Two-Brain Awards: Gyms of the Year and Epic Comebacks

Podcast (5)

Tiffy Thompson (00:02):

Hello, and welcome to Two-Brain Radio. I’m Tiffy Thompson. And today we’re featuring the winners of this year’s Two-Brain Awards: gyms of the year and epic comebacks. I’ll be chatting with Kyle Cato, David Allen, Charlie Banfield, and Rich Borgatti about what they’ve been through and where they’re heading next. They’ll share their top tips for excellence in gym ownership, as well as a personal message for other gym owners who may be going through a rough patch. Now, I have with me Kyle Cato. He is the Gym of the Year—Culture award winner, and he’s speaking with me from his gym, CrossFit 806 in Amarillo, Texas. This award was given to clients who have the most success on the “right side of the brain.” So key metrics to demonstrate success here would include length of engagement or online engagement from their clients.

Tiffy Thompson (01:10):

Kyle’s mentor wrote, “There are a lot of gyms that I mentor that I would personally love to be a part of, but the energy that Kyle brings to his community is just second to none. His enthusiasm is infectious, and it’s not just for his members and staff, but also his greater mission to bring clean water to places in Africa. Everything he does is done with a singular focus to make a difference in that part of the world. So it’s no surprise that he and his wife adopted his son from Uganda. He’s a busy man that takes action and isn’t shy about staying true to why he’s doing what he’s doing.” Kyle, welcome to the show.

Kyle Cato (01:48):

Thank you.

Tiffy Thompson (01:50):

So what is gym culture? How would you define it and how did you develop it in your own gym?

Kyle Cato (01:58):

When we opened the gym just short of 12 years ago, at the time it was me and a buddy, and we wanted to have the gym with the strongest people and do the hardest workouts. And both me and my business partner at the time had jobs. We knew that a gym could operate if we paid the bills, you know, so we didn’t really have an idea of what we wanted. We just knew that working out was fun. And we knew that it also helped people our age to stay fit. When I realized that I wanted to grow this place, at the time, I was a teacher I had a P.E. job, which, for a guy like me who loves fitness, that’s the ideal dream job, right? Well, I had a gym where we’re at now and I also had a gym an hour north of here and a family—with a pretty new family, with us adopting Jeremiah. I was at home the least of all the things I was doing, and knowing that teachers had summer off had an easy, easy hourly schedule. But my gym is where I wanted to be. I decided to, to quit my day job and to make this thing my full job. When you have a family and you have two gyms in different towns, you’re now focused on how to make this thing grow. So when I burned the ships and I quit my my teaching job, I knew that if I didn’t make this thing produce money, I was gonna regret my decision.

Kyle Cato (03:41):

So once we knew I was gonna do this this full time, I really just dialed in what I like most about my gym, and I wanted to grow it that way. So I I’ve focused on three things. It was fun, family, fitness. I had an opportunity to kind of just grow the gym—and doing it with kids as one of the tiers that we were gonna go after. My son was getting older. Knowing that my dad was 67, that’s a market we were looking for. I decided to take what Two-Brain offered when it comes to Affinity Marketing. And I literally went to all of our members. I went to businesses around town, and if there was a member that I enjoyed being around, I asked them who their friends were. And so getting started that way really got us where we we’re at now. And so getting a gym full of people that I like to hang out with—and their friends are now coming to the gym. And the cool part is I’ve now got most of their kids coming to the gym, too.

Tiffy Thompson (04:52):

How would you describe that culture? Is it like a family atmosphere? Like what’s the vibe?

Kyle Cato (04:58):

A funny part that I like to compare us to: I’m a Christian. Jesus is, is a big part of my life. And knowing that not everybody in my gym goes to a church, I want my gym to be known as a safe place, whether you follow Jesus or not. But you coming to my gym for an hour a day four or five days a week, you’re going to basically be doing what I do on Sunday when I go to church. And I want it to be, I wanna be known for that.

Tiffy Thompson (05:30):

So like a worship atmosphere almost?

