Stellar Staffing: Owner Gets COVID, Gym Marches On

Brian Strump and title text.

Mike (00:02):

The doctor is in and he has COVID-19. Chiropractor Brian Strump is ill, but his gym, Live Active Charlotte, is healthy without him. I’ll tell you why right after this.

Chris (00:13):

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Mike (00:46):

It’s Two-Brain Radio and I’m Mike Warkentin. A few weeks back, Dr. Brian Strump wrote about how to maximize staff retention. Right now, his investments in his staff are paying off big time. Brian got COVID, but his business hasn’t missed a beat. He’s here from Charlotte, North Carolina, to tell us his top tips for keeping staff long term Brian, thanks for being on Two-Brain Radio despite the illness. How are you doing today?

Brian (01:09):

Doing good. Thank you, Mike.

Mike (01:09):

Yeah, the important question first. How are you and your family feeling right now?

Brian (01:14):

We’re doing good. We had COVID sweep through, I’m doing good, I just had to suck it up or a couple of days, but you know, quarantined for like 10 days feeling good. My daughter’s fine, my wife, she’s a little achy, headache. We did a pretty good job getting through.

Mike (02:00):

I’m so glad to hear that, that’s always the first concern.

Brian (02:00):

We’ve been good.

Mike (02:00):

Oh, that’s good. And you know, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us because this is a concern for gym owners, especially those who don’t have a lot of redundancy in place. So talking to you today is really going to give us some insight on what gym owners can do to get into with the situation that you’re in. It’s really interesting. Back in December, another one of our Two-Brain mentors, Kenny Markwardt, he said that COVID quote unquote, is the new hit by a bus test. What he means, your business has to function even if you weren’t around, could it function if you’re hit by a bus? COVID is kind of like that now. That was the point of his article in that if a gym owner gets it, taken out of commission and that business has to keep going, if the government of course allows it to do so. So walk me through what you did with regard to your gym after you found out you had COVID.

Brian (03:00):

I mean, honestly for me, I was not really a big part of the coaching, I actually did on the 12th of this month, I did have myself down to coach on that Friday evening. So I’ll try to coach like two to six hours a month. And I did actually have myself down to coach of all the weeks, the week that I had to stay away. So, you know, once I tested positive, you know, I let my staff know and I was kind of staying away from them anyway, when I had a sore throat, so I wasn’t really super concerned, the people that were closest to me stayed symptom-free and tested negative. So that was a good start. So the first thing I had to do was just reach out to one of our coaches, again, nine, you know, full-time or part-time coaches and nine in total that could possibly take a class. So typically when we need to get a class filled, the coach knows just to kind of go into our text channel and start by asking.

Brian (03:54):

So I just reached out there and see if anybody wanted to pick up those two hours that I had on Friday. I offered to switch and maybe pick up some hours later on. I was sick and I wanted to kind of maintain, give myself some time to not be around, even though I was probably clear to coach, I just wanted to give it an extra couple of days. And then, you know, from a staff perspective, we have a lot of stuff already set up. So, you know, it allowed me to let the staff know that I wasn’t going to be in their day to day. If they had any problems, they already knew who to contact that needed to be done, like, you know, pressing. And then it just allowed me to know I went back, I reorganized some old emails and created some social media stuff.

Brian (04:50):

I wrote some more. So I could definitely see how if you’re a gym owner that doesn’t have staff in place or a week that you’re gone or two weeks that you’re gone because, you know, if you get the virus and maybe one other person gets the virus, it could be really stressful. I see people online saying, Hey, you know, I got it. I coach 40% of my classes. I’m going to need to cancel classes. What do I do? That’s really hard, you’re going to need to if you don’t have the staff, but it’s really difficult predicament to find yourself in, for sure.

Mike (05:30):

You’re essentially what we refer to as a tinker level entrepreneur. And what we mean by that is in our phases of business, we’ve got founder, which is you’re starting out, farmer, you’ve done taken some steps. Tinker, you are essentially a business owner, but you might not have a lot to do with your business unless you choose to. And in this case, you’re a chiropractor. You’ve got other things going, but you also have a gym. So the sole thing that you essentially had to do when you got COVID was cover two to four to six classes and kind of let, just let people know what was up, that’s about it. Correct?

