Start a Gym: Chris Cooper’s New How-To Book


Mike (00:02):

Chris Cooper is just about to release a new book called “Start a Gym.” In this episode of Two-Brain Radio, he’ll tell you how that book and the new “Start a Gym” course can help you build a stable, profitable fitness business. Now here’s Coop.

Chris (00:14):

This is the best time to start a business. And the best business to start is a gym. The industrial economy is mostly over now. There are no more nine to five, punch a clock, and then retire jobs left. You can’t depend on a college degree to guarantee you a career anymore, but here’s the great news. The new economy is a blank slate. You have the opportunity to create any career you want for yourself. For the first time ever, new entrepreneurs have an unlimited audience for any product or service they can dream up. For the first time in history, you have the opportunity to use your passion to help others. Even if you don’t know them yet. Why start a business instead of getting a job? Well, leverage, most people trade their time for money, but entrepreneurs trade their time for more money, and then they trade their money

Chris (01:06):

for more time. Entrepreneurship is a long term bet that creates wealth for the entrepreneur, value for the audience and opportunities for other employees in the future. Entrepreneurs can work really, really hard for a decade and then retire if they start right, scale correctly and finish strong. The world is open to entrepreneurs who can create value for their audience. And the greatest value that we can deliver for the planet is the gift of longevity, vitality, and self-reliance. The gift of health. My name is Chris Cooper, and I’ve got a new book coming out, January 24th, called “Start a Gym.” I wrote this book because what I’ve found after mentoring thousands of gym owners over the last many years, is that the way that you start matters, that every mistake that you make when you’re starting out can take you a year to fix later. For example, if you mess up on your pricing structure, that’s going to take you at least a year to fix after you figure out what your prices should be.

Chris (02:13):

If you choose the wrong location, that’s a three year mistake because you’re gonna be locked into a lease. If you spend too much on equipment or not enough, or you take a partner, these are all things that take time and money to fix. The gyms that grow fastest in the Two-Brain Business mentorship practice are the gyms that start with us before they open their doors to clients, because they’ve launched with the right pricing structure, with the right schedule, with the right equipment in the right space, the right profit margin. And most of these gyms are opening profitably. Something that I could never have dreamed of when I opened my first gym back in 2005, I wanna help the world get healthier. We’ve reached a place where we’ve been evolving now for thousands and thousands of years. And we’ve reached this point after struggle and starvation and feast and famine and war.

Chris (03:06):

Where now we’ve come to this point where we’re as fit and as healthy as we’ve ever been. We have greater longevity than anybody has ever known in the human race. And we’ve done all of this evolution to sit on the couch and watch Oprah. Well, not really, but what we need to take us to the next phase in our evolution is fitness. To improve the quality of life that we’ve spent so long improving the length thereof. And so this book is set up to help you start a gym from scratch. And along with this book, we’re launching a course, call “Start a Gym.” If you visit, you can see all of the details. The purpose of this course is to prepare you for one day opening a gym. It’s not an expensive course. It’s not a mentored practice. We do have an amazing program called startup for that, but the start a gym course is low cost.

Chris (03:58):

And it’s a way for you to explore the opportunity of potentially opening a gym someday. So I wanted to offer this course to people, especially the people who buy the start a gym book, because there’s a lot of opportunities in life to make big, costly mistakes that take you years to come back from. And what I really want you to do is to really think about whether you wanna open a gym or not, give you all the tools that you need to do it yourself, and then let you make the decision. So both the book and the course will be available January 24th. And I’d like to walk you through the contents of the book first, because a lot of existing gym owners are actually pretty excited about this because they wanna read it too. More than any other book I’ve ever written,

Chris (04:41):

It’s very clear and very step by step. And if you’ve already owned a gym for 10 years, there might be some things in here that will help you recognize early mistakes that you made and how to fix them. So basically what I’ve done is I’ve first told you like how to make money in fitness. And this is a really important concept because a lot of us just think when we all open a gym, like all I gotta do is open a gym. People eventually show up and pay me money. And it’s just a matter of time. But what I didn’t understand, and a lot of new entrepreneurs don’t understand is that you create money for yourself by creating value for other people. And creating value is much more than just throwing open your doors. It’s much more than just having a lot of equipment. Creating value for us means coaching.

