‘To change the world for the better, one athlete, one workout at a time’ — the mission statement of CrossFit New England.
“Think globally, act locally,” said Ben Bergeron, the Affiliate of CrossFit New England. “We’re trying to change the world, and we do it not just by wishing and wanting, but we do it by making one athlete feel better for one hour a day.”
Bergeron has a hefty goal, but one that he has tackled successfully with three tools: solid coaching abilities, knowledgeable programming skills and a savvy business side.
Those three aspects have led Bergeron to the road of Affiliate excellence.
But, Bergeron began his journey much like anyone else who has taken a jaunt down the CrossFit road: with a passion for fitness. Although there were six or seven other Boxes already in the area, CrossFit New England was launched in 2007 in Natick, Massachusetts.
“The motivation behind it was that I loved Greg Glassman’s pursuit of excellence,” he said. “If you pursue greatness in coaching and relationships, and try to do the right things to people for the right reasons, that in and of itself is enough to create a successful business.”
‘Business’ may even be too small of a word for Bergeron’s endeavors. Over the years, he has increasingly become known for his work with Games athletes, like Chris Spealler. Plus, Bergeron continues to coach at his Box, leading his Coaches into fulfilling CrossFit New England’s mission statement. The evolution of Bergeron’s programming has been influenced by his background in coaching, especially in coaching high-level athletes.
Early on in his career, Bergeron simply followed CrossFit.com, as he believed that was the best model for programming. However, he eventually implemented a workout with a strength portion, followed by a Metcon, which is a programming scheme many Affiliates follow.
However, Bergeron soon began to analyze the common athlete against the competitive athlete. Both strive for fitness, but at different levels. He realized fitness programming in CrossFit couldn’t be the same for every client.
“The thing we try and give people at the gym, above anything else … is truly, can we make them feel important?” explained Bergeron. “Can we make them feel like they’re cared for here? We do that in a number of different ways. We actually put that specifically in policies and procedures that we have, and we add value to that. It’s the caring that is a differentiator for us.”
It was that same sense of caring that brought Bergeron back to re-evaluate his programming. From the beginning, CrossFit was designed in a way that, if performed as prescribed, will get people in better shape. For a time, the article ‘Strength Bias’ by Jeff Martin influenced CrossFit New England. The piece discussed breaking down a WOD into two parts: a heavy lifting portion, followed by a Metcon.
That eventually changed. “I had an epiphany another two years ago that we wanted to get back to our roots and do more of what truthfully, I found to be more effective,” said Bergeron.
CrossFit New England no longer added strength bias to workouts for its regular members. Instead of prioritizing the barbell, Bergeron prioritizes the Metcon. “We do Metcons, and only Metcons, four to five days a week,” he said.
In Bergeron’s opinion, the barbell in the workout is misplaced. “Most Affiliates are misprogramming right now because they are programming for the sport of CrossFit,” he explained.
According to Bergeron, on average only 0.5 percent of the CrossFit population will go to Regionals. It’s for that reason, he said Boxes should not be programming for competition. Most members are aiming to be better soccer moms and dads, to be able to ski on the weekends, and to remain healthy and strong for as long as possible. For those members, their aim is to live stronger and healthier lives, said Bergeron.
“If that’s the case, we should not be trying to get our athletes to get 450-pound deadlifts,” he said. “That’s not the way the pyramid is set up. That’s not the development of an athlete.”
Instead, at CrossFit New England, members get barbell exposure through the Metcon. Bergeron explained while in the sport of CrossFit, an athlete can’t compete without a 450-pound deadlift, most members don’t need to train for that level of competition. However, the misconception — if people only do Metcons, they won’t get stronger — is also addressed by this. For instance, he said if someone is doing Fran, and it takes 10 minutes for them to finish, that itself is a strength workout. “People can get stronger through these Metcons,” said Bergeron. “The biggest misconception of CrossFit is the sport of CrossFit versus the general fitness preparedness program. So, we have to differentiate those two.”
Distinguishing between the two also helps to solve the controversial issue of CrossFit being commonly associated with injuries. “One of the reasons that people have this misconception … is because people are not doing the physical fitness preparedness programming,” said Bergeron. “They’re not doing one workout a day that lasts seven to 12 minutes. They’re doing volume on top of volume, because they’re training like they’re a professional athlete.”
