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Gym Owners: What You Need to Know to Overcome a Growth Plateau

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Time and again, I have seen gyms get to a certain size and then plateau. For CrossFit and CrossFit-style gyms, this is around the eighty- to 100-member mark. For the longest time I wondered what was causing this.

At first I though this phenomenon was caused by a lack of systems. When all businesses get to a certain size, the difficulties they encounter start to change. In terms of gyms, the initial stages are all about getting people through the door and having them commit to training. At a later point, it becomes more about the delivery of the service. If the systems aren’t in place, then service delivery suffers and that leads to members walking out the door.

There is no doubt that a lack of elegant systems contributes to the gym growth plateau. However, I have come to the conclusion that something else is a greater contributor, and it is something that is not immediately apparent.

The Gym Growth Plateau Is Cultural

The limiting factor is the culture that has developed in the gym. Often the culture develops organically because the owners and managers of the gym haven’t really put much thought into it. They’re just happy that people are training in their gym — and this creates a big, yet unseen problem.

If you don’t know what kind of culture you want in your own gym, then there is no way you can guide its development into the culture you want. Without management, your gym culture can quickly turn into something vastly different to what you might have dreamed of.

Overcoming Gym Growth Plateau

The culture of your gym comes back to the people involved with your gym. For this reason, it is immensely important you take the time to carefully select the right people. This goes for staff members and clients. That’s right: choose your clients. It’s your gym, so pick the right people for it. Accept the people who will contribute to your culture and who will attract more of the right type of person. Deny those who will cause issues and division.

You might not yet have a clear idea of the culture you want. But you surely have an idea of whom you want to associate with each day. Remember, the people build the culture. Therefore, you can influence the culture by making sure only the right people are in your gym. It’s not just about the money.

Gym Growth Depends on Vision

As your gym grows, the bigger picture becomes more and more important. No longer can you get by on a wing and a prayer. You have to be strategic about what you do.

The strategy you put in place depends largely on the vision you have for your business. Your vision informs the decisions you make and the actions you take. It also gives you a fairly clear idea of the kind of people you should be involving in your gym.

If you have yet to define your vision, now’s the time to do so. It is one of the steps to getting off the plateau.

Gym Growth Requires Discrimination

The term discrimination has been tainted by negative events in our collective history. However, for you to build a strong culture, you must discriminate. Through being selective about who you do business with, you ensure your continued growth, and also that those who would thrive better elsewhere don’t get lost in your gym.

The big mistake many gym owners make is thinking they can service everyone. Letting anyone into your gym means your culture can grow in any number of directions. And if you’ve let the wrong crowd into your gym, then things can get out of hand very quickly.

Be specific about the kind of person you want. Think about who your ideal client is. If you could mix and match all the attributes of your favorite clients into one, what would that person look like? When you can clearly articulate your ideal client, you will be better positioned to attract that kind of person through your advertisements, services, social media output, and just by being you.

Overcoming Gym Growth Plateau

It’s Not Too Late

When the culture goes wrong, more of the wrong people are attracted to the gym, and the ones you want to keep are forced out. This is why culture is so important. And it’s why you should always be mindful of it. If you’ve hit the gym growth plateau, consider if your culture is one that attracts more of the right people or pushes them away.

It’s never too late to make changes. You can turn things around quickly — if you are prepared to make adjustments. This often means you will lose some members, but generally they are the people that don’t belong anyway.

The first decision you have to make is that quality is always superior to quantity, especially in a small-scale gym. If what you offer first and foremost is the experience of great service, great training, and great results, then aim to offer that to a select group that grows over time. This strategy will pay off handsomely and will not lead to plateaus or the dreaded exodus of members when cliques form.

Be ruthless when you find the wrong people in your gym. Remove them. Do so politely, but do it. And do it sooner rather than later. The small impact of a loss of clients now will result in an influx of the right clients in short time.

Continuing to Grow Takes Action

If you are stuck on the gym growth plateau, it takes action to get off it. You can’t just wonder what to do next. You have to make a decision, and make a move. If you’ve yet to create a solid vision and you are not managing your culture correctly, you now have a clear idea of what to do.

The great thing about plateaus is that they don’t last forever.

Photos by  Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

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Adam Stanecki
Adam has been involved in the health and fitness industry for almost twenty years. He has operated as a massage therapist, martial arts instructor, personal trainer, gym owner, and CrossFit affiliate. These days he mentors fitness professionals, assisting them in building thriving businesses.

Adam often says that his goal is to help people find the simple ways to get the outcomes they desire. You can connect with Adam on most social media channels (he’s easy to find). And you might like his website, Fill Your Gym, too.

You can also follow Adam's journey of life and happiness optimization at his personal website.