Chris (05:28):

We are building client-centric businesses. We are not selling access. We are selling guidance, accountability, coaching, mentorship, all those things that people need to actually get results. And that’s what this book is about. When you wanna build a business like that, you have to start by making a series of choices. And the first choice that you’ve gotta make is, do you leverage your money or do you leverage your time? Now, each one of these choices basically falls on a continuum. It’s not like you can buy more time and it’s not like you can just borrow all the money that you’re going to need to start a business right off the bat. But the choice that you’ve gotta make in the beginning, depending on how much time and how much money you have, is should I buy an existing gym or should I start from scratch? Should I even take out loan and buy a franchise gym with all its systems done?

Chris (06:22):

Or should I try to learn as I go? This book will really help you the most if you’re choosing to learn as you go and, and kind of build it from a blank slate, and those are the entrepreneurs that I love helping the most, but if you are already in possession of a gym and you’re buying a second gym, this book will start by telling you how to value the other gym and how to make that choice. Like, should I open a second location myself, or should I buy out this other gym in my town that’s struggling. And I think that I could turn it around. And there’s a series of exercises in the book to help you make that decision once and for all, without stressing about it. The next choice that you have to make is, am I gonna do this alone? Or am I going to take a partner?

Chris (07:03):

When I started, I took a partner and I’m glad I did. The partnership didn’t last long because I really don’t work well with partners, but I needed those two guys to really kind of force my hand to make me take action and open my own space. I was lucky after a year when I decided I didn’t want partners, that they just let me out of our contract, you know, and there was a little bit of leverage applied there and I’ll share that story in the book, but when you’re starting out, it can be very tempting to share the risk or share the potential blame if things don’t go well. And there are some reasons to take a partner. There are some instances where partnerships really do work out, but you have to remember that a micro gym is not an investment grade asset. So you should either take a loan from somebody or form a partnership with somebody who will share the workload that will allow you to scale up faster.

Chris (07:55):

Meaning you’re not just both coaching classes, you’ve got an operator and you’ve got one person who’s in charge of like marketing sales and growth. And all of that is included in the book. And there’s a couple of bonuses here too. So when you buy the book, you’ll get a link to And on that page, you can download some templates for each of these decisions that will help you make the decision. And then after you’ve made the decision, you’ll have a template for things like a partnership contract, for example. And really stepped up to the plate here and gave you some amazing tools that you can download and use for free when you get the book. The third choice that you have to make when you’re starting a gym is your method. Now, this is an interesting one because most people make this decision before anything else.

Chris (08:41):

And when I was interviewing people for their experience for the book, one guy said to me, Chris, I didn’t just open a gym. I wanted to open a CrossFit gym, and I’ve heard the same about yoga, Pilates, bootcamp, personal training, whatever, you know, sports conditioning, especially. So people usually find their method. They fall in love with their method and they wanna share that method with other people. And that’s why they open a business. And that’s great. You know, this happens outside of fitness too. It happens with chocolate making. The key though, is that you have to understand the difference between the method and the model. The method is not the model. The method, CrossFit, boot camp, Pilates, spin, is the method. And it might change over time. But your business model is the infrastructure of how you actually make money. And while the method might change, evolve, you might combine two methods later, the model will not.

Chris (09:34):

And you have to set up your model early. A lot of CrossFit affiliates actually made this mistake, including me. We thought that the CrossFit method that we saw was the business model. So we saw these group classes going and we thought, OK, well, that’s all I have to do is run group classes, not true. We saw people running free trials and we thought, that’s all I gotta to do is run free trials. But nobody asked like, Hey, does that actually work? Are the people who are running free trials actually building successful gyms. And it turned out that most of them weren’t. So the key here is that you have to understand you need to build a business model that supports delivery of your method. That the method alone is not in a business model. Choice number four, choose a location. This is a huge one.

Chris (10:20):

And it takes up a lot of space in the book. We’ve got some really great tips coming in this book. So the first is like how to choose. And I turn to some of our highest level gym owners who have opened and closed and purchased and sold multiple locations in the past. And I said, what are your top tips for choosing a location? I think some of these responses are going to surprise you. And there’s some great stuff in here about like what to pick, how to make a decision. Here’s a great little exercise. When you think you’ve got a decision, go to that place. Book a day off, find a bench, set up a lawn chair outside the location, and sit there for a day. Show up before six, stay there until about nine. Leave. Maybe you come back around four and you stay until eight o’clock at night.

