my gym pays me rent on top of my net owner benefit, and I reinvest that rent somewhere else. Other people reinvest their profit in short-term rentals, like Airbnbs or long-term rentals like multi-family units, or they might buy index funds. I use some of that. They might do overfunded whole-life insurance, especially in the States. They might just put their money into bond markets, okay? But the list goes on and on. The key to this strategy is to take the profit from your gym business and put it somewhere where it will grow without your oversight so you don’t have to constantly think about it.
Chris Cooper (24:32):
The con of this strategy is it’s tempting to go start a related businesses. So, you know, if you’re listening to this and you’re in Two-Brain especially, you’re probably in the top 10% of gym owners around the world. Like, that’s just how it is. However, you might say, “Well, I also love coffee. I’m gonna go start a coffee business.” And what you forget is that you’re in like the bottom 10% of all coffee-business owners worldwide. You don’t know anything about it. So you’re starting that learning curve from scratch. I bought the easiest business to own in the world, which is self-storage—just kind of for fun. And it was just such an easy opportunity. And I’ll tell you, there’s still a learning curve there, right? It’s not just taking people’s money and giving them the key to the building or whatever.
Chris Cooper (25:18):
What’s non-negotiable between these two strategies—scaling up and reinvestment—is that you have to level up yourself as a leader. Whether you’re in the Founder Phase, whether you haven’t even started a gym yet, you’re in the Farmer Phase, you’re in the mix of it, you’ve got some staff, you’re trying to grow to 150, trying to earn a good income, or you’re in the Tinker Phase where you’re expanding your empire or learning about reinvestment—you need to grow as an entrepreneur, right? You have to level-up your knowledge and your leadership. Being the local expert on energy metabolism still makes you the local beginner on buying real estate. Sorry, none of your deadlift prowess translates into the bond market. You can’t carry that over. And as you tackle these new opportunities and you build this larger platform for your family, your leadership skills have to grow to match them.
Chris Cooper (26:05):
You’ll no longer be on the gym floor correcting squats all the time. You might have to hire a manager and teach them and lead them. You might have to spread your attention across two different gyms, and you might have to learn how to resist the urge to open a taco truck. You know, that’s just how it goes. Our Tinker Program was built to help successful gym owners make long-term plans, including expansion, reinvestment and retirement. Of course, we focus a ton of attention on leadership development, too, because that’s what matters most. So you can click below this video to also learn about our Tinker Program. Look, no matter what kind of gym you own, I want to help you because I know that you opened it to help other people. The best way that I can help you is to make your gym and your lifestyle sustainable, to keep your gym open for 30 years, to create opportunities for other people, to pursue their passion for coaching, and to keep you fed and not fighting with your spouse about the grocery bill. I don’t want gym owners to go hungry, and that’s why we celebrate and also teach people how to earn more net owner benefit. Thanks for listening. This is “Run a Profitable Gym.” If you wanna talk more about this, you can go to gymownersunited.com. That will lead you right to our free public Facebook group, where we answer questions about our podcast and we can talk about whether mentorship is right for you, if you’re at that point, too. Thanks. I’m Chris Cooper. This is “Run a Profitable Gym.”