Welcome back to Two-Brain Radio. In this episode, Chris Cooper reflects on what the fitness industry learned from the COVID crisis. With the pandemic putting unbelievable pressure on the industry some parts evolved and are chasing excellence while other parts remain slimy and sketchy. Here’s Chris Cooper with everything he learned from the worst period in the history of the gym business.
We’ll get back to the show right after this. Two-Brain Radio is brought to you by Forever Fierce. Reach out to them to sell more apparel or retail items. Matt Albrizio and his team will save you time with templates. They’ll provide ideas and tell you what’s selling best. And they’ll supply marketing material and preorder sheets. If you want to get serious about apparel and retail, visit foreverfierce.com. My name is Chris Cooper and I love data. I like to make decisions based on fact, instead of guessing, I’m not good at guessing. I love to guide clients in our mentorship program with actual proven data, instead of just a bunch of random ideas that aren’t tested. And today I’m going to talk about what we learned during COVID. I’m going to be sharing some data points with you from our data collection. We have the largest collection of data in the fitness industry.
I’ve been building it for years and years. I’ve spent about $1.2 million building collection tools. So far, one of the tools that we use is called the Two-Brain Dashboard. And this collection tool was never really meant to be an emergency activity. Really we built it to say over time, what activities can a gym do that will make it more valuable? You know, what can gym owners do that will make retention better? So what we do is every month we identify the best gyms in the world for specific topics like profits, like retention, like sales and marketing. And then we call those gyms and we say, what did you do that’s different? Over time what that’s resulted in is an upgrading of our curriculum. So we change our curriculum all the time to reflect what is working best right now. And so if you went through our mentorship program and you looked at our lessons two years ago, and you looked at them today, you’d see that they’ve probably changed because what is working has changed.
Today we’re going to talk about the top lessons that we learned from COVID. I’m going to refer to some industry data. I’m going to refer to some other stuff that we learned through experience that would have taken us years to learn without the forcing function of a global pandemic. We’re gonna talk about 11 things that we learned, and a lot of these I’m sharing for the very first time, but I really want to hear about what you learned from COVID. And so I’d like you to send me an email, email@example.com. Tell me what you learned that I haven’t covered, and we’ll put it together into a future show too. But here’s what I learned. First of all, the data can help you make pivots really, really quickly. I’m not going to talk about data 300 times in this episode, but in this case, it really helped. When the coronavirus pandemic happened, the first real outbreak and the first effects felt by gyms were in China.
And so we started to look at the data in China, from the Two-Brain gyms there and say, what are you doing? How are you pivoting your clients? What are your retention rates? What revenue that you’re keeping, et cetera. And as the pandemic moved West, Italy then Spain and the UK, and eventually reaching the shores of North America. We were able to say, here’s what has worked in the countries where Coronavirus has struck first and refine what we were teaching. And so by the time the first gyms were shut down on the East coast of the US and Canada, we could already say conclusively that pivoting to online coaching with customization, not just Zoom classes, could retain over 80% of your clients in the first month. And that’s a huge advantage that we had. So we published this guide and then what would happen over time is we would keep tracking data.
You know, we never just say, Oh, one and done, that’s it. We learned, we’re done. We’re going to rest on that. We’re going to bank on that. So we kept tracking data over time and we would track data from 850 gyms worldwide. Every single day, we would get stuff in our dashboard and say, Oh, this is working now, that’s working. Oh, that only worked for two months. You have to be doing this long term. And what that resulted in was Two-Brain gyms or gyms that followed our recommendations dipping far less. The industry average on revenue loss was 73%. So on average, most gyms lost 73% of their revenue. Two-Brain gyms on average lost about 26% of their revenue, which is amazing because most of them cut expenses too. And a few of them even had their most profitable months ever during COVID.
