From CrossFit Games Athlete to Gym Owner to CEO

Kate Rawlings and title text

Mike (00:02):

Rawlings competed at the 2010 CrossFit Games and owns Coca CrossFit in Ohio. Her transition from athlete to gym owner to CEO has had some speed bumps, but she made it. Kate shares her emotional story right after a word from Chris Cooper.

Chris (00:16):

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Mike (00:56):

Hi, I’m Mike Warkentin and today’s guest on Two-Brain Radio is Kate Rawlings. She finished 29th at the 2010 CrossFit Games, and today she’s the CEO of Coca CrossFit. Kate, welcome to the show. And the first thing I need you to settle a longstanding debate and answer a question for me. Can a competitive CrossFit athlete be an amazing gym owner at the same time, or does the pursuit of like the top level athletic success, is that going to slow your business success?

Kate (01:19):

God, what a loaded question.

Mike (01:22):

It’s a big one. I had to ask you this.

Kate (01:24):

You like ripped the bandaid right off.

Mike (01:28):

I don’t get to talk to many gym owners and CrossFit Games athletes. So I had to ask you.

Kate (01:33):

I can only speak for myself personally. So the time that I was competing, I literally competed at the CrossFit Games in 2010 in July. I turned 28 at the CrossFit Games and opened my gym in August. So it was like I did both of them kind of at the same time, not really knowing what I was getting myself into on either end of the spectrum. And for me, knowing what I know now, 11 years in, I don’t believe that you can run a really efficient well-oiled machine and compete at the CrossFit Games. Now someone might be able to, that person certainly would not be me.

Mike (02:19):

Yeah, that’s interesting. And there, you know, the reason I ask is that I know that competing at the Games, not personally, obviously, but from being there and seeing the people compete and see how they train the level of training and the investment, the time investment alone, it just is so much, it’s just a huge thing. And then I know the other side of it from running a business and you obviously do as well, that is all consuming as well. So I’ve always watched like gym owners. Like a guy like Ben Smith is a great example. Who’s like running a good gym and he’s a great CrossFit athlete. I’ve always wondered how he pulled that off. And so my question was always, can you do it? And you know, for me, it wouldn’t have worked and I’m not the athlete that you are. And you’re saying for you, it wouldn’t have worked either. Correct?

Kate (03:00):

Yeah, and I’m trying to think of people I know around me. So like Scott Panchik is probably the closest Games athlete and owner in this area. And he certainly runs a very successful business all around. But it also looks like he’s got a really good support system in his wife and making really smart hiring choices in the people around him. So like he can do both, but I would assume, and this is a big assumption that he’s not really running the grind of the day-to-day business as much as he is training. Like something has to give, you can only serve one King at a time. And for him the smart King right now, obviously while he’s young and fit in the middle of it would be to invest in the Games side of it for himself. And because he’s got the support system at home, but you know, if it was just him trying to run it and compete at the Games, I would like to talk to somebody that can do them both because like, they’re basically a super hero.

Mike (03:51):

Brothers either. Cause they’re just as fit, like his brothers aren’t gonna help him with the gym. Right.

Kate (03:55):

Well, they’re just as fit. And then they opened their own gym, right? Like they’re doing their own thing. They got their own stuff going on. So yeah, I don’t know. I would be interested. For me, I couldn’t have done both.

Mike (04:04):

I’m curious to see what will happen maybe down the line, because you know, as the Two-Brain, you know, in the Two-Brain plan, when you get to like tinker level, you can choose to do whatever you want. And that tinker level for people are listing is like, you’ve basically got your business running on autopilot. You can choose to work in that business, or you can choose to invest your time in another business or do whatever you want really. Right. If you got to that tinker level, you could be a CrossFit Games athlete if your gym was set up to run without you, you know, that hit by a bus test would be like, you could have passed the quote unquote hit by a bus test, or you could pass the hit by Dave Castro’s workout test at the Games. You know, I don’t know how many people, Games athletes have gone to that tinker level. Cause just like you said, the smart play when you’re young and that fit is to milk that for as much as you can. So I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Kate (04:48):

Well, yeah. Then you have the other side of the coin too, where it’s like, you know, at least again, I’m only speaking from my own individual experience, like coming off of the 2010 Games, I was a Rogue athlete. I still don’t know how I got managed to do it, but I got picked up by Reebok. So it was like, I was 28 years old. I didn’t own anything. I didn’t have a house, I wasn’t married. I didn’t have a home. I didn’t have kids. And so like, I didn’t need a huge income. Like now I’m married and I have kids and I have all of these other things that I want to do in my life. So I need a much larger salary than I did when I was 28 and single. So it’s like, I don’t know, from the back end you can do a lot more things when you, depending on what season of your life you’re in.

Mike (05:29):

We’ll talk about the business in a second. I’m going to ask you just, you know, back in history, give me your favorite memory from the 2010 CrossFit Games we’re talking like this was the, it was kind of a watershed Games where it was the first one out of the ranch. It was at the Home Depot center, which is now called the Stub Hub or something else at this point, where the San Diego chargers are, I think they’e playing there right now. Not San Diego anymore either. But tell me, what’s your favorite memory from that big deal where like there’s Amanda, you know, there was just so much stuff going on.

