The Fired Client Rebellion and the Comeback of the Year


Tiffy (00:02):

Tiffy Thompson for Two-Brain Radio. 2020 has been a tough year, but Phil Kniep of CrossFit Lincoln had an incredible turnaround that earned him the Comeback of the Year award. He’ll tell his story right after Two-Brain founder Chris Cooper introduces the special award.

Chris (00:20):

The comeback of the year award is maybe my favorite award that we hand out every year. It really sticks with me because I had to have a huge comeback. After I opened a gym in 2005, I gradually coasted downhill until 2008 when I opened a second gym and almost went bankrupt. I had a great comeback story of my own. That’s been told hundreds of times, and it’s no coincidence that the best mentors in the fitness industry have a comeback story just like mine. This story that you’re about to hear was one of over a half a dozen incredible comebacks in 2020, the year of great comebacks. This story brought me to my knees. It made me choke up inside and out of an incredible field of comeback stories, this was the tops. You’re going to love it. 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

Tiffy (01:36):

Wonderful to speak with you. Congrats on winning this award.

Phil (01:38):

Yeah, thank you. It means a lot. It’s great to talk to you too.

Tiffy (01:42):

Walk me through what’s happened your gym and in your life since you started with Two-Brain, what was the catalyst that prompted you to start working with Two-Brain?

Phil (01:56):

My wife and I, we bought our partners’ shares. And so moving forward, we were just like looking for like a coach or mentor. We actually had worked with another group once before, and we felt like we just really didn’t connect with that group. And so we wanted to, like, since we just bought it, we wanted to move forward, like doing the right things and establish some of the baseline SOPs and things that we wanted to, and my wife had actually like been reading articles or getting emails from Chris Cooper and she really liked his approach and like simple, the keep it simple type of mindset, I think that he has.

Phil (02:52):

And so she was a really big advocate for Two-Brain, which is why we started. We just wanted it, like, since we were the new owners, we wanted to just get off on the right foot and have some direction, because even though we’d been involved with our business for like nine years prior to that, we still felt like we had so much to learn and we weren’t business owners when we started, I mean, I was a coach that just enjoyed coaching. And so like being thrown into the business side, there’s just so much, so many things that you don’t know. And we wanted just a little bit more direction on what we needed to do with kind of a fresh start that we were facing, I guess. So,

Tiffy (03:36):

So at one point you had two other partners in the business with you?

Phil (03:40):

Yeah, actually, we started the business in 2009 with five partners and so, yeah, so two of them, they had other jobs, they were on a fire department and so they decided they wanted to like focus on that career a little bit more. So they just, they were happy just to like give their shares to three others. And then we had a lady that had a background in finance and business, and we asked her to be a partner. It didn’t cost anything at that point in time for us to like go buy in. So there were four at one point in time. And then of those four, about four years ago, three or four years ago, we found out that he’d been taking some money from the business. And so he was just asked to leave. So then there were three after that there were three. And then my wife and I bought out the shares in the last, the last two partners.

Tiffy (04:42):

  1. So when did you start with, Two-Brain in May of 2019?

Phil (04:48):

Yeah, I believe it was May, 2019? Like maybe the end of April early May of 2019. Yeah.

Tiffy (04:56):

What did your mentor have you work on like initially, what was the main focus?

Phil (05:00):

The first thing was writing our SOP and procedures. We had some of those written out, but they just weren’t really not that clear. And they just involved things like what, like, can someone bring their pet to the gym or whatever. They were just like really weird as they weren’t really like our procedures for coaching and they weren’t our procedures for opening and closing. And so if I remember right, that was like one of the first steps was like, let’s get those SOPs, just like figure it out and get them all written now. Right. Like a team playbook. S that’s where we started. That was the first step was just gathering all of our stuff that we do and just write it out. Right.

Tiffy (05:47):

And then you had a pretty dramatic experience, I guess when you fired your weed clients, can you tell?

Phil (05:55):

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I mean, that was a tough situation. This is probably something that even with the previous partner that we knew was coming we just had some clients who were not fitting the vision of our gym and the culture of our gym. We had some situations where they were making other members feel really uncomfortable. There was a lot of like in our gym at that time we had, we have four rooms, we have one really big room and like we have CrossFit classes going on and then we have like three other rooms that are smaller. One of them is used for personal training. One was used for CrossFit kids. And then we have one that’s just like an open gym room. And so they were primarily like they would go to open gym. They didn’t really participate in our community.