But what that really meant was when it was time to get back in business, if you’ve got 76% of your revenue, number one, you’re going to get momentum faster. You’re going to get back to a hundred percent of your revenue way faster. Number two, that means you’ve also got a lot more engagement from your current clients. So you can kickstart the surge a lot faster by getting their referrals to the people that they know like and care about the most. So the gyms who dipped the least also recovered the fastest and now they’re actually super compensating now. So one thing that I learned during COVID was to track as much data as I possibly could, and to act on that data. That was a huge bright spot for me. Now, the dark side, what I also learned is that the industry hadn’t been cleaned up as much as I thought. I thought that over the last 10 years, the industry had gone from, you know, bikini models, posing onstage, you know, all kinds of steroids and like bodybuilding contests, all the slimy stuff that went along with that.
And there was slimy stuff. I mean, it wasn’t just steroid use. There was a lot of drug use. There was prostitution, male and female. There was bribery. There was basically like the supplement companies would buy the winner every year. A lot of that went away. A lot of the supplement garbage that used to happen 10, 15 years ago. A lot of that’s gone now. And I kind of thought that the industry was a lot cleaner. What COVID revealed was there’s a lot of slimy practices still going on in the industry. And when put to the test, some of those slimy practices actually died. Like a lot of gym gurus had to close their gym. Unfortunately it didn’t mean the end of the same problems. So a lot of people who had to close their gym because they were unsuccessful in COVID are still selling gym consulting services.
It seems weird to me. Crisis did clean things up quite a bit. Crisis cleaned up a lot of the false advertising that was going on on Facebook. And I’m sure you’ve seen like the Facebook trials, but what it also did was it forced people who were doing less than, you know, great things to just change their tactic. And so what some consulting services are doing now, instead of just saying, run this six week challenge, blah, blah, blah, I’ll pay for your Facebook ads and selling that to gym owners, they’ve turned, they can’t make it work for their own business anymore. And so they’re selling it to other consultants. So now you’re going to see this huge batch of new gym gurus making the exact same promise. Like if I don’t get you 60 leads in a hundred days, I’ll pay for your Facebook ads or whatever that is.
You’re seeing this new crop of gurus. And unfortunately they’re selling this service because their own gyms just weren’t successful. And a lot of them are selling these consulting services because they’re desperate for money. I think that the market will right itself. It always does. But right now it just goes to show you that though, the fitness industry is cleaner on the client side. It’s not as clean as I had hoped it was. So the first two things that I learned during COVID number one is to trust data and act on it quickly. The second thing was that the fitness industry is not as clean as I thought it was it’s, but it’s dirty for different reasons. And if you’re a gym owner, you need to beware. On the upside, your clients are probably subject to less fake marketing now than before. The third thing that I learned during COVID, and this is probably the most important one for you is that you own a coaching business, not a gym. People who ran a personal training studio during COVID or before COVID, did not really have a tough time pivoting to online coaching. In fact, a lot of them kept 100% of their clientele or above. Maybe they grabbed some people from other gyms and started coaching them online. The gyms who follow the prescriptive model made the easiest pivot to online coaching because the coaching relationship didn’t change. Just the prescription changed. That’s a big deal.
Gyms who just tried to take their group coaching classes and run the exact same group coaching classes, using something like Zoom, they really struggled during COVID. And while it’s important to get that feeling of community and togetherness the longer COVID goes on, that is not a replacement for your classes, because it’s not the same environment. You can’t just take something the way it is in real life and make it virtual exactly the same way. There’s actually a term for that. It just won’t work. And we saw that over and over again. The key is that you must understand that you own a coaching business, not a gym. Gyms sell access to equipment. They have low fees, you pay a membership fee and you probably don’t show up. Gyms really suffered. You know, a lot of them filed for chapter 11 and where you fell on that spectrum between selling access and selling one-on-one personalized coaching largely determined your success through the COVID crisis.
The farther to the right you were on selling one-on-one personalized coaching, the more successful and resilient you probably were through COVID. Now in normal times, that means you’re probably not scaling as well as you could be. And you need to swing back toward selling groups, training groups, and having a scalable service. The thing though is that COVID forced everybody online. And so if you weren’t selling online before, now you are, and you can scale there. You don’t have to scale through bricks and mortar. What it really revealed to me though, is that we need to differentiate ourselves in the market better. And that perception is everything. In our case, to our detriment, we found out that politicians did not distinguish between microgyms and fitness coaches or the big chains, which really were at higher risk for spreading COVID because they couldn’t police every member every second of the day.