Kate (05:53):

It was very overwhelming and it seems silly to look back now, but like going into this like stadium and Innovate was one of the sponsors and you got one free pair of shoes and a t-shirt that said like CrossFit Games. And like I thought I’d won the lottery and like, I see what they get now.

Mike (06:14):

It’s like a dozen pairs of shoes.

Kate (06:16):

Not that I’m like jealous or envious because you know, it has evolved the sport and everything, but it was like, I thought that that was just so cool that like here I am, because I’m really good at working out. I got a free pair of shoes.

Mike (06:30):

I remember it because I was there in 2009 and I don’t recall them getting, I don’t think anything at that point. I think there was still a lot of Asics running shoes and so forth and doing all that, walking all over the place, like, yeah, it was wild. And you know, for me it was such a big deal to see the lights go on when Amanda happened that night. Right. Just the first time, like I remember at the 2009 Games, I remember Dave was literally yelling at people to, you know, go to the hardware store, get a light and bolted onto the top of the barn so that we could see at one point, watch the lights go on on the tennis stadium and then watch like this, you know, this is a sign of the times like watching women do muscle-ups was a big deal, right? Like that wasn’t really a thing after 2009, Tanya Wagner struggling in that thing. Like it wasn’t a thing to watch a woman do nine muscle-ups in a row and here Camille is doing—was it just this from the outside it looked momentous. Did you get a sense of that from the inside?

Kate (07:23):

Oh my God. It was like, I guess like another memory that really sticks out that you’re talking specifically about Amanda is I remember being in the tunnel and I’m pretty sure it was Chyna Cho and Camille Leblanc were both in my heat and we were all standing around terrified because it was a 95 pound squat snatch. And it was like, that’s our one rep max, like, I don’t know how we’re going to do this workout. Like this is crazy. And then you just, you do, like you just feed on the energy and those lights being on and being in the stadium, like nothing will describe like hearing your name announced and walking out and seeing yourself on this like, jumbo-tron like, it’s a really cool experience that I’m so glad that I got to have that. Unfortunately due to a bunch of injuries that happened subsequently from 2010 to about 2015, never made it back to that level, but I’m so thankful that I got to get there and have that experience at least once.

Mike (08:14):

Could you do muscle-ups at the time?

Kate (08:16):

Oh yeah. That’s my one claim to fame. When you talk about like, you know, members that join, they see all the articles posted in my office and those kinds of things from magazine stuff. And they want to know like, Oh my God, it was Amanda. Like, tell me about it. What was that like? And it’s like, that was the one workout that I ever beat Sam Briggs. And I don’t think I could ever beat her ever again from there, but it was like, I think I took 15th and she was like 17th or something. And like obviously her trajectory of CrossFit career took a very different path than mine did. So that’s my one claim to fame.

Mike (08:49):

I love it. My favorite memory, it was a media memory. And if you remember sandbag move event where you had take sandbags down and wheelbarrow them across and everything, the finishing line, right. You remember you climbed up the stadium, it was right by the press box. And I was in there watching and typing. And literally I was able to just lean over the edge and yell out the window and like, Hey Tommy Hackenbruck, tell me, you know, why are you so good at sandbags? You know? And then actually type his response into the CrossFit Games website and hit publish, which back before we really got into the cell phone social media stuff. That was a super cool moment to like, get athlete comments up, like within seconds of them actually finishing it.

Mike (09:27):

You know? So that was, I mean, and then of course, if everything changed where now you have to fight through 50,000 people to get to Mat Fraser to talk to him and so forth, but still it was a cool moment for the sport. So we’ll move now from, you know, your transition from the Games to gym ownership. Talk to me about, you know, I know you face challenges there and you’ve talked about these sort of in CrossFit Games articles. Tell me about the challenges that you faced, you know, in your family and physically and how they related specifically to the growth or lack of growth with your business.

Kate (09:56):

Do you want to talk specifically those first few years or over the last decade?

Mike (10:00):

You know, hit me with the major, you know, I won’t call them highlights because you had some big challenges, but hit me with the big stuff.

Kate (10:06):

Yeah. So coming off those 2010 Games, one of the biggest things that really stuck out for me as an athlete and meeting was strength. And so I found a strongman coach. He happened to be about an hour and 15 minutes away. So I started training three times a week, specifically with a strongman coach training.

Mike (10:26):

There’s a lot of those in Ohio.

Kate (10:26):

Yeah. Well, because we’re the home of Westside, which is like the big powerlifters and like the powerlifting and the strongman kind of go hand in hand naturally.

Mike (10:34):

Slaters barbell at Slaters’ place is out there too, Slaters Hardware?

Kate (10:39):

Yep. So we’ve got a lot of them and unfortunately, I think just wear and tear on my body of three years training really hard to get to the Games, I ended actually breaking one of my vertebrae in my back. The L5, the transverse process snapped off. So it was not great. I don’t recommend doing it. I couldn’t lift anything more than a PVC pipe for like, I want to say it was like four months. But what came out of that was really, I got really good at explaining what I needed people to do because I physically could do it. Like I physically couldn’t even do an air squat if I wanted to. So I had to really rely on becoming good at verbally coaching and cueing athletes. So that was a big, like, OK, this is the silver lining that came from breaking my back. Then let’s see, I was coming off of the back injury. And about 11 months later, was doing a rebounding box jump workout. And I went down and I did not go back up.

