Welcome to Two-Brain Radio. Today, Chris Cooper speaks with Jim Adams of the Masters in Fitness Business podcast. These two have been in the fitness biz for more than five decades combined. And you don’t want to miss this conversation.
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Jim Adams, Masters in Fitness Business Podcast. Welcome to the show.
Thanks Chris. Thanks for having me on. I’m thrilled to be here.
Yeah, I think we’re going to have a great time. So Jim, you’ve interviewed a lot of experts in the field, and today I’m going to pick your brain on kind of a meta level on what you’ve learned and what you can teach us about the fitness business. But what I want to start with is what brought you to starting your own podcast and talking to experts in the field?
Well, that’s a great question, Chris. And it started by my need to scratch my own itch. So I’ve been in the personal training field for this month will be 31 years. So that officially makes me old. And I started when I was a baby. I opened my gym, my training studio almost six years ago. And when I opened, I was a great trainer who didn’t know how to be a great owner. And as a result I was floundering. So I found a mentorship group. For me it was the secret trainer society with Rick Mayo and Frank Nash and a bunch of other—Tim Lyons, a bunch of big name people in that. And based on that, they helped me become a better owner and a better leader. And one day I was flying home from one of our conferences back when we used to be able to meet face to face.
And you know how you fly home from these conferences and your mind is just popping. And whenever I get home, my staff just dreads it because I’m going, oh, we’re going to do this. We’re going to do this. We’re going to do this. And they’re like, Oh God, he’s been to another conference. But, so I was flying home and I was like, man, I wish I could sit down with one of these guys and just pick their brain for like an hour. So I bounced that idea off of Frank Nash and he said, you can. And I said, what do you mean? He said, start a podcast. I said OK. So that’s what I did. So I did it to scratch my own itch because I was one of those trainers who knew how to train, but I didn’t know how run a successful business and the mind shift that it takes to do that. And the new skill set that it takes to do that. So that’s why I started the podcast. So I could learn that and then hopefully pass that knowledge on to other trainers in the same situation.
I love that, Jim. What brought you to the point where you realized that you were a great trainer, but not a great business owner?
It weren’t pretty. I mean, what didn’t hit me over the head with that? So when I was just a one man show, it was easy to train people, get them to come back, do referrals, all of that stuff. But when I hired my first trainer and said, OK, and they shadow me for a while, then I let them go. And I’m like, OK, they’re not doing this right. And then initially I would blame them, oh, they’re just not a good trainer, but I came to find out that it was me who wasn’t doing a good job of systematizing the training and training them, onboarding them so they could train the client the way I wanted them to train. So systems, learning how to do payroll and what percentage of payroll needed to be, how to budget, because I wanted, I was just like most trainers.
I wanted the slickest gym, the slickest flooring, finishes, equipment, all of that thinking that would bring clients to me, not realizing tha, early on my biggest expense needed to be one, systems and marketing so that when those leads come in, I know I have something to do with them. I was wearing every hat, and you know, from cleaning the bathrooms to answering the phone to training people, I was doing everything and I was just getting burnt out and I didn’t know how to build a team and build systems so that I could take all of that stuff off of my plate. So it was just, it was everything, you know, I knew how to train. And that part was working, but everything else was not working. So I really needed help with it.
That’s great, man. And, for me, the toughest part was just getting over my own ego and actually accepting that I needed help. Did you have any problem with that yourself?
Sure, absolutely. Because, you know, I felt like—I’d left this training facility. I’d been there for 22 years. I was the manager. I was the head trainer, everything. And I figured, you know, man, if I go out and I fall on my face, like I’m going to look like an ass, so I didn’t want to do that. But, you know, I tell you the person that—there’s two people that really changed it for me. One was Thomas Plummer, because he just hit me in the face with the facts, and two was Frank Nash because he was so successful. But yet he was also so humble and helpful that I felt like I was able to trust him and confide in him. And then when I did confide in him, he said, you know, Hey, look, everybody goes through that, man. I went through that, you know, that’s why you’re in this group, use these people to help you grow. So that’s what I did. But the bottom line was like, when I was sitting looking at my bank account, running my business, I’m like, man, this is not the business that I want. And so that was enough humiliation to make me humble and ask for help.
