Welcome and thanks for tuning in to Two-Brain Radio. I’m Josh Martin and in this episode I get an opportunity to talk to Brooks DiFiore, who will talk about a unique way he invests time to upgrade his staff. I will be back with Brooks right after this.
Welcome to Two-Brain Radio. I’m your host Chris Cooper, here every week with the best of the fitness industry. Got a sec? We would love to hear from you. I write emails to my mailing list every day and it’s a highlight when somebody takes the time to respond. If you’ve got feedback on my show or a guest you’d like to hear on Two-Brain Radio, email email@example.com. And don’t forget to subscribe to Two-Brain Radio wherever you get your podcasts.
All right, Brooks, I’m pumped to have you on today. Welcome to Two-Brain Radio.
Yeah, thanks for having me.
So before we get into the meat of our conversation today, why don’t you give our listeners some information on, you know, who you are, your journey to fitness, and how you came to own your own gym.
Yeah. So my name is Brooks DiFiore, I’m from Pittsburgh, PA. I have always been a fitness enthusiast. I think my dad really put the fitness spark in me when I was young, just training for sports. I mean some of the earliest memories I have are going with him to the gym to get a workout in. And that carried on all the way through middle school to high school. And then when I got into college, I was playing lacrosse and my mom started doing this thing called CrossFit and summer after my freshman year, she was like, you know, you obviously need a way to stay in shape. You’ve been working out with your dad for the past eight years. Why don’t you come and work out with me? And I was like, yeah, all right, cool. You know, I’ll go and work out with my mom.
So went to the box. Typical CrossFit story, first workout there. And of course it was Fran, right? Threw me right in. It was an absolute disaster of a workout. I was absolutely hooked on it and went pretty much every day when I was home for summer before going back to school. When I went back to school in the fall, there wasn’t a CrossFit box around me, so I like would recruit some teammates and say, Hey guys, you want to do this workout with me? So we started like doing some CrossFit workout to stay in shape and get ready for the season while at school. And then once I graduated that just carried over into wanting to open up a gym.
No way. So I gotta back up, cause I gotta hear a little bit more of this. Like usually we hear it’s, you know, kid gets involved into CrossFit, somehow they drag their parents into it. But for you it was the other way around. Like your mom was the CrossFitter and then she was like, Hey, you need to stay in shape. You should come do this.
My mom has always been an athlete, fitness enthusiast. Growing up she was an awesome track and cross country runner. Still today she works out at my gym. Does CrossFit, does bootcamp classes. She does trail running like she did a, I think it was like a 40 or 50-mile trail run. Yeah, she’s an animal. She was doing CrossFit since probably summer of 2010.
That’s like, yeah, that’s back in the day CrossFit.
Yeah, this is like summer 2010 and she was in it and a couple of her friends were really into it too and they just dragged me along and spent a summer just kicking my butt.
So your mom and her friends, like the Golden Girls dragging you into CrossFit?
Does she have a CrossFit story like, like most of us do, where it was like, I just went and I got my butt kicked and I fell in love with CrossFit?
I think so because I can remember like being in the middle of the lacrosse season, my mom texting me these workouts and I was like, I don’t know what the hell this is, I’m in the middle of lacrosse season. Like, what are you bothering me with this for? I can’t do any of this right now. You know, not really thinking much of it. And then when I got home she was like, are you coming with me? I was like, yeah, of course I’ll come with you.
That is amazing, man. That is so funny. OK, so take me back to, you know, you get out of school, did you open your gym right away or did you go do something else or what was that evolution like?
Not right away. So my dad actually, he had owned restaurants. So my family had been in the restaurant business for about three generations and my dad was a restauranteur for a little bit over 20 years. So when I was growing up, I’d always been working in the business, whether it was like starting out as like a dishwasher, prep cook, bar back and then like bartending. So as soon as I got out of school, I was actually starting to go into the family business full time and I was managing one of the restaurants, and while I was managing one of the restaurants, I was also personal training and running group classes in a gym that’s like a globo-gym type space that’s no longer around, up in their attic. It was like the only place that had any room for functional fitness. I ran my first group on-ramp in their basketball court on the first floor, cause I wanted to like get some attention for it. I think we had like three people and then just all these other people like lined up looking at us in the basketball court, kind of like what the hell are these people doing? So I was subleasing a space from them for probably about like 18 months before I signed the lease for our big-boy space.