So in our gyms where we knew exactly where a member stood, exactly what equipment they use and for how long and exactly when everything got changed, we could have been opened weeks months before the big chaing gyms who couldn’t guarantee those things. So we need to change the perception of what we do by separating ourselves from the term gym, so that we’re not lumped in with the big globo gyms anymore. And we’re working hard to do that. We’re going to try and create a credential, create some kind of accreditation that uses a different term than gym, so that hopefully you can rise up in your list of qualified services and open up at a higher tier because let’s face it. This is probably going to happen again. Global lockdown is going to be the knee jerk response of most national governments if there’s another pandemic.
And so we want to be ahead of that curve by helping microgym owners and coaches get open faster and not wait for the lobbyists from the big chain gyms like we did this time. Before we continue, I’d like to mention that this episode of Two-Brain Radio is brought to you by Wodify. Wodify is an all in one solution for member management, appointment scheduling and tracking. Wodify’s insights tool includes the business health dashboard co-developed with Two-Brain to provide average revenue per member, length of engagement and more key metrics. Gym owners, to receive 20% off your first year of Wodify Core visit wodify.com/twobrain. The next thing that I learned, this is number four, gyms following a prescriptive model did way better and they recovered faster. I already shared some data on that, but the prescriptive model is basically you tell your clients what they need after you hear their goals.
So you do something like motivational interviewing. You really get down deep into their why, and then you make a prescription. You tell them here’s what you should do, or here’s what I would do in your shoes. Then it’s up to them to sign up for them, for whatever you prescribe. And that’s when the cost conversation comes in. But if your clients were used to that, following a prescriptive model, doing goal reviews and making pivots, it was really easy for your gym to say, now we’re going to do this online. And the crazy good thing is that when gyms reopened, they didn’t go from zero all the way closed to a hundred, all the way open. They went from all the way closed to partially open or open for one-on-one or open outside. There was this scaling up and that scaling up process is still going on in a lot of places.
If you’re following the prescriptive model, though, that meant that you could just quickly change your clients depending on what you were allowed to do. So at Catalyst, when we had to completely close, we closed before we were forced to, and it was no problem. We pivoted online and you know, we got a hundred percent adherence for the first month. Pretty awesome. When we reopened a few months later, we asked our clients, would you prefer to do this in person? Or would you prefer to stay online? About 35% said, we want to come back in person, even though it’s outside. The rest said, we want to stay online. And there were some people who wanted both. Now that we’re completely open, again, we have people about 25% who still want to do part of their workouts online. They don’t want to drive 30 minutes to the gym.
And so this solves the geography problem for a lot of gyms too. I can still receive your excellent coaching, even if you’re not the closest gym to my hous., I’ll make the trip twice a week. And then I’ll do my homework at home twice a week, too. You know, and this has created a massive opportunity. So what I learned here is that gyms following a prescriptive model could do better. They could ramp back up faster. They can stay engaged with their clients through every step. And they now have this new opportunity to keep more clients now that they’re reopened. And if heaven forbid, we’re forced to close our bricks and mortar again, they can more quickly pivot back. The fifth thing that I learned from COVID was never miss a crisis. Every crisis presents a big opportunity. And in this crisis, unfortunately, some gyms couldn’t make it through. That sucks.
That doesn’t mean that those gym owners should stop coaching. They should go get a job coaching, continue to change people’s lives. If they have to work somewhere else in the short term to pay their bills, OK, I think they should come back to gym ownership and the COVID opportunity was their ability to escape a bad business model. So now they can come back. They can start a new gym from a blank slate. They can start over. There’s no expectations. There’s no sunk costs. There’s no relationships that they have to maintain with promises of grandfathered rates or any of those other mistakes. They can start from scratch. Again. It’s a painful change for sure. It might take a couple years before you can start again, but I really hope that you do with all the knowledge that you’ve gained. Now, there are other gyms too who COVID forced backward.