Brian (06:02):

Yeah. Like most people, the people that that noticed I was gone were the people that—I usually take the 11:00-AM, class three to four days of the week. So besides my staff, the only people that noticed that I was gone or they didn’t see my name on SugarWOD, which is why maybe other people may have noticed, was the people at my 11:00 AM class that I usually take. Like most of our members wouldn’t know any different.

Mike (06:32):

  1. So tell me a little bit, you’ve obviously, before this happened, you had your business set up with some preexisting structures. Tell me a little bit about who is running the show when you’re not there. Like you, obviously, a lot of owner operators are doing everything from coaching their classes to, you know, stocking the fridge and doing the financials and literally everything else. Who takes care of a lot of the day-to-day operations of the gym for you?

Brian (06:55):

Yes, so of those nine, there’s—we probably have two people that take care of most of the day-to-day stuff. We separate them into like a sales manager and operations manager. The one that takes on most of it is probably Kristen who takes over like the operations manager she’s been with me for four years and started as just like started as my assistant in the doctor’s office. And then more as like the client services person. And really her biggest jump has been over coronavirus, really taking on a bigger and bigger picture of being like an assistant of mine so like every Monday, every Monday we’re sending out an email of updates and things that are going on or changes that need to be done. She’s somebody that could be there every day to oversee stuff.

Brian (08:02):

She, interestingly enough is not a coach, you know? So she’s not jumping into coaching any classes, but she’s the one that’s going to order, you know, so I know that I’m not going to get a text message that we need more toilet paper, we need more of this or that. Like, she already knows, she’s got a credit card. She has an account. She knows who to call if we need anything really. In the day to day, she is the one that’s going to deal with new leads coming in. She’s the one that like the first person that mans like our CRM. So any texts that come in she’s, you know, she’ll be like the point guard essentially. Something comes to her and she’s the one that might have to divvy out to this coach or that coach or bring it to me.

Brian (08:49):

And, you know, we have a very open door policy that some of the staff like, you know, might have been around for, I’ve known them for eight or 10 years. Maybe they’ve been coaching for us for like five to eight years. So they know they can always come to me. But I tell them in terms of like our communication coming to her first or coming to the sales manager, her name is Buffy, they might be able to help push this this job. If it comes to me, maybe it might take 24 hours or 48 hours for something to be done because it’s not high on my priority list, but it might be Kristen’s job. OK. This is what I need to do. So instead of coming to me, then I go to Christine and then it gets done.

Brian (09:37):

They know now and this past year have gotten much, much better at it in terms of the organization chart and communication, totally kind of forced that on us. So Kristen does that. And then from a sales perspective, when all new people come in, or all new people leave, or people cancel or holds, all membership and finance and dollars. That’s the sales manager. She’s also coaching and runs a nutrition program. But she’s the one that, you know, we know that the new members are going to get their email. They’re going to get their welcome stuff. They’re gonna know how to sign into class. They’re going to do all those things. If somebody cancels, she’s the one that’s going to prorate their account and change them in our CRM to take care of that stuff. So those types of things I don’t need to deal with.

Brian (10:26):

And then there’s some of the coaches that do the on ramp, of the nine, maybe there’s four that do that consistently. So they know like their job during those first couple of PT sessions, getting them accustomed to, you know, getting them accustomed to the gym, making sure they know how to log into classes and the app. Making sure they can get into SugarWOD, making sure they just kind of understand that the day-to-day expectations of what’s happening, you know, and they’ve been around for a while. They do a really good job. And now most of the time when we make changes or update things, it’s based on their feedback of how we could make things easier for them. Like, what are you guys doing now during this process that doesn’t make any sense. We do this. And I always wondered … OK, let’s maybe look into it and not do that anymore.

Brian (11:23):

You know, we’ve been around for almost 11 years. So there’s not much that we did like years ago that we’re doing now. But, I’m also pretty slow to make changes until I hear, if I’m not, you know, like on the ground floor, you know, it’s important that these staff and coaches know that they could give me feedback. We might not always make the change, but they feel safe that they could give me feedback. And many times the changes that we do make, and the improvements that we do make is based on feedback from them, number one, and the feedback from clients, too.