Mike (11:46):

That’s the achilles.

Kate (11:48):

Yeah. I had a complete rupture. Like my uncle said it was one of the worst he’d ever seen. Like it was all the way up almost to the back of my kneecap. It snapped so hard. Again, not great. Wouldn’t recommend it. So that led me to being in a boot for six months. Non-weight bearing on that leg. So I had to learn how to, again, kind of coach being immobilized. But I also had to learn how to continue to train and how to deal with the emotional consequences that come with having such a big injury. Like you can have the best resources available to you and the likelihood that you’re going to come back and compete at the same level post Achilles is just slim to none. I mean, there are plenty of people that do it that, you know, NFL-type players, but like, I didn’t have that kind of money to spend on that kinda rehab.

Kate (12:43):

And so it really forced me to have that kind of coming to Jesus moment of if I can’t train. So if going to the Games is off the table, that’s something that’s, I don’t want to say it’s unrealistic, but it’s mildly unrealistic. What am I doing? Like, why do I own a gym? Why am I in this sport? Why is it important to me? And it really took me back to my roots of why I started CrossFit. I was a D1 athlete, played soccer and took that kind of average path that most people take of. I graduated college. I didn’t play professionally. Got a nine to five sat at a desk a lot, and I was pushing 200 pounds, which at five foot two is not statistically the greatest health to be in.

Mike (13:29):

Well, I read, I’m going to jump in here. I read that you were 80 pounds above your competing weight at the 2008 when you took the seminar, the level one seminar, is that right?

Kate (13:38):

Yeah, that is. Yep. Yeah. And that’s how I started CrossFit. In the Cleveland area there weren’t even any brick and mortar gyms. So it was, you know, I kind of looked at the back of my history, like when was I my fittest and my most competitive. And it was in a group environment. I played soccer. It was a team thing. You always had people who will rally around you. So I Googled group fitness classes, and I think I tried a boot camp. I tried, I mean, and that was like, I think it was, you know, post Billy Blanks and like kickboxing was a thing, you know? And then I found this CrossFit post. It was like a one page website and they were doing workouts on Saturdays at 9:00 AM, under a bridge in a local park. And it was like I’m gonna go try it.

Kate (14:17):

And I remember feeling totally gassed. I threw up and it was like, I just kept going back. Like it just something clicked. And it was like, yes, this is what I need. And then I think within the year I got my CrossFit certification, which I love seeing the growth of that over the years, because when I took the course, it was the same two day weekend. Obviously content I think was a little bit different. It’s much more in depth and robust now. But we had to print like three articles and like, now there’s this like big hundred question test, you know? So it’s funny to see the growth of that as well. But yeah, so then over those years, so 2007 is when I started and then by 2010 is when I competed at the Games.

Mike (15:00):

So talk me through the next little bit, like, how is your business doing at this time as you’re going through these injuries and then you run into some more problems. How was the business actually doing?

Kate (15:08):

The business was doing really well, I think because, you know, I was such an early adapter. When I first opened, I was the only CrossFit gym within a 20, 25 mile radius. And so it was so new that it was almost like you had to tell people, like I own a CrossFit gym and like no one had heard of CrossFit. No one knew what it was like, you were explaining it to people. And like, it was so new that they were excited about trying something new. And so we grew really fast. Plus I had been coaching at a gym previously, so some of the people came over, but most of them were just brand new people off the street that saw this cool new gym and they needed to try this cool new thing,

Mike (15:54):

Probably allowed you to make some mistakes. Right. Cause I had the same experience where I was one of two gyms in a city of 700,000 people. And the only reason that our gym made it was because of that fact. Because I did not know what I was doing and I made so many mistakes, but like you said, early adopters like yourself still showed up and wanted to do the crazy stuff that we were doing in the gym. It got way harder after that though.

Kate (16:14):

Yeah. I mean, I think I had the combination of like early adapters and then having coming off the CrossFit Games and like, there was a lot of media coverage just locally about like who I was and what I was doing and newspapers and magazines and those kinds of things. So I think those two really kind of bolstered me up and threw me into this like success ring. And then it was this sport that you didn’t have to train four and five hours a day like you do now to really excel at, and most people in 2010 had full-time jobs and were CrossFit Games athletes. And so I think it just was really exciting for a lot of people early on. And that was the culture of our gym was like competitive. Like that’s what I knew. Like, I dunno, you do CrossFit so you can compete at the Games.

Kate (16:53):

You know, just to bring it back full circle. It was the Achilles rupture that really brought me back down to earth. Like why do people do this? Like, Oh, because they just want to be fitter, happier, healthier. And so that kind of started the trickle of our culture change. And it’s a dramatic 180 now from where it was because in between there, I had the Achilles rupture and then a year and a half later I blew up my right knee. So my right knee was bone on bone and they ended up doing what they call a micro fracture. So they essentially, they drill into the end of your femur to get it to bleed marrow so that it creates like a cushion, that’s like cartilage, but not cartilage. And then that was like the nail in the coffin, like, OK, I’m not going to compete again.