Kyle Cato (05:32):

You know, we play Tupac. We play Guns N’ Roses on the radio. We’re not just listening to, you know, Christian music. But you come to my gym, the music censored. There’s kids in the background doing CrossFit Kids. It’s just, it’s a safe environment. And a lot of people these days don’t have a getaway to where they can be themselves. But when you come to my gym, you’re gonna see the culture that we provide, and you’ve got two options. You can stay and be a part of that, or there’s other gyms in town. And that’s something that I realize: that we’re not the only gym in town. But when people come in into my doors, they know it doesn’t take long to see for what we offer.

Tiffy Thompson (06:14):

Culture might not be really measurable, but retention and marketing are. So how has having a strong culture helped you keep your members longer?

Kyle Cato (06:26):

I mentioned my son, Jeremiah. We have a coach that has a nonprofit here in town. My son was born in Africa, where there’s the need for water. My coach that has a nonprofit here in town, we crossed paths with Rich Froning a long time ago—nine years, when he was still in the, he was Rich Froning the CrossFit god, right? The man. We crossed paths with him. My wife and his wife talked about the adoptions. They happened later. So we got to meet them before the adoptions actually happened. But Rich Froning came and he kind of just told his story one time to Amarillo Texans, to our gym, to a church here in town.

Kyle Cato (07:16):

The next year, he came back again and did a little competition that we put on. And that was—we’re nine years deep now. So we’ve been doing this for a while. So all the money that we make through this competition with the guys from Mayhem goes towards a nonprofit Christian program here in town. We also do what we call Clean Water. It’s an event we’ve been doing for three years. The money that my gym, only my gym members, raise goes to building water wells in Uganda, Africa. So we’re three years into this, and we have raised $100,000, and that’s 10 water wells that have the name CrossFit 806 on them. And we go back every year to kind of get footage and get videos and testimonies from the Ugandans that are using the water that we provided. So showing Jesus to people around my town, but also where my son was born out of our gym. You know, our four walls are way bigger than what my building is.

Tiffy Thompson (08:21):

If you could share one tip you think would help other gym owners in building their culture and keeping it positive and energetic, what would that be?

Kyle Cato (08:32):

I like to say, “Where I would go pay to work out, that’s where I wanna be. So I would pay to come to my gym, and I would pay a lot of money to come to my gym because it’s something that I consider fun. But I provide a service, and that’s really valuable. So if you want to grow your gym, your business, and you wouldn’t go to it, you’re wasting your time. So what’s important to you? What’s important to me? That’s what I wanna be known for. My gym will be open for a long time, but, you know, whenever I’m not in the office–I’m not on the floor as much, you know—I want people to know that this started with what was important Kyle.

Tiffy Thompson (09:19):

It’s great advice. Thanks for coming on the show.

Kyle Cato (09:22):

Hey, thanks for having me.

Tiffy Thompson (09:33):

Hey, David, welcome to the show.

David Allen (09:35):

Hey, thanks for having me.

Tiffy Thompson (09:36):

So David Allen was this year’s recipient of the Gym of the Year—Metrics award. And this is given to clients who have the most success with the left side of the brain. So nominations should focus on the overall change in gross profit. And his mentor wrote David totally crushed metrics this year and surpassed the $1 million revenue mark while also working on a plan to open a second location and ninja warrior gym. So, David, what were the main strategies that brought you over that million-dollar revenue line?

David Allen (10:14):

Yeah, so a couple years ago, I did a Vivid vision—kinda a three-year vision exercise. Like, where did I wanna take my business? And the target I set was three locations serving a thousand clients. And in order to reach that vision, I knew we were gonna have to really focus on what I call “scaling awesome.” A lot of what we’ve learned in Two-brain is how to deliver a truly exceptional experience, but that’s kinda what makes a Two-Brain gym unique from your typical gym, right? But we had to figure out, well, “How can we do that at scale?” Because at the hundred-member mark, the 150 member mark, you can kind of somewhat do it on a personal-relationship basis. And beyond that, we had to figure out how we can really leverage software to make it so that you can still deliver a relationship to a broader group of clients.

David Allen (11:26):

And so that’s kind of a lot of what we worked on: how do we scale software and also scale software to handle a lot of the things that I don’t want my major players, my main employees doing. Easy example was like inventory for retail. It’s a piece of our business. It’s important. It’s a revenue stream, but it’s not, what’s gonna take us to a million dollars. It’s not gonna take us to a million or a thousand clients, right? So it was things like that that we just kinda said, “Hey, what is the low-ROI task and how can we make this automated or pass it off to like virtual assistants?” And so a lot of what we worked on was kind of finding ways to scale all that. And then the other piece was really developing staff.

