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Starting a CrossFit Box: A How-To Guide

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Six years ago, Jason Skeesick opened Bucktown CrossFit in Chicago with two of his rock climbing, CrossFit-loving Army buddies. They chose to open a CrossFit Box rather than another type of gym because it was similar to the type of training they received in the military. “Mixed with the fact that we’re kind of rough and tumble guys,” he added.

Skeesick appreciates the fact that with CrossFit, “you have an opportunity to train in a variety of different types of disciplines, between gymnastics, weightlifting, cardio, strength training. I never get bored with it.”

What is CrossFit?

CrossFit Inc. is a branded fitness regimen founded in 2000 by Greg Glassman. CrossFit uses constantly varied movements done at high intensity. The movements are borrowed from the best aspects of fitness regimes and sports like gymnastics, weightlifting, running and rowing.

The program includes a workout of the day (WOD), which is posted on the Crossfit website. Most of the workouts involve using dumbbells, barbells, pull-up bars and rings.

Recordkeeping is an important part of the program. Whiteboards are used for recordkeeping and clocks are used to check time. The data is gathered to not only motivate people, but also to provide measurable, observable results toward a fitness goal.

There are more than 13,000 CrossFit “boxes” (what they call a “gym”) around the world. CrossFit is not a franchise, but an affiliate, and owners encouraged to be part of the CrossFit community by joining the Message Board, reading the CrossFit Journal and attending seminars.

The Crossfit boxes more closely resemble a garage gym. You don’t need a huge amount of equipment to start one, but you do have to be committed to the CrossFit philosophy and exercise regimen.

How does CrossFit differ from traditional gyms?

The focus of CrossFit is more community and training-focused than a traditional gym experience. Members receive more hands-on instruction and coaching to keep them motivated than they would get with a basic gym membership that didn’t include a personal trainer. CrossFit aims to make exercise a less solitary activity and bring some of the camaraderie and competition of sports to the gym.

The exercise equipment used at a CrossFit box will also look different – you won’t find pools, saunas, treadmills or stair climbers. Instead, you’ll see barbells, Olympic weightlifting platforms, climbing ropes, gymnastic bars, rings and rowers.

Membership fees will also be a lot higher at a CrossFit location. Many gyms charge as little as $10 or $20 a month, but CrossFit membership typically runs about $150 per month. The extra cost is attributed to the amount of personal attention members receive at CrossFit boxes.

What does it take to run a successful CrossFit box?

Skeesick credits much of the success of his Bucktown CrossFit to community interaction. “We have good systems in place for acquiring new leads and getting new people in the door,” he said. “We have regular gym events and outings. We’re always shouting out to people on social media.”

In terms of turning a profit, a well-run CrossFit gym that acquires 150 members that each pay $150 per month, will have monthly revenue of $22,500. However, achieving that number of members requires a lot of work and a strong marketing plan.

A good goal for a startup CrossFit Gym is to reach 100 members in the first year and 200 in the second year of opening doors.

How much does it cost to start a CrossFit Box?

The first step in opening a CrossFit gym is becoming certified as a Level 1 trainer, which costs $1,000. After that, owners pay an annual affiliate fee of $3,000. Another expense is purchasing equipment, which will cost at least $5,000. Owners should plan to spend $1,000 or more per month to maintain and replace the equipment.

Core items you should expect to purchase when opening your gym are pull-up bars or stations, adjustable squat stands, men’s and women’s Olympic barbells, bar collars, rubber bumper plates, small metal plates, rings, medicine balls, dumbbells, small metal change plates, and PVC pipes or wooden dowels.

Once your CrossFit Box is bringing in more money, you may need to later add glute-hamstring developers, light training barbells, concept2 rowers, plyo boxes, flat benches, kettlebells, jump ropes, parallettes, climbing ropes, rubber flooring, and rubber stretch bands for assisting bodyweight exercises. Eventually, depending on your members, you may add power cages, platforms, punching bags, parallel bars, stall bars, and bikes.

Depending on the location, rent can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $6,000 per month on average. Employee wages and salaries are an additional expense. Most CrossFit boxes have three or four coaches on staff, each working 15 to 40 hours per week at $20-$25 per hour, depending on location.

The bottom line is that startup costs will be at least $30,000 per year. The good news is that most well-managed gyms will have a profit within the first year.

Owners can control costs by determining what equipment is absolutely necessary when they open their gym and which items can be added later. CrossFit’s Journal offers an Equipment Procurement Guide to help owners decide what equipment to purchase, and when.

How can you fund your CrossFit Box?

Skeesick and his two partners used a portion of their G.I. Bill money that was given to them for school in order to open their CrossFit Box. “We put together $3,000 each and started it,” he said.

For starting up a new CrossFit Box, owners need to look beyond a traditional bank loan because most banks don’t want to approve loans for less than $100,000, want a business to be in operation for at least two years and have an annual revenue of at least $100,000 a year. That’s on top of wanting all owners to have a strong personal credit score of at least 680, which can seem nearly impossible for a startup.

Here are some available options for CrossFit Box funding:

  • A microloan is a small loan, usually under $50,000, provided through community lenders by the Small Business Administration.
  • A personal loan, however, keep in mind that if the business fails, your personal credit will take a big hit.
  • A business credit card is another option to consider if the interest rate isn’t too high and you know you can pay off the balance each month.
  • Loans from friends and family — just make sure there’s a legal contract in place to avoid future headaches.
  • Traditional small business loans will be the most difficult to get, but owners with good credit and collateral will improve their chances
  • Online and alternative lenders typically have much lower requirements and credit qualifications.

Tips for running a successful CrossFit Box

Since coaching is such a vital part of the CrossFit philosophy, it’s important that owners hire the best employees possible and make sure they are well-trained. Employees can earn CrossFit credentials through training programs offered by the parent company.

“We rarely hire from outside,” Skeesick said. “One of our strengths is that we do a six-week transformation challenge. In the past year, I’ve hired four full-time people that had changed their lives by doing the six-week transformation challenge. They fell in love with it so much that they ended up leaving jobs to come and work for us.”

A membership fee should be affordable and determined by the community and location, but should also be sufficient enough to cover costs and help turn a profit. Most CrossFit boxes charge around $150 per month.

It also helps to be an active member of the CrossFit community, exchange information online and take advantage of social media to promote your gym. CrossFit owners are encouraged to set up a website and send photos to CrossFit Inc.’s website to get more exposure for their own gym.

Running events can help owners promote their CrossFit Box but there are specific guidelines so that the local event is not confused with events run by CrossFit Inc. These include not using the words Games, Open, Sectional or Regional, or the CrossFit Inc. logos or artwork to promote the event.

Before opening a CrossFit gym, Skeesick suggests you try working at or being an intern at an existing CrossFit gym. “This is something you have to want to do with your life forever because not everybody’s cut out for it,” he said. “I think a lot of people like the idea of it more than the actual work.”

And there is a lot of work involved, especially at the beginning, Skeesick noted. “Before you have a lot of members, in order to pay yourself you’re working every possible job—you’re coaching all the classes, you’re doing the marketing, you’re answering the phones, you’re mopping the floors, you’re cleaning the bathrooms, and trying to stay in shape yourself.”

Those considering becoming a CrossFit affiliate should also be certain that they truly love coaching others. “Every time I coach a class, it motivates me. I get amped up,” he said. The love of helping others has to be there in order to succeed.

Bottom line

There is money to be made for people who open a CrossFit Box; however, to be successful, it takes planning, hard work, management skills, marketing and a commitment to the fitness philosophy. It also takes a dedicated staff and an active community of people working together to achieve their fitness goals.

 

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