The 5 Rules of Successful Gym Ownership
Welcome to Your Journey Towards Excellence
Hey Fitness Pros,
In this edition of our newsletter, we’re doing a deep dive on a subject that’s close to my heart: How to not be a sh*tty business owner. I will show you firsthand how the dynamic between gym owners and coaches sets the tone for not only the atmosphere and culture, but also the ultimate success of the facility. If you’re a gym owner, you definitely want to read this (hopefully you’re already practicing these five rules). If you’re a coach, you’re going to want to read this, too (it might be time to tell your boss to take a hike).
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Back in 2016, when I set out to start my own gig, I didn’t have a map. No blueprint, no guidance. Just one clear thought: “Hey, maybe if I do the exact opposite of what my former boss did, I might nail this thing.” Let me give you a little context here:
Between ’09 and ’16, I was at a company where the owner subscribed to the “work the least, but make the most” mindset. Seeing him reap the rewards from everyone else’s hard work, while not contributing nearly as much in sweat equity, was frustrating and demoralizing. (And it was extremely noticeable, resulting in resentment throughout the entire team.)
Rule One: The revenue you take home should be consistent to the work you put in. It shouldn’t stunt the gym’s growth or overshadow the livelihoods of your colleagues. Fair wages, equal contribution, and reinvesting in the business are crucial.
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Admittedly, I didn’t fully understand how hard it was to run a business, so I have to give him a little leeway. Now that I am the head guy, I’ve seen the behind-the-scenes madness that comes with owning & operating a business. And while I get why some tasks might pull you away from being in the trenches, that doesn’t mean you can do what my boss did and show up at 6 AM and leave at 12 PM every single day. You simply cannot do that, just on optics alone. You have to be there! If not in person, then be that nagging voice on text, Slack, or email. Keep your team in the loop; let them know you’re always working, even when you’re not there. And let them know that they’re your top priority.
Rule Two: Communication and transparency are key. The optics of not being around will always bite you in the ass. Sharing the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of decisions lets them know you’re not slacking off, can help dispel common misconceptions, and will build a more cohesive team.
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But here’s the kicker, when he was around, nobody really wanted him to be there. And it wasn’t because he was a bad guy, he just treated everyone like they were his workers, not his partners. I’ll never forget a conversation I had with him when I suggested we buy a new piece of equipment. His response? A flat-out “no.” When I reminded him that all of the revenue the gym made was generated by the coaches, he looked at me like I had three heads and said, “the answer is no, and I never want to talk about this again.”
Rule Three: Mutual respect is non-negotiable. A gym thrives when its coaches feel valued and heard. When they feel like contributors, not just employees. They are, after all, the heart and soul of the operation.
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And don’t get me started on daily maintenance of the facility itself. While I was cleaning equipment, putting stuff away, and taking out the trash, the boss-man was MIA. Because he was never around, he rarely helped out. The coaches who were there all day were the ones responsible for taking care of the place, despite the fact that we made less money and didn’t have a say in how the business was run. We felt like guests in someone else’s house, despite doing all the cooking, cleaning, and paying half the rent.
Rule Four: Lead by example. Get your hands dirty, show you’re one of the team, not above it. Everyone should feel like the gym is their home, that they are all involved in a shared dream, not that they are guests on someone else’s private jet.
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Fast forward to the day I left. It was an incredibly difficult event in my life, and I was unsure about my future as a personal trainer. I didn’t know what I would do, and I figured all of my clients would just find another coach and continue on without me. But an amazing thing happened – after I left the company, every single one of my clients left with me (and six of them loaned me money to start my own business). Now, just a few years later, we have three amazing facilities, with over 25 coaches, servicing over a thousand clients.
Rule Five: Clients are loyal to their coaches, not the company. A thriving gym environment appreciates and elevates its coaches. Their satisfaction radiates outward, ensuring clients get the best experience possible.
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To all the owners out there: running a good business isn’t hard, but running a great business takes work. You need to see your coaches for the powerhouses they are, value their input, and brew a culture of mutual respect. For all the coaches out there who are busting their asses, remember your worth is evident in the loyalty of your clients. If you’re feeling underappreciated and devalued, tell your boss to get lost and go out on your own – you will never regret it.
In our next issue, we’re drawing the line between the elite coach and the absolute zeros.
(You’ll want to grab some popcorn for this one.)
Wishing you all success,
Michael Campanella, CEO & Founder
PEX Health and Fitness
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