David Allen (12:25):

It was from where I’m at with having multiple locations and multiple businesses, I just wasn’t gonna be able to be a day-to-day operations kind of person. And so it was teaching staff, giving them a playbook, giving them a vision, guiding them, letting them make mistakes and being like, “Hey, that’s OK,” you know, and developing them into key players who feel comfortable running their particular operation within our bigger framework. So that was kind two big pieces with staff development and scaling what I call awesome.

Tiffy Thompson (13:10):

What aspect did you focus most on improving when it came to the business?

David Allen (13:15):

Like between the two?

Tiffy Thompson (13:16):

Yeah.

David Allen (13:17):

It was kind of like one and then the other. So what happened was I had a GM who went on maternity leave. And she passed off a lot of her tasks to the rest of us. And in that I kinda had a trigger moment of going like, “Wait a minute. Like, if this is all the stuff you’re doing, I’m mis-utilizing you because you are an exceptional person and I don’t need you doing task stuff.” So it was kinda like, “Oh, OK. Let’s figure out how to scale all this stuff and take it off your plate. And now I can develop you into your full potential.” It’s kinda like scaling some of that stuff first, taking it off, so that everyone has the capacity for bigger roles.

Tiffy Thompson (14:11):

Gotcha. And it sounds like you had the right people in the right seats. It was just a matter of taking stuff off their plate that wasn’t serving them or your gym.

David Allen (14:23):

Yeah. I mean, some of it was some of it was moving people around. So I kinda took one manager and put her into a new business. I took someone who was head coach and moved them into a manager. I took someone who had just kind come on part time because they liked the gym but had everything we needed to run another location, and I just approached them and was like, “Hey, you’re the person for this job. You ready to take it?” And they were like, “Yes. Cool.” So it was a little bit of both. Everyone was within the organization, but it was like just putting them in the right spots in the organization.

Tiffy Thompson (14:58):

So if you have one tip that you’d like to give to other gym owners who are looking to improve their metrics, what would that be?

David Allen (15:09):

Well, I think the very basic one is pay attention to your metrics. I see our progress as a gym very much. Like I see the progress that you would see in training. And part of that is you have to know where you are first, and if you’re not paying attention to your metrics, you have no idea where you are. And if you have no standard of metrics, you have no idea where you fit in in the bigger scheme. You may be thinking you’re killing it and not even coming close. The beautiful part about Two-Brain is they said like, “Hey, here’s how to look at metrics. And here are standards to kinda go by.” And then in doing so now you have kind of a roadmap to follow. Part of, I think, of our successes, you know, we’ve been a gym for—well, I like to make the joke that I’ve owned a gym for five years and I’ve owned a business for six. But we’re in our 11th year. And I started my gym at 25. I just think there’s a reality that you’re probably not gonna be good at many things, and you’re probably not gonna be really good at anything you haven’t done for a decade. And so I would say right now, it just took 10 years. Just like it would take 10 years in the gym of knowing where you stand, knowing where you wanna go and just kinda chipping away at that. So, you know, we are very big on metrics. We have KPIs that we look at, where we go through these metrics on a weekly basis, whether that be sales, LEG, gross revenue—these are all things we’re constantly looking at. And just being aware of it, and then having targets that we’re reaching towards.

David Allen (16:49):

So when you have that goal, now you can start turning levers to kind of get there. Now, sometimes those levers don’t result in us moving forward, but now we know. So I think my biggest advice would be to know your metrics and where you are and where you’re trying to go. And then just be patient, like watch your trend lines over time. It’s not gonna be this constant, just linear progression up. It’s gonna be a trend line, but if you’re going the right direction, you’re going to get there. And as you do that, you’ll be able to learn, “Hey, when I do this, this happens. When I do this, this happens.” And you’ll be able to just slowly over time develop that skill as a business owner who has experience.

Tiffy Thompson (17:35):

And when it comes to getting the rest of your team on board, in improving those metrics, how did you go about doing that?

