“If This Didn’t Work, I Was Out”—Owner’s Fly-or-Die Decision

Josh Holloway

Mike (00:02):

How do you hit an all-time revenue record during a pandemic? The owner of CrossFit Rome will tell us right after this.

Chris (00:08):

Hey, it’s Chris Cooper here. Programming is the service that you deliver to your clients. So I partnered with Brooks DiFiore, who had one of the highest adherence rates for his group classes in the world to build TwoBrainprogramming.com. Now we built this for Two-Brain gyms and we give them free access in our mentorship program, but I’m now making this available to the public. Programming that’s proven to improve retention and cash flow in your gym. Visit TwoBrainprogramming.com to get it. Your gym’s programming won’t attract new clients, but it can help you keep your clients longer. Good programming includes the stuff you know, like your benchmarks, novelty, skills, progressions, leaderboards, but great programming contains something more. It’s a link between each client’s fitness goals and the workout of the day. Your coaches need to tell the clients more than what they’re going to do every day. They need to explain why they’re doing it and how it will help them achieve their specific goals. Gyms whose coaches could explain the why connection had a 25% better retention rate during lockdowns. Imagine how that translates into better retention when things get back to normal and a better bottom line at the end of every month. That’s TwoBrainprogramming.com. Take a look.

Mike (01:22):

We’re back on Two-Brain Radio. It’s Mike Warkentin. Jeff Holloway owns CrossFit Rome in Rome, Georgia, and he’s a recent graduate of our high octane sprint through gym biz fundamentals. It’s called RampUp. He’s here to give us the before and after story of his business, which is now hitting records for revenue in a year with a pandemic. Jeff, welcome to Two-Brain Radio. And thank you for being here today.

Jeff (01:42):

Thank you for having me.

Mike (01:43):

It’s my pleasure. And I’m very excited to ask you a couple of questions because your mentor, Andrea Sevard, has told me some great things about you. So can you contrast your business before and after RampUp? Like where were you before the program and what were the major challenges that you were dealing with before you started RampUp?

Jeff (01:57):

Yeah, so I am one of those classic cases, went to school to be a coach. And it’s a far different business when you make the jump, the leap, the transition, whatever you would like to call it from a coach to running a business. And I really struggled there. I went to school to be a PE teacher, so loving people and progress through sports and progress through athletics is kind of what I knew. But it was a really hard pill to swallow when I got to the point that I was like, I don’t know how to run a business because nobody’s ever shown me to do that. And the things that we were doing was what we knew at the time. Which unfortunately now we’re like that didn’t work. That’s kind of painting a simple picture and then unfortunately having all of that and then COVID hit, not ideal.

Mike (02:50):

So was the business kind of just like going along or was it kind of thriving and stopping or starts and fits or like, what was the picture like for you just from like a financial perspective, was it a thriving business or was it something that was like, you were having to push really hard without the results that you wanted?

Jeff (03:03):

It was sustainable. It was one dimensional. We had group classes and that was about it. We had a team of coaches that just coach group classes. And that was our story. And it seemed like whenever I felt like things were starting to go really well, that’s when I would lose a coach or that’s when a stressful situation would come along or scheduling would be an issue. And it felt like I could never get ahead.

Mike (03:35):

Sustainable, but not thriving.

Jeff (03:38):

That’s exactly where I put it. We had a real gym. We had a real business, but it was not, I vividly remember my wife who works outside the home in a different industry. She was saying, Jeff, you just can’t keep doing this. Like, I love the gym, but the amount of stress that I had constantly trying to figure it out, like you just can’t. I have two little kids and it just was not a good place to think, I can’t do this for 10 more years.

Mike (04:11):

Were you working crazy hours?

Jeff (04:14):

Well, I’d say 50, 60. So unfortunately in the gym industry was not, I wouldn’t say those are crazy, but it was, it was always working like you were always, I was at home. I was still working.

Mike (04:28):

Yeah. I understand. I’ve been there too. Tell me, so when and why did you choose to sign up for RampUp?

Jeff (04:34):

Oh gosh, that’s a hard one. So COVID hit, it was a Friday afternoon. It was March, a Friday afternoon.

Mike (04:47):

Wow. You remember the date? This must be a good story. Yeah.