I think we all go through that. That’s great. So you’ve got both this long-term perspective on the industry. 31 years, you’ve seen a lot. You’ve also got this kind of meta view from hosting all these experts on this big podcast. When you’re looking at how the fitness industry has changed in the last three decades, does it appear to be a linear progression? Like we’re headed in one way? Or is it a loop? Like, do we keep going back to the same stuff over and over again?
That’s an interesting question. Prior to COVID I would say it was kind of a loop, you know, when I first got into training, one-on-one training was brand new. Because I’m in St. Louis. In the facility where I was working, we had one competitor, we were a personal training studio and we had one competitor in the city of St. Louis. And now there are, you can throw a rock and, hit five, 10 competitors. And then people got away from one-on-one and started doing small group and large group. And prior to COVID, large group was all the rage. Everybody wanted to do it, but now that COVID has hit, I think people are going back to the one-on-one and the semi private and online training. And I don’t think that is going to change any time soon. I see a lot or I talk to some fitness business owners who are, you know, like everybody else, waiting for when we can go back to normal, but I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon.
I don’t think it’s going to happen in 2021. I really don’t. I think this is our reality and we need to adjust to it. So that means a lot of things, but the biggest things, I think, personal training and semi-private training, seems to be the model that everybody’s leaning to because the price point is higher. So the margins are higher. And two, people are craving that. They don’t want to be packed side by side next to people breathing heavy and sweating. So, so I think that is kind of where the future is going. That and online, I’ve been actually surprised at how well some people have adapted to online and some people who have gone 100% online and are able to scale it. So I don’t think that is ever going to go back. I think as COVID dissipates and we can go back to, you know, more capacity, more people, more clients, less restrictions, I think you’re going to see a little bit of a rebound kind of a pendulum coming back, but I don’t think online and virtual training is ever going to go away.
It’s really interesting that you said pendulum. Sometimes when I’m looking at the industry, I think it’s a pendulum and yesterday a good friend said, there’s this new thing called hit. H I T. And I said, do you mean high intensity interval training? And he’s like, no, no, this is totally new. It’s like one giant set of squats until you’re completely dead. And then you do like a giant set of bench press. And so Jim, and I mean, you’ll find this funny, but I said, no, no, Google like Mike Metzker, H I T. And he, you know, back in the seventies, this was a common thing.
That was it. That’s what it was called. Yes. Thank you. Exactly. So it’s interesting that like these trends, they shift back and forth. But the evolution of the industry, as you say, seems to be in a straighter line. Now, the evolution that I’ve seen in the last couple of decades of doing this has been the emergence of what we would now call a micro gym. And when you and I started, maybe we worked at a globo gym or even a studio, but now you have this group training in a micro gym. Do you think that the micro gyms are perfectly poised to take advantage of the market rght now?
I do. More so than big box and more so than the large group.
Why do you say that, Jim?
Because it fits within the restrictions that most people have to operate under during COVID. And it also it seems to be what the marketplace is asking for. They still want to train, they still want that accountability, but they want it in less people, less traffic, less contact, all of those things, for the sake of, you know, COVID, so I think that’s why it’s perfectly poised.
- So what do you think a gym owner, a micro gym, you know, 150 clients or less, what do you think they need to do to set themselves out to be successful in this new world?
That’s a good question. I would say, I can tell you what we’ve done is that we’ve changed our marketing 100% to offer all the different options. We do outdoor training, we do virtual training, everything, you know, and it’s surprising to me. I was reading some research and it said even fully right now, a full 23% of gym owners that answer this survey, do not offer online courses and aren’t planning to, and to me, that’s insane. Well, it’s not insane, but I don’t think it”s a smart approach. But I think what we’ve done is we’ve marketed all of those things that I just talked about, that were we’re 3000 square foot studio. We only allow X amount of clients in per session. Go through our cleaning procedures, disinfecting procedures and everything there.
