These days, more and more people are discovering that they can’t get enough rope climbing, weight lifting, ball dodging, and kettlebell swinging. They’re not just muscle-builders training for a competition; these fitness aficionados are your neighbors, dentists, colleagues, and mothers who have joined millions of others in the CrossFit craze sweeping the world.
In 2014, the billion dollar CrossFit industry opened its 10,000th affiliate and projected to double its revenue to $100 million with numerous products and services, including meal delivery services, workout gear, and a shoe line with Reebok. This is a far cry from the low-key, original CrossFit gym — basically a gathering of friends who liked working out together — that opened its doors in Santa Cruz, Calif. in 2001 by founder Greg Glassman. In 2004, Glassman began teaching his seminars regularly and the affiliation process was finalized. Two years later, there were more than 50 boxes and it didn’t stop there. Today, CrossFit has become much bigger than a fitness program. Its boxes are community hubs of people who want to spread Glassman’s fitness beliefs so much that they’re willing to take on the stress of becoming an entrepreneur and starting their own box.
How did this happen? A big appeal comes from CrossFit’s creation of community.
Kevin D’Amico instantly became deeply intrigued with CrossFit’s routines after visiting a box for the first time six years ago and witnessing the way the program pushed people to get strong instead of a focus on losing weight.
“I don’t look at CrossFit as a weight loss program. I look at it like a training methodology that enhances your body and mind,” he tells Fundera. “The girls I see [working out] are not worried about six pack abs or losing weight. They’re worried about getting strong. The body image that mass media portrays and 99 percent of other fitness programs that I see are all about getting skinny and losing weight. There’s something to be said for being strong.”
A few years after joining a CrossFit box, D’Amico, a former marine, got certified as a Level 1 trainer and opened up his own box in Jacksonville, Florida.
“I was a regional sales manager for a big corporation. I have a business degree. I took [opening up a box] as an opportunity to combine fitness and business together. Two things I really love,” he says. “I just thought, I’m kind of tired of working for corporate America. It was just a business decision. I saw these guys opening up these gyms in warehouses for dirt cheap. I really enjoyed the workouts and everybody was having a good time, and there’s money to be made.”
D’Amico sold his box a few years ago, but is still involved in the CrossFit community with his equipment company X Training Equipment, which provides fitness equipment to CrossFit boxes, MMA gyms, UFC gyms, LA Fitness, and Gold Gym.
Entrepreneur CrossFitters like D’Amico are exactly how the company makes a huge chunk of its revenue: through education and licensing fees.
To become a certified Level 1 trainer, members sign up for a weekend workshop, which costs $1,000, and CrossFit runs around 15 seminars each weekend focusing on safely and properly performing workout techniques. Once trainers are certified, they’re able to open their own personal CrossFit box while the company collects an annual $3,000 for licensing purposes. The opportunity is an attractive one for many who want to teach what they love doing. Since CrossFit is not a franchise, there are no rules or regulations in opening a gym. The startup costs (basically just the $1,000 certification fee, $3,000 annual licensing fee, and property rent) are relatively low and the recommended equipment is “whatever you can muster” based on the FAQ section for affiliates on CrossFit’s website.
However, D’Amico warns those interested in opening up their own box to carefully consider startup costs.
“When I opened up my gym, I had to put up several thousand dollars putting up handicapped ramps in the bathroom and safety lights,” he says. “You don’t think about those things and that’s what kills a lot of people. Your equipment might be $20,000, but you might need another $20,000 for the setup.”
For those interested in opening up a CrossFit Box, again, there are no rules or regulations, but below are a few simple guidelines to opening — and running — a successful gym:
1. Sign up for a workshop and pay $1,000 to become certified as a Level 1 trainer.
2. Pay the $3,000 annual licensing fee to CrossFit.
3. Find a convenient location to open your gym. Consider starting out with a smaller gym so that you don’t become overwhelmed while trying to grow your business.
4. Determine what to charge members. According to box owners, remember that you’re a speciality gym so charge speciality gym prices. Standard membership prices tend to range from $100 to $200 per month.
5. Specialty classes will set you apart from the competition. People will go to your gym because of the classes you offer and coaches you employ. While CrossFit boxes don’t really try to compete with one another, D’Amico says sometimes they have to because it’s, ultimately, a business, but he’s never seen “anyone compete in a nasty way.”
6. When you’re ready to hire, make sure you find good employees and coaches who will help build your business. One CrossFit box owner, who closed his gym after only a few months, shares on Reddit that if he were to do it over again, he would have invested in good people. He writes: “I didn’t value PEOPLE. I didn’t value a TEAM. I thought I could do it all myself. I invested in barbells when I should have invested in coaches. I wanted 100% of the profit so I didn’t bring on a partner who could have shared the workload.” Coaches are paid between $15 to $35 per hour, according to this Reddit post, and this owner and head coach paid himself $25 per hour for coaching.
7. Use social media to involve members and market your gym. Since CrossFit revolves so much around community, their marketing practices reflect that, says D’Amico, relying on word-of-mouth and social media.
8. Keep track of all of your expenses to determine how long it’ll take for you to turn a profit. A CrossFitter suggests using this program.
9. Get advice from other box owners. The Redditor who had to sell his CrossFit box only after a few months says one of the biggest mistakes he made was not networking enough with other owners: “I didn’t speak with enough others who had opened their own gyms. And I didn’t listen to what they said. I mean the basic basic advice everyone gives for a small business starting out is to keep your expenses down. I went straight-away for the prime expensive location. Everything else I could have recovered from. This is what killed me. I thought I was smarter, that I was different, that I would be the exception. Wrong wrong wrong! And I paid for it.”
10. Remember that there will be challenges, as with all small businesses, so be prepared for some hard work. Tom Gannon, one of the owners of CrossFit Ireland, writes about the challenges in starting a box in the blog Breaking Muscle: “…[I]f you cannot influence someone to use your service or product, then you will be left with an emotionally and financially draining hobby. Sales or influence also applies to other areas of coaching, like selling a kamikaze weightlifter on the merits of engaging in correct form in the interests of safety and longevity. Please remember that you will be the one that lies awake at night trying to figure out how to pay the bills, feeling sick with worry, and being truly scared of the task ahead of you. The costs keep piling up and the job description just gets longer and longer by the day. You’ve gone from somebody that loved fitness, who wanted to share it with other like-minded people, to somebody who is cleaning a toilet at 4:00pm on a Sunday after a sixty-hour week, hanging on by your nerves. You need this new guy or girl who is coming in on Monday morning to buy what you’re selling or else you won’t be able to pay yourself a wage this week – or month.”
There are tons of exercise programs comparable to CrossFit’s techniques, but the community aspect is what makes CrossFit a lifestyle for many people. At first, you join a box and enjoy the workouts, but, then, you slowly become a part of a community that supports your lifestyle. Before you know it, CrossFit is no longer a box you go to after work to get fit, but a lifestyle that is so deeply embedded in your everyday life. Maybe you’ll open up your own box, like many before you, because you want to share this new lifestyle you’ve adopted with others. That desire to share a passion is exactly how CrossFit has made its money and how a workout session becomes a fitness obsession.