Jeff (04:50):

You know, those are never good when there’s a lot of details wrapped around them. And I remember leaving the gym on a Friday afternoon going, I got a funny feeling about this one. Like, I don’t think this is going to be OK, if that makes sense, because nobody really knew what COVID was yet. I don’t think we’re going to open on Monday. And I remember thinking how in the world are we going to save the business? So, the person who handles all the administration stuff, like we work really closely together and I was like, I was prepped on Sunday afternoon to send an email that said I’m stopping everybody’s payment. We’re just going to try to, I don’t know what my plan was. It was a terrible plan, right. In hindsight, but we’re just going to stop everybody’s payment. And you can borrow equipment if you want it to, like, it was embarrassing to know that I really didn’t have a plan, but I don’t think anybody did.

Mike (05:51):

Unprecedented times. You know, you can be forgiven for that.

Jeff (05:53):

Yeah. And Laura calls me Sunday goes, wait, wait, wait, don’t stop everybody’s payment. Don’t cancel the gym. I want you to read this article and this article that Wodify sent out from Chris Cooper about how to like transition to online coaching. I’m like, what? OK, what’s this? So we read it, read it again, read it a third time. I called Laura. I’m like, like, do you think we can do this? And this is Sunday afternoon with us having to respond to the pandemic. Like the members wanted an email. And at that point we, I call all my coaches, zoom meeting said, we’re doing what this piece of paper said. So I had 10 coaches. We divvied up all the members. And at that point we went to one-on-one coaching to get through our shutdown. And it saved the gym. I remember about two weeks into it going. We’re still like, we’re still running a business. And I said, OK, what’s this all about? So that’s when I called about a free consultation. And then they linked me with Andrea, which I could not be more grateful for. And then that’s where the process started.

Jeff (07:14):

If it wasn’t for that email, our gym wouldn’t be here.

Mike (07:17):

Wow. Now, was that, do you remember, was that the, how to move online in 24 hours guide from Chris Cooper?

Jeff (07:21):


Mike (07:21):

Yeah. And you know what, the funny story about that is that, I remember early March, Chris was in touch with gyms in like, you know, Asia and Australia, New Zealand and Europe and places where the wave was kind of coming this way toward north America. And I remember him emailing me and he’s like, I think we’re in trouble here. I think we’ve got to do something fast to help some gyms. And I said, yeah, what do you got? And he said, I’ve got this idea for this, you know, how to move online program. Can we crank this thing out as fast as possible? And so that guide, we just destroyed, you know, hours getting that thing out as fast as possible. And we got it. And Chris is like, I think this is going to help some people. And it’s so cool to hear the other end of that for you to say that that guide did help you. That’s just incredible.

Jeff (08:03):

Yeah. That document saved our gym. That one piece of paper.

Mike (08:06):

That’s awesome. And I’m so happy about that, because that was really the hope of that document was to make sure, like I was in the same boat where we had no idea. We were a little bit late. We were about 10 days later than you, where we got our shutdown.Bbut the same thing when it happened, because I had done that thing with Chris, we were able to immediately move people online. And we, you know, seamlessly at least on the surface, as you know, underneath there was that just chaotic day of trying to figure what the heck to do. But to all intents and purposes, our membership, nothing changed aside from the fact that they couldn’t work out at our gym. They still got all the coaching that they needed. So it was just like, was that your experience as well with the membership receiving?

Jeff (08:44):

Yeah. So the personal, I will tell you one thing that we busted our tail for we’ve been open for about six years was the emotional bank account deposits that you take over the six years to get you into a pandemic. Those relationships is where you carry over to one-on-one coaching. And that pairing together, that was the magic of people were really kind, people were very patient, were going OK, one-on-one, let’s do it. And I was really surprised how quickly people mindset shifted to this is OK. Let’s keep moving. So it was an easier transition on the members’ part. It’s like a duck. It was terrible under the surface, but on the top, I’m like, we’re actually doing this. Like we’re weathering the storm kind of deal.