Mike (12:03):

So you’ve offloaded, essentially all of the day-to-day duties at your gym and you coach because you want to, not because you have to, and in this structure, you’ve got all sorts of systems and procedures and feedback loops that help you improve things. And Two-Brain mentors help, guys, if you’re listening Two-Brain mentors, help you figure this stuff out, it might sound like a whole big pile of documents and policies that you don’t want to deal with. It’s not that hard to do. Once you do it, you end up with the freedom that Brian has, where you can choose to coach i,f you so desire, you could sit back and not do anything you could coach as much as you wanted to, because you would have a business that could run without you. The thing Brian, that you said that I thought was really interesting is you’ve talked about the longevity of some of your staff, including your former assistant, current manager, who I think you said was here for four years now. I want to, I mean, it’s obviously a great staff people are clearly the key to a business and the longer they’re there, you know, the better it’s going to be. Now in your article that you wrote for us, you talked about a piece of advice that your mother once gave you on staffing. Tell me what that is and how did it change your approach to everything?

Brian (13:05):

Yeah. For as long as I can remember, my mom always managed like eyeglass stores, whether it was a big one, like Pearl Vision or something, at least in the Northeast, or just like a mom and pop store. I remember as a kid all the time, sometimes she would love it. Sometimes she would hate it. It would come down to not just her coworkers, but really like her boss, the person that she worked for or with or however you want to see it. And I remember she said something like, you know, it makes such a deal. At one point when she got a new job, she was like it makes such a good difference working with somebody who like acknowledges that you’re working hard and acknowledges that you’re working good and not just, you know, calling me in their office when I do something wrong, just saying thank you for like them coming in and doing their job. And not just expecting that I’m going to come in for 40 hours a week and do all this stuff for you, the business owner. So like, I just always, and I mean, back then, I didn’t know what I was going to do or have employees or staff or whatever, but it seems like so natural to me, I hope people would say that, that like that’s the way I need to do it because I really look at them like I work for them.

Brian (14:33):

We all work together. Like we say we a lot when I write and when we talk, it’s we most of the time because like none of this would have been possible without them.

Mike (14:47):

You’re committed to your staff obviously, and you want to create an environment where they’re going to thrive for the long term. And in this article, you went through five different things that explained how gym owners can do this and, you know, keep staff members happy for a long time. And we know that in the fitness industry, it’s very common for employees to flame out, you know, right. They just run out of steam. They’re not making enough money. They leave careers in the fitness industry. Sometimes it’ll be less than two years. Chris Cooper, Two-Brain founder, has often talked about how he graduated from university and it took a year to get a client. And he didn’t have a clue what to do with that client when he started. And he had to take a job at a treadmill store to pay the rent because he couldn’t make enough money as a trainer. So these are huge problems in the industry, but you’re managing to retain staff by really committing to them. And I want to talk just quickly here about each of the items on this list. So let’s keep this tactical where gym owners can, after this call, they can start doing things on this list. So you talked about love and loathe, that concept. What is that? And how could gym owners use that?

Brian (15:45):

Yeah, I don’t know where I learned it from. And there’s a couple of different ways that people called it. But basically, you know, when we sit down with somebody, even on my own list, when I look to delegate tasks, I’ll ask them for a list of all of their tasks, roles, responsibilities, and then I’ll ask them to put them, you know, like rate them from one to 10, one being, you know, I’d be happy never doing this again. 10 is like, I want to do this thing forever. And then slowly trying to remove some of those things that are the one twos and threes. Right. And then if they want to keep the eight, nine and 10, you keep those and then figure out like, can we possibly make this thing that’s a five that you do that we think you do well.

Brian (16:32):

Are there things we could do to make it better so you enjoy it more, whether it’s, you know, maybe it could be online so they don’t have to come into the office to do it. Or maybe it’s somebody that they’re working with that’s the problem, trying to figure out what we can do there to move those up. And then just work with the staff with the understanding that you might not get a job where it’s all gonna be eight, nines and tens. Right. But that’s kind of like, they see that there’s like ways that we can move up, it isn’t just to keep you doing the crappy things that’s like grinding your gears all the time. And yet in the most important part of this is to understand that just because it’s a two on your page, doesn’t mean that somebody else is going to be like, Oh man, I hate that too.