David Allen (17:43):

It’s a couple of pieces. One, I think as a leader, you need to be a bit of a good storyteller. I can’t just walk into a meeting and say, “Our goal: make a million dollars, guys. This is cool. Let’s go do it.” Right? You know, like we have a bigger vision that’s just beyond revenue. So revenue is an easy way to track the impact that we’re making. And so our vision is to impact people’s lives. And we truly believe that, you know, fitness can save the world. So we have a passion project behind this thing. Revenue goes up and we impact more people. So this is a good way for us to kinda track that impact. So getting them on board—I’ve already got people who are passionate about helping people—telling them that story, getting them fired up, giving them a game plan and saying, “Hey, here, here’s where we are. Here’s where we’re wanting to go. This is why it’s important. Here’s how we’re gonna get there.” I get them involved in the planning. I get them involved in part of the process. And then I reward them along the way. So, you know, our goal is not to just make a million dollars cause a million dollars would be cool. It’s “we wanna make a million so we can impact people’s lives so they are getting healthy and fit so we can impact your lives, and you can have a career doing something that you love and are passionate about and make a good living, and you can do it for the rest of your life. And you don’t feel like you have to go do some job you hate just to pay your bills.” And so let’s say it’s part of this bigger collective piece. So I think that’s where that vision comes in being the storyteller. And I think that’s, you know, part of my process the last several years has been leveraging myself up. Like I can’t do the day-to-day tasks. I don’t really need to be delivering service. I can’t really be doing sales. I can’t really be doing the day-to-day management of staff. My job is to drive that ship. And part of driving that ship is being a good storyteller casting a vision and driving the business in that way.

Tiffy Thompson (19:46):

David, that’s really helpful. Thank you for coming on the show with me today.

David Allen (19:51):

Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

Tiffy Thompson (20:09):

Hey Charlie, welcome to the show.

Charlie Banfield (20:12):

Hi, Tiffy.

Tiffy Thompson (20:14):

So Charlie is the recipient of this year’s Comeback of the Year resilience award. And this was given to the client who had hard times but turned it around, and the client should have come through the challenge and now be stable and profitable as a result of actions they’ve taken. And his mentor wrote, “Charlie inherited a small, struggling globo type gym from his parents. And through RampUp, he’s made some big, tough decisions to revamp the whole business model towards a more CrossFit style coaching program and raised prices significantly, which it created a lot of backlash. He came in for a lot of criticism, but he stuck to his guns and has reached his interim goal of 10,000 pounds monthly revenue. So for you personally, over these past couple years, what’s been the toughest part of gym ownership?

Charlie Banfield (21:12):

Well, changing the business model was huge. So I think we actually did, we probably did about four months of Two-Brain Business mentorship before we actually made any changes. And that was huge. So we actually removed all open access to the gym. And yeah, we ran like group fundamentals and changed to incorporate like the group and the PT. And that was a huge, huge change. That was like starting a new business basically. And we had a little bit of recovery after the COVID, our COVID shutdowns, and then we sort of changed our model, and then we had to rebuild again. So that was quite challenging.

Tiffy Thompson (22:05):

Yeah. A lot of adjustments. Did you ever struggle with impostor syndrome?

Charlie Banfield (22:11):

Yeah, so we basically changed everything we did. We we’ve been like following the content you guys gave up for quite a while. And like we sort of knew we were capable of changing, and we knew we could be good coaches, but the globo style of gym that we had before was we were basically receptionists, right? So actually figuring out that we could help people more than just sitting behind reception. The imposter syndrome that comes with that was huge.

Tiffy Thompson (22:48):

What boosted your confidence during that time?

Charlie Banfield (22:53):

Well, making the changes, it was a huge headache. But just from taking people through a structured fundamentals of, like, how we were gonna work with them, we did get a little bit of backlash. But just after a few months of this new method, we were getting some amazing feedback. Like, “Oh, I was bending over to clean my car wheels the other day, and I didn’t get a backache.” Or, “Oh my God, I managed to walk upstairs and I felt good doing it.” Or just the feedback that it was actually helping people in their day-to-day life. That was a huge win that sort of lifted those clouds.

Tiffy Thompson (23:50):

Yeah. So you went through that process of revamping your whole business model. Do you have any advice you would give to others who are looking at doing something similar with their gyms?