That’s awesome. And what year did you open Arsenal?
I opened Arsenal, this April will be five years. So yeah. So was that spring of 2015.
That’s amazing man. And you just moved into a new facility at the tail end of last year, is that right?
Yeah, we did. So we moved into our new facility in the end of August, beginning of September.
- And just to kind of give everybody a, you know, an understanding of the operation that you guys run there. How many staff do you have?
We have about 11 coaches on staff, 11 coaches, me, my wife, two other coaches, are full time. And then our GM Vincent, who you mentor, is a full time with us as well.
Yeah. I love, Vincent man. He does a fantastic job.
We’re lucky to have him.
Yeah. All right. So what I’m really excited to talk to you about today is what you termed, I think your month of sweat. Did I get that right?
Yeah. So it was sweat till Christmas.
- So in full transparency, the genesis for this conversation, it actually came from me stalking your Instagram for like the month of December. I really just fell in love with like what you were doing and I thought it would be super valuable. So first why don’t you tell us like what was that month I’ll all about?
So it really started out as just a way to stay consistent through the holidays. We had just gone off of like the move and like we just settled in. I think the stress of that was finally starting to subside. But like the minute we moved into the new space, I also went like right back into working out full time. And like, you know, doing like being like really focused on my nutrition and things like that. After Thanksgiving and the holidays rolling around, I was just burnt out on everything and I wanted to make sure that I was going to stay consistent through the holidays without putting a ton of pressure on myself. So I thought a really fun way to do that would be OK, just make sure that you get a sweat in every day leading up to Christmas.
And so, yeah, I mean the idea was just, I’m kind of smoked. We just moved, I’ve got all this, you know, stuff going on, responsibility, life feeling kind of burnt out. But I know that like fitness, exercise, nutrition, all these things are important. How can I do it in maybe like a more low pressure but fun and exciting different way?
Yeah. Low pressure, more fun, exciting, different way like you said, but also an opportunity to go and experience some classes and some facilities that I hadn’t had time to try when we were getting ready for the move.
So was there anything off limits in terms of what you were going to try?
There was absolutely nothing off limits. We had some things we wanted to do and then throughout the month we had people saying, Hey, why don’t you come to my class? Why don’t you come to like a yoga sculpt class one day. I think the only thing we didn’t hit was a cycling class.
Did you hit a Zumba class?
We did not hit a Zumba class, but we did hit, like, what’s it called? We did a pilates class. So we did a Solidcore class.
Oh, what’d you think of that?
Solidcore was, it was good. It was a tough workout. And I have a ton of respect for the instructors there. So we have a instructor at the local Solidcore who’s a friend of ours. And we were talking about, you know, what the expectations are of Solidcore for their instructors. And one of the biggest expectations is that they are not allowed to stop speaking for 60 minutes.
Like motor mouth the whole way through?
Motor mouth, motor mouth, motor mouth. So between them explaining the workout, cueing you on how to use the machine, what the resistance should be, there can be no gap in between. So they need to have like motivational lines scripted, ready to go and it is 60 minutes of nonstop talk and some of them coach two to three hours of classes in a row.
That is remarkable.
It’s pretty eye-opening.
Yeah. So you know, funny side story, whenever I coach my athletes will always laugh at me because I do love to talk a lot and I explain things and I’m all over the place. But there is definite like dead time in that hour, especially like when the workout starts and the music kicks up and maybe you’re talking a little bit individually to people during the workout. But man that, yeah, mad respect for being able to just go, go, go for 60 straight minutes.
Well that’s exactly it. You know, I think especially if you look at it in the context of a WOD, after you say 3, 2, 1, go, it would be really challenging for any of us as coaches to say, OK, aside from you cueing an individual athlete, now we need to layer on you speaking and saying something to help keep them going in between. Basically fill those gaps of time the entire time when you’re not working with an athlete individually.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around having to do that. Not just for one class but like back to back-to-back classes.
