Diluting the Brand?

By Alec Hanson

In Affiliation, CrossFit

October 24, 2009

PDF Article

Passionate CrossFitters have questions about the growth of the movement. Alec Hanson believes existing affiliates need to spend less time worrying and more time pursuing excellence and virtuosity.

The following open letter was posted Oct. 7, 2009, on the CrossFit Discussion Board as part of a thread titled “Huge Decline in Quality.” It is reformatted and reprinted here with the author’s permission.

An Open Letter Regarding CrossFit

My partner and I have always wondered about the future of the CrossFit movement as we find ourselves progressing forward from days of underground garage gyms to warehouse “boxes” and eventually moving into massive fitness facilities in the tens of thousands of square feet. This is the future of CrossFit as I see it.

We have pondered the topic of hundreds of new “certified” trainers being pumped out every weekend and watched in curiosity as subsequent affiliates began popping up all over the nation. We had the same questions about the ability of these “certified” trainers and new affiliates, at times thinking the same things a lot of people think.

It all leads me back to the same consistent foundation CrossFit was built on that has been a major building block to the explosive growth: Excellence. People train with trainers who provide excellence.

I don’t care if 100 new CrossFit gyms open up blocks apart from me. I spend every day improving my ability to train people, deepening my knowledge in all areas around fitness and nutrition, and learning and adapting to become better each day. If I lose a client to another gym because that gym does a better job training them or inspiring them, I don’t cry about how unfair life is—I learn and I get better. I’m more interested in helping those new gyms grow effectively, train better and have massive success like I have.

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25 Comments on “Diluting the Brand?”


wrote …

I love the article. I have been a full fledged crossfitter for almost 2 years now and I am currently in the process opening my own affiliate in a market that already has more then most cities. I have read so many journal articles and watched probably every video in the archives at least once. I agree with this article 110%. Glassman says this same thing in a video form acouple of years ago.

Qaulity is the key to success with an affiliate. There are so many aspects that make a CrossFit "good" compared to any other type of gym. If you focus on passion for CrossFit and the lifestyle of hardwork and focus and you truely want to show people how to get involved and thrive, that will take you to great heights. If you are opening an affiliate becuase you think CrossFit is "trendy" then you are an idiot... you have no business opening and I garuntee that your membership roster will reflect that. And the true community will be able to say good bye really quick.

Awesome article.


wrote …


Great article and I agree with you on how people need to let their credentials, that is the results in their training, speak for them. As you say, it will work it self out. Greatness selects for those that prove themselves. All this crap of back stabbing, stealing, libel talk and envy is below us. The philosophy of CrossFit, the warrior spirit and the desire to be the best will stamp out those without integrity and loyalty. I commend you for writing this piece and I encourage all of us to strive to be the best while holding true to ideals that promote growth amongst all CrossFitters. At some point in time we have to quit thinking of ourselves. We should try to give more than we could ever take away. I believe that is where fulfillment as a Crossfitter will come from.



wrote …

This is a great article and I agree with it in principle, but the thing that has always worried me about this mindset is - how many people have had their opinion of CrossFit permanently damaged by the 'bad' trainers out there? The average 'joe' may not have the knowledge of CrossFit to realise that each affiliate is their own entity and that the quality of training may vary greatly from box to box.
I don't mean to sound pesimistic, but so far I have not been able to get my head around this idealistic approach.
If anyone has some words of wisdon on this matter, I am keen to hear your thoughts.


Daniel Broughton wrote …

That's keeping it real. Haven't heard it said any better except when I rehearse it in my head. Nice attitude. Dan www.crossfitwoodbridge.com


wrote …

Thank you Alec! its about time someone came out and said it, lets stop worrying about it. CrossFit was bound to get big its real fitness that works, theres no stopping it.


Frank DiMeo wrote …

I found CF when they had four gyms in the whole world.
We were about #50 on the CF affiliate list as of 2005 and were the 2nd affiliate in the state of Florida.
Having spoken with or met many of the new affiliate owners, there are some very good ones out there!
Regardless of the ones I have met, there are even more I haven't as yet, but the main focus is for us to continue to strive for excellence on a daily basis.
The rest is details.


wrote …

When you have a 50 year old client who gets their first pull up after 3 months of training...they cry...and you cry with them. You must love this work. Glassman said at a recent Crossfit 101, your cleints are your friends and your friends are your clients.