Phil (06:47):

And they really weren’t making other people feel welcome. Like if someone come bac there to work out, there was a lot of name calling and things like that. And so we pulled the trigger on like asking them to leave, but the main reason we pulled the trigger is because we just had like a little bit more support and like, that was the right thing to do because we were, we were really scared to fire clients for, you know, fear of like, what is that going to do to the rest of the community, you know? And like, are we going to lose a ton of members? And if we do how’s that going to play out and Lincoln, it really, isn’t a very big town in Nebraska. And so, you know, we see these people sometimes like in other situations, you know, like going to the store or whatever, you know?

Phil (07:36):

So, just the social ramifications of that in our, I think in our community as well, like outside of the gym, we were a little worried about. And so we pulled the trigger because there were some things that were just like beyond what we could tolerate. And then we also have the support of our mentor at that point in time. And she told us that like, t’s going to suck initially, but she had our back and she guaranteed that there were other people in our gym and that we probably would lose members, but we would rebound really fast. And so having that support and our mentor telling us that it was the right thing to do, because I think that’s all we were questioning was like, is that right? Is this right to ask people leave? Like we feel, we didn’t really feel great about doing that, but we knew that those people couldn’t stay in our gym any longer. So

Tiffy (08:32):

Did you lose all of your membership afterwards?.

Phil (08:41):

We’ve probably lost 20 members in the initial, like kind of firing. We asked three people to leave. There was a group of people that worked out with them that kinda like didn’t know if they wanted to stay or not. And so, you know, we had some really crucial conversations with those people and, you know, a lot of them like understood where we’re coming from and they decided to move forward. So we did, we lost probably 20, maybe 30 members when it was all said and done. But ultimately it created a better culture in our gym. Right. We had, I don’t even know how many people who were thankful that we asked them to leave. And were kind of victims of some of the, kind of the verbal abuse and stuff that was going on there. So, yeah.

Tiffy (09:34):

Would you say the main thing that kept you going was the support of your mentor at that time?

Phil (09:40):

Yeah, definitely. I don’t know if she was supposed to do this or not, but she sent us a personal video of like support. And like we, my wife and I said like told each other, that like just the like initial pricing of Two-Brain and like all the monthly, like that was totally worth it just to have that support and that love from her, made the commitment to Two-Brain like worth it. And we still, like, we were learning so much and we’ve taken so much from Two-Brain and we still go back to that. I’m like, if we only have that, that was totally worth it. It was totally worth it. So, for sure that support from her was really important for keeping rocking and rolling. I mean, there was a lot of social media, like shaming and abuse for myself and my wife. And so that was really hard. And there were times where we wanted to just like walk away from this. And so, you know, having our mentor support was really huge, keeping us continuing to fight

Chris (10:59):

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Tiffy (11:37):

But you were able to come up more profitable than ever. Why do you think that is?

Phil (11:40):

Yeah, it was crazy. March before we shut down. Well, March was our most profitable month that we’ve ever had in the gym. So we were like, kind of getting the ball rolling again after like that firing. And so like, I know my staff was like, here we are. We’re like, we’re doing it now. We were like getting to the place where we want to be. And then COVID hit.Oour state didn’t actually mandate us to close. However, we decided as a team that the safest thing for our members and our staff was to close down. And so what we did was we let people rent out some of our equipment and we switched to zoom classes for the short term.

Phil (12:32):

When we did that, we were transferring a lot of people to online coaching. So just whatever they were paying with their current membership, we were offering that online coaching to them. And so that really helped retain members being able to rent out that equipment and also having that one-on-one contact with them. We did check-ins with our members every single week. So our staff was assigned a certain number of people and they would check in to see how they’re doing with their mental health, how they were doing with their workouts, if they needed anything. So that helped retain members. And then we were still open for personal training. So, because it was more one-on-one setting a lot of our members who had not done personal training in the past, decided, Hey, like that’s one way that I can get into the gym.

Phil (13:23):

So working out on my own by myself isn’t really working and our PT, we were averaging I think, $3,000 a month or something maybe less than that in PT and during COVID it bumped up to about 9,000. So it tripled our personal training revenue during that time, which that really helped because we did lose some memberships with COVID. But with the increase in personal training that definitely like helped increase our revenue. We actually had better numbers than we had the year before during April, May. So yeah, it was pretty awesome. So, I know we were pretty excited about that. We were preparing for the worst. I know we were looking at the SBA loan and things like that to keep us going, but we had a pretty good amount of savings already set aside for emergencies.

