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You Be the Affiliate No. 1 by Gregg Arsenuk, Skip Chase, Aimee Lyons and Tony Budding - CrossFit Journal

You Be the Affiliate No. 1

By Gregg Arsenuk, Skip Chase, Aimee Lyons and Tony Budding

In Affiliation, Coaching

May 03, 2010

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Affiliate owners are presented with new challenges every day, but some challenges are seen more often than others. In this new series, we present successful affiliate owners with common problems to see how they solve them.

After a year of working his ass off by himself to get a small box up and running, Kevin finally feels like he’s built up some momentum. His clients are seeing impressive gains, and they keep coming back—often with friends. The atmosphere in his box is great, and the place is really starting to feel like home for many regulars. He’s got something special going.

Membership is growing steadily, and Kevin has already extended his hours and added extra classes. His days usually begin before 6 a.m. and sometimes don’t end until 10 p.m. Kevin is lucky to get one day off a week, and he’s starting to burn out. He’s still invested in his clients and still gives 100 per cent, but he’s just running out of time and energy. The accounting is taking longer too, and he’s got to start considering renovations and perhaps expansion to accommodate larger crowds of athletes.

Kevin has decided it’s time to hire at least one trainer, if not more, but he’s having difficulty stepping back from his current role. More than anything else, he’s worried about any decline in service to his members, and he’s scared to tamper with the current chemistry. He’s also not sure how to pay a new trainer. He wants to be fair, but he doesn’t want to hire someone who’s just in it for the money. He really wants someone who’s passionate about training.

The problem is compounded by the fact that he has some enthusiastic members but none with any experience training. Kevin has the only box in the area, and he doesn’t know of any other trainers nearby. Two members who might be interested in coaching—and might be good at it—both love their current jobs and work long hours themselves.

Kevin is unsure of what to do, but he knows he needs to do something rather than risk burning out and letting his members down.

How would you proceed?

Post your opinion to comments and compare your ideas with those of top affiliate owners.

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14 Comments on “You Be the Affiliate No. 1”


wrote …

Great advice from some great affiliate owners. I'm extremely excited that Gregg and Aimee are looking to start an at-risk youth club modeled after Steve's Club at their gym. Big change is bound to happen when smart and hard working people are involved.


wrote …

What a coincidence! This has been a question I've answered a few times lately because of our unique start-up model. I just posted the long form at, but to sum up: we use subcontractors, not employees. Better for us, better for them, better for members.
This year, we'll start our Apprenticeship Program ( We'll take five University students and enroll them in all our groups, plus include tutoring and group coaching/training exercises and a study series. It costs them $300 each, but they'll make more back in wages over the course of the summer (wages are also eligible for federal-level student subsidy.) Of the five we've selected, one will likely stay with us through the winter, eventually attending a Level 1 Cert at our expense.
We were originally a bit hesitant to charge for the program, but realized that the students would be gleaning extremely valuable information from years of hard work, costly mistakes, warts and all. We had no trouble getting five quality applicants - all of whom are Kinesiology or Ex. Sc. majors, and all of whom do CrossFit. Best part? All of them have to provide a free service / study to a 'special needs' group. So far, we'll offer kids' programs to wheelchair-bound youth, kids with Type I diabetes, and....??? Pretty jacked about it.


wrote …

I am not an affiliate owner, but in this case I would approach the 2 clients to see if they would be interested, if so, I would allow them to begin teaching while I carefully watch, and then give them feedback at the end of the day/WOD. If all went well I would allow for one of them to take over the 6am as that is generally a smaller group and also would allow for me to be more rested for the other hours at the gym. If the second client seemed up to snuff to teach I would find a way to ween him in as well, maybe taking the lunch time hour so I would be able to run errands etcetera during the off time.

As far as payment, while they are in training I would allow them to train at the box for free, along with helping me clean up at the end of the day, after that phase and they are running classes by themselves we would negotiate an hourly rate with x number of clients built in, plus x number of dollars per additional student if that may happen.