It was a forced evolution. It didn’t quite push them out of business, but it pushed them to the brink. And what these gym owners learned was their resilience. Like, wait a minute, I can do this. I can get through the worst thing that nobody would have even imagined six months ago and I can survive. I can scramble. I can make it through. I can work hard. I can innovate. I can pivot when I need to. That’s really amazing for the rest of us, the gyms who did OK. And the gyms who did really well through COVID even better than they were before, what happened was that COVID sped up their natural evolution. What would have taken them three years to pivot happened in three months because COVID served as a forcing function for the changes they were going to make anyway. This was really true of Two-Brain.
It was really true of my gym and it was true for a couple of hundred other gyms whose owners are now more profitable than they’ve ever been. And probably happier because without something like COVID, they wouldn’t have made that change to working from home all day, cutting back on delivery, scaling back to the best clients and the best staff and pivoting to this online model. The cool thing too, is that a lot of their clients are benefiting because now they’re not just getting workouts that they might get bored with eventually. Now they’re getting exciting workouts that the owner has to really think about. They’re getting workouts that are more convenient. Sometimes they can do from home if they want. They’re getting help with their nutrition, they’re getting help with their habits and their mindset. And they’re using the urgency created by the COVID crisis to drive their health forward and actually create a buffer of fitness for themselves.
So never miss a crisis is a slogan that one of our clients said to me early on in the COVID pandemic, and I’ve really taken it to heart to say like, how can we use this crisis, this urgency to benefit us? The sixth thing that I learned during COVID is that leadership is more important than anything else. People will not buy your program before they follow your lead. However, if you’re truly leading people, they will buy in no matter what. This happened to us during COVID. I had to level up as a and my mentor Todd Herman told me this. He said, Chris COVID is not going to be a test of systems so much as it’s going to be a test of your leadership. And if you know how to take care of your people, they’ll still be with you when this is all over.
Even if it lasts a year. And so he taught me a model called the calm model, and I turned right around and I taught that to everybody in Two-Brain. The biggest thing though, about leadership is there is no such thing as the silent leader anymore. You have to be in solid communication. So it’s not enough to just have a plan. It’s not enough to just appear calm. It’s not enough to be, you know, the show of resilience. You have to be communicating your plan to your staff, to clients, to your family, to yourself all the time. And that’s one thing that COVID forced me to do was to step up and be a better leader and to better communicate what I was doing, that we had a plan. Here’s what it was and that things were going to be OK. I’m going to talk about perception and impression next, but I need you to understand that being a good leader doesn’t mean just doing the right things.
It means communicating that those things are being done and giving people hope through communication. Action is critical. As a leader, values are critical. If you don’t tell people what those actions are and what your values are, they won’t know them and you’ll be invisible. They won’t matter. The seventh thing that I learned during COVID is that perception is everything. If you’re very, very, very clean, but your clients don’t see that, if they don’t see pictures of you cleaning, if they don’t see your rules and your posters about cleaning, if they don’t see spray bottles everywhere, they will assume that you are not clean. We could take this down a very deep rabbit hole about perception and the world’s response to COVID. I’m not going to do that because I don’t think I can talk about that topic without getting political. You know what I mean? I’m sure you’re probably the same way,
But more than ever, we are in the spotlight all the time. We are always onstage. As soon as you open a business, you are the star of your own media. If you’re silent, people will wonder why you’re silent. No response is a response. During Black Lives Matter, which isn’t really the topic of this show, you know, my general response is wait and see, be cautious, be measured in your response. And it took members of my team telling me, Chris, you need to say something, you need to come out and say, Black Lives Matter. Even if people know you, because if you don’t say anything, then you’re part of the problem instead of being part of the change that you want to help create. And so from somebody who creates content every day, who does webinars, who did webinars almost every day during COVID, who produced stuff really, really fast.
It’s still important that you’re talking about the things that people care about, that you’re telling them it’s going to be OK, here’s our plan. Here’s our vision. Here’s what we’re doing about it. I actually learned this even before the Gulf war, it’s kind of a crazy story. But I was attending a leadership conference in Chicago and I like locked into these tickets and a speaker got up onstage and he said something that changed my life. He said, never present a problem without a solution. That is leadership at its best. Yes, you can conquer anything. Yes, you can overcome problems, but you have to tell people that you’re doing it and tell them what the solution is and how they can take action to give them a hope. Leadership is crazy important, but your client’s perception of your leadership is even more important.
