I was one of the first CrossFit affiliates to pay $1000 per year.
In 2008, there were only eight CrossFit affiliates in Ontario. We used to get on conference calls and talk about paying for radio ads to “get the CrossFit name out there.” No one around us had ever heard of it, and if they had, they were already doing CrossFit in their garage. They were probably better at it than we were.
Over the last ten years, I’ve watched CrossFit grow from a counterculture signpost to the most leveragable brand in fitness. I’ve had a unique vantage point, from early affiliate owner to HQ employee to business mentor for its affiliates. I wish every affiliate owner could see inside the HQ machine; while the mission isn’t always clear to outsiders like me, the INTENT is immediately obvious, and carried like a flag by every single human on the inside. They believe in the mission, and they’re willing to suffer for their affiliates.
This is nothing new. But having a HQ full of caring humans is very rare, especially in a company growing at CrossFit’s pace. Any company with 3 staff members has an “amazing support team”. It’s much harder to do that at scale, but CrossFit has done it. And that’s the foundation for the rising value of the brand.
Consider what your $3000 per year (even payable monthly now!) gets you:
- The most powerful brand in fitness
- TV play for your brand, thanks to ESPN and subsidiaries
- Posters and t-shirts and shoes with your brand on them, thanks to Reebok
- Immediate brand recognition by anyone considering fitness, at least in North America
- Media you can copy and share every single day
- A plastic brand you can use almost any way you want
- Daily content you can repeat to your clients
- An industry-wide standard for coaching. We no longer accept drop-ins from people who aren’t coached by a CrossFit L1 at Catalyst, because it’s too risky.
That’s the obvious stuff. HQ might not advertise those benefits, but if you’re an affiliate, you probably already knew them. Those are the benefits that make the brand worth vastly more than its cost. But here are the reasons the brand is worth many times more than it was even three years ago, though the price hasn’t changed:
Most of the expensive business mistakes have already been made by others. New affiliates (even existing affiliates) don’t have to start from scratch, or make it all up as they go. TwoBrain is a professional mentoring organization with a step-by-step process to making your gym profitable. But you can buy one-off advice from a variety of consultants now (caveat emptor). You can even get opinions for free on several different Facebook groups. The old myths about grandfathered rates and paying your coaches 70% of your revenue–those are gone, shot down by the test of time. Simply avoiding my staffing mistakes alone will save you $170,000!
CrossFit is now publishing business-related help on the CrossFit Journal. Many new affiliates might not realize that was never the case between 2009 and 2016 or so.
Greg has been on my podcast talking about how he ran his business. This interview (in my opinion) gave far more insight and depth on the original CrossFit gym than anything before or since, including why affiliates should charge for nutrition advice and how Greg got new members in the door.
The weaker affiliates are gone. This is the part of the post that will probably get me in trouble. I struggled with this concept for years. As the guy whose life mission is to make gyms profitable, this statement sounds like heresy. But think about this: when an affiliate fails, it’s always because of bad business practices, and virtually never because of bad coaching. The gym’s clients and coaches don’t quit CrossFit; they often go to a gym with better business practices. The best people go to the box that will give them the best experience. The herd gets faster as the sick and lame drop off. AND–bonus–if your first gym failed, you can always take six months off and start from scratch, avoiding the potholes that were fatal on the first go-round. This is why I tell most gym buyers that they’re better starting from scratch, and why I wish many CrossFit OGs would think about starting new gyms now.
The best affiliates prove that success takes many forms. Just as a weightlifter can fix his gymnastics and win the Games, and a gymnast can build her clean and jerk to do the same, it’s clear that there are many roads to Rome. While many affiliates still wander in the desert, or jump from business model to business model, the roads exist for those who choose one and focus on it. It’s still fun. You can still play with the recipe a little. You can still shoot for ten gyms with 300 members in each if you want, or you can take the route of 150 high-value members, a meaningful life of service, and more than enough income that we teach at TwoBrain. Either way, there’s a model. Five years ago, there weren’t any.
HQ knows who its best clients really are. The best clients in your gym aren’t the resource-and-time-demanding Games athletes; it’s the love-and-coach-demanding walking weary. HQ has figured this out. It took the Games to build the CrossFit brand and give us this pulpit; now it’s clear that HQ is going to deliver a fire-and-brimstone message about health and life. Just as we had to start with the SEALs and then scale for the grandmas, we had to start with the Games and now fix global health. HQ couldn’t do it the other way around. But it’s going to happen.
Clients see the difference between affiliates and knockoffs. Gyms focused on selling coaching instead of running endless fitness classes now regularly see clients “graduate up” to their service. The best gyms get the best clients. Thrusters and pull-up rigs are in almost every gym, CrossFit or not. But good fitness coaching is still rare by comparison. Good CrossFit gyms who teach the public and help strangers attract the best clients away from the knockoffs. As one affiliate owner told me, “All of these wannabe boxes are basically running my OnRamp program for me. Clients fall in love with CrossFit, and then they find me.”
Interestingly, affiliate owners have balked at change almost every step of the way. I’m certainly guilty of saying “What the hell are they thinking?!” As we neared 1000 affiliates, some of the “originals” said there were too many. I think someone has complained for every new affiliate added since. But Greg’s vision has worked to our collective benefit every single time, even if individual affiliates have been forced to pivot to keep up.
I’ve never been prouder to be a CrossFit affiliate. Now in my 11th year, I was thrilled to see the list of gym names in the Affiliate Lounge at the Games this year. These are the folks that built the brand. And while I wish there were more names above mine on the “wall of fame” (meaning I wish more of the original affiliates were still around to celebrate the brand they helped to build) I hope they’re proud of their role, however small, in pushing the movement forward. Their entrepreneurial struggle has not been in vain.
Every affiliate, here or gone, is one more brick in the wall between humanity and chronic disease.
To existing affiliates: Thank you for your service. You deserve to be millionaires, and we think you can get there.
Newcomers: you’re welcome. We light your torch from our flame. Thank you for joining us. You should see a 100x ROI on your investment every single year.
The first step is behind us. There are a hundred to go. Build your affiliate and gain your reward.