Charlie Banfield (24:02):

Well, if they haven’t got a mentor, then listen to a mentor. Like we had Russell Francis. He was in our corner the whole time. And I don’t think we could have made the changes about him, to be fair, and the support he gave. Yeah, it was a really, really big change. So I think also we were coming off the back of COVID, so it’s quite a, well, I suppose lots of people were coming off the back of COVID, but it was quite unique for us anyway. We’d already lost quite a few members through that. So it was a good opportunity to change for us. But really just, you we’ve just gotta do it.

Tiffy Thompson (24:45):

Yeah, yeah.

Charlie Banfield (24:47):

It’s been quite a, well, it’s felt like quite a long recovery, but it’s been far more enjoyable. And it’s like, it almost, it’s like as soon as we did it, like that fire reignited, that fire to come into the gym on the day to day. And yeah, you’ve just gotta like bite the bullet, as such.

Tiffy Thompson (25:09):

Get it done.

Charlie Banfield (25:10):

Yeah. Get it done. Yeah.

Tiffy Thompson (25:11):

Charlie, thanks for coming on here with me today.

Charlie Banfield (25:15):

Amazing. Thank you.

Tiffy Thompson (25:28):

And today I have with me Rich Borgatti. Welcome to the show, Rich. So Rich was the recipient of the Comeback of the Year resilience award. And this was given to the client who had hard times but turned it around, and the client should have come through the challenge and be stable and profitable as a result of the actions that they took. And his mentor wrote about him that “he’s a longtime Two-Brain client. He’s been through it all during this time. But this year he saw some of his lowest numbers in a decade. He had coaches quit. He had to fire someone on the spot, and they were stuck in this small bubble where mask mandates lasted longer than the surrounding areas, but he faced adversity dead in the face. And he is prevailing. He is turning his finances around. He’s hiring new staff. He has reset his time, and he’s also near publishing his first book. Rich is a true leader and one whose story resonates with so many others.” So, Rich, was there a point during this last crazy period that you just wanted to give it up, and what made you persevere?

Rich Borgatti (26:46):

Yeah, actually there was probably about three times that I can remember that I succinctly went, “OK, why am I doing this anymore? Like, I should move on.” Cause during COVID my wife got pancreatitis and we were worried about pancreatitis cancer. Like we went through a battery of tests while the gym was shut down. So, like, at that point I was like, “What’s more important, like the health of my family or this business, like where do I need to put my time and energy?” So that was like the first time. And, luckily, she came through just fine, and she had to have a surgery, but things worked out well. But, you know, going through major surgery where, you know, she was in the hospital for a week and the gym was shut down, and we didn’t know where our next paycheck was coming from. That that’s very stressful.

Tiffy Thompson (27:36):

Yeah.

Rich Borgatti (27:36):

You know, and we were homeschooling the kids at the time, and everything seemed wrong or against us at every point at that time.

Tiffy Thompson (27:47):

Wow.

Rich Borgatti (27:47):

Yeah.

Tiffy Thompson (27:48):

What kind of kept you going? Like what was the driving force?

Rich Borgatti (27:55):

Well, the driving force at that point was survival. Like, you know, keeping food on the table, keeping a house, our house, our mortgage paid. You know, keeping my staff employed. Like there were more people than just me that were counting on whether this gym survives or not. And so we had a, you know, I had to dig down and really look at our mission statement and our values, and they seem corny when you write them. But when you have a situation like that and you read the reason why you’re doing it, it becomes very important and very apparent that you need to keep moving forward, you know, cause it’s more than a business. It was, we always called it, you know, like, our second child or like, it was part of the family. My wife likes to call it, you know, our children’s college fund, you know, like this is how we are making our living. And so I didn’t have anything else to really fall back on at the time. And so we just kept pushing forward through all the challenges.

Tiffy Thompson (29:06):

What was the biggest lesson you took away during this period?