Mike (17:42):

Got a few scars.

Kate (17:43):

Like, yeah, like now let’s just lick my wounds and like figure out what we’re doing. So that was when kind of Coca 2.0 was born. I hired some staff and so like that was when I really started having people come on to help me. But, knowing what I know now as a Two-Brain gym, like I was not a good boss or a good leader. I was just a really good worker-outer at that point that happened to own a gym that was doing well for the grace of like no other reason than that I was the only game in town.

Mike (18:16):

Were you coaching a lot at the time?

Kate (18:16):

Oh, I coached probably 95% of the classes.

Mike (18:23):

So you’ve got like, you know, a gym that’s doing well and is probably growing and attracting people. You’re the owner and you’re coaching every class. So, you know, what parts of the business weren’t getting your attention at that point?

Kate (18:35):

Any type of like relation, ongoing relationship with members and like, Hey, what do you need? It was very much more of a, I don’t wanna say like selfish. But it was like, listen, you should be thankful that I own a gym. And like I’m Kate Rawlings and don’t you know who I am kind of a thing, which looking back now, it’s kind of embarrassing, but like, that’s where I was. So like embrace it and learn from it. And so, you know, the finances certainly were getting ignored, a budget. I didn’t have Excel spreadsheets or projections, or, you know, you name it, like nothing financial was getting done, nothing long term like, you know, I was programming week to week instead of, you know, six weeks in advance like I do now. So there was a lot, it was a lot more kind of like fly by the seat of your pants. I was a firefighter, like what was the biggest issue? And that’s where my attention went with no real plan.

Mike (19:29):

I read an article that’s going to come out or we’re going to publish some stuff on social media and take me to 2015, you have a family issue. And the quote that I said that I saw when you talked to one of our writers, Tiffy Thompson, we weren’t losing money, but we certainly weren’t making money. Talk to me about that era.

Kate (19:45):

Yeah. So God. And I apologize if I cry, but it just, it is.

Mike (19:52):

Thanks for sharing. I wanted to ask the question, but I know it’s tough.

Kate (19:52):

Yeah. But I think it’s important to talk about.

Mike (19:55):

I do too.

Kate (19:55):

So in 2015, I met my now husband and we got pregnant with our first child pretty quickly. You know, and we were all those like weird anomalies. Like I met him and I just knew like, you’re my kind of crazy. We got engaged at like five weeks. I think we were pregnant by like two and a half months of knowing each other. Like we just knew. And at 22 weeks I was actually trying on wedding dresses, and my water broke. So, it was one of those things, like, you don’t know, like there’s like some leakage during pregnancy can be normal, but it was like, it was more than I was expecting.

Kate (20:36):

And so you do the normal thing, like I’m gonna call my OB, I’m sure she’s gonna tell me it’s fine. It’s no big deal. So I called her and kind of told her, like, this is what’s going on. Like she was asking about, you know, what was the volume of liquid, and immediately said like, you need to get yourself to the ER, like now, this is not OK. And I would say within an hour, they confirmed that the percentage that we would be able to do anything to stop the fluid from continuing to leak out was like 0.001% positive. And I remember we were at just like the local community hospital, about 20 minutes from a rainbow babies facility. And they said, you know, the doctor came in and he’s probably right, but like zero bedside manner, we’re going through this devastating, what is going to end up being a loss of our daughter.

Kate (21:24):

And, you know, he just said like, it’s not even worth going down there. Like, you’re not gonna be able to save her. And it was like, I like really? Like, that’s what you come at me with. Like, her heartbeat was great. Like everything was where it should be. We just, my water broke and so I was just losing water. And I just remember looking at my husband and it was like, listen, if she’s willing to fight, like I’m gonna fight till the end too. And so we made the choice to transfer down knowing that there was slim to no hope, but it was like, there’s a little bit of hope. And so we were down at rainbow babies, I want to say maybe three or four hours. And, you know, we met with so many doctors, and they came at it from every angle they could think of.

Kate (22:06):

And there just, there wasn’t anything they could do. So she was slowly suffocating, essentially what was happening, right. So they call it kind of like a dry drowning, like when they’re at that age, they live off of that umbilical fluid and she was running out of fluid. And I remember they ask you, you know, do you want to do a DNC where essentially they put you under and say, you know what, when you wake up, everything’s going to be gone almost like an abortion type process, or they give the option of, do you want to go through labor and delivery? And she’ll come out in one piece. And my initial reaction was like, just knock me out. And I want this to be over. Like, this is the worst nightmare ever. And then after about an hour, they came back and said, well, we need to make some decisions on what we’re doing.

Kate (22:52):

And, you know, she was whole and perfect. And she deserved to come out that way. And so we ended up doing labor and delivery. And I couldn’t be happier that we made that choice looking back because I got to see her, you know, she was perfect. She was just too little to do it on her own. And we ended up naming her Hope, because she gave me and my husband a bunch of hope that, you know, we did this crazy thing. And like, we’ve been through the deepest, darkest worst thing that I could imagine going through together. And, he was, my husband was with me the whole time and he was incredible. And, you know, it just gave us hope that regardless of what we faced in the future that we had each other, and that we would continue to move forward hand in hand.