Mike (17:16):

Yeah. So that’s like, you’re analyzing all the tools in your toolbox, finding out who’s good at what, who likes what? And then there’s some flexibility in how you create roles where you can say, OK, you hate financial stuff, but you love it. I’m going to make a swap. We’re going to change a two on your list, make a nine on your list and so forth. So you’re allowing staff to, in some ways, you know, choose their own adventure with your help within your business to make sure that they like most of the stuff they’re doing again, we, like you said, we all don’t get to do everything we love. However, you’re getting rid of some of those things that are just so draining and the stuff that people just hate doing. Related to that. You talked about growth opportunities and you just hinted at it a little bit there. Tell me more about how you put growth opportunities in place so people can advance their careers and stay in an industry.

Brian (18:02):

Yeah. So I think this is one of those things that’s still kind of high on my priority list. I need to keep staff, while money isn’t going to be the only driver typically, we want them to be able to see like the ceiling isn’t so low. So whether it’s first just talking to them, like, what are you interested in? Like, Oh, I love yoga. Or I’m really interested in strongman or Olympic lifting, gymnastics, whatever it might be. And then trying to help them and work with them and see if we can create a need for, you know, see if there’s a need out there within our membership, which would be easiest to number one, to grow. And then if we’d be willing to invest the money in a time to advertise and market and see if there’s a need outside of our membership and email lists for based on what they want.

Brian (18:54):

And then we would just, I would have them give me some ideas of what they want to do, and then work backwards from like dollars they want to make, how often they want to do it. You know, in 11 years, we never really had a consistent kids program. Now in the last I’d say like, honestly, since like the summit, the last summit out of Chicago. So that’s like a year and a half ago. One of our coaches that was just starting the kids program came back and she was fired up, ready to roll. And like since then, you know, we just kind of worked backwards to create a plan and depending on who they are, I give them, you know, they have autonomy to choose, you know, choose the day, choose the time. And because I know that if they could choose a date and time, it’s gonna be convenient.

Brian (19:43):

I don’t care about kids class at 7:00 PM or 4:30 PM on what days, I need the coach to be the one that’s able to make it, you know. I might help them work backwards on pricing and make sure that it’s priced right and well for what I want them to make, you know, but like that’s one of my biggest goals is there’s only so many group classes they could teach, PT clients are hard to come by and if we could find them to do something that they really get excited about, even if it’s supplemental to their—it might be an extra 300 or $500 or $1000 a month. That’s still, that’s an extra 10 to 25 or 30% more that they can make doing something that they really get excited about. Like those coaches are excited. They’ll become more valuable to our business. And then, you know, from the gym overall, now it’s starting to give those gym members that may have been looking for something additional and now they have an opportunity to be able to take on.

Chris (20:50):

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Mike (21:34):

And what you just laid out is, is exactly what Chris Cooper just wrote about in an article called the dream manager. It came out on February 16th. We’ll get that in the show notes for you. It’s a six-step process called a career Growth ToolKit. You have these career Growth ToolKit sessions with your staff and Brian, what you said is key. You have to talk to your staff and ask them what they want. If you don’t talk to your staff, you’ll never know, and you might have problems, but if you ask them, they’ll tell you, and it’s not always money. Exactly what you said. Step two, you’re going to determine how much they need to earn, step three, you’re going to create opportunities using the career Growth ToolKit tool. We provide that to our mentorship clients, but essentially what you said, you’re building the money that they need, or the satisfaction that they need through roles, responsibilities, and so forth.

Mike (22:16):

You’re gonna determine the starting position. That’s step four, step five. You’re going to measure progress regularly and check in. And you’re going to ask, what do you want now to make sure it’s the same thing, it hasn’t changed. And then step six, you actually have chances to help them open their own businesses under your brand. That’s the intrapreneur—pardon me. I always have trouble with that one. It’s the intrapreneurial model, and you can get the intrapreneurial 101 guide in our free tools section, if you want to deal with that. So that’s the career Growth ToolKit and Brian, you talked about in there, one of the other points on your list from the article, meaningful work. If they want to stay long term, they have to do meaningful work. So you talked about how, you know, a coach was excited about a kids program, came back, you facilitated that program and it became something that coach could drive, not you. And obviously that coach probably loves that thing and it’s probably going really well. I’m guessing, is that correct?