Rich Borgatti (29:11):

Well, one of them was we were very thankful that early on we went through like our Profit First, you know, for the business. We had turned the business around where we had money in the bank by the time this happened. And we had a good support system and good resources at the time. And so the biggest thing was like, “Oh, thank God we did all this work foundational work in the beginning.” Cause if we didn’t have the strong foundation that we learned through Two-Brain Business, it would’ve all just crumbled like a deck of cards, you know? Right. A house of cards, just bam—gone. But it didn’t. So the community that we had spent building over the years, we had a good solid base of 50 to 60 clients that didn’t go anywhere.

Rich Borgatti (30:01):

And that kept us at least open. Maybe not profitable, but at least it paid the bills. And those were very strong relationships that we spent years building. And so all the things that we learned through Two-Brain from financial to community building to leadership really came to the forefront. When things are going well, you’re like, “Oh, I’ve got this.” Like you think that everything’s running smoothly. It’s not until you hit these failure points that you really see how resilient your business is or isn’t. And that’s what we saw: We built a resilient business that was able to survive. We did have to get outside funding from our PPP loans to stay open when we were not allowed to keep our doors open. And, luckily, a few years before this, I had started working on online training. So we had a good system to move the whole gym to an online virtual system. But that again, that’s the foundational stuff that we were building a year or two before this happened that thankfully we had in place.

Tiffy Thompson (31:18):

So I guess the takeaway is get your house in order before the shit hits the fan.

Rich Borgatti (31:25):

Yeah. You don’t wanna do it when it hits. That’s when you pressure-test it. But you’ve gotta have it in place to see if it’s actually gonna work.

Tiffy Thompson (31:35):

Yeah. What would you say to other gym owners who are currently struggling? Like we’re probably heading into a recession now. Gym owners are wondering what they’re gonna do. What would be your advice to them?

Rich Borgatti (31:48):

Sure. So I started the gym in the recession of 2008. So that was my starting point. And I got told a lot of times like, “Hey, we’re in a recession, you shouldn’t start a business. You shouldn’t quit your job. You shouldn’t do … .” But what I learned from then really helped us now and is going to help us going into a bit of possibly a downturn: Figure out exactly what you need and don’t get more. Right? So a lot of times gym owners see shiny toys and it’s like, “Oh, I want another bike.” Or “I want, you know, a new GHD machine.” Or “I want the newest thing.” We built everything off of used gear. Like we go used. Save your money. put your money in the bank, you know. Used gear as just as good as new gear. Really understand how much you need to spend. And that was one of the things in the beginning, I didn’t understand budgeting—I do now. So I know what kind of equipment we need. For gym owners that are going into this, it’s like, just figure out your model. Like if you’re just used to cramming people into a gym, guess what? Those people might not be there in a year if we hit a recession. So, you know, really understand your bottom line. Like where is your cutoff point and are you too top heavy? That was one of the things that we did have: a bit of hubris going into the pandemic cause we were the biggest we’ve ever been, you know, 230 members. I had 13 coaches on staff. I didn’t even have to go to the gym anymore at this point.

And I unfortunately thought that I had made it at that point. But unfortunately when you get that much overhead, all of a sudden things are very fragile when something like the pandemic or recession hits. So you really need to make sure that your foundation is stronger than the top end, you know? Don’t get too far away from your community. The big lesson I learned was like, oh, thankfully I could step back into a head-coach role. I could take care of the community cause they did not wanna look to my other coaches. As soon as things started happening, they looked directly to me as the owner, as the head coach, for what to do. And so did my staff. So a lot of times I would say “don’t lead by delegation,” right. Or deferring to people and just abdicating responsibility. Really know your members. Don’t get too far away from the basics and show up every day. Like that was a big lesson that I learned.

Tiffy Thompson (34:47):

And is your book out now?

Rich Borgatti (34:49):

Yes. So the book is out on Amazon.

Tiffy Thompson (34:55):

And what’s it called?

Rich Borgatti (34:56):

It’s called “Epic Training: A Comprehensive Guide to Obstacle Course Racing.”

Tiffy Thompson (35:00):

Awesome. So you can check that out on Amazon. And thanks a lot for your time today, Rich. I appreciate it.

Rich Borgatti (35:09):

Yeah. Excellent.

Tiffy Thompson (35:14):

That’s it for Two-Brain Radio, gyms of the year and epic comebacks. Thanks for tuning in. And if you want more, subscribe to Two-Brain Radio wherever you get your podcasts.

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