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7 Small Business Saturday Sentiments

Every year at this time, as a way to celebrate entrepreneurs fighting the good fight in a retail world of corporate giants, "Small Business Saturday" is sandwiched right between Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I love the concept, as I've been around small businesses my entire life. My father owned one, my in-laws had one, my brother owns one, my wife owns one, and I'm part of three separate LLCs myself.

I've always been fascinated by looking at what differentiates the ones that thrive from the ones that don't. This chart from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics is pretty sobering.

Having co-owned gyms for over 14 years now, I'm particularly intrigued about what makes small businesses successful in the fitness industry. Here are a few quick observations on fitness businesses that have "made it."

1. They prioritized systems early.

A lot of people get in to the gym business because they enjoy working out and think it'd be fun to run a fitness facility. The problem is that when you're just exercising, you fail to see all the behind the scenes that takes place to keep the trains running on time. The best businesses I've seen set up sustainable systems early so that they can handle growth without having to overhaul their operations.

2. They have a strong owner presence, especially early on.

I know the owner of a restaurant that opened in our town about nine months ago. It's a spot where we'll pick up a healthy dinner to go for the family about once a week, and I ate takeout from there pretty much non-stop when our daughter was born in March. Every time I've gone in - regardless of time of day - he's behind the counter. He interacts with customers, mentors employees, keeps an eye on the cleanliness of the place. It's a huge time investment, but it's the right thing to do to ensure quality control early on, and that systems and expectations of acceptable are established early on.

For some reason, the opposite of this commonly happens in the fitness industry. Many gym start-up owners think fitness businesses are far more "turn key" than they really are, so they take a lot more time away from the operation sooner in its existence. I know it was well over two years in business before my business partner, Pete, and I were both away from Cressey Sports Performance on the same day.

This number might be a bit extreme, but this statement isn't: a strong owner presence drives success on many fronts in any business, but particularly the fitness industry.

3. They compete on offering, not price.

Ask any mom-and-pop pharmacy that got crushed by Walmart in the past few decades how competing on price has worked out, and you'll understand where this is going. Just remember that in many small communities with five different bootcamp-style workout options, competing on price is the quickest way to the bottom. You're always better off differentiating yourself based on offering.

4. They drive business via marketable, differentiated skills - not just passion.

I've written extensively (here and here) on why I don't think passion for fitness alone is a good reason for starting a gym. The most successful fitness businesses out there have other things they do really well; passion just helps to deliver these benefits more consistently and with a better culture. Over the long term, it's hard to "out-passion" a terrible business model or poor training, though.

5. How they do one thing is how they do everything.

Any time I go into a new gym to train while I'm traveling, I take note of whether the person at the front desk (if there even is one), asks me to sign a waiver and health history. To me, it's kind of like a tripwire that alerts me to whether or not they have attention to detail in everything from equipment maintenance, to cleanliness, to staff education. If you're totally cool with overlooking something that important, you're probably missing a lot of other "big rocks."

6. They're authentic.

The staff at CSP and Mark Fisher Fitness have a host of awesome, decade-long friendships even though our client demographics are nothing alike: baseball players and Broadway performers, respectively. MFF's staff does a phenomenal job engaging their clients with crazy outfits, risqué jokes, and bright facility color schemes. These initiatives perform incredibly well for them, but would fail miserably for us with our baseball guys. Conversely, their clients aren't going to nerd out about fastball spin axis, scapular upward rotation, and positional breathing the way our baseball clients do. Both businesses are authentic to what they do well, but that doesn't mean our models are universally applicable across the industry. 

7. They're consistent.

Our landlord once said, "Your clients hire and fire you every day." It's a phrase that's really stuck with me. The best fitness businesses I've seen are the ones that don't have lulls in the client experience, facility look, or quality of training even though over time, all these things tend to "slide" if you let them. Back in the fall of 2019, I had my first sick day in 12 years of business, and it made me realize that it had less to do with an impressive immunity strategy, and more to do with the fact that I never want to miss an opportunity for us to get better. The attendance might be excessive, but the lesson can't possibly be overstated.

In wrapping up, I should mention that this small business is having some sales this weekend. Head HERE to learn more about our ongoing 25% off sale on many of my products; it wraps up Monday at midnight. Thanks for your support!

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