When we decided to push our chips all in and start CrossFit Kent Island, Denee and I made a deal that if the gym was still losing money after one year, we would consider it a “good try” and go ahead and liquidate the small amount of equipment we had bought and close up shop. Well, looking back at the books after one year, we were still losing money… and we didn’t quit. Why?
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. And the greatest is Love.
— 1 Corinthians, 13.13
You know that guidance counselor saying that goes something like, “find a job that you love to do, and you’ll never work a day in your life”? When I was consulting, I thought I had a pretty sweet job. I got paid a lot. I was working with ultra-talented people that were really fun to be around. I got to work and live for 9 months at a time in Utah, Boston, NYC, DC, rural Louisiana, South Florida. I got to help hospitals that were struggling turn themselves around and literally stay open to help their patients, or help prestigious health systems develop new systems and advance patient care with the money we helped them make. I even got to focus most of my time on developing client leaders and developing my teams, something I’ve realized I’m very passionate about. And yet I still couldn’t check that box and say that I loved my job. Having contemplated why, I believe it’s because I was away from my growing family for 75% of the time, and because I have a strong aversion to being told what to do or how to do it. Enter CrossFit…
When we came up against the backstop of one year in business and were still not “in the black,” we had a decision to make. And we had already made it before we started – we were going to stop. But we didn’t. We didn’t because I couldn’t imagine doing something else that I loved as much as running my own fitness business, and doing it with CrossFit – a company that famously (within the inner circle of affiliate owners, I suppose) does not tell you what to do! CrossFit is not a franchise but instead an affiliate model, where we pay for the opportunity to use the CrossFit name and to market ourselves as a “CrossFit gym”, but that’s basically it.
** As a quick aside, I spent this past Saturday at a CrossFit affiliate owner meeting in DC, and that model of not offering help to the affiliates is going to change soon with our new CrossFit leadership team, which I’m now excited about after living the “I can figure this out by myself” life for the past 10 years!
We had carte blanche to create the type of gym that we would want to join, program the workouts we would want to do, and bring in the members that we would want to be around. Of course we wanted everyone in the world to join, because we wanted to spread the CrossFit gospel… and we wanted to make enough money to survive. I couldn’t believe it – and still can’t – when I wore my CFKI t-shirt to the supermarket and not everyone in the whole place was like, “oh my God, I have to join your gym!!!” But at the same time, if someone joined and then self-selected out of the community because they felt like they didn’t belong, we were OK with it. We didn’t want everyone to have the same personality or share the same strengths and weaknesses – we needed a well-balanced team. But we wanted everyone to get along, because we were all about to spend a whole lot of time together, and somehow I think we knew that.
So we were selective in the sense that we didn’t go out and actively seek every potential member that we could. When we got someone new that became a part of the community, we trained them hard and we showed them and told them that we cared about them, and they stuck around.
We didn’t close the gym after one year, and that was not a sound business decision based on the data. But it was a decision based on faith that we could make it work with just a little more time, based on hope that others would see what we were doing and feel compelled to give it a try. And most of all, based on the love of what we were doing and the freedom and endless creativity that we could do it with.
We formed strong bonds with our members. Three of them, Dana, Kenny and Lori, became coaches with us. We competed together at local competitions, and got beat badly but had the most fun. We hung out at the gym after workouts, and hung out at each other’s houses. Our young kids (ours were toddlers) became best friends out of necessity and remain close now. We didn’t talk about it often, but when we did talk about the gym there was an outpouring of love for what we were doing, and genuine excitement for what was to come.
In the second year of business, we grew by 100% (25 members to 50 members). That’s a decent growth rate if you ask around, and our proof of concept was complete. We weren’t lighting our cigars with $100’s just yet, but we were now making a little bit of profit each month. I would not actually pay myself for another two years, but instead we would use the excess cash to buy more equipment, and get another run of our (internally) famous t-shirts, thanks to a new member Jim who ran a promotional company, and who is to this day our clutch hook-up for new CFKI gear.
By the end of year two, we were up against a physical constraint with the small gym space that we occupied, and decided to grab some space at a new warehouse building that was under construction. We moved into a blank canvas that looked like an airplane hangar, and got to work outfitting it as the new CrossFit Kent Island. We lost our security deposit on the old gym as we had gotten into a habit of writing all over the walls… it was worth it.
Year three would bring a new beginning and new opportunities for growth. And it was when we heard the call to Service, which became a cornerstone value of CrossFit Kent Island. More on that next time!
Thanks for reading and allowing me to reminisce on what seem like simpler times but really good ones. Look for some more stories, and more news on exciting stuff we have planned for this spring and summer coming to your inbox soon!