I agree 100% with what Alec is saying, if you dedicate yourself to this path with love for its people and its process's, and continue to be creatively and intellectually curious about your training ability, you will have a thriving affiliate no matter what.


wrote …

Alec, yours is an inspiring letter, no doubt. However I think that either you’ve underestimated the importance of a brand or overestimated customers’ patience. You assert that “If they [other CF trainers] are unsafe or not knowledgeable, their clients will all eventually leave them and find you.” But I wonder, do you operate that way as a consumer? If you have a terrible flight on Delta do you think, well maybe that crew/pilot/gate person was just bad and I’ll give another crew a shot? Or do you just book with Southwest next time? If you have a terrible steak at Ruth’s Chris do you try one in another city because it’s a different chef or just go to Morton’s? If you signed up for personal training sessions at Gold’s and didn’t like the service would try another Gold’s, hoping for a better trainer or just write off Gold’s altogether and try Bally’s the next time?

That is the point of a brand, after all. Now you may argue that they are franchises and CF isn’t. A valid distinction, but not one the average consumer is likely to make. Now if the CF business model pumps out lots and lots of semi-qualified trainers and the low barriers to entry result in lots and lots of poor quality affiliates, what is the result? If 10 of the 12 affiliates in your area are poorly run (and please understand I’m not suggesting this is the actual ratio), what am I likely to hear about CF from my friends or folks at work, church, poker games? What if reporters from newspapers and TV workout at the poorly run ones and do a story? What if half of the 10 have a serious case of rhabdo? What am I likely to think about CF, even if I meet the one guy who works out at your gym and loves it? Will I put aside the 15 bad things I’ve heard about CF in favor of the one good thing I heard and give you a chance because you are a different CF affiliate?

Can you still grow your business if you are a great trainer? Sure. But (and this is really my whole point) why would you want being a CF affiliate to be a hindrance to growth rather than an aid? That being said it’s kind of amusing for folks who came into a business with low barriers to entry and, once in, want to raise those barriers.

Finally it’s an interesting note you close on. You whole letter seems to argue that affiliates shouldn’t worry about what crappy affiliates might be doing to the brand name but then you say they should be grateful for the great brand name that is filling their gym with clients. Am I reading that correctly?


wrote …

I agree with the letter, that essentially rebukes gyms who focus on anything but excellence.

However I strongly resonate with Kyle's review. Brand Quality does matter. I just got my level one cert and compared to my NASM cert I'd say CrossFit was 100's of times better. However I felt the bar was a little low and at first I was concerned, because not everyone there had been drinking the kool aid.

I think the wisdom of CrossFit is that even the Level One Cert is enough to create a passion for fitness that will seek to improve and grow.

So while the bar might be a little low for Level One. A vast majority of the trainers who attend, are filled with the requisite desire to improve upon what they just learned. Which will make them into great trainers. Which is the unfortunate paradox of a physical skill set. You have to do it to know it.

I don't think this issue will ever be absolutely resolved, but it is up to us as individuals to not only seek virtuosity but also to aid other trainers in their journey to that same goal.

I think both are important

Focus on Excellence
Encourage Quality


replied to comment from KYLE MARSATON

From the little I read here, it sounds like Crossfit certified trainers spend a fair amount of time (years) learning the Crossfit way which includes focusing on excellence and encouraging quality before they ever open their own affiliate. Perhaps worrying about bad trainers is not worth the time because there are so few of them.


First, I like Kyle's analysis and I wasn't too thrilled with the article (which in my view is simply restating Coach's perspective on the subjet, which is well known). Brand name is important and the success or failure of CrossFit in new communities (I'm from Iceland) will to a large extent depend on the pioneers; are the first CrossFit affiliates responsible and successful or not. If not, the brand is wounded and possibly dies, it's as simple as that.

A point being missed in this discussion is that certifying as a Level 1 does not equal becoming an affiliate. The level 1 cert is great for its purpose, to get people familiar with the crossfit philosophy and introduce them to the movements.