Mike (09:44):

The cool part, at least from what I found was that, you know, for years we thought that coaching had to happen in a gym. And a lot of people want that and need that and it does have to happen at a gym, but in extreme circumstances, you can still provide an absolutely incredible service through nutrition and fitness online that will help your members get through a period. And you can even acquire new members that just want online coaching. But if you want to go back to a physical space, it’s just a transitional thing, but people still got fit and you know, and it’s just great to see what gyms were able to do with that. Sweeping back to RampUp here. What was the like right away, what were the big things that you made changes on? Because every gym owner is a little bit different. Like some when they go through and they put the foundations in place, some people are like, yeah. OK. I’ve got this sort of figured out, wow. This thing is just, you know, a black hole. Like what was for you the biggest area that RampUp helped you fix?

Jeff (10:34):

I had somebody once to tell me a long time, if it’s not written down, does it exist? And I was like, OK. And it wasn’t until I got to the on-ramp section, that Andrea would be like, Hey, what’s the process for this? And I’d tell her kind of what we did. And she’s like, who else knows that? And then she’d ask me another question. Like, what’s the process for this? I tell her. And she’s like, who else knows that? Like, nobody, nobody, we had no systems. It’s embarrassing saying all this stuff.

Mike (11:04):

I was in the same boat.

Jeff (11:06):

But it was, we had nothing written down, no like process or system for anything, no position for back up. There wasn’t—she said very first meeting, very first meeting I had with her. Her first thing to me was I want you to be super organized with saving your documents.

Jeff (11:30):

I’m like, why is that my first homework assignment? Little did I know how many documents I was about to create, to get structure and process, cause we were sustainable, but we were fragile and building the framework behind the scenes is what made us anti-fragile, a little bit more robust of an organization means that we actually have stuff on paper. What’s the opening procedure. What’s the closing procedure. How do you hire a new person? What do you tell the new person? What is a class supposed to be run like? What are your core values? Why do you do what we do? We had a mission and vision statement, but mission and vision statement without any like direction to put that actually into place, you don’t have much. So it was the first two or three months. It was that summer, we developed everything.

Mike (12:25):

It’s funny. Cause I asked Andrea before this call and I asked her about, just tell me a little about you. And she said that she was most impressed, by the way you quickly dove in and started making all your operations documents. And she said that they were so professional, clean and clear that she ended up taking the format and redoing her own documents because you impressed her so much. Has she told you that?

Jeff (12:45):


Mike (12:45):

So that’s what she said, it’s incredible. That she was like, so impressed by the stuff you cranked out that she used, she was inspired by it to kind of redo her stuff. So if you were saying you were embarrassed by not having these systems, know that you did them so well that you inspired, like one of the old-school Canadian gym owners who’s been running that thing forever to ven upgrade her documents. How do you feel about that?

Jeff (13:03):

She’s super kind. But yeah, so it was her, it’s like that constant gentle pressure. We talked about that a lot, constant gentle pressure and that constant gentle pressure of the mentorship or her to keep pressing. You’re not done. Keep moving, keep moving, keep moving. But the other piece is when you’re behind the eight ball and you feel the pressure of a pandemic, it’s crazy the amount of work that you can get done because you’re afraid that it’s going to fail. So I don’t wish that upon anybody, but it sure does help you move. And it’s like a whole concept of being hungry. It’s like, well, I’m just, I didn’t know what else to do.

Mike (13:42):

And that’s just it like gym owners know how to work. I don’t think I’ve met a lazy gym owner, but I’ve certainly met some gym owners, I was one of them for sure, who are working hard in the wrong ways. And that’s why kind of the beauty of the mentorship is that it tells you the right thing to do. And I wasted a lot of hours doing some stuff that just didn’t matter. And one of them just, the shortest story was key broke off in the front lock. And I tried to fix it myself for like four or five hours instead of just calling someone and moving on to more important stuff. A mentor would have fixed that for me. And that’s kind of the cool part is watching what gym owners can accomplish when someone points them at the right pile of work, not just this gigantic pile of hours that you’re just chipping away. Let me ask you this. Were there any scary moments in RampUp where you’re like, well, this is a big change. I’m really nervous about this or anything like that. And if there was something like that, how did your mentor help you through it?

Jeff (14:30):

The biggest one is so we’re still, we’re on the back end of it now, but it’s still pretty fresh is so you ready for real talk?

Mike (14:40):

I am. Hit me.

