Build a Better CrossFit Affiliate

Six years ago when I opened my affiliate, CrossFit was not a household word. My box grew organically, not out of the one I came from. It was a simpler time—Facebook was a FREE growth engine and gyms were not on the corner of every corner. Now the market is flooded, there is only way to differentiate your affiliate: BE BETTER.

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 10.54.51 PMBeing better is a process. You have to be better than the box down the street while being better than you were yesterday. The road to better is often best navigated alone. What might work in your community will not work in mine, but we can still collaborate and share lessons learned. At my affiliate, I’m thought of as the “resident Mom,” and I have four little beasts of my own. It’s fitting that most of the lessons I share are ones I taught my toddlers when they still had the perfect squat.

It’s something we encourage our babies to do before they can speak. And it’s something we easily do to break the ice when someone walks through our door. To a noobie, walking into a box can be like hopping into an ice bath. Years ago it was worse when the average inquiry had no idea that CrossFits operate on a tight class schedule, and it was not as simple as walk in-work out.

“Did anyone know you were coming?” a trainer barked at a wide-eyed new comer who interrupted a class I was taking in 2008 when I first drank the Kool Aid. That moment bore into my soul. I immediately appointed myself the resident greeter. I’d open with, “Hey, where did you hear about us?” It often distracted my workout, but it helped the new people feel welcome. It paid off BIG when my future (and now current) husband walked through the door.

Today when classes are 25 deep, and my staff is juggling coaching, scaling options, retail sales and intern instruction, they know what face to make and tone to take when new friends walk in. When an off-duty coach at my box is preparing to pull a one-rep and someone is at the door giving the deer in headlights stare, they slam the breaks, jog over and say hello.

Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere. Sounds elementary, but it’s not as easy as Barney made it sound. Set up your affiliate where you are the only one cleaning, and you will be there every hour of everyday doing just that. The first time you are gone, the order will follow.

I once had a coach say to me, “I don’t want to take out the trash, I’m just here to coach.” Sorry, it’s non negotiable. Everyone on staff pitches in with one hour each week of general maintenance. A few times a year, we bring in an industrial cleaning crew. In summer when the garage doors are up, the big ass fan is churning and bodies are slick, there is a grey haze of chalk, dust and sweat on the mats that must be cleaned daily.

I’d give the bathroom speech, but who could follow Coach Glassman? We don’t get new members by being clean, but we don’t lose the ones we have by giving the impression that we don’t care about their health and happiness. When everyone helps, including members by keeping equipment in order, my box is less of a rented apartment and more of a life-long home.

I never tell someone about CrossFit, I show them CrossFit. Anyone who walks through my door gets an extended free trial. A week, ten days if need be. I acknowledge the investment I’m asking them to make in their fitness, and I show them I care about their business before it’s mine. I often meet the athlete that stays ten days never to be heard from again, and for me that’s ok. I have enough space and resources to accommodate them. The free trial also ensures my on-ramp classes are full of energy, as I ask athletes to take their trial during these times. A constant stream of new people also helps my coaches be more approachable to athletes of all levels.

If you have a small staff, limited space or a huge athlete base, a long trial might not work for you. Your road to better might include a 1-1 session or even a sit down about a perspective athlete’s goals. Sharing yourself might be as easy as sending a email after a first session to ask about the experience or answer questions. Give of yourself, and the majority of the time, you will be the one who wins.

We begin every class with ROLL CALL. When we opened, we decided that it would always be done, whether there were 2 athletes in class or 20. We circle up, review announcements, ask about injuries and welcome new members. We wrap up by having everyone say their name. Our roll call establishes a two-way respect early on in the hour. Athletes have to listen to the coach (as opposed to having their own chats), and coaches have to acknowledge everyone in the circle verbally. It never takes more than 4 minutes and has proven to be very effective at establishing order in our community.

I strive to live in a world where inclusion is not an initiative, it’s a norm. My son has a disability, and he does not easily fit in especially with sports and group activities. He often dances on the perimeter but is never fully accepted. Over the years this has made us feel angry, withdrawn and unhappy. I have dedicated myself to providing him inclusion opportunities where he can feel safe and accepted.

Give someone who has often been left out a successful experience and you are delivering more than just a workout. You are feeding their soul.

When I opened my affiliate, I decided that everybody was going to play and that people were not going to be judged on their athletic ability, but only on the effort they put forth and the positivity they brought to the community. Many of our members have never participated in an organized sport. Our affiliate is the team they “never made.” I often describe our classes as recess for grown ups where everyone has someone to play with. I hope to send my athletes back to the “class” of life tired, sweaty and happy just like they were in fifth grade.

We are also home to elite athletes and gifted folks who were able to bang out muscle ups on their first

E-Crespo works on all things E-Commerce at Steve's PaleoGoods and owns CrossFit 1Force in New Jersey.
E-Crespo works on all things E-Commerce at Steve’s PaleoGoods and owns CrossFit 1Force in New Jersey.

day. We bridge the gap between our populations by having three tracks of programming. Once a week, we all come together for a glorious MET CON MONDAY. It makes Monday everyone’s second favorite day of the week, including mine.

I wish we could car pool on the road to better together. The landscape is just too competitive and different. Urban area boxes have a larger athlete pool, yet smaller spaces and higher overhead. Small towns enjoy low operating costs but are not as densely populated. While some athletes shop on price, others look at class offerings and some prioritize community. Aspiring competitors want to train with the best, and conversely athletes simply looking for a sweat might feel intimidated by greatness. Pleasing everyone is an impossibility. So don’t even try.

Just keep working on being better.