Chris (11:08):

And what you’re looking for are traffic patterns like who walks past the gym, who works near the gym, do they drive? Do they take the train, are they on foot? These things will help you decide not only who your clients are most likely to be, but if this is even a locatio, that’s going to be viable for you. If something requires people to drive more than about 10 minutes, our data shows that they’re less likely to come there, or they’re more likely to choose a closer option when one opens. And so you want to find out like where your target audience lives and works, and then choose a location based on that. And that’s just one example. Like this book is very step by step. Do this exercise, follow this template. Here’s what the data shows, here’s what’s worked for hundreds of other gyms, no more guesswork.

Chris (11:55):

I wanna make opening a gym as simple as possible for you. All right. Choice number five is buying equipment for your gym. And this is another big decision, but it’s probably the most fun one because all of us wanna build like a CrossFit Wonderland or a weightlifting paradise, right? Or maybe we wanna build like the dance studio of our own dreams, but starting out, that’s probably not what you need. And so there’s some exercises in here to help you decide what’s the bare minimum that you need to start out. And what should you plan on acquiring or growing toward in the first one to three years? So for example, you wanna start out with the minimum viable space and the minimum viable equipment. Now viable is subjective. I mean, you might think that you can’t live without the 50 rowing machines or whatever, but I’ll share a couple of examples here.

Chris (12:48):

And a couple of stories. When I opened up, every barbell in the world was 45 lb. Nobody knew that there was a 15 pound barbell. And so for the first couple years, all of my clients worked with a 45 pound barbell and nobody knew any different. And that’s just how it was. And then one day we bought one 15-pound barbell. And at the time I think that Rogue might have been calling these women’s barbells. And suddenly every woman in every class that I taught wanted to have a woman’s barbell or else, they felt like they were sacrificing by using the men’s barbell. Even though it was, you know, a barbell was a barbell. So after I bought one women’s barbell, I found like, holy crap, now I gotta buy five of these things. So I’d get five. And then we’d run a class of 12 then half of the people in the class would be women.

Chris (13:36):

And one woman would say, oh, I’ve gotta use the men’s barbell. So it’s really important when you start out to understand like what you’re buying and who your audience is, so that you can buy the right best stuff. There’s also a little story in there too, about working with minimal equipment and how I think it can make you a better coach. The next decision that you get to make is to set up your services. And there’s so many things that you could do. You could do group classes, personal training, nutrition, coaching, online, high ticket, low ticket, you know, OnRamp, no OnRamp, sport specific, whatever. And these also always vary by method. So what I want you to do is pick two services. And I actually want you to launch one before you open. And I’m gonna tell you exactly how to do that so that you’re making some revenue, you’re finding some early clients, and you’re really getting some momentum before you take on any expenses or sign a lease.

Chris (14:29):

The seventh choice that you’ve gotta make is how to set your prices. And this is actually one of the biggest problems that we see with gyms is they set their prices based on, you know, what the guy down the street’s doing, or $5 less than the local average. And then it takes them years to recover from that. And five years down the road, they call up Two-Brain and they’re like, I’m not making any money. And we have to raise their rates and it’s painful for them. And it’s awkward for the clients, but they really deserve to make more. Where literally all of that goes away. If you set your prices properly in the beginning. And so in this book, maybe the most valuable part of the book is how to set your rates. And if you’re an existing gym owner, this part of the book is probably a great help for you.

Chris (15:13):

I also tell you how to sell your services. So how to build a pricing binder. What should you do about discounts and how to overcome your own limiting beliefs about price and budget. The next decision that you have to make is your schedule and your payment system. I give you a bit of advice on setting up your payment system. I mean, the goal here is really recurring cashflow. You wanna build your services so that people are subscribing and paying monthly instead of just paying for something high ticket upfront one time or not paying at all. So, I tell you how to do that. And then also how to set your schedule and then how to set yourself up so that you can change your schedule as your clients’ needs evolve. This is another big sunk cost for a lot of gyms. They open the door, they set up their schedule based on what they used to do at their previous gym or what the guy down the road is doing or what they would wanna work.

Chris (16:08):

And then it’s really hard for them to change it because, oh, if I take, take away the 9:00 AM class, those two women will cancel their memberships. Instead, there’s a way that you can set yourself up to have a schedule that changes every quarter and people will just expect that. And you won’t lose clients when you change your schedule. I tell you how to do that right in this book. The next thing you have to do is set up your media platform. The bottom line here is that people will buy from people that they trust. Now, people are more discerning about the people they buy from than the services they’re actually buying. And so every entrepreneur has a media platform and is a media personality. If people like you, they will buy from you no matter what you’re selling. And so I go really deep here into how to set up your media platform.