Brian (23:05):

Yeah, it’s the strongest, most consistent kids program that we’ve had in 10 years.

Mike (23:05):

Do you think that’s because it’s an area of that coach’s passion?

Brian (23:15):

Yeah, and it’s like I just kind of giver her, she has full autonomy over this program, whenever it’s ready to run next, she says hey Brian, here’s the dates, here’s the times. I’ll be the one that puts it on the website, we’ll confirm about rates and then she handles the emails and I’ll help, but mostly the stuff is her, and it’s the same way whether it’s yoga, we’re getting more and more interest in yoga as well now, you know. In terms of the meaningful work, I think that’s along that same line of opportunity. For the most part, if I’m letting them choose what they want, and sometimes I might bring up an idea and say, here’s an idea, is anybody interested in running with it? Most of the time when they choose, I think it’s not just meaningful work to do them. And I feel like at most people’s core, they want to feel like they like do something good for like people or this planet or something. And health and fitness is really something that you could feel like you’re impacting something. You know, I was having a conversation with a member yesterday. I asked, you know, he works in a bank.

Brian (24:42):

I asked how work’s been. And he’s like, actually I put in my two weeks notice. I’m starting to work for this startup I get excited when somebody takes a risk like that, you know, leaving a bank corporate job to do something he wants to do. He’s like yeah, I’m so excited I get to be good again, whatever. And, you know, I think those are the things that now, like he feels like this business is going create something special in terms of energy and stuff. It was like energy and electronics and stuff like that. So it was like, now whether it’s pollution or roll over whatever it is that he feels like his company he’s working with now, he’s going to be able to make a difference and really feel good about doing that and I was responsible for some of this versus just like punching buttons into a computer for a bank who’s not gonna recognize much of what I’m doing and I don’t really feel like I’m doing much there.

Mike (25:44):

So it’s talking to your staff and finding out what makes them tick. And if you do, you can give them more of that or give them new opportunities. If you don’t, the reason why they’re not doing the stuff that you asked them to might be because they don’t really care about it. So if you talk to them, you’re going to find out what’s inside them and what they need. And then you can keep them by giving them that, or at least giving them the opportunity to pursue something like that. The last two things on your list, I’m going to ask in one question, because I don’t think you can talk about one without the other. You talked about having grace and patience and expecting mistakes. Talk to me about how those elements will help staff stay longer.

Brian (26:20):

I think it’s important, and also one of my biggest things that I’m not good at is giving feedback. And one of my staff once told me who owns a business. Here’s why feedback’s important is because if I don’t get feedback, I don’t know if what I’m doing is good or bad. And then in my mind, I would always say to myself, if I’m not talking to you then it’s good.

Mike (26:51):

I’ve made that mistake, too.

Brian (26:51):

And when he brought up that point, I was like, man. So I’m still not very good at giving feedback, although I’m better at meeting my staff and just sitting down with them. Because what I used to do is like, whenever things would go bad, you know, hey, come by the office, let’s set up some time to talk.

Mike (27:14):

That sounds like a great deal, Brian, I can’t wait to get there.

Brian (27:19):

Yeah. Like if you talk with them regularly and just check in, even if it’s not a scheduled thing, just to check in, see how things are going, you know, and the reason why is that like, expecting mistakes is number one, because I think like those are important. I really feel like any mistake in our business, we can learn from like this isn’t brain surgery. Like I wrote in the article, I’m not replacing somebody’s kidney, this isn’t life or death, worst case scenario, usually a member or five leave because of a mistakes and those are things that we could overcome fortunately for us. So most times that’s going to be the worst thing that’s going to happen. So it’s like, I’m just incidents. I looking at that mistake and figuring out what went wrong, but also understanding like this could have happened to any of these other nine people here.

Brian (28:11):

How I react to this person is gonna impact everybody else’s willingness to potentially make mistakes if they want to make a decision and I encourage the staff to make decisions. You don’t have to come to me for every single thing you’re doing, and it might not be the right one. But again, coming back to like worst case scenario, I think that the power of moments, I talked about that with a number of people this week is like expecting potholes and expecting problems. And that’s in your business. And even with my staff, I said, OK, we made a mistake. Let’s learn from it. Figure out like what led to this? Why did it happen? And let’s try to reduce the likelihood that it’s gonna happen again. So with that is like that grace and patience. I was really, really, really bad with this until I became a dad.