What needs to be remembered is that to become an affiliate you have to apply and be accepted by CFHQ. What the requirements are for being accepted are unclear to me (I just know that I got affiliated a year ago, not why) and that's maybe where the focus of those that worry about diluting the brand should be, not at the Level 1.


wrote …

My question is this. What does it take to become an affiliate and should CFHQ monitor quality control, or should it maintain its purely open source policy? Organic growth is great. But one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.


wrote …

Simple, and well put. Nice work on takin the game to the folks who dont try to improve their craft, and especialy the ending. It seems to be forgotton so frequently that this program was given to us. I owe alot of my sucess today to CF. Iv had many clients for many many years, but after you happen upon CF, learn it, Practice it, and present it to ur clients with the pation u have taken to it the rewards seem unending.


wrote …

Some historical analogies may be in order here.

In the 1880's, some of the most fervent opponents of increased Jewish immigration to the US were "proper" Jews who had arrived earlier. They were concerned the newcomers were ignorant and would "spoil things" for everyone because they didn't know how to behave.

Some of the same opponents were established merchants who also lobbied against competition for pushcart vendors. They forgot that they themselves had started out as pushcart vendors...often only a few years before.

The naysayers were wrong. The newcomers contributed greatly to America. Their descendants became doctors and lawyers -- and CrossFit owners and clients.


wrote …

Outstanding, outstanding, outstanding. Hats off.
-Jacob Tsypkin
Owner, CrossFit Monterey
Co-Founder, www.evolveyourfitness.blogspot.com (work/family safe)


replied to comment from Hudson Handel

Yes, they should, but they are growing so fast that they're probably having a hard time conceptualizing the idea and brining it to market. What's more important to the HQ top dawgs? Number of affiliates or quality of affiliates? It depends on the goals Glassman has, and we'll see what happens or doesn't happen within the community.


wrote …

I believe the article is pretty accurate but some of the comments make sense too. If you do have a quality trainer presenting a quality product, which CF obviously is, then the rest takes care of itself. But the point being made about a bad trainer getting people hurt is right on. If I hear about this great CF idea and go do it and get shitty instruction it will probably affect what I think of the program. That being said, I think everyone should go to the main site and learn themselves. Understand what the philosophies are, understand the moves! The greatest challenge is challenging yourself! Great trainers will take you to places you have never been before, but it has to happen inside you! My attempt is to educate myself and understand what I am doing, which I would hope will help my trainer as well. I live in an area that does not have an affiliate, but we are in the process. I live in Peoria, IL and any suggestions from the ground up would help. Thank you for the time.


wrote …

I agree with this article.

I am from a somewhat remote community in northern Alberta Canada, and I happened upon crossfit about 5 years ago. I tried it and liked it but moved back to the event specific training that I had been doing. It was mostly functional and very High intensity but not constantly varied. I attribute my non-commitment to crossfit to a lack of understanding. I spent two to three years poking around in crossfit and getting a real understanding of what it was about. I then hit it hard and I love it and I think it is by far the best system out there. I have never been a personal trainer, but I have inadvertantly trained many people throughout my 20 years in GYMS and now boxes, just because it was the only way to get a quality training partner. If Crossfit was not open source I would be out of luck, I am the only serious crossfitter in my town and the nearest box is an eight hour drive away, so I have been made the unofficial and un affiliated ambasador of Crossfit in my community. I have had to coach my friends and family (my mother has started crossfiting)and convince them that you don't need to be elite to do it. I just did my level one cert about 3 weeks ago and I think that the level of training is spectacular. It was Coach Glassmans talk about how those of us who would pay to do the work of training people will be successful. I have paid to do it, I have done it for free. I will do a good job training my clients. Training people is hard work and it costs a fair chunk of change to become an affiliate( Its not free). I find it hard to believe that any of the crossfit trainers out there don't want to give a quality product. If a trainer is struggling to keep up then I hope that I belong to a community that would step up to help that person to succeed not ALLOW him to fail, a community that would help its members to achieve their goals not put unnecessary obsacles in their way. There is enough to go around. All of this worry of diluting the brand stinks of greed, If coach was greedy he would be franchising this, it would cost a shitload of money to do anything Crossfit and eventually the brand would just be another stail work out program.


wrote …

For the record, I'm not Level I trained, and don't train at a box, unless you count this oversized sandbox I'm in...