And what COVID taught me was that impression perception is everything. The next lesson, the eighth lesson that I learned during COVID is that you probably don’t need half of your stuff. You probably don’t need half your clients. You probably don’t need half your space. You probably don’t need half your equipment. You might not even need half your staff. If you found that that was true or if you found like, Oh man, this is super obvious, then COVID presented a great opportunity to downsize on all fronts. Maybe you could renegotiate your lease, maybe the staff who weren’t completely bought in just kind of opted out. Maybe the clients who weren’t going to be your best clients in the future, maybe they went off and did something else. And that’s OK. Even though it was painful, even though it felt like a tough breakup and maybe it even cost you money, in the long term, that’s better for you.
The lesson is that you probably don’t need half of the stuff that you’re selling, half of the options, half the programs, half the equipment, half the space anymore. And you also have an opportunity to get out of it. Number nine, I learned that when I need to move fast, I need to invest in the things that will help me pivot quicker. So I found the experts and I asked for help. When COVID started and gyms started getting shut down, it was kind of a shock to everybody, including those gyms. We saw it happening in China. We saw it happening in Italy, in Spain, but in the more free market economies like the U S and Canada, I probably wouldn’t have predicted the gyms would be mandated to be shut down for 90 or a hundred or, you know, 150 days. When that did happen, though, all the stuff that we were teaching about systems and marketing needed an upgrade really quickly, because you weren’t selling the same things anymore.
The systems that ran your brick and mortar were immediately obsolete overnight because you didn’t have a brick and mortar anymore. And so what I did was said, OK, who’s the best in the world at this, for example, who is the best in the world at coaching people online, I found those people and I said, teach me how to do this. I’ll pay you. In a lot of cases that cost me 20, 30, $40,000 to buy that knowledge from an expert, but it helped me make that pivot really, really quickly. And then I turned around and I taught that knowledge to all of the gyms in Two-Brain. I shared a lot of that knowledge for free with every gym I could find, because in times of crisis, you don’t need less help. You need more help. You need shortcuts, you need to buy expertise. You need a mentor.
And during COVID, I needed more mentorship than ever before. That was really important for me to understand, because the first reaction I think that everybody had was like cut expenses, right? So you say, what can I cut? And for a lot of people, they thought like, well, maybe I don’t have to pay my personal fitness coach anymore. And for a lot of entrepreneurs, they thought maybe I don’t need to pay my business coach anymore because this is new to everyone. But the thing is, it’s not new to everyone. The solutions were out there if you could find them and pay for them. And that’s what a good coach should do. Instead of sticking to their systems untl they’re obsolete, they should be constantly upgrading their knowledge and their systems to find what works now. And luckily through COVID, you know, we had a reserve of cash that allowed us to do that.
I spent well over $120,000 through the COVID pandemic on experts, bringing them in, buying their knowledge, translating it into the fitness industry, and then delivering it to gyms. I’m happy that I was able to do that. And it just showed me that we need to be doing that even more. And so now since our gyms reopened, even in the last few months, when a lot of gyms have been reopened around the world, we spend more money than ever before paying experts to come in and talk to people in Two-Brain. You know, John Maxwell’s team has been in, we’ve got Seth Godin, we’ve got Chris Voss coming to the Summit. Risha Grant is going to talk about diversity in our gyms to us at the summit. Cameron Herold is going to talk about making your vision come true at the summit.
We brought in Mike Michalowicz to talk to the tinker program. I mean, the list goes on and on, and I’m forgetting somebody huge. These speakers costs a ton of money. The four people that are speaking at the summit together cost about $80,000, but that’s what gym owners need right now. And there’s no other way for gym owners to get access to them unless I’m the connector. And so that’s what I learned during COVID is to find the people who are doing the thing well that I need to do well, pay them for that expertise and then teach it back to everybody else. The last two things that I’m going to share with you are what I personally gained from COVID. You might find that they help you too. The first thing is that a crisis was just what I needed to work harder. Before COVID hit,
I was working hard. I mean, I was working probably about five, six hours per day, building stuff for Two-Brain, really, you know, in the CEO role, measuring reports and giving instructions and measuring feedback and all that stuff. But when COVID hit, I went right into my real queen bee role, right? My super power, which is building content that will help, and COVID forced me into that role10 to 12 hours a day. Many, many nights during COVID I got four to six hours of sleep and I would wake up like, Oh, I need to say this. I need to teach this. People don’t understand that. And so I’d be putting out webinars and all that kind of stuff. The bottom line is that COVID is exactly what I needed to work harder, to define where I can help the most in my business and to do that thing.