Jeff (14:42):

So it’s interesting how much self doubt you have as a person that you can hide, even from yourself. You get into a mentorship style program where they’re asking you to do sound business things and you’re terrified to do them because you don’t believe in yourself, you don’t believe in your product and you don’t believe in your ability to come through classic case, ARM, average revenue per member. Well, when you were so nervous about how it’s going to be received to charge a fair market value for your services, that’s a terrifying place to be. So we recently sent the email, price changes, and that’s terrifying. Is when you are trying to serve your members, when you want members to be happy to a certain extent, like you want them to be happy being there, but getting to the point of believing in yourself that this is a fair value for what members are getting.

Jeff (15:52):

And then being able to have the really the mentor has the courage when you don’t have the courage to do what you know needs to be done, even though you don’t want to do it. That was the biggest thing during this process is Andrea’s like, you can do this. And looking around and seeing what we were doing going, this is OK, you can raise your prices, but until you raise your prices, you’re going to be working your tail off. And your revenue is never really going to increase, your ARM’s not really going to increase. You’re not going to grow new programs. So that was really, that was a real big, unfortunately you can only grow in the organization as much as you’re willing to grow personally, as a leader, which is really hard when you’re not growing, because who’s the finger point of that? You.

Mike (16:38):

I had the exact same experience and we, the short version, I’ve told this story on the show a few times, but we set our rates back in I think 2011 and I knew by 2013 that they were not sustainable and I didn’t change them until I think we did our rate increase, I want to say 2018 or 19 maybe. And literally a six-figure mistake. If I had pulled the trigger back then a whole different story, but we didn’t do it till we started working with Two-Brain. And when we did it, we had members say, thank you for doing this. This is like, we’re happy to support you. The value is there, you know, and really good news for anyone who’s listening, we have an exact process to help you raise your rates. It’s been tried and tested. Jeff is proof that it works, so are hundreds of other gym owners. And we are currently working right now on a new guide, Chris Cooper and I, about exactly step-by-step the easiest, quickest path to do it. So there will be a new guide for Two-Brain clients coming up very shortly that’ll guide you through this process even better.

Chris (17:32):

Chris Cooper here to talk about Chalk It Pro. Chalk It Pro is a fitness app designed and built by gym owners for gym owners to solve annoying problems that make running a gym hard. It’s an all-in-one app that manages your members, including remote members. It also takes care of programming and it will help you keep clients engaged for longer. Use Chalk It Pro to increase value and build your bottom line. Add more personal training and remote coaching clients. Build a thriving community through social engagement and save loads of time on the backend. Do all this with one app, not three or four. Get your free trial at Chalkitpro.co

Mike (18:09):

Did your members receive this rate increase the way mine did, where they were like, understanding maybe you had a few go, but by and large, everyone was cool with it?

Jeff (18:16):

So only had one person get angry. We had a few people comment and everybody else was like, it’s about dang time. I’m like, really? I was like, I did not expect that to be your answer. They’re like, everybody else changes. Everybody else changes. And you’ve been the same for six years. It was like, it’s interesting how much fear or the lack of addressing fear can get in the way. And there’s a huge value to somebody standing alongside you when it’s only you managing your fear.

Mike (18:49):

So did the playbook that we had, did that work for you? Did you guys make any alterations or how’d that go?

Jeff (18:56):

Yeah, that’s what we implemented is a set of that staggered change. And sending out ahead of time and also sending out not an explanation. I wouldn’t call it an explanation, but kind of the framework for how you do it in a way that doesn’t make people mad. Because a lot of times it’s not what you say. It’s how you say it. And having a framework to use is really helpful.

Mike (19:23):

Oh, that’s so good. I’m so glad that you found that part of the Growth ToolKit helpful and you know, the cool part about it is that your clients immediately bounce back at least by 98%, whatever. We always have a couple of people that just leave and that’s cool, but we manage that, but it was just so cool that you said that your clients saw the value that you were almost afraid to see in yourself, right? That’s just so neat. So tell me a little bit, do you have any like growth metrics you wouldn’t mind sharing? Like how is your business doing from where it was before RampUp to right now? Andrea has said that you’ve been doing some PRs and so forth in revenue, tell me a little bit about all this.