Mike (23:42):

Wow. I’m so sorry to hear that, but thank you for sharing it. I mean, what a great name for a child. I understand that you did get a son eventually?

Chris (23:54):

Hi, this is Chris Cooper, and I founded Two-Brain Business to make gyms profitable. Over the last years, as we’ve compiled more and more data, more and more tools, gotten better and better at mentorship, we’ve really made a lot of gyms, hundreds around the world, thousands over the years, profitable, doing better. What hasn’t kept pace is the quality of coaching in a lot of gyms worldwide. There are great programs out there that will introduce you to a method like bootcamp, kettlebells, Olympic lifting, powerlifting, CrossFit, running, whatever that is. And so we can make coaches who know the subject matter, but that doesn’t make them a great coach. To be a great coach, you have to be able to change somebody’s habits. You have to be able to change their behavior and to do that requires deep understanding of their motivations to do that means amazing adherence by the client. And it means amazing retention because as gym owners, we know it’s harder and harder and more expensive than ever to get a new client. Retention is more important than ever. Referrals are more important than ever. Peer to peer marketing, word of mouth is more important than it’s ever been. How do you get those things? Through client results. So I founded Two-Brain Coaching with Josh Martin to get coaches the skills they actually need to make a career in fitness instead of just familiarity with a methodology. Twobraincoaching.com has courses to help you start a career with personal training, to scale up with group training, both in person and online, and to diversify with nutrition, coaching, and mindset coaching. We have the best programs in the industry that will prepare you and your coaches to deliver any method that you love now or you might love 10 years from now. Twobraincoaching is really a project of love for me. And if you visit twobraincoaching.com, you’ll get a ton of free resources, just like we produce every day on twobrainbusiness.com.

Kate (25:52):

We did after another miscarriage. So, carrying is not my strong suit. Conceiving, I’m really good at conceiving, but carrying, not so great. But yeah, at that time, it’s one of those things that you, you know, you don’t want to put yourself on a pedestal being a gym owner, like I’m the queen bee and I’m in charge of the world can’t function without me. But there is a certain amount that like the energy of the gym is going to feed off of the leader in the gym. And that’s, to me at this point, at least, because I don’t have a full-time head coach, is me. So whatever my energy level is and where my mindset and my mental state is, is kind of where the state of the gym goes. So, you know, we didn’t lose money in that 2016, 2017, but like we weren’t making money either. I think I was maybe taking five or 600 bucks a month from the business. Like if that. So I’m really proud of us for not losing money in the worst deepest, darkest place I thought I could ever come out of. And it was touch and go there, whether I would ever actually come out of it. And to make it to the other side with the business and my marriage and my life still intact is something that’s probably, I’m more proud of than anything that I’ve done in my life.

Mike (27:07):

Yeah. And you know, they aren’t the same thing, but you know, a business is something that requires constant care, just like a child does in some ways, and your family comes first obviously, and you have to deal with that, you know, that tragedy, but then the business is still there, you know, and it still needs you, like you said, like. I’m so happy that you had the momentum there that was able to kind of sustain you because that must’ve been just such a difficult time for you to, like, you probably just wanted to sit up and cry, you know, cry, crawl into a hole rather than go to the gym and smile and give people the best hour of their day. Right.

Kate (27:34):

Yeah. And it became this, like, I think it really taught me some true vulnerability. I remember having to type up a message to members that just kind of explained that. I mean, cause they’re all part of the process, right. They’ve been part of the pregnancy, they’re as excited as we are about this little growing baby and they’ve looked at the ultrasounds. And so it’s almost as heartbreaking for them as it is for me because you know, it’s a death that they have to deal now with and you know, people on the other side, you know, what do you say when there’s the death of a child? Like it’s the death of your grandmother? Like yeah. You know, it is sad, it’s heartbreaking and all those things, but it makes sense because it’s the natural cycle of life.

Kate (28:14):

But when a child dies, whether it’s early term pregnancy, you know, pre-term labor, or God forbid like an actual, you know, childhood tragedy, it’s just so unnatural. So I think it was as hard for members as it was for me. And so I had to be really authentic with them of like I took two weeks off. I probably needed more than that. I couldn’t afford it from a business standpoint, but you know, when I came back, like people were really awkward. They didn’t know what to say. And it became this moment of like, OK guys, like, we’re just going to talk about it. And like, we’re all gonna cry. And like, I love you guys, now let’s go warm up. Like the world has to keep moving forward. Like, and so it just, it taught me to really let my guard down and just be authentic and accept love as much as I gave it out.

Mike (29:05):

Yeah. So then you go through later on, you said you have another miscarriage. You have, you do end up with a son. So you have to go through the whole process of that, where there’s probably some time off. I don’t know. You sound like a tough person. Probably took like a day off after the birth of your son and you’re probably coaching the class the next day, but you’ve got all these different things going on. They’re kind of pulling you away from the business. And then of course you’ve got the pandemic. So it’s kind of been a string of stuff in there, like in that stage where, you know, you have your son, tell me the year that he was born. And then tell me how that sort of transitioned to the pandemic situation. Like were things smooth after he was born at the gym or how’d it go?