It focused my effort and intensity because it had to, and now that COVID is mostly over, I know where my time is best spent to accomplish my mission of making gym owners wealthy. And that is finding the data, turning that data into actionable directives and then giving those directives to you and teaching them to our mentors so that they can help you do them. And the last lesson from COVID that I learned, and I hope that you learn too, is that I’m not made of glass. Before COVID I was so empathetic to the emails that I was getting back from people because they were always positive. It was people giving me positive feedback on the emails that I sent them or telling me their results. And I would get 10 or 11 a day. And they were always good. When COVID started to hit, I said something, but I didn’t really take it to heart.
And that was, we’re going to require a lot of forgiveness when this is all over. I don’t think that when I said that statemen, I actually understood the pressure that people would be under. And so even when COVID hit one week, two weeks in, I started getting negative emails back and it was like, how can you charge for mentorship when gym owners need your help? We’re all struggling right now. And through my lens, it was obvious. Like I’m not just going to give away mentorship for free when other people are paying for it. That’s that would be screwing them. Also, I’m giving away so much stuff for free here that people could survive COVID, build a thriving gym, create the money to pay for the service that I sell, which is mentorship, right? Create enough value for free that they can afford my service.
That’s kind of our motto. It’s our whole ethos. Nonetheless, through COVID I got attacked almost daily for charging money. Some of the stuff was absolutely ridiculous. A lot of it was just misunderstanding. People didn’t understand what we’re after here. But the bottom line is that I learned that I could take it, that I’m not made of glass, that our systems and our values stand up to scrutiny when people want to actually ask about them. When people don’t understand, that’s what leads to misunderstanding. Of course, that’s what leads to the criticism. Anytime that I would dig into negative feedback or an attacking email or some crazy post on Instagram, every single time, it was a case of somebody who didn’t actually understand our purpose, our values, or what we do here. Sometimes things were just taken out of context and I’m sure you saw that during COVID too.
Sometimes things were just kind of wacky because people are under intense pressure and they’re not in a normal state of mind and they’re reacting to things instead of thinking about them. I hope you didn’t experience that, but I bet you did. We had the same thing happen at the gym. You know, we tell people, here’s what we’re doing. We’re still coaching you. Don’t worry. Don’t be scared. It’s still the same price. No matter how many times we communicated that, some people still said, I want a refund after the fact, and they’re desperate and they might not understand why you have policies or why you stick to them. And they might threaten you. They might threaten to make a big stink on social media or report you to somebody. I don’t know. The bottom line, what you need to understand here is that they’re going through crisis.
They’ve never been through crisis before. They’re going through stages of grief and guilt. They are feeling a pressure at home that you have no context on and that this is going to require more forgiveness than ever before. On the other hand, you can take it. You can survive, you know, sticks and stones aren’t going to kill you. Even if your whole house fell down during COVID, you can rebuild. You’re an entrepreneur now. This is your skillset. You can move forward. Building from the wreckage, rising from the ashes that you’re stronger than you’ve ever been. That COVID has actually made you more resilient. You’re antifragile now, and that you’re going to come out of this stronger than you ever were. If you learn nothing else from COVID, if you took nothing else from this podcast, I hope that’s it. That you’re stronger than you dreamed and not as strong as you will be. Thanks for surviving it. Thanks for continuing the mission, pushing it forward, changing the health of the world. I’m glad you’re where you are. You’re the beacon that people need right now. And you’re our best hope for survival.
That was Two-Brain founder. Chris Cooper. Chris wants to know what you learned from COVID. Contact him directly by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for listening to Two-Brain Radio, please subscribe for more episodes.