Yeah, it’s a lot. It’s a lot to ask of them and they do a great job and they have to be enthusiastic and motivated and dancing around the whole time. I mean, I don’t see like another way to really do it.
So speaking of taking a brief break, let’s pause for just a second. You know, while we hear this message from Two-Brain Radio.
Hey guys, Chris Cooper here. I wrote the bestselling fitness business book of all time, but I often think about taking it off the shelves. Here’s why. Business evolves quickly and while the ideas in my book “Two-Brain Business” still have value, my program has evolved. That’s where my most recent book comes in. In “Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief” I break the entrepreneur’s journey into stages because the things that work in the first stage don’t work in the second and vice versa. Everything I put in that book is based on thousands of hours on the phone with gym owners and tens of thousands of dollars in research. I know what works, when it works and why it works. I’m not just going to try and inspire you with pie-in-the-sky philosophy and memes about grinding and hustling. I’m going to give you step-by-step instructions based on what the best gyms in the world are doing to succeed. You can spin your tires like I did 10 years ago as a struggling gym owner or you can avoid my mistakes by reading a book based on a decade of knowledge. Check out “Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief” on Amazon. I wrote it to help people like you. And now, back to Two-Brain Radio.
- So you know, before we go into it any further, what I want to know is, you know, what were you hoping to get out of it? You know, doing your month of sweat. Was there a higher motive or a different motive other than just like novelty and getting out of your normal routine or was that kind of it at face value?
It was it at face value. I just wanted to get out my normal routine. I wanted to switch things up and just try as many things as I could throughout the month of December. Now naturally when you go into a new studio, like, your gym-owner mentality starts kicking it, right? You’re looking around, you’re seeing like, you know, what kind of services are they providing? Like all these places, someone at the front desk, right? Like what are these roles that the people at the front desk are actually serving? Like is this place clean? Like what other classes are they offering? Is everybody welcoming? You know, so you just start analyzing all of those things. So it’s impossible not to take it into another level of seeing things that you like, you don’t like. Things that you think you could be useful to us as gym owners and things that you think, you know, belong to, you know, the more boutiquey fitness-type studios.
You’re so right. You know, as a business owner, I can think of countless experiences where I’ve walked into—whether it’s a business that is in fitness or completely separate, where I’m thinking like, man, you know, I love how they did this or maybe I didn’t like how they did that, or here’s how something we can take back to our team. And obviously that’s, you know, really what we’re talking about today is, you know, upgrading your team. So from that perspective, like what did you get out of this this month of sweat?
One of the big things I got out of the month of sweat was us taking a look at, you know, how we can take our experience to another level. Because I look at, you know, what we talk about all the time, it’s like creating a great class experience in CrossFit. Like are our coaches welcoming? Are they keeping the athletes safe? Are they delivering the class, you know, and following our timeline, not going, you know, 10 minutes over, are they cueing correctly? Are they spotting flaws? You know, are they interacting with each member? You know, the prep for class that we do goes into, you know, technique, scaling. Like that’s, you know, that our end. When we look at the opposite end of fitness, when we start talking about things like Orangetheory, like Solid Core, like spin classes, what you’re really getting there is like a choreographed experience.
Right? And not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. It’s just different than what we do. Like the great experience in their world is OK, like class starts, lights drop, music goes up, someone’s on a mic and it’s high energy the whole time through, right? When we come into a class experience, you know, what do we do? OK. We bring everybody around the whiteboard. We do an icebreaker, we explain the workout, explain the why and all that stuff cause that’s very needed. But are there elements that we can pull from that OK, lights go down. Music is blasting It’s high energy, to create a more unique class experience for our offerings.
Yeah. So I failed to ask you this earlier in our conversation, was it just you or was your whole team involved? Like who participated in this with you?
So my wife Ally and I were the ones who were going around and checking things out. But as we got through, as we kept going through the month, I reached out to our team and I was like, guys, if you want to go anywhere this month, just let me know. Hopefully I’ll go with you. And I’ll pay for the class, but just get out there and if you have the time, try and get another, just go to another gym and get another experience.
I’m curious, did you visit any other CrossFit gyms?