Kate (29:42):

They were not terrible. I took three months. I took my actually, no, I didn’t. I was my original plan, you’re right. My original plan was to take three months and I ended up taking two cause I just was bored at home. So yeah, I do have to be a little bit honest. I was going to take the full three, but I took two because, I wore him. So the hours that I coached, he just was wrapped to my chest or he was in a stroller. Like it’s a very, different or unique position when you’re in ownership because you get to make the rules and like, yeah, he’s my kid and he’s going to be here and he’s on my chest while I’m running classes. Like, that’s just what we do. And so we weren’t totally unprepared because obviously we knew kind of the range of when we were going to be out.

Kate (30:27):

I was lucky enough to have a young guy that actually is still with me, now a little older guy, but that was working for me part-time that essentially ended up taking full-time those two months. So we were able to save for it. We were able to pay him to cover the classes. So it didn’t totally knock us down, but there is, there’s that distraction of, I mean, I don’t know if you’ve got kids, but like that first year, moms ask me, like, how do you get through that first year? And my answer is I have no idea. Like you somehow just go on autopilot. Like my son, so we breastfed. We were lucky enough for that to work. It was something that I enjoyed doing, but he ate like every two to two and a half hours, 24/7 for the first six to eight months.

Mike (31:07):

Not a lot of sleep.

Kate (31:08):

Like, no, you just kind of go into autopilot and do it. That’s my advice to new moms. Like, I don’t know, you just kind of do it, like you just figure it out. And so, you know, the business didn’t get as much attention because I had this new baby boy that, one, infants take up enough time as it is. But I think I just was so extra thankful that he survived and was alive. And I didn’t want to miss any of those moments, that, you know, if the budget didn’t get done for the month, the budget didn’t get done for the month. And planning for the coaches meeting didn’t happen like hell, half the time coaches meetings didn’t even happen. So it was certainly an unfocused year from 2018 to 2019. So kind of his first year of life.

Kate (31:54):

And then 19, it was like, OK, like I, I kinda got into a rhythm, he’s walking and eating solid foods, you know, he’s a little more independent. And so I could start focusing on the gym again. And of course, then that curve starts to come back up and then the pandemic stopped the whole world from spinning and put a lot of things into perspective and kind of just turned everybody upside down. So it was like, every time I felt like I was getting some steam and momentum and moving in the right direction, I just got hit by a tidal wave and knocked back down.

Mike (32:26):

And I understand that your husband is also in an industry that’s affected by COVID.

Kate (32:29):

He is, he owns a bar.

Mike (32:31):

Yeah. So that’s a tough one.

Kate (32:33):

Yeah. Well, it was one of those things that, you know, the shutdowns, you could just see them coming. Like you just knew they were coming, but it was a matter of when. And, it was a Sunday night here in Ohio that they announced that the like bars and restaurants, salons, those kinds of things were closed. And he looked at me, said, I think I’m going to get drunk tonight. And I remember looking at him and I think you should. I really think you should.

Mike (32:53):

I think I did, too.

Kate (32:53):

Yeah. Right. Cause now his income’s gone. And then the next day gyms got shut down and I just remember looking at him and he was like, you want to get drunk? I’m like, yes, I do. He looked at me and said, I think you should. So we, you know, we took a couple of days, we licked our wounds and said, now what?

Mike (33:13):

What’d you do?

Kate (33:13):

So we reached out, I reached out to each member individually and kind of just explained like, this is where we are. You know, we would love for you to continue to keep your membership active, a hundred percent voluntary. We’re not going to make you do that. Certainly understand if you want us to freeze your payments. But we’re going to continue to offer online programming stuff that can be done at home. A tutorial video that will walk you through the movements. I think I ended up doing like zoom meetings and like coffee with Kate and you know, anything I could do to keep people engaged and realizing what a relationship business we’re in. Because I think at the time we had like 77, 78 members, and all but two said, like, keep rolling, like I’ve got my job. I haven’t been affected. I’m just working from home. Keep the money going. Like we want to make sure there’s a gym to come back to.

Mike (34:15):

Nice. Now, when in this whole thing did you start working with Two-Brain?

Kate (34:18):

Let’s see. So the pandemic was like late March and my husband and I had this, we sat down and, you know, he owns his bar. He’s not going to do anything different. And you know, we own the gym and it became this, OK, we’ve done it for a decade now. We either need to. And it’s, I mean, it’s got a pulse, but like, it’s not a very good one. You know? I mean, 78 members is not great. It’s not terrible, but it’s not great. And we either need to double down and we’re going to like reinvest all of our time and energy into making Coca everything we’ve ever wanted it to be. Or we think about how do we get out of it.

Mike (34:57):

D-Day.

Kate (34:59):

Yeah, it was like make or break. And he basically gave me like a 48 hour window. He’s like, you got two days to figure this out. Like, I don’t know what you need to do to figure that out. But like, we’ve got to make some decisions. Cause we gotta figure this out now because you are employable. Like somebody will hire you. So we gotta figure out what we’re doing.