Phil (14:25):

And so we decided to forgo that. And I know like our staff was really nervous. Like what if our revenue drops all the way down? What are we going to do? Well we never even tapped into that savings account. We actually added a savings account. We had a ton of profit during that time. And so, you know, attributed that to like our staff, just being diligent with, you know, Hey, we’re still doing PT. Hey, we’re doing check-ins Hey, you know, make sure you’re jumping on our zoom classes. They were really trying to keep our members engaged and still working out and active all the way through COVID. So that was definitely beneficial for us.

Tiffy (15:09):

Sure. And you became a dad recently, correct?

Phil (15:12):

Yeah. July 15th had a little baby boy.

Tiffy (15:18):

So this allowed you to spend more time with him as well. Because the whole work from home stuff.

Phil (15:27):

Yeah. I mean, really, my goal with, with Two-Brain was to create more margin. I was working 12 to 16 hour days most of the time. And so, really like when this last year or more with Two-Brain, we’re seeing that as a reality. And then now my wife has gone back to work on Monday. I’m going to be the primary caretaker for our son while she’s at work. And so, yeah, so we’re pretty excited. I’m still like committing about four to five hours a day to the gym working, but it really opens me up so I can take care of him and spend more time with my family. So yeah, it’s been pretty sweet and perfect timing. I mean, like, you know, like we didn’t like plan, like, OK, now we’re going to have a kid. It just like ended up working out that way. My wife can go back to work and we can take care of Judah and we don’t have to send him to daycare, especially with all the COVID stuff that’s going on right now. It really is like, worked out perfectly for us.

Tiffy (16:38):

That’s awesome. What do you think sets CrossFit Lincoln apart from other gyms in your area?

Phil (16:45):

Yeah, I mean, gosh, that’s, I just think the commitment to our members, our clients is one, one thing that we did during COVID was like our client check-ins. And so, we’re actually staying with that now. Like all of our coaches have a group class that they’re in charge of and they do check ins and goal sessions with them. And so I know tha, in our community, in Lincoln, there isn’t another gym that is having that kind of one-on-one contact with their members. And so I think that really sets us apart. I mean, when someone comes in, we sit down with them, we structure and game plan with their goals. And then when they become a group member, if they become a group member or PT client, we’re always following up with them on how they’re doing with those goals, how we can continue to help them.

Phil (17:45):

So it’s just like consistent contact. That was something that we struggled with in the past was like we would have people come in and join our gym and then they wouldn’t stay very long just because there wasn’t, they just felt like they were lost in the system. And now we have that one-on-one contact and that relationship that builds from the very beginning, from the first time that they walk in the door. And I know that’s way different than any other gym in our area.

Tiffy (18:13):

What would you say to gym ownes who are where you were at your sort of lowest points?

Phil (18:20):

Continue to persevere. It’s really easy to go into some dark spots. Like, question your vision question, your why. So I guess my advice would be like write down that vision and that why so you can go back to that each time you go into that dark spot, because it’s easy to get emotionally attached to some of the stuff that happens within your gym community and then get stuck on that and decide it’s time to move forward.

Phil (18:57):

But like, if you can have a clear vision and clear why it’s strong enough, you can always go back to that and it keeps you motivated to continuing to pursue that vision and stick with it.

Tiffy (19:11):

What are you most looking forward to when it comes to your business and your future?

Phil (19:16):

Yeah, I’m really looking forward to just like refining now. We’ve worked really hard to establish our procedures. We’ve made a lot of changes in the last 18 months to the way that we run things, we’ve increased prices. And so, we’re just really excited about refining all of that and just like putting it into practice and just making it better and better. So we feel really confident with where we’re at and just like that growth moving forward and getting better at what we do is probably what I’m looking forward to the most.

Tiffy (19:55):

And having this time with your son.

Phil (19:58):

Yeah. That’s another thing with still owning the gym. I’m going to be going in and coaching classes. I’m not like I’m not a primary coach anymore, but I do fill in every once in a while. It’ll be fun to take him with me and have Judah hang out at the gym while I’m coaching and doing some work and stuff like that.

Tiffy (20:27):

That’s so great. Well, thanks for joining us today.

Phil (20:33):

Thank you. Thanks for having me. It’s been awesome.

Andrew (20:34):

That was Tiffy Thompson on Two-Brain Radio. If you currently work with Two-Brain, ask yourself, what would it take to win this award next year, then take action. And if you don’t work with us yet, be sure to join the Facebook group Gym Owners United, where you’ll find advice from Two-Brain founder, Chris Cooper, every day. He’ll tell you how to improve your business for free. Thanks for listening to Two-Brain Radio. Subscribe for new episodes every Monday and Thursday,


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