Running a community as a gym owner is unique, primarily because many people tend to forget that you’re also running a business.
Although you wouldn’t walk into a Lowe’s, critique a cashier, then expect the manager to give you a job, these sorts of bizarre behaviors happen when you run a community. You deal with different personalities, people who come from different backgrounds, with varying life perspectives, and the way you mold your culture ultimately frames the types of experiences you will have to enjoy or endure.
Protecting your culture is important, if anything, for your sanity as a gym owner. There are one of two ways to protect your culture:
- Screen the members you choose to let in to your gym
- Manage members after you’ve let them in
A lot of this depends on what you determine sets you apart from other gyms. Is it a low price point? Showers? Highly recognized name in your town?
For us, it’s our community and culture.
We are fortunate to be at a point with our business that we do not have to accept members simply because they are willing to pay us for a membership. We are free to decide whether or not we want someone to be apart of our membership, and we happily exercise that right. We have learned not to wait until after someone is a member before we decide whether or not they are a good fit for our culture.
Because one of the hardest lessons we have learned is:
There is no amount of money that makes up for dealing with someone who doesn’t fit your culture.
We know what our selling point is, but more importantly, we know what isn’t. That helps us to clarify who we want to include in our community and what our brand is.
For our gym, what people remember most when they leave is that it felt like home to them.
After a long, stressful day at work, people come to the gym and are continuously reminded of why they are there. The friendly faces, the genuine support, the laughs, and a healthy outlet – these are what bring people back every day. This doesn’t make us particularly unique, but from our standpoint, it does make it easy for us to determine who is able and willing to be a good fit at our gym.
What we’ve learned over the past couple years is that it’s tough to “fix” someone who isn’t a cultural fit. Once that person is in, it’s tough to regularly engage in “correcting” conversations. When you have so many people to manage and care for, you want to eliminate any situation where you’re dedicating 80% of your time on only 20% of your people. The rest of your community will suffer from it, unfortunately.
We’ve learned the best thing you can do is act as a gatekeeper for your community.
Let people know up front, on day one, what they can expect and what they can’t. Inform them what your house rules are, and dig deep into the reasons why they want to join your gym to begin with. Communicate all your hard and fast rules at the beginning, so in the future, if there is a misunderstanding with any of your members, it’s a reminder of what you have mentioned already, not a behavioral correction that they take as a complete (and shocking) surprise.
Here are the guidelines we use when judging a prospective member to be a good fit at our gym:
1. The athlete is coachable.
- Be safe and adapt technical movements to the feedback given by the coach.
- Curiosity and inquisitiveness are welcome – disruptive, antagonistic questioning is not.
2. The athlete has respect.
- Know your place within the group and the class. The coach leads the class, the athletes show up to work out.
- Respect the gym staff, from the top down, as they carry out their respective duties.
- Get along with others in the community (no drama, no cliques, no self-absorption).
- You are not owed special favors, discounts, or deals. Pay your dues or leave.
Although these are the barriers for entry, we also have a set of house rules that extends on those rules, which all athletes must agree to before they can be a member at our gym.
Communities operate most effectively when everyone has a good understanding of what their roles are within that community, and if they cannot follow a basic set of rules from day one, it doesn’t bode well for a long-term membership at your gym.
There’s one last aspect to screening your prospective members. We talked about the expectations our athletes must meet before they can be apart of our gym.
Here’s the other side of the coin when vetting members: YOU.
You need to perform as a gatekeeper like you were screening candidates for NASA.
You have to be confident in your ability to keep people out or let people in, and you need to see your culture as something worth protecting.
You are the “Do not pass go” stop on the monopoly board, and you must act that way.
Your role as a gatekeeper can make or break your business. Not only are you assessing people who walk into your gym, but you are also giving these prospective members the reasons why they want to be apart of your gym.
Your confidence and knowledge of your product will affirm for them that they want to be apart of a community where they have the potential to become a better version of themselves. When you denigrate your role, prospective members are unable to see the significance of what you and your gym does.
As the gatekeeper, you have the largest impact on the evolution or destruction of your gym’s culture, and you must take the gravity of your role to heart. Your gym and business grow with the culture and it also will die with the culture.
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