...that said, to me the article was great, but I guess I look at the whole thing a little differently. Virtuosity is probably one of the most important aspects about CrossFit (or any elite level program in any domain) - doing something the right way is the only way to do it. As my old man used to say - anything worth doing is worth doing well.

To me, the important question should be: what makes someone eligible to affiliate? Agree whole-heartedly that it shouldn't be money or franchising. But there is nothing wrong with raising the bar on affiliate qualifications to maintain virtuosity and protect what so many (not least of which HQ) have worked so hard to build. Maybe the lead should be Level II certified and a % of the remaining trainers Level I. Current affiliates have 2 years from X date to achieve the new standards or risk losing the affiliation.

From everyone I've talked to and read, the Level I cert is fantastic, but the Level II cert is really where the proverbial chaff and hay get seperated. If that's a true statement, and if virtuosity is indeed a foundational quality of CrossFit, then wouldn't it make sense that Level II be one of the pre-requisites to affiliation?

As for the branding piece - well, I'm not a marketing expert. But people talk, and make opinions very quickly. One or two bad episodes at a less than virtuous affiliate, and "crossfit sucks." I support a computer system here in Iraq and have this problem all the time. My system is working fine - but the network is down. What do the users say? My system is broken. People only know what they see, and between facebook and twitter, can tell a whole lot of people in a very short tme span. Take one or two bad events at a box, and it won't be "that box sucks" it will be "crossfit sucks."

The open source platform of CrossFit is amazing and is the way it should be. However, open source doesn't have to be "anything goes." And if CF is as strong and viable as we all believe that it is, raising the bar on affiliation will only strengthen us as a program and community.


wrote …

Very well said David...There were good and bad points about this article, my main question is the article suggesting that as an affiliate owner you should turn a blind eye to bad, scatter-brained, and dangerous programming and training. I don't believe it makes you a good trainer just because you can get someone motivated about working out, however it is a great quality to have. But I've seen first hand from my days a personal trainer in a globo gym trainers who get their clients motivated and love working out, but with abolutely horrible technique which will inevitably lead to injury on down the road. But that still makes them a GREAT trainer??? It's the same way with a lot of CrossFit gyms that there are too many chearleaders and not enough instruction, simply saying 3-2-1 Go!!! doesn't cut it. Maybe my opinion doesn't mean a whole lot because we are only two month's old as an affiliate, but we did wait over a year after getting level 1 certified and in the meantime the 3 of us obtained at least 5 certifications apiece and were training people the entire time before opening the affiliate. Bottom line is you only have one chance to make a first impression and if that first impression is tainted by a bad trainer with a great product it will be hard to convince that person to try the "same",meaning has the same title but programmed and executed much differently, product in a different venue.


wrote …

While I agree with Alec's point that we need to concentrate on excellence, as that is what the market rewards, I think we also need to battle mediocrity (and by extension inferiority) as it pertains to the CF brand, training, etc., wherever we come across it.

I live in Tel Aviv Israel, and I have an interesting siituation. We (the current CF coaches in Israel, numbering about 5-6) have heard that a local celebrity trainer (she was the Jillian Michaels of our "Biggest Loser") has signed up for the November Cert in Milano, and is already scheduled to give a one-day seminar at the Wingate Institute (the Israeli version of the NSCA) to teach one and all the CrossFit method a month later. AND YES, SHE REPEATEDLY USES THE NAME "CROSSFIT" IN ALL THE ADVERTISING.

As Kelly Starrett says, CrossFit selects for itself. Meaning: at the end of Fran, I am lying twitching on the ground, then running to the bathroom to puke for 15 minutes (at my Cert in May, true story), thinking to myself "THIS IS F******G AWESOME!", while the person next to me gave 50% of himself, felt uncomfortable and said "F**k this s**t", never to do CrossFit again.
Which type of person do I want CrossFitting? Of course, people that can look at themselves in the middle of the pain (which is relative, yet easily identifiable)and find something that makes them keep going, and then keep coming back. Again, it is CrossFit that makes this selection, not us. I dont need all my clients to be fire-breathers, just people who are willing to do the uncomfortable to get elite results.