Jeff (19:57):

So the biggest thing that changed is revenue. Overall revenue. Our revenue came from different programs. Being able to find talent, get that talent to do a program. And then award them from that growth of that program also allows for that coach to maks so much more money than just coaching a group class. So it does a lot of different things. So nutrition took off. So we have a nutrition coach now and she handles only nutrition. And we have a physical therapist came in and she handles only the masters class. She also does a group class, but she only does two of them. But her main responsibility is the master’s program. We have a kids program. We have, which we had, but it’s growing now, we now have a teen sports performance guy who’s come in and only handling with like the sports performance. We didn’t have any of that last year. None of it, all of that has been in the last year year. But part of that is being able to give people a platform to grow in their areas of strength. And it’s interesting because some of the talent, you don’t know is talent until you start digging. And then there are some, like in a gym, there are people in a gym that you don’t know how good they are until you give them a platform to shine.

Mike (21:20):

So you’ve created careers for staff. Is that what I’m hearing?

Jeff (21:22):


Mike (21:22):

And last year that wasn’t a thing?

Jeff (21:25):

That’s where our revenue jump we’ve jumped. We jumped about 30% in three months after just starting the program.

Mike (21:34):

Wow. That’s a huge number.

New Speaker (21:36):

Yeah. It was a PR for us. Lifetime. And that was in July. That was the month of July. And so we’re still in COVID at that point. And that was a PR for our gym ever for revenue.

Mike (21:52):

Wow. So the ROI on your RampUp investment was coming back at you like within months.

Jeff (21:57):

Already. Yeah. Cause I was like, yeah, that’s what Allison, my wife was talking about is where’s the return on the investment? I said, for us, it wasn’t a return on investment. For us, if this didn’t work, I was out. So it was one of those things. I’m like, this is my last shot. I love the gym. I love coaching, but I could not appropriately handle the amount of stress that I was putting on myself, which in due to my family. So for me, this was a one and done like one year, see how this thing goes. And now I have this, like the skills, the framework, the foundation put in place. So like, now I love it. Now it’s like, I have so many more goals way outside that now I’m really enjoying progressing on.

Mike (22:47):

It’s so cool to hear you say that because I, you know, I’ve had the privilege of talking to Chris, you know, a lot about, you know, his vision and mission at Two-Brain. And it really is to keep more passionate, talented people like you in the fitness business. And if we don’t understand the business and I was one of these people too, you don’t want to be there anymore, or you can’t be there anymore because you can’t provide for your family. And Chris was in the exact same position, you know, 10 or 15 years ago, trying to figure out how to provide for his family and be a fitness coach. And he figured it out through a bunch of mistakes and now he’s teaching other people. So it’s so neat to hear that like exactly what we want to do is happening where you, you know, you were gone if this didn’t work out and now you’re at the point where you’re thriving, creating careers for people. And like you said, you were trained as a coach. Does this give you a chance now to enjoy the business more?

Jeff (23:31):

Yeah. It’s this false narrative that you start to believe as a coach. When you look at your business based on how much effort you put into it, you’re like, man, do I just suck? It’s not that, it’s you have the resources and the knowledge to do the right things. So now on the back end, it was like, I don’t suck. I’m just new. So now when I look at my business and going, oh, this is actually way more rewarding because you watch your coaches thrive. You watch your athletes thrive, you watch the business get better. So now it’s like this whole new experience. It’s still challenging. If you’re doing anything worthwhile, it’s going to be challenging. But it’s a good, like I wake up in the morning and go, all right, what’s the challenge today, versus a year ago, little over a year ago, you wake up and you’re like, kind of let’s get through the day.

Mike (24:28):

I bet that stuff, that confidence carries over into every aspect of your life. Like I bet you’re a better dad. Better husband. Just better.

Jeff (24:35):

Yep, absolutely. Yeah. Nothing operates in a silo.

Mike (24:39):

I got you on that. And it’s cool to hear you explain, you know, how the idea like no one knows how to do this stuff. There is no school for business owners who run gyms until, you know, until now where we can actually teach people how to avoid mistakes. And this allows you to thrive rather than just bang your head against the wall until it’s so bloody, you stagger out of the fitness industry. And we’ve seen that just way too many times before the Two-Brain program existed. So tell me this, now that you’ve got a foundation, you’ve got your operations documents and staff, and you’ve got everything going in the right direction. What’s the plan for the business going forward? How does mentorship figure into that? Like what do you want this thing to be?