I, as the affiliate owner would be the only one responsible for teaching absolute beginners, the Jedi's would only be responsible for maintaining and critiquing people who had been around the box for awhile.


wrote …

I have been a personal trainer for about 3 years now. The gym that I have been working for paid me a percentage of what the client paid me for a session. Also I have been interested. If you were to start new trainers on; the best way to do it is to develop a internship program (Forza Denver has a program going, might be good to give them a look see) Not to advertise myself but I am going to be taking the level 1 cert in June, will be for hire, or will to start as an intern. I hope that this helps at all


wrote …

Great advice, what I would like to know is there anybody out there who has had a personal training studio and has had success in moving from the personal training sessions classes to the Crossfit method? I am looking to do this in the near future and would appreciate any advice.


wrote …

There is an amazing community available at the message boards... Many of the newly certified trainers go on there to read up on the crossfit method. Would it be out of the question to post an "ad" there, in looking for new trainers. Maybe attach an application, then sort through those and interview suitable candidates. I see it as a win-win. The affiliate gets an enthusiastic trainer, and aspiring trainers now have a spot to find affiliates. Thoughts?


wrote …

At Michael - we have both. The CrossFit model isn't 100% compatible with the private, hands-on model when you have open gym hours too. It's tough to juggle two locations, but I still prefer it.


wrote …

Spoken from a trainer that would Benift from that. As for how to pay incoming trainers. I would think that all crossfit affilates pay their trainers the same because the rate are the same as . At least that my point of view.


Karen Candia wrote …

I am pretty sure this article was written just for me. Just replace "Kevin" with "Karen" and that is the same situation that I am in! Great info from all the coaches!


wrote …

Identify your core competency; the thing that makes or breaks your business, the thing that sets you apart. In a Crossfit context this equates to making yourself a better coach, and providing your clients with the best coaching/training possible.

Once you have identified this core, look to identify current activities that you engage in that are not tied to this core. This list might include such things as accounting, facility maintenance, etc. Can these items be performed by someone else without negatively impacting the quality of your clients experience? Yes they can. These are areas that should be explored first. Perhaps there is a client (who wouldn’t come close to being an adequate trainer ) who happens to be a CPA, who would happily take on some light bookkeeping in exchange for membership costs. Or similarly a client who is a carpenter who could help with renovations in the same bartering context. If as many of these peripheral responsibilities have been dialed back to the fullest extent possible and there is still a time shortage, only then should additional staffing be considered.

When looking to hire or promote, always look within your organization first. This minimizes risk by ensuring that you are extremely familiar with the potential employee before you ever put your money, or more importantly your reputation on the table. Additionally this practice serves to enhance client loyalty and minimize any shake up to the existing chemistry within the Box. Just remember, any new employee, no matter how competent, requires training and oversight. Both these take lots of time and can further exacerbate the original problem.

As to compensation, nobody likes a greedy bastard, but we all have to eat and pay the rent. Look to a system that is at least loosely tied to merit considerations. I have worked up a tiered compensation system, but have yet to put it to the test. It looks something like this: Client interest indicates that a new class time needs to be added. The new coach (following adequate training) gets assigned to the new time slot with an agreed upon base pay. As part of the agreement it’s laid out that he has a certain amount of time to establish a stable minimum average number of attending clients for the class to continue.

Let’s say that he is given 3 months to achieve an average attendance of 3 clients. If he gets 3, then the class stays open and he keeps his job and gets $20/per class. Your coaching cost per client is now just under $7 (20/3 = $6.67). However for clients 4 through 7 that begin attending the class he gets an incremental bump, say $2/per additional head, and for clients 8 through 10 he gets yet another incremental bump of $3/ per additional head. You cap a class at 10 given your facility size (you're still small). Fast forward; When the class started, your coaching cost per client was $6.67, if the class is now averaging 8 clients instead of 3, your coaching cost per client is now under $4 (31/8 = $3.87) and your new coache's compensation per class was $20, and now it’s $31. With every additional client attending his class, your coaching cost/client is going down, and his compensation/class is going up. Everybody wins. Of course this requires a box where attendance is tracked etc. but I think it would work really well. If the tiered aspect is too much of a pain in the ass, just use a single $/additional client value. If his class reaches a point where it is consistently near max levels, perhaps it is time to set him up in yet another time slot and the process begins anew.