Chris (16:54):

And I enlisted some help from our friends at Gym Lead Machine here too. But also as some know, I own a media company. And so I’ve got some great advice in here from the Two-Brain editor in chief, Mike Warkentin, my co-founder in our media company about how to start a blog, how to start a YouTube channel, how to start a podcast, to set up your social media, where to focus so you’re not just spending all day on 50 different channels. The next choice that you get to make is how to get your first clients before you open. Now, one of the first strategies that I ever employed to great success was called the founders club. And this one has been copied and knocked off by a lot of people since, but that’s great, cause it’s really, really effective. What I want you to do is to get clients in the door, committed to paying you, paying you if possible, but at least you’ll have their voided check or their credit card number, on opening day.

Chris (17:49):

And the founders club strategy is a great way to do that without doing any discounts because there’s no reason to do discounts. It also sets you up on a great platform for future promotion locally by partnering with other businesses. So that’s the founders club and I walk you through it step by step in this book. In fact, you know, I think the book is 20 bucks and the “Start a Gym” course is 500 or something like that. The founders club strategy will pay for both of those things many, many times over. In fact, our top gym, like the record I think had 103 people sign up for their founders club at a $200 a month rate before they even opened their doors. Imagine opening on day one and collecting $20,000 in revenue. Like what would that have meant to your gym? I know it would’ve meant a huge difference to mine.

Chris (18:36):

Then I give you some checklists. So we’ve got a pre-launch checklist, all the things you have to do before you open then a post-launch checklist like, OK, the doors are open. What do I do on day one to make sure that I’m keeping up this momentum and growing my gym. And then I give you some steps to scale up from there. And finally, my favorite part of this whole book is some advice from our most successful gym owners. So these are people who are at or closing in on a million dollars in net worth. These are like gym owners who are millionaires. And I treated them like a tribe of mentors for this book. And I went to them and said, if you could give yourself some advice six months before you opened your first gym, what would that advice be? And each of them gave me something super profound and very useful.

Chris (19:23):

And I put that whole like tribe of mentors advice in the end of this book. And that’s my favorite part. So I think even existing gym owners will probably enjoy reading that part too. I also give you an out. So at the very end of the book, I give you a list of reasons to not open a gym or not open a gym right now. And what I’m trying to do here is to help you make a decision on maybe the biggest leap of your life, right? You’re rolling the dice. And I wanna give you a good framework for actually making that decision and choosing to open or not open or choosing to wait based on certain factors in your life. And so I end the book with that. The step between the book and the start a gym course is not a big step.

Chris (20:13):

The difference is that in the course, we will teach you with video and audio. We will give you templates and say here, fill this out. And we’ll also give you some more lessons. Like here’s why this is important or here’s how I’ve learned or you know, here’s how I’ve screwed this up. I do that a lot. And so the course is really to help you decide is opening a gym, right for me? Is opening a gym right for me right now? And if those are true, then how do I do this? How do I launch this without making mistakes that cost me a hundred thousand dollars and five years to fix. This is a passion project of mine. I love the idea of more gyms opening around the world because our species, our culture, our society needs your help. We need better health.

Chris (21:01):

We need better fitness. And when I was talking about this group or this book in our private Two-Brain group somebody that was newer to the group said, well, I’m not sure that I want more competition on my street. But the reality is that when somebody quits your gym, they usually don’t quit fitness, right? They quit your method. Maybe they might go try something else. Maybe they quit your location. They go to something that’s closer. That’s OK. Right. Fitness is usually a stepping stone to more fitness or other fitness. It’s never a stepping stone toward a premature death. It’s never a stepping stone toward diabetes. Good coaching is a stepping stone to better coaching. And if you are the best, the most established, the most expert, the most authoritative, the most trusted in your location, then every new gym is a stepping stone to you. The more gyms that we start in the more cities around the world, the more people that we can help, the bigger difference that we can make, the bigger impact that we can have on public policy, on the longevity of our species and the happiness of our kind. That’s why I want more people to start a gym. And that’s why I wrote this book.

Mike (22:13):

Two-Brain Radio airs twice a week and features all the info you need to run a successful fitness business. Subscribe so you don’t miss a show. Now here’s Chris Cooper one more time.

Chris (22:21):

Thanks for listening to Two-Brain Radio. If you aren’t in the Gym Owners United group on Facebook, this is my personal invitation to join. It’s the only public Facebook group that I participate in. And I’m there all the time with tips, tactics, and free resources. I’d love to network with you and help you grow your business. Join Gym Owners United on Facebook.


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