My fear is that this trainer is going to take what little she knows of CF, water it down, change it, and make it "enjoyable", or "accessible" like a strip-aerobics class, in order to appeal to that other 50% guy, turning CF into a glorified "wellness" love-a-thon.

Further, in the advertising blurb, she bills herself as the one who will be bringing CrossFit to Israel. Excuse me?? CrossFit has been on the ground here for years. How arrogant can she be?

If she does bring massive exposure (currently lacking here) to CF, do I benefit? Hell yes: more awareness = more clients. Period.
Am I going to be there to see what she is saying and protect CF? Hell yes, even if I have to waste 269 shekels (~$65) to do so. Why?
Because I am invested in CrossFit, having spent years coming to understand (if even in a limited way) the goals, methods and programming behind it.
Because of my CF coaching colleagues and our hard work, to let people know directly that it is neither new nor "her product".
Because I am convinced (call me pessimistic) that her hubris will lead her to make serious errors, that need to be corrected, and quickly (ie. on the spot).

I intend to be there and calmly point out every single mistake, problem, fault and untruth as presented, and to make people aware that a) she is not the CF messiah and b) excellence and virtuousity are 2 traits that are earned, not advertised and sold.

Ian Dirnfeld
(Proud as Hell) Level I CrossFit Coach
Fast Forward Fitness
Tel Aviv, Israel

If y'all are ever in the Med, I am extending an open invitation to work out with me.


Philip Mancini wrote …


Your article goes against almost everything the term "branding" is supposed to accomplish. I agree that individual trainers need to focus on excellence as it applies to their own abilities and the ability to pass knowledge on to their clients. But not caring about the brand being diluted by bad trainers is simply ignorant and illogical. Assuming that someone interested in CrossFit will seek out a better trainer after having an experience with a bad one makes no sense.

The bottom line is that the good affiliates tend to help the bad ones and the bad ones tend to hurt the good ones. Without some additional criteria or guidelines from HQ to solve this issue, it's ultimately unfair to the good affiliates.

This is a much longer debate and this isn't the proper forum. But the problem will continue to exist until HQ makes some changes, or growth starts to stagnate and/or shrink.


wrote …

A large portion of the "dilution" discussion seems to target simpicity of affiliation and the recent bloom of new affiliates. I have seen little mention of mediocrity in well established affiliates.

I just watched a CFJ video of an athlete at an OG affiliate demonstrating a staple movement with questionable (at best) technique.

As experienced CF coaches and athletes we would be negligent if we don't take a minute and honestly self-asses to ensure WE are not diluting the brand. Comfort leads to complacency, and that is a bad place to be.

Experience doesn't necessarily indicate expertise, conversely, inexperience doesn't necessarily indicate incompetence.


wrote …

If someone new to CF has a bad experience at an affiliate, maybe they'll see CrossFit as a bad program. If they're serious about increased work capacity and GPP, they'll continue searching for the best program until they rediscover CrossFit. It's the best program there is to develop IWC and GPP. They're stuck with it.


wrote …

I have read the arguements for protected areas and stronger certification requirements before. What it really comes down to is protecting your revenue from competition. While the arguement that a bad affiliate may be bad for you holds some truth, what are you really protecting; the Crossfit name or your own business and profit?

I have worked out in both good and bad affiliates. The best were the affiliates that were concerned with my fitness growth not my check book. You have access to virtually free marketing at the Crossfit website. Your affiliation fees are almost zero when compared to standard franchises. How many of the affiliates started in someone's garage or a small box? The cost of entry is low and that is what has enabled many great Crossfit affiliates get started and thrive.

The death of the Crossfit movement will come when the small gym is blocked from the market by those solely interested in profit and protected areas. Global gyms with protected areas are what we all are trying to avoid and the creation of Crossfit globals will be a sad day indeed.

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