Thanks for the time. Would love to hear any feedback.


wrote …

Cooper - excellent post. Why not hire people to do the stuff at which you're disinterested first? As long as you earn more than they do, it makes more sense AND removes operational stress.
Can I paraphrase this post for Or would you like to write a post yourself on this topic?


Andrew Bueno wrote …

I was THAT trainer for over a year, but have always understood (and have seen) the importance of cultivating trainers from within the gym. That way, you'll have someone who understands and uses similar teaching methods, calls the same cues, and maintains (if not improve) the culture in the gym that you've built.

I also understand that luck can play a part. I'm one of the two owners (the other one is in CA) of the affiliate here in Seattle and was the solo trainer for about 6 months when we were bursting at the seams. I was at the box from 5:45am to about 9pm at night tired, hungry and jaded five days a week. I received an email from a recently certified Level 1 who wanted to start an internship at an affiliate. I lucked out with this in-garage CFer. He came by, we chatted and I took him in. Crazy smart, well spoken, very approachable and encouraging. He watched me teach a couple of classes, I let him loose on some newbies and now he has enough experience that I feel comfortable with him teaching normal classes.

Awesome awesome article.


wrote …

First, this is to Michael Conville. I have a personal training studio and a second location which is a CrossFit box. For 9 months I tried to run both businesses in the same location and it never allowed my CrossFit program to blossom. I opened a second location for CrossFit 7 months ago and it has seen tremendous success. Although our personal training studio does the majority of our revenue, the CrossFit box has seen huge gains in a short amount of time. Each business model, personal training studio and CrossFit box, needs to be seperate to succeed. If you are limited to one building then make them seperate spaces. This also allows you to cater to different clients. At our CrossFit box we have an environment that you would find in most boxes, no A/C, dry erase boards, stacks of bumper plates, piles of kettlebells, barbells and dumbells. And at our personal training studio we have a much different environment, wood floors, spin bikes, air conditioning, offices...just a different feeling in the two. This allows us to market to all types of clients.

Now, to add on what Michael Cooper posted, great post by the way. He is absolutely right, I know that there are TONS of responsibilities that come along with opening a new business. A CrossFit business is no different, you still have to collect payments, keep marketing for new clients, be a salesperson, do accounting, pay taxes, reply to emails, write emails, answer messages, etc. etc....oh yea, AND TRAIN CLIENTS! Some of these things you are good at and some of these things you don't even know where to start. I do feel that you need to be familiar with all of these things and I also feel that you should be able to be really good at all of these things if you had to be, for example, if you lose your CPA are you able to continue doing the deposits, payroll and quarterly taxes until you find a new one? Do not make the mistake of being unfamiliar with any part of your business.

In conclusion Kevin, I would like to suggest you read a book - The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It, by Michael E. Gerber. Just to give you a preview of the book, it talks about there being 3 people inside of all small business owners (which that is what all CrossFit box owners are - small business owners), these 3 people are - the entrepreneur, the manager and the technician. Imagine the "technician" in you is the guy who loves to coach the groups classes and be around the clients all day, the manager in you is the one who likes the box to be nice and clean and all the bumper plates to be in stacks by weight and who actually enjoys allocating the finances, and the entrepreneur in you is the one thinking that you can grow out of your current box into a bigger space and also who sees the potential of offering a CrossFit kids program this summer. These are all 3 components to have, but this book will help you identify which of these you are lacking and which are your strong points.

I could talk forever but I am going to stop there, I hope this helps some of you.


wrote …

How about hiring an accountant to take care of the numbers peace while you focus on your strenth and passion, which is obviously training? I don't think it would be beneficial to your clients to step back from a trainer's position to focus on accounting and membership. Its probably a lot easier to find a competent CPA than it is to find a good trainer.

You might consider taking on an apprentice or intern to shadow you and learn while you make the decision on his/her potential. Some creative compensation could motivate the potential trainer; free membership (as a previous comment stated) with the possibility of "tuition" assistance for future certification expenses.

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