And we do that in this video that we have plugged to the top of our Facebook page. And we’re going to put it on our website as well, because it kind of tells the story, but in a video form. And then the other thing that we do is we started marketing, we started marketing hard. We went aggressive with a new year’s push, and it seems to be working. I mean, last week we got nine new clients. And that’s just new clients, that doesn’t count leads and appointments booked and things like that. And then this week is shaping up to not be as busy, but still pretty busy. So we’re looking to hopefully add another four clients this week. So that’s new clients in two weeks. So I think that’s pretty good. So we hit the marketing pretty aggressively as to what we can do and that we can keep you safer than a big box gym.
And a lot of times, I think we’re safer than a grocery store, based on just our amount of people traffic and our procedures and things like that. So we just went to market with that hard. I think that’s the thing is I think that with the model of the micro gyms, a lot of the benefits are just built in, incorporated into the model, but you still have to let people know about it. And so I think that’s where the marketing comes in. I think you have to get really creative with your marketing and really think about your marketing as it applies to who you’re trying to attract, to your demographic and not think about your marketing as a trainer, if that makes sense.
It does. So do you think that we’re all going to become better marketers because of this?
I don’t know that we’re going to become better, but we’re going to have to be different in the way that we market, you know, because a lot of like the B2B marketing is a little bit difficult, obviously you can’t do as many community events to get out there. So a lot of the non, a lot of the face-to-face marketing has been checked out by COVID. So I think digital marketing, Google ads, Facebook, Instagram, things like that are going to be the main tool, whether you like them or not. I think that’s just going to be the main tool because a lot of the face-to-face options aren’t available.
- So compared to a year ago, what does your offer look like to new people coming into your gym?
The biggest shift that we made was that we went from advertising the gym as just a gym membership, like a service, to packaging it like a product. So instead of saying, Hey, join our gym. You know, here’s a two week free trial or whatever the lead magnet would have been, it’s a sign up for this program that will help you do X, Y, and Z. And then what we also do on top of that is we do what I call a Netflix close. I don’t call it Rick Mayo class it. I stole this from Rick Mayo. I’ll give him credit because he’s much smarter than I am. But, so when they come in and sign up for the program, like we have a what we’re advertising now is a leave 2020 behind program. And it’s six weeks and you get XYZ with it. And then when they come in and they sign up for that, we say, we’re also going to enroll you in this membership at the end of your six weeks. Now you can cancel at any time, but you have to just let us know in writing. That way, they’re chasing us down to cancel instead of us chasing them down to try to get them to buy into a new membership. So that was one of the biggest changes we made.
And how does that affect your retention or conversion into the ongoing membership?
It’s lower. I do find that the ability to close as far as like, at least for us, you know, cause you have your leads and then out of those leads, you want a certain percentage to book an appointment, out of those certain booked appointments, you want a certain percentage to show up for the appointment, those that show up, you want a certain percentage to close. And what I’ve noticed that across the board, all those percentages are lower. So people are just a little bit more tentative.
Well, that is interesting. And have you seen this in other gyms too? Or is this just kind of a St Louis thing?
No. I mean St. Louis. I mean, every market is different obviously, but I just did a Facebook live with Frank Nash this morning. He said the same thing along with a couple of other things. I’ve talked to a couple of other gym owners here in the St. Louis Metro area. And, and then people that I’ve interviewed on my podcast too have said the same thing. So, I think for us, we’re really focusing on retention. That’s going to be our number one thing, so that we don’t, you know, because there’s less people coming in, so I need less people sneaking out the back door. So retention has become a priority for us.
OK, man. So let’s say that tomorrow, everybody gets a vaccine and this whole problem just goes away and we’re back to normal February 1st. Do you change your marketing back to what it was? Do you change your intro offer? Are you going to stick with what’s working right now?