Mike (35:14):

I think I’d like to have a beer with your husband. He sounds like a no-nonsense guy.

Kate (35:17):

Yeah, he is. Which is really awesome and why I married him, but like really infuriating at times as well.

Mike (35:22):

I’m sure.

Kate (35:25):

And so we decided, yeah, we want to double down and make this thing work. So we explored all different kinds of options, business coaching inside and outside of the fitness industry, and Chris Cooper is just a name that I have seen from the CrossFit Journal days back in like, 09.

Mike (35:40):

I remember working with him there, yeah.

Kate (35:40):

And I feel like he went through a stint, maybe I’m, I could be getting it wrong, but like he was at like 321 Go for a while. Like, so I kind of trickled with him and followed him loosely over the years, to him starting Two-Brain. And I don’t think I really got Two-Brain back on my radar until like end of 18, beginning of 19. And I think I was just on their like email distribution list and like kind of sometimes read the email, sometimes didn’t.

Kate (36:09):

And so we took a few different phone calls with a couple of different business coaching systems then, and again, that was inside and outside of the fitness industry. But just talking with a Two-Brain mentor, like within the first five minutes, like I looked at my husband, I’m like, yeah, they’re going to take our money. Like they’re our people like, it just makes sense. Like I believe what they believe. It makes sense to me. Like they’re thinking along the same lines that I am. And so I’m going to take this risk because it’s either gonna belly up the business or set us on a path for great success. And, it was well worth taking the quote unquote risk. It certainly wasn’t a risk. Looking back now, it was not a risk.

Mike (36:47):

So I saw in the article that Tiffy wrote, you were averaging about 7,000 per month when you started and where did that go to?

Kate (36:56):

So we’re averaging right now, 18 to $20,000 a month.

Mike (37:00):

So more than double.

Kate (37:00):

Yeah.

Mike (37:04):

Cool. And is that, and I’m going to ask this question carefully because you can make, like, if you have 78 members and you’re charging the right rates, you can still make a good income. So I’m curious, have you got more than 78 members or did you keep the same 78 and add more value.

Kate (37:19):

Both.

Mike (37:22):

So even better. That’s double win.

Kate (37:22):

Yeah. So we’re up to about 112 members and growing. And we increased our rates. We hadn’t done a price increase in seven years.

Mike (37:32):

I did the same thing.

Kate (37:32):

Yeah. It was really hard to do, but we only lost one member over it. So awesome advice from Ashley.

Mike (37:40):

Ashley Haun.

Kate (37:40):

She’s awesome. So I, you know, blind faith just did it and she was right. As usually she is. And so we did that, so we increased our ARM and we also started doing more personal training, and selling those as monthly packages, which is a huge difference. Mean, God, you can have a thousand dollars swing with one person on a month to month basis. So, adds a ton of value, both for the member as well as for the gym. And we haven’t even touched, you know, really nutrition or remote programming online, that kind of stuff. So there’s like two, you know, when they talk about like the legs of the table from a Two-Brain standpoint, you know, from a nutrition and online resources, remote resources, those are two avenues that we haven’t even tapped yet. So I’m super excited to continue to grow with Two-Brain. Like I’m not going anywhere, everything you guys do and tell me to do just makes me money. So whatever you tell me to do, like I’m doing it. I don’t care. It makes me money,

Mike (38:40):

You know, the reason why I ask about the members thing is because Chris Cooper has been on the podcast. He’s written about this so many times, and you’ll remember this, you know, old school CrossFit, the idea was get as many members as possible. And you can certainly like, you can get 500 members and not make a profit, those gyms out there, or were out there. Cause a lot of them went out of business. But you can also have businesses, and I know people who run them. I think one of our mentors, Ashley Mak runs one like this, where he has a small number of clients, but they’re very high value. So the idea of saying, how many members do you have? I don’t like to ask that question without perspective. So you talked about adding members, but also adding value, which is so important. Talk to me about a few other things that Ashley had you do. And I want to specifically understand, are you still coaching every single class? Is it the Kate Rawlings show or is it something else now?

Kate (39:26):

Oh God. No. So, I coach, like from a group standpoint, I coach two hours a week. And I actually have two interns that we are currently going through our three month internship process to become coaches. So once they hit the floor, both my husband and myself, we’re going to be off of the group coaching floor altogether.

Mike (39:46):

Wow, so you’re moving into CEO role.

Kate (39:46):

Yeah. And it’s fun. And I do a lot of personal training. Like that was part of my like perfect day. You know, wake up, work out, you know, do some personal training clients, like really just get in the nitty-gritty of people’s lives and having a direct effect on that one-to-one level. So for me, I don’t want to not work in the gym. I just didn’t want to continue to work group classes. And so I’ve been able to build it in such a way now because I’m actually leading with some vision, to be able to get out of the way to do what I want to do.

Mike (40:20):

And that’s just the thing, that’s just like, you’re allowed to choose what you want. We have successful owners that say, Hey, I would love to coach group classes, even though I don’t have to, or do PT. That’s sort of the freedom that you get when you’re not tied to it every day. What’s next? Like what does the future look like for Coca? I mean, you’ve more than doubled revenue in like about a year. So what’s next for you guys?