Jeff (25:13):

Yeah. So what I really like about Two-Brain is I like goals. I’m a goal oriented person. Most people that run gyms are goal oriented people and they have these categories and then they have the metrics inside the categories. And that’s super motivating to me because I’ll ask Andrea, I’m like, where am I at in that category?

Mike (25:30):

That’s our Growth ToolKit.

Jeff (25:32):

Yeah. You’re way down here. And I’m like, and that’s OK for me now. I was like, OK, what’s my next step to progress in that one specific area. So that is me as a leader, running the gym. I really liked that. And then for me now, this is the first time ever that I’m stepping out of being the main head coach and getting to the point now that I get to spend my time and energy, helping the other coaches be the main coaches. And that’s a big transition for me, but it’s a good one. I feel like it’s needed. But you change roles and change hats going from head coach that ran the gym to, I’m no longer the head coach. Like next week I coach three classes. Like that’s it, and after that I get to work on the business and support everybody else.

Mike (26:24):

Wow. That’s such a huge change from 50 to 60 hours of grinding and being just a little ways away from having to call it day.

Jeff (26:31):

Yep. I’m really excited about where our current stage is. Content, but not satisfied, like I’m content with where it’s at. I’m never satisfied ever for anything. So it’s that continuing to progress in those areas is really the big focus for me right now is supporting the staff, supporting the coaches, and then also working on the foundation of the what we built in past year.

Mike (27:04):

So someone’s listening right now and they’re at the stage where you were at a year ago, and they’re thinking about packing it in, what do you say to that person?

Jeff (27:11):

Same thing I told myself is what do you have to lose? Like at the point in which is your current reality was my current reality. Is this what I want? Like at the end of the day, is this what I want? I’m like, no, it’s not what I wanted. So for me, the risk of jumping was less than the risk of staying the same for the next 10 years.

Mike (27:34):

Fantastic. I got to ask you one final question before I let you go. Do you guys use the phrase when in Rome, at your gym all the time?

Jeff (27:41):

No, we do some, what I think is the funniest thing is I get emails, a fair amount of people that want to drop in and they use words like on holiday. I’m like, I think you’re meaning Europe. So I get a fair amount of emails from people that are in Rome, Italy, that want to drop into a box there. And I’m like, I’m sorry, we’re in Northwest Georgia. You’re going to be super disappointed.

Mike (28:11):

Not the same?

Jeff (28:11):

Not the same.

Mike (28:15):

Have you got a referral system set up with a gym in actual Rome?

Jeff (28:20):

I think that’d be funny. No, I do need to reach out to them.

Mike (28:24):

We’ll have to find out if we’ve got a Two-Brain gym in Rome. I know we have some Italians, but I’m not sure about Rome, we’ll have to figure something out for you.

Jeff (28:29):

That’s pretty funny. No, I can just tell their disappointment. They’re like, Oh, no, I don’t want to go to Georgia. I’m like, it’s hot in summer.

Mike (28:38):

That’s funny. But you got a good football team, so, you know, try and at least sell it that way. Maybe you don’t have like the Coliseum, but you have a football team.

Jeff (28:45):

That’s right.

Mike (28:46):

Jeff, thank you so much for sharing your story. And I’m so glad that CrossFit Rome is still in the fitness industry and thriving. I really appreciate it. I wish you all the best for the coming months and years of business.

Jeff (28:57):

I really appreciate the time. Thank you.

Mike (28:59):

I’m Mike Warkentin and this is Two-Brain Radio. 93% of gym owners recoup their investment in RampUp in less than 12 weeks. If you want to learn more about the program, book a call with a certified mentor via the link in the show notes. And now, join the Gym Owners United group on Facebook. You can literally ask your gym business questions in there and get answers from other gym owners, certified Two-Brain mentors and founder Chris Cooper himself. It’s the only public forum where Coop offers his insight. That’s Gym Owners United on Facebook. Join it today and I’ll see you in there.


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