Well, I mean, if we’re able to snap our fingers and have everything go back the way it was, I’m going to go right back to the same old marketing, because that’s what people are craving. People want—I know I do. I want to be able to go to concerts and go to eat and, you know, be side by side with people while they’re sweating. There’s an energy in that. Right. So if somehow we were able to snap our fingers and make this go away, I think we would definitely go back to our regular marketing and start with that approach. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s going to happen until at least sometime in 2022.
Would you go back to your original offering or would you keep some online offering or would you keep running challenges at intake? That kind of thing?
Yeah, I think I would still keep running challenges and online because I think there’s a certain percentage of the population that will stay there. And will crave that, but what I would like to do and what I just talked to my staff about is maybe streamlining that service so that we can scale a little bit more because right now, from a payroll standpoint, it’s a little draining, you know, because when you’re training somebody via Zoom, you know, they can only train so many people doing that and you got to pay them the full wage when they do that. So it’s, we have to find some way to get skinnier with that and be able to scale.
That is really interesting, Jim.
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So if you were starting off today, you know, and this is going to be your first day as a trainer, where would you start? Would you start online? Would you start with a facility? Would you start working for somebody else?
I would probably start with, you know, and this is a difficult question for me to answer because I have a plan, and I’ve talked to several people about the plan, but I don’t necessarily want to disclose my full plan yet, but basically what we’re doing is I plan on doing just that. So if I were to open today, I would probably open a training studio, and by studio, I mean, a place where I couldd film kind of pre-film content or live content. So it would be set up like a gym, but it would be much smaller and it would be more like a TV studio and where I could produce content and get that out because I think that is much more scalable than just doing one-on-one zoom calls. But I would want it big enough so if I did have a client that wanted to come in and do a one-on-one, we could still do that.
It’s interesting that after all this time, you still lean back toward if I had it to do over, I would do more media. Do you think that most micro gyms do enough or do they do too much or what?
The biggest, I don’t want to say mistake, but I would say the biggest perception problem that I see with a lot of micro gyms and a lot of micro gym studio owners is that they put their marketing out like they’re talking to industry people, you know what I mean? So their marketing in their video and their content looks like it’s aimed toward other trainers. You know, they’ll put out like a workout of the day or the move of the day or something like that, and even their vernacular, their jargon is industry speak. And I don’t think they think about what they want their demographic to be. And then once you figure out what your demographic, what you want your demographic to be, then you have to curate your content and your marketing to that demographic, meaning you have to look through their eyes.
So like, if you’re going after the 50 and up market, you know, the boomers, right, then you have to think like a boomer, what does a boomer want? You know, instead of thinking like a trainer or, you know, this was a great workout. I’m going to post it online and hopefully people will see this and they’ll want to come in. No. They don’t want any part of that. You know? Cause what I find at least with our demographic, cause we do get a lot of older individuals with movement issues and things like that. So that’s who we market to. And what I find is that most of our clients that come in, they don’t want to be gym rats, right? They want whatever they do in the gym to enhance what they do outside of the gym. They don’t care about PRs.
They don’t care about how much weight they’re lifting or anything like that. Any of those things that trainers might care about. What they care about is when I go on my next trip, am I going to be able to walk for several hours? Am I going to be able to climb the stairs without being out of breath when I’m bringing my groceries in, you know, getting in and out of car, getting in and out of bed without my bace hurting, picking up my kids, things like that. That’s what our demographic cares about. So that’s the way we market. And then I say this all the time. And Rick Mayo gave me these stats is that lease here stateside, 80% of the population does not have a gym membership. And I see the 20% is the six pack abs, the booty short people.
