The beginning of the year is a time for new year’s resolutions and new commitments, but it’s also the time of the year where we see the highest number of CrossFit affiliates de-affiliating, or in other words, dropping “CrossFit” from their name and brand.
Why is that?
Some affiliates may no longer identify with the CrossFit brand, choosing to expand or move away, whereas some affiliates may simply be looking for ways to cut their biggest expenses.
No matter the reason, the choice to affiliate or not affiliate is a personal one. There isn’t one way to brand a microgym, but CrossFit is still a viable and relevant way to do so in 2019.
There are three reasons why that is and why we, my boyfriend Lee and I, own a CrossFit affiliate today.
1. Branding and Marketing
Whether you hired a 200-employee social media agency to run your marketing or you simply rely on word of mouth, as a CrossFit affiliate, you will always get people into your gym who found it by searching the term “CrossFit.”
According to the Google Ads keyword search function, the phrase “CrossFit near me” yields 135,000 searches a month, whereas the phrase “functional fitness gym near me” gets 140.
This is a great perk for us, honestly being a bit lazy with our marketing.
The reason marketing as a CrossFit gym is easier in some respects is because CrossFit’s brand is well known.
In fact, it’s that immediate, almost visceral reaction people have toward CrossFit that piques people’s interest. As they say, any press is good press, and CrossFit is one of those subcultures everyone has an opinion about. Whether it’s “the best thing you can do for your body” or “a cult,” people who aren’t part of a CrossFit gym at least wonder what all the fuss is about.
Even still, leads aren’t all created equally.
We are fortunate that the leads we get from those who look for CrossFit gyms in the area are exactly the type of people we’re looking for. Experienced and inexperienced CrossFitters alike, selling ‘CrossFit,’ in combination with our unique branding, allows us to attract the demographic we’re hoping to reach.
2. Community and Culture
I tried to imagine how I would feel if someone came up to us and said, “Merry Christmas, guys. I took away your affiliation so you don’t have to pay the annual fee anymore.”
If that happened, to be honest I’d feel a bit lost as a gym owner.
Now, this is tough for me to admit, because I pride myself on being a business owner before a gym owner.
“It could be a Papa John’s for all I care, a business is a business,” I used to think to myself.
But I realized I’m not that stone cold about the business. The business end of our gym is the most important piece, surely, but it’s not always the most gratifying.
The community, the traditions, and the culture are.
These are the things that got us into CrossFit, and these are the reasons why we stayed.
As CrossFit has exploded around the world in the last 15 years, it has done its best to retain the tight-knit camaraderie that originally made it unforgettable.
This delicate tug-of-war between growth and familiarity has given us, as followers and now community leaders, a set of unspoken values, lexicon, and behavior that I would only try to emulate if I were to run a microgym of my own.
For both Lee and me, CrossFit gave us an identity and brand we wouldn’t have created ourselves.
Lee’s first CrossFit WOD was Murph when he was stationed in Iraq 10 years ago, and the guy who got him into CrossFit owns a gym in our town, as well.
As for me, I joined the gym we now own after I separated from the Navy a few years ago, and I quickly fell in love.
But it wasn’t Katrin’s Instagram or the siren’s call of the muscle up that cinched the deal for me.
It was the inappropriate humor, the bonding in misery, and the dysfunctional personalities a gritty CrossFit gym attracts.
It’s the community.
3. Affiliate Model
“It’s neither a wholly owned chain of gyms nor a franchise, but the nucleus of a sprawling worldwide network of entrepreneurs.”
As affiliate owners, we are not employees of CrossFit and we are also not franchisees.
We don’t get an owner’s manual or a start-up package, which are things you could reasonably expect when opening up a franchise.
But for only $3000 a year, it’s no wonder we don’t get the same thing franchisees pay tens of thousands of dollars for.
What I love about the affiliate model is that it has the brand recognition of a franchise but the creative leeway of a normal business model.
To highlight the comparison, a franchise model is like a bicycle with training wheels, whereas running an affiliate is like riding a bicycle after a parent has given you your first push.
Because of that, the business model is perfect for someone who aspires to be a business owner but doesn’t have a lot of experience doing so. On the other hand, it’s also great for someone who is a little more libertarian than a franchisee and would find the structure of a franchise too confining.
The CrossFit affiliate model is a great opportunity for new or novice business owners, but it’s also a great model for established business owners to dominate.
Frankly, if it weren’t for the affiliate model, Lee and I would never have become gym owners.
We didn’t have the business savvy at the time to know where to have even started, but even more, between options of starting a business from scratch or franchising, we wouldn’t have even wanted to try.
The reason for your success… or failure
I’d like to say we are a CrossFit affiliate because it makes sense to us as business owners, but that’s only partly true.
Sure, a gym cannot exist without the revenue driven by members, and having the immediately recognizable brand name of CrossFit helps us undeniably in our marketing.
But the soul of the CrossFit community itself brought us into it then kept us here.
And ultimately, it was the affiliate model and an opportunity to take over a struggling gym that allowed us to enter the market as business owners.
Just because the affiliate model is easy to get into doesn’t mean it should be easy to succeed. The accessibility of the affiliate model combined with the moth-to-a-flame pull of CrossFit culture continue to make owning a CrossFit affiliate a relevant option today.
Author: Chelsea Ricketson
Chelsea runs CrossFit Lobo with her boyfriend Lee in San Antonio, Texas and is the Affiliate Solutions latest staff writer. She also writes about her journey as a gym owner on the great Almost Elite blog. Check it out!
Photo Credit: Dawn Elizabeth Studios