Kate (40:42):

God, for me one, I want to keep the trajectory that we’ve got. I think building on the two coaches that I have coming on are incredible additions. They’re perfect. I mean, they are our avatar client. And I think that that’s one of the things that has really helped make us successful is that our coaches look like our clients, and vice versa. And it just helps really solidify, like, OK, like you don’t make excuses and you have four kids under eight and you’re working out and coaching classes and eating healthy. Like I should be able to do that too. So I think getting the right people in the right places has over this next year is really gonna set things off. I finally ponied up and hired an assistant she’s our I brought her on originally, she was a personal training, client actually still is.

Kate (41:34):

But over the last year I’ve helped her lose more than 80 pounds. And so she’s like all bought in to Coca and who we are and like, she just is on it. She’s a salesperson by career trade. So I brought her in as my client success manager and she just understands my crazy for whatever reason. She’s like a younger version of me, which is terrifying. And so she’s going to come on as my personal assistant, at least 10 hours a week. And so that will help me shift a lot of stuff to her. And I really want over the next year to put the pieces in place for really launching and pushing postpartum and perinatal fitness and, you know, group love and support, you know, for those, especially those moms that miscarry, there’s just this like deep dark hole that you go into that you don’t realize that one in four pregnancies.

Kate (42:27):

Actually I think it’s higher than that, end in a miscarriage and yet it’s this like shameful secret that you feel like you have to carry.

Mike (42:33):

I didn’t know it was that high.

Kate (42:33):

Yeah. It’s like really—and it might even be higher than that. It might be like one in two. And it was one of the those things that I realized that when I came out of that place of like, how many people, like my mom’s best friend was like, or sorry, my best friend’s mom, came out to her daughter when I was over there one day. And she’s like, I miscarried before I had Beth and Beth like looked at her like, what are you talking about? Like, so it was a cool experience to bring it to the forefront and really start talking about it and giving moms a place to go other than like, OK, well I just had this kid and my body’s a completely different body and I have no idea, you know, my arms don’t work the same way and my legs don’t work the same way, but I’m just going to go back to my gym in a scaled manner?

Kate (43:19):

I don’t know. And so I really want to fill that void with some intelligent coming back safely with people that love you.

Mike (43:28):

Wow. So you’ve got, you know, doubling revenue during a pandemic, and now you’re able to build the day that you want coaching the way you want, raising your son, doing all that stuff. And then also pursue an area of passion in the future that kind of fits, links up with your vision and your history. That sounds pretty cool.

Kate (43:45):

Yeah. It’s awesome. And for me, it’s one of those things that I really want to make a positive out of something that was really negative. And it just is, you know, if I see one more—and no knock on any male coaches out there, but I guess kind of a knock, but like, a man just can’t coach a woman coming back from pregnancy and labor and delivery. Cause you just, as much as you read books and like, you can be intelligent on the science of it. Like, unless you’ve been through it, like you don’t know what it’s like to sneeze and pee yourself. Like you just, you know.

Mike (44:20):

Some of us do, but not for the same reason.

Kate (44:20):

Well maybe you might have some pelvic floor issues that you need to look at. I don’t know. You might You might also have pelvic floor issues.

Mike (44:28):

No, but I agree with you and you know, you could even make the analogy that even like, you know, a woman who hasn’t gone through anything like that would not be as, just wouldn’t share that same thing. So it’d be very difficult connection. So no, I don’t disagree with you at all, but I love the fact that you’re able to pursue that area of passion. That’s, you know, congratulations on last year, especially during a pandemic, I love talking to people like you because it is a dark time for a lot of people and you’ve been through some dark times, but how often do we hear about gyms that are just getting just beaten down right now? And so I really wanted to have you on the show to kind of talk about the success during the pandemic. So thanks Kate for sharing an emotional story, but also a pretty cool journey that’s ending, or not ending, but is at a pretty cool place.

Kate (45:09):

Yeah. Not a problem. I appreciate you being willing to give me the platform. And you know, it’s one of those things too, that if anybody that’s listening to this needs somebody, you know, look up Coca CrossFit or Kate Spinner, my door and my phone are always open to help moms that are struggling.

Mike (45:26):

I love it. Where can people contact you right now?

Kate (45:33):

On social at Coca CrossFit. Right now I manage all of our social media, it’s probably the easiest way. I have so many different handles between being under Rawlings and Spinner and married. So Coca CrossFit’s the easiest way.

Mike (45:41):

I love it. Thank you so much. We’ll talk to you again soon.

Kate (45:46):

Sounds good. Thanks.

Mike (45:46):

That was Kate Rawlings of Coca CrossFit on Two-Brain Radio. I’m your host, Mike Warkentin. Be sure to subscribe for more episodes. And, FOMO alert! Join the Gym Owners United group on Facebook. Do it now. Two-Brain founder Chris Cooper and our mentors help gym owners solve problems in there. You have a question about the gym biz, ask it and get answers in that group. That’s Gym Owners United on Facebook. See you in there.

 

Thanks for listening!

On Monday, Two-Brain Radio presents marketing tips and success stories. Chris Cooper delivers the best of the business world on Two-Brain Radio every Thursday. 

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