Breaking Beliefs

I’m a trainer first and a business person second.

But I’m actively and purposefully trying to change that.

I’m trying to sharpen my business skills while also empowering and educating our training staff to ultimately be superior at training people than I ever was.

It’s simply what is required for me to reach my vision of granting access to meaningful and impactful fitness to as many people as possible and utilizing training to help people gain more of a belief in themselves.

So now that you know what I’ll be doing for the next 10+ years, the reason I bring this up is that I am still much quicker to grab onto training concepts than business practices. Like I said, I’m working on it.

And even though my business aptitude may not be at the level of my training aptitude, I’ve certainly learned a ton since we opened The Fort over 6 years ago.

A lot of learning revolves around breaking beliefs. Things that you thought – or if you are stubborn enough, absolutely knew – were true but, turns out, actually were not.

Kyle and I have been talking a lot lately about breaking old beliefs we held about our business. Some of these we came to ages ago, some are pretty new. But it’s always enlightening to look into the past at what you were sure-as-shit was true at the time but now think maybe not-so-much.


Let’s get to it.


People will come, Ray.


When we first started the gym we thought that if we simply created a great product – a more cost-effective and superior alternative to one-on-one-personal training – that people would magically hear about it, tell their friends and co-workers and grandparents about it and we would be flush with clients in three, four weeks tops.

I even wrote a blog post about it where I equated it to the great James Earl Jones speech at the end of the movie “Field Of Dreams”. If we built it, they would come.

While it turns out a great product is critical to your success, it doesn’t mean much unless you actively tell people about it. We did establish a good reputation and had a small, built-in client base from our personal training days; we had zero as far as client acquisition strategies went.


When we changed that, our entire business changed.

One of the hardest things for new gym owners to come to terms with is that they are now primarily marketers. The minute you grasp that and allow others to do the training, accounting, maintenance work, cleaning and all the other things you take on in the beginning, the better.


Using Discounts As Bait


The golden rule of retail: there is no more powerful a word than “free”. Followed closely by “sale”.


And while this can be true for almost all goods and some services, we found that giving away sessions for free or tempting new members with discounts didn’t work for us for two reasons.


First, training is a commitment-based practice. If you aren’t willing to commit to it with some financial investment out of the gate when motivation is high, it is more than likely that it won’t work out in the long term. There are plenty of things to shop on price. Training isn’t one of them.


Secondly, our margins aren’t very high and we price the training at a point that doesn’t allow for a lot of wiggle room given our fixed costs. So when we discounted packages it was always with the intention of getting people assimilated into the gym, understand the value and then pay our standard rates.

But human nature doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t matter how much someone values your product or if their masters in business administration allows them to comprehend why you need to set prices at a certain level, no one likes to pay more for what they perceive to be the same service.


Set the expectations out of the gate and have belief that you will attract the right people that value what you are doing.


Offering a Thousand Versions of One Thing Instead of One Version of a Few Things


When we opened our doors we only cared about one thing: training.


We were so committed to getting people training in this way that we were willing to offer a zillion different customized options under the guise of client convenience.


But what we were really doing was offering less than ideal membership options and taking a key component of training – accountability – out of the mix.


The flip side of this is that we weren’t offering our members – people with whom we had established a lot of trust – complimentary services that would help them more easily achieve their goals. Things like meal service, nutrition coaching, hell, even selling t-shirts, were all off the table.


Not surprising, once we refined our membership to allow for a reasonable amount of flexibility within a specific structure and offered ancillary products and services that helped support the training we quickly saw results, retention and our business improve.


Bruce Lee famously said that he doesn’t fear the man who has practiced a thousand kicks one time but rather the man who has practiced one kick a thousand times. This is sort of the same concept. Except not quite as cool cause you don’t get to kick anyone.


We Are As Much An Education Company As We Are A Training Facility


This is probably the most current reckoning that we are facing and one that we are very actively trying to live up to.


Certainly people come to us to get great training from exceptional coaches in a supporting and motivational environment.


But if we are truly doing our best work and living up to our vision, a big part of our mission is to help our members and the community at-large gain a better understanding of the principles of training and how the tools and lessons learned in the gym can permeate their entire lives.


That has been the mission of this blog from the very beginning and has now spread to the videos that we create, the preparation of our program and how we are encouraging our staff to interact with our clients.


Apple Computer made a huge leap forward when they realized that they were bigger than computers. That they were an idea company that didn’t need to be limited to a box of circuits sitting on a desk. So they dropped “Computer” from their company name and, well, you know the rest.

We’ll never stop training people. We need to be in the weights. It’s just who we are and a huge part of what we bring to people. But it can’t all stop the minute you put down the bar.


We must be constantly reminded that we – me, you, the gym – can all be something bigger.