In Bergeron’s opinion, Affiliates don’t tend to think the miniscule pieces of the business are what will act as differentiators for their Box. While all of those things are pieces of a successful business, Bergeron explained that’s not the principle aspect of what CrossFit New England does: the people are, and putting them first really does matter.
CrossFit New England is known for its community, but Bergeron believes people get confused on what creates a solid Box. Although the competitions, parties and celebrations are all good for members, it’s not the driving force behind the community within a Box. “[My wife, Heather, and I] opened the gym together, and that was our intention. We wanted to create a gym where people felt like they’re cared for,” he said. “They should feel like you are coaching them, trying to make them feel better and improve them. They should never feel like a cog in the wheel. We try to instill that from day one for ourselves. We try to lead by example from the front. We talk with our staff about the importance of that.”
If the necessity of a member-first mentality is true, why don’t all Affiliates do this? Bergeron shared his two-fold answer: First, Affiliates are told by intelligent sources and other successful business owners from outside of the CrossFit industry to not put people first. “All those people operate by a different set of rules because they aren’t in the same industry as us,” he said. “We are in a relationship-based business, where our whole business is based upon building really strong relationships and getting results for those people. Everyone else in all those other industries, it’s all about balance sheets and sales forecasting and cash flow projections, very MBA numbers driven. Ours is not.”
The second reason some Affiliates don’t put members first is that it’s often the easy way out. “It’s easier to look at external factors and think that’s the reason they’re not being successful,” said Bergeron. “It’s easier to look at the competition down the street. It’s easier to think you’re not following the right system. It’s much harder to say ‘I’m not treating my members well,’ because that’s what creates a successful business.”
If it seems like Bergeron has a good grasp on business, it’s because he’s spent hours, days, weeks, months and years analyzing systems. Outside of CrossFit New England, he also owns CompetitorsTraining.com, which programs for Games and Regional athletes, as well as Business of Excellence, a company devoted to teaching Affiliates how to operate successful businesses.
Business of Excellence was born from a realization Bergeron experienced while on the Level 1 seminar staff. In the beginning, when he’d ask attendees at the seminar how they heard about CrossFit and why they were taking the Level 1, he’d get the same response: “The answer was always the reason I did it: ‘I found it online,’ or ‘my buddies told me about it and I love it and I want to help people change their lives,’” he said.
Over time, the answer to that same question began to change whenever Bergeron asked it. “I asked someone and they said, ‘Well, I own a gym now, but I think I can make a lot more money if I had CrossFit classes in my gym.’ And it kind of stung and it hurt,” he said. “What I thought was, if enough people came to the Level 1 seminar with that answer, and if they were going to run their CrossFit gyms the way they were running their globo-gyms, CrossFit ceases to exist the way it does now.”
So, Bergeron set out on a mission: to develop a strategy to help teach people to operate business the way that Glassman intended, and not like a globo-gym. Thus, Business of Excellence was born. Plus, Bergeron already had people reaching out to him, asking questions about his own business. “I kind of made it a way to put it out to the masses, as opposed to doing a one-on-one consultation,” said Bergeron.
Although he already runs several businesses, Bergeron continues to learn. Reading The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael Gerber, he continues to pursue education from almost all aspects and industries.
For example, when it comes to marketing your Box, Bergeron compared it to the restaurant business. If you’ve heard of a great restaurant in your area, you usually choose to go there because someone told you it’s the best, not because you saw its ads. In fact, Bergeron said he could make several comparisons between the restaurant and CrossFit industry. “I think the closest neighbor to us [in terms of business] is the restaurant business, than it is the globo-gym,” he said. “The globo-gym business is to sell memberships and hope that people don’t come back, where the restaurant business is, ‘Let’s treat our customers great and make sure they do come back, and/or they tell their buddies.’”
For Bergeron, the worries about growth and systems are not his priority. Instead, they are overshadowed by staying focused on his Box’s mission and what truly matters: relationships.
“The core of what we do is building relationships, having excellent Coaches and getting people results,” he said. “If you do that while building a really strong community, it’s really pretty hard not to be successful in this business.”