I did visit one other CrossFit gym. I did not take their CrossFit class. I took their, they have a like a Barry’s boot camp style class where it’s treadmill and floor work and they, and again, you know, lights, microphone, loud music and that was a great experience. And I went and checked out the CrossFit gym and talked to them a little bit, but I really wanted to try the treadmill classes they were offering.
So what are like the two or three big takeaways that you got from this and then will it lead to, you know, how you guys operate at Arsenal, you know, will it lead to you upgrading your team, things like that?
Yeah, so I think the big takeaways that I got are that there’s not a ton of unique offerings out there as far as fitness goes. If we look at like all these boutique national chains that are popping up, the formula is pretty much the same. It’s some version of high-intensity interval training with a cardio aspect and a floor aspect. Now, whether that cardio aspect is something like Row House where it’s rowing and then you know, dumbbell core work or something like Barry’s boot camp where it’s treadmill and then dumbbell floor work. Or you know, you have Orangetheory where it’s treadmill, rower, dumbbell floor work. They’re pretty much all the same concept. They’re just repackaged and rebranded in some different ways.
Yeah. So it’s funny at the end there, where my mind was going with this, and this may be way too out there, but wouldn’t be the first time I said something like this, but where my mind is going is like, you know, in the NFL you’ve got all these different teams, you know, that have their own branding, their own colors, their own fan base. But like the product on the field is still football. It’s just, you know, I’m assuming you’re a Steelers fan.
Yep, of course.
- And so who is the Steelers rivals?
Yeah. So like you’re, you’re not ever going to wear Ravens gear, but like you love the sport of NFL football. And so that’s kinda like what I’m thinking here is like all these guys, you know, and even us included like we’re delivering fitness. It’s just, you know, for the client coming in, you know, how do we connect with them? How do they connect with our brand, you know, the messaging and all that kind of stuff. Right?
It’s so spot on. Because I think when you look at things like, you look at like Orangetheory, you look at F45, you look at 3-Minute Fitness, Barry’s boot camp, again, they’re all pretty much the same. It’s just which one does the person resonate with more? Like which team are they going to go and join and be a die hard fan of.
So knowing that and learning what you learned, like what do you take back to your staff? How does this change anything at Arsenal?
So I think that the messaging that we put out there, I think that like when I look around the fitness world, I think we’re starting to see all these fitness studios do things that we’ve been doing for years. Right? Working with dumbbells, working with kettlebells, things like that. I think that like just from a marketing standpoint, it’s going to benefit us too when we’re like putting out pictures on Instagram or what have you, to put out pictures that like people are familiar with. Right? Like if you have like all these people going and doing kettlebell swings all the time, like we need to show them that we do kettlebell swings at Arsenal, right? We also have a barbell, but like there’s at least this one thing here that you’ve done and you know how to do and that you might be pretty good at. So like that might be more inviting for you to walk through the door should you get bored at one of these at one of these fitness studios.
Yeah, I mean, you know, something that you mentioned to me, I think before we actually started recording today was the level of execution and detail that some of these places had when you went there. That it was, everything was very crisp and polished and very high energy. Do you find that that’s an area where you can, you know, go back to your staff, your coaches and say, Hey, like, you know, I thought we were a 10 out of 10 until I went to these guys and you know, really they’re like a 12 out of 10, like we need to level up.
Yeah. So I think I’m going to say that from two perspectives. I think for one it’s super beneficial for CrossFit coaches in general to go and try these classes out, because I think what they’re going to discover is one, how knowledgeable they are and how good of coaches they are, but then they’re going to find unique ways to enhance their class experience, right? Like we’re for sure the best in the world at teaching people how to move, hands down. There’s other fitness instructors who are in the best in the world of providing an amazing, like heart-pounding experience that like just gets people like addicted and coming back for more. Like there’s a marriage there, like there’s something that can be done to bring those two together. So I think introducing more CrossFit coaches to that would help nearly any gym.
The second thing that, this is more from an operational standpoint. Everywhere you go, they have a front desk staff, and we’re guilty of this, like we’ve gone through three months where we have like a full time front desk staff and it falls off. But having a front-desk staff just, it creates this buffer that just allows for fluidity between you and the members or potential members or the coach and members and potential members, because the coach can come in and just focus on coaching. And if someone has a question about like membership rates, cancellations, things coming up, anything like that, there’s a resource there who is just there for customer service all the time. So I think that from an operational standpoint is a huge missed opportunity for CrossFit gyms.