Brian (29:08):

And then I realized that, OK, breathe. Don’t just like react to every single little thing that happens, you know, take a couple breaths, think about it. You know, they may have had a really good reason why they did and acted how they did and why they did and maybe even turned out well. Just because it wasn’t how I wanted. It doesn’t mean that that was a bad decision. Or maybe it was even a better decision than I would have made, it just wasn’t what I was expecting. So now in the last like 18 months, two years, I really try to go into these relationships with staff and in general, like, I don’t have any expectation. I don’t expect you to do your job or you don’t do your job. That’s Like expect things to not get done.

Brian (30:01):

I’m expecting somebody to not wake up for the 5-a.m class, you know, and then it makes it much easier on myself to be like OK. What happened there? How can we fix it? And then learning from the mistakes is that number one thing. Because if we’re continuing to make mistakes, then only things are going to have to come up with a way and maybe this isn’t the right person in that spot. Maybe this isn’t the right person in your business to begin with. But we circle back to like my mom’s, what we talked about at the very beginning, it was just like acknowledging good work, but also acknowledging like nobody wakes up in the morning and says, I can’t wait to really screw up today. They probably feel bad about that mistake even worse than you think they do. You know?

Brian (30:50):

And if that’s the case, then like, why am I just gonna hammer on them more, I can just understand you almost, sometimes they feel worse than you do. Most of that probably comes from other jobs or family or stuff like that, where they make mistake and it’s just like hammered into them, and whoever they made that mistake with keep reminding them and reminding them about it. And I just don’t think that’s a good way long term to have a staff that’s going to continue to be willing to make mistakes, I’d rather them be willing to make mistakes to grow and grow the business than be so scared to even like check a box on a sheet like they might do something wrong.

Mike (31:43):

It really sounds like you’ve stepped on enough Lego as a dad to know that you can’t react and scream right away. You know, it’s really interesting. And I love the idea of expecting mistakes. It’s kind of like I talked to a guy who was a bouncer at a bar one time and he was telling me about fights. And he said, the first thing to know is that in this fight, you’re going to get hit and it’s going to hurt. And I kind of liked that analogy because it’s almost exactly what you said, where as business owners, we sometimes have a tendency to think everything needs to be perfect. And what you’re saying is that there are going to be mistakes, no matter what, and you can fly off the handle and be a jerk about it, and really screw up your staff and yell and stomp around and ultimately not help anything.

Mike (32:18):

Or you can just expect mistakes, be prepared when they happen and to have a system in place, to deal with them where you’re actually looking at them as opportunities to grow, opportunities to plug holes, opportunities to make things better. And the third thing that, you know, if I’m going to give listeners one piece of advice to take today, I think it would be what you said, have a meeting with a staff member, give some feedback that’s positive, not negative, just to set a pattern, just to bring that person into the office, sit them down and say, Hey, you did a great job on this. I just wanted to give you some feedback and just start setting a pattern of good feedback so that when you have to give some negative feedback, it’s not such a big deal because this pattern has already been set of giving feedback. And guys, if you’re listening and you want to know more about this, our mentor Per Mattsson has written about this extensively. It’s in the blog. He’s been on the podcast talking about feedback culture at your gym. And Brian just touched on it again. If you want more info on that, go check those out. Brian, do you think, is that the piece of advice, the actionable advice we should give people have a meeting and give some positive feedback today?

Brian (33:16):

Yeah, and I think just asking people what they want.

Mike (33:24):

I love it. Thank you so much. I love, you know, I’m sad that you you’re sick right now, but I appreciate your time, but I love the opportunity to talk about, you know, what’s happening at your gym right now when you’re not there because you set up something that’s going to keep your staff long term. So thank you so much for sharing that with us, Brian, I hope you feel better and hope you’re back at the gym as soon as possible.

Mike (33:44):

That was Brian Strump and this is Two-Brain Radio. I’m your host, Mike Warkentin. We’re firing clip after clip on YouTube. So if you love videos, please click the link in the show notes and subscribe to our channel. See you next time on Two-Brain Radio.


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