Right? And I find that that’s where most gyms in studios market to, is those people. They don’t market to the 80% and the 80% are the ones that are scared and intimidated to come into a gym because they’re usually out of shape and haven’t exercised in a while and don’t feel—they have very little confidence and hope that they can change anything. So they really don’t put a lot of weight on that. And then the marketing doesn’t attract them. If they’re coming in and they’re a hundred pounds overweight, they don’t want to be next to some girl who’s bouncing around like a Mexican jumping bean in booty shorts, you know, or maybe they do. I don’t know, but you get the idea. So I think if you can market—why would you market toward the 20% when you can market and make ainroads into that 80%? And then the 80% are the people who can, you can really have an impact on their lives. If you’re really in this business to change people’s lives, those are the people’s lives where you can really have an impact because they go from zero to five miles an hour. And so probably about four years ago, I had a lady come in. Her husband had been training with us for about a year and her husband had been trying to get her in. She came in and she was, I would say was over a hundred pounds overweight. And so she came in and she said, you know why it took me so long to come in. I said, why? She goes, I thought you guys were going to be a bunch of meatheads and Neanderthals and train me as such. And I didn’t want any part of that.
And I thought I was going to be the only fat person here. So I said to her, I said, well, you are who I want in here. So I need your help. I need you to help me see fitness through your eyes so that I can curate my service delivery, my systems, my marketing, everything to attract more people like you. Because it’s very hard for me to have that perspective because I’ve been fit my whole life, you know, so I don’t have that perspective. So I needed to, you know, just like mentors, everybody that I find, everybody that comes on the podcast who’s successful has mentors. And there could be all kinds of mentors in your life. She was a mentor for me, for my marketing, for my mission, service delivery, marketing, everything. So that’s where I fall on marketing, is I think a lot of times we neglect that 80%, because all of the people we know usually fall within the 20%.
Tell us the rest of that story, Jim, like, so you said to her, I want more people like you, then what happened?
She became a really good friend. We’re still, we get along really well. I like her a lot. She wound up losing a hundred pounds with us. So she became our biggest advocate. She referred a ton of clients. She helped me with the questions and the framing for the podcast. She helped me with marketing and as a result, we were able to get a lot more people just like her in the club. And that has, it’s like a snowball going downhill, right? So when people come in and they see people like them that are there trying to do the same thing, then it becomes easier, less intimidating for them to come in.
How did you decide on that market in the first place, like how did you choose the market that you work with?
Because of what Rick Mayo told me. And he said that that 80%, those are the people who are out of shape. They can’t move, they don’t have any energy, some of them are morbidly obese. And those, I mean, those are the people who are scared to death to step foot in a gym. A lot of them, I found out they don’t know what clothes to wear to a gym, you know? So we have to sometimes tell them what to wear their first time in the gym because they don’t have any gym clothes and they don’t know what to wear. So the reason I picked that demographic to answer your question is I felt like it’s a much bigger slice of the pie and that we can have much more impact with those people’s lives than we can with the 20%.
Do you show overweight people or elderly people then in your marketing, Jim? That’s really interesting. I know a lot of our audience owns CrossFit gyms and the original slogan of CrossFit was forging elite fitness, which meant that you were basically trying to attract the top five to 10% of exercisers, not just the 20%, you know, a quarter of those people maybe. And so that created a lot of interest in the beginning for early adopters, but later on, you were really fighting for the same people. So if you’re a CrossFit gym, maybe that’s been advertising forging elite fitness, and all of your media shows these super fit people, how would you start making the change to appeal to this broader audience?
Well, I would start by changing the images you show in your marketing. I would start by adding a different on-ramp class or program for them because they’re not going to be able to do what the five to 10% or even the 20% can do. They’re not going to have that mobility. They’re not going to have that energy level. So you have to design a program for them where they leave each day with a win instead of leaving discouraged, which will lead to them quitting and burning out. So I think it has to be everything, it has to be from the scripts you use on your leads to the images you use in your marketing, the scripts you use on your leads to the people in your gym to the programming, it has to be all across the board. You can’t just change the images on your marketing without changing all the other ones, because then they’ll come in and it’ll be in ongruent from what they see to what they’re getting.
I think that’s a really excellent point. Even when gyms feature somebody who’s lost a hundred pounds, that’s a tiny fraction of their media. Jim, do you think the problem is that as trainers, we spend too much time trying to impress or talk to other trainers, is that part of it?