Yeah, that’s a really unique perspective, man. I mean, I remember when we moved into our new location several years ago, we had a front desk but never had it staffed by anybody. You know, and we’re not like where we’re getting foot traffic and things like that, but I do agree that the benefit to having somebody, you know, especially I’m sure at all these locations you walk in and it’s not somebody that’s, you know, looking all disheveled backwards hat or any of that. It’s, you know, they’re professional, smile on their face. It’s like you are the light of their world when you walk in the door.
For sure. Because you know, what these sales staff people are at all these places too, or sorry, these front desk staff people, like they’re the salespeople. They’re the ones who every time that we were leaving a class were saying, Hey, how was class? Do you have any questions about membership, signing up? Right. You know, for us it would be super like—I don’t think for us, especially like the way we do things at Two-Brain, for the front desk staff to be the salesperson, but the front desk person should be at least able to deliver an elevator pitch regarding your service, right? Yeah, we do personal training, group classes, nutrition coaching. Everybody who comes in starts out with a No-Sweat Intro, a No-Sweat Intro is a one-on-one sit-down with a coach to discuss your goals and figure out what’s going to be right for you. Is that something you’re interested in? OK, great. Let me grab your information. Let’s look at the schedule and schedule a time to sit down with somebody, right? So they can at least give you—they should at least be able to deliver that sales pitch for you. And if somebody walks in off the street and wants to get an intro or calls, they should be able to do that and get that scheduled.
I’m impressed. That’s a very well-rehearsed sales pitch. I feel like you have practiced it and said it so many times. It just rolled really well.
A couple of times, you know, a couple times.
- So I want to hear you elaborate on something because you know, being a part of Two-Brain Coaching, coach development is just a huge, tremendous passion of mine. It dominates all the free time that I have. And I’m constantly talking to owners and even other coaches, you know, about the importance of your coaching staff, when they get to a certain level, maybe not when they’re brand new at your gym, but you know what we would call at Two-Brain Coaching that third, fourth degree coach, it’s super important for their development to step outside of the box, pun intended, and seek out knowledge from other fitness methodologies, you know, and really allow that to inform their training and development of themselves and the staff back at the gym. And you kind of hit on that as one of the points that you thought was super important for your staff when you started going out there, saying, Hey guys, this is something I’m doing. It’s amazing. I think you would benefit from it. Can you elaborate on that a little more?
Yeah. I mean, I think that for any new coach who’s going to be joining your team, it’s going to benefit them to go to as many fitness classes as possible before they ever step foot on your floor. Just to get an idea of what is out there. See different coaches in action, maybe there’s things that they can pull from and implement themselves. Especially with a newer coach starting out. You know, everybody starts out a bit nervous, a bit unsure of themselves. So if you can give somebody the power to like, OK, this is how you like run a like super enthusiastic class and it can kind of, I don’t want to say shade any of the areas that might be a little bit weaker, they’re still working on, but it could really elevate their game and give them the confidence they need to really progress as a coach in the future.
Is this something, you know, we’ve got the ears of a ton of coaches and owners, you know, that listen to this podcast, is this something that you, you know, doing this like month of sweat, visiting all these different types of fitness methodologies, boutique studios, is it something that you think all owners or head coaches, depending on how your staff is set up, should be doing?
Every owner should be going and trying out as many gyms as they possibly can in their area. And not in like a, you know, a sneaky way. Like, let’s go and see, you know, what this guy is all about so we can steal from him, but just like with a completely open mind, and whether you agree with the methodology behind their training or not, just go and experience the class for exactly what it is. Because if you go in there with an open mind, you’re going to take something away from it. And we talk about these things all the time. Oh man, there’s 10 gyms in my area. There’s so much competition. But like for most of us, we really don’t know what this competition is or like really what they’re about or what they’re doing. So until we go and like experience it for ourselves, we don’t know exactly like how to proceed.
Now I feel guilty, like an irresponsible owner cause like, I go and do CrossFit at our gym, you know, four or five days a week. I ride my bike, I go for walks with the family and the dog and all that, but I can legitimately say I’ve never stepped foot in another, you know, gym or fitness offering within my area. But now I feel like I’m being called to do that, Brooks.
You know, and I think we talk about it all the time too. Especially like when new members come in, like it’s good to be able to understand where they’re coming from. Like we talk about in Two-Brain how like all these fitness programs are coming out are really just feeder programs for CrossFit, right? Eventually someone’s going to get bored with whatever functional boot camp they’re doing and graduate into a CrossFit gym. It’s going to be super beneficial for any business owner to be able to say, Oh, you went to Orangetheory. Like, I love an Orangetheory class. Like, I had a great experience there. You know, we’re a little bit different. We’re going to be, you know, we’re like, we’re a step up from there. It’s going to be a little bit more complex. But you’re going to get more results from it. So being able to, you know, relate to where the person is coming from will definitely provide them with some level of comfortability when they come to your facility.
Yeah. You know, it’s interesting that you bring that up man, because really I, you know, I really viewed, you know, this topic through the lens of being a coach and developing as a coach. But this provides another layer that you can have, you know, if you want to consider it like on the sales side of things. But when somebody does come in is being able to relate to them, because relateability is such a big part of what we teach in terms of coaching development. And if I’ve never been to an Orangtheory or a Barry’s bootcamp or F45, if I’ve never heard of them or have no idea what they’re doing, it almost makes my, whether it’s true or not, my fitness credibility come down a little bit in the eyes of the client.
For sure. Especially because they look at it like how have you not heard of these things? Like these are some of the biggest fitness franchises in the world right now.
Yeah. And the other thing I’m thinking too is it allows you to, not down what they’re doing and talk about how you’re better, but it really allows you to frame like we talk about strategic advantages in Two-Brain so much, so you know, if I know that somebody has done a ton of treadmill work or running or whatever at Orangetheory, then I can talk about the benefits to how we train, how that’s going to translate to them getting better results.
Absolutely. Right. It’s like, Oh, you row? I love Orangetheory. Like the rowing’s so hard. They’re like, yeah, the rowing is my favorite part. We row here all the time. You’re going to be a great fit,
Man. This has given me so much to think about. My team is probably going to be mad because now I have to set up all these dates to go and visit these different places. Let me ask you this, kind of in closing, what was your favorite thing you went and did?
The favorite thing that I went and did, so again with them all being somewhat similar of like cardio paired with floor work, I liked Row House because I enjoy rowing. But I found the floor work to be a little bit lackluster just from the background that I was coming from. You know, just being in a CrossFit gym. They Barry’s bootcamp style workout out had the treadmill and the floor work I love, because the floor work we did there was, like we did dumbbell snatches, AbMat sit-ups, things that would be, you know, much more predominant in a CrossFit setting. I’d never been to a Barry’s bootcamp, but we’re going to New York in April for the next Tinker meet-up and hopefully I can get that whole group to maybe go to a Barry’s boot camp class with me.
If they’re listening to this, they better feel guilty if they’re not doing these things.
This is not me calling them out and telling them we’re all going to a Barry’s bootcamp class together.
I will. I’ll call them out. OK, so leave me with something like this. Like why should somebody do this? I mean I know we’ve just spent, you know, however long this podcast is talking about these things, but what do you think is truly like the bottom line benefit? Why should an owner/coach go and do this in an effort to upgrade their team?
I think it’s going to raise your expectations for your own gym. I think you are going to leave there like so grateful for the amazingly talented people that you have around you and the amount of time that they spent investing in becoming really great professional coaches and then leave with a bunch of tidbits of, OK, we can layer these little things to enhance the experience on top of all that knowledge.
That was very well said, man. I can’t close it out any better than that. Man, thanks so much for the conversation today, Brooks. I always love catching up with you and I’m glad that we could do this.
Absolutely, man. I appreciate it.
All right. Thank you for listening. Once again, I am Josh Martin and this is Two-Brain Radio. Please remember to subscribe for more great shows. And if you’re a gym owner and need some help growing your business, Two-Brain mentors can show you the exact steps to add $5,000 in monthly recurring revenue. All you gotta do is book a free call on TwoBrainbusiness.com to find out more.
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