Absolutely. This is a business. There’s a lot of people with egos in this business. And I think that is probably one of the biggest things holding us back as an industry, which is why I always advocate for a mentor group or mastermind groups. And that’s reason I started the podcast is so that we can start to be a little bit more collaborative and think bigger, right? Because everybody has like their super secret WOD or their super secret lunge or squat or push-up. But when it gets right down to it, most of the people that come in, they don’t care. They don’t care about the programming. You know, all they want to do is feel better, lose weight, you know, have more energy, all of that stuff. They could care less what the programming is. I mean, me as a trainer, when I go into like a big franchise, like, the color one, everybody knows what that one is.
Or, there’s another bootcamp, you know, that’s named after a guy, right. I go in there and this was pre COVID or even like one of those cycling places. I went to one of those fancy cycling places when I was out in LA and as a trainer, I’m looking at the program and I’m going, this is crap. This is absolute crap. I would never do this. I would never do with my clients, but I look around and it’s packed and people love it. Right. So I would say absolutely. It’s an industry where people are trying to become the trainer’s trainer, so to speak instead of trying to reach their clients and impact their lives and thinking on those terms.
That’s I think really deep and pretty profound. Honestly, Ji., You know, we work with or we see a lot of trainers who’ve just finished the certification. And two years later, they’re out of the industry. What can we do as leaders to help these people maintain or build a career in fitness?
Well, we have to—when you’re on your own, whether you’re a one-person show training at a big box gym or you’re renting space, and it’s just you, and you’re a one person show to if you have other trainers underneath you, I think you have to take off your—to the use E-Myth, you have to take off your technician’s hat and put on your entrepreneur’s hat, your leader hat, you know, so I think we have to make them aware that being a great trainer is not enough to make your business successful. And that’s whether you’re training just clients by the session, or if you have a bigger facility that has memberships. You still have to run it as a business and not as a trainer. So you have to be aware of that skillset. And we have to help people climb that learning curve, we have to be a resource for them to help them climb that learning curve so that they can have successful business.
Because let me tell you something, there’s another one. This is another mistake I made. And this is why I wound up joining the Secret Trainer Society is that there’s nothing more frustrating than working your ass off, like working 12 hours a day. It’s like, you know, the grind of a trainer, you know, you go in early in the morning, you train all your people, you eat your food out of some Tupperware or something. And then you may have workouts—do a training session for yourself. And then you’re going back and you’re training clients in the evening. And then you go home and rinse and repeat, right? So that can lead to burnout, you know, and there’s nothing worse than working those hours, six, seven days a week. And then at the end of the day, you got nothing to show for it. You know, if you want to open a business, then you have to run it like a business. Not like it’s a side hustle, not like it’s a hobby. You have to run it like a business. So that at the end of the day, your reward for suffering is not failure, right? If you’re going to suffer and work your ass off, you want something to show for it. And so you want a business that works for you, you know, not you slaving for the business where you’re paying some of your trainers more than you’re able to draw for yourself.
That’s I think an amazing point to leave it on there, Jim, but I would like to invite you back another time so we can keep talking about these like big fitness industry trends, maybe as things open up again.
Yeah, absolutely. I would love that, Chris.
That’s great. Where can people reach you, Jim?
They can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And that’s Jim J I M not J Y M. Or you can go to a trainerjim.net to look up the podcast. My studio is Catalyst STL, we’re the St. Louis version, not the Canadian version of Catalyst catalyststl.com. And you can reach me there. And my email there is Jim, email@example.com.
That’s great, man. We’ll put those in the show notes. There is a gym in Buffalo that has Catalystfitness.com. You know, I have catalystgym.com and I still think it’s the best name for a gym out there.
I mean, it’s exactly what we should be doing. Right. We should be a catalyst for change.
Yeah, absolutely. Thanks a lot for coming on and educating us, Jim.
Thanks for having me, Chris, it’s been a pleasure.
That was Chris Cooper on Two-Brain Radio. To get Chris’s new book, “Gym Owners Handbook,” and start growing your fitness business today, click the link in the show notes.