The motto for CrossFit Belltown actually started as a joke.
“I travel quite a bit for work, and when you fly Delta, there’s always this thing they play before the plane takes off, and they call it ‘The Delta Difference,’” explained Nadia Shatila. “I would always laugh and go, ‘What does that mean?’ So jokingly, I don’t know how it came up, I was like, ‘Oh, well that’s ‘The Belltown Difference.’ And it just stuck.”
The difference that CrossFit Belltown offers is attributed to the owner, Shatila. Since Affiliating as Belltown in 2009, she has been building her business in Seattle, Washington, with an attention to detail that permeates every aspect of it. Even when she was jerry-rigging CrossFit workouts in the basement of a big box gym, she spent every waking moment outside of her full-time event planning job building her knowledge about the fitness regimen.
Today, CrossFit Belltown is a well-known entity in the CrossFit world, and a Box of a different breed. The walls are characterized by dark stain and strongman memorabilia. In fact, the Box’s fourth and current location is located in a former antique shop. It has retained many aspects of the original store, including a vintage front desk.
“I think that CrossFit has a reputation of scrappiness and dirt-covered gyms with the rawest possible equipment – which I think is fantastic and that’s good – but what Nadia combines that style with is an attention to detail and a creativity that I’ve not seen in any other Box,” said Val Wright, a leadership and innovation expert, and former long-time member of Belltown.
Building that character has been far from an easy road for Belltown. After Shatila first started training clients with CrossFit in the basement of a big box gym, the owner finally had enough of the CrossFitters running up and down the stairs. He kicked her out.
Moving workouts to Seattle’s waterfront – where Wright recalled they would “do a WOD lifting tree trunks” – Shatila was there until she found 1,000 square feet of space and signed a year lease in 2009, naming her Box CrossFit Belltown in the process. But after only four months, the building flooded and was condemned.
Moving into its third location, noise issues and limited space resulted in Belltown relocating to its fourth home, where it resides today on First Avenue in Seattle.
“This is what makes a successful leader – makes a leader stand out from the pack – is when things happen, it doesn’t knock them off course,” said Wright. “That’s what I see Nadia do every time. She gets kicked out of the gym. The gym floods. The building is condemned so she has to move her Box again. Each time, there’s never any wallowing or self-pity or contemplation. It’s just, ‘OK right, here’s the next thing we’ve got to do.’”
It was the last and final space, Shatila explained, that allowed her and her significant other, Eric, to finally incorporate the vision they had of Belltown from the beginning.
First and foremost, she wanted to produce an environment that felt like home to Belltown’s members. Second, she wanted to have a boutique feel and invoke a vibe different than any other CrossFit gym.
And her focus on the details helped Shatila accomplish the boutique Box feel. Whether it is how Belltown’s pro shop ties its shirts in twine, or the thought Shatila puts into the bathroom’s hand soap, details matters. “Little things people often give us crap for, but those are also the little things I hear people really rave about as well,” said Shatila.
Her attention to detail doesn’t just describe the physical aspects of Belltown. It has also molded the core of her business: her trainers and staff.
It begins from the moment a trainer is interested in coaching at the Box. While Shatila often goes by her gut in the hiring process, she will also test interviewees through detailed instructions. “Honestly, if people can’t follow basic directions, it’s not going to be a good fit. So, little things like showing up on time,” said Shatila. “Those little things can really make it or break it.”
When Joe Pacquing applied for a trainer position at CrossFit Belltown, he said the evaluation process lasted a month. And if a trainer has previous coaching experience, often Shatila will have them take her through a couple of movements. It’s a nerve-wracking proposition, as Shatila is a CrossFit Seminar Staff member who holds her Level 4 Coach certification.
In terms of daily staff tasks, Shatila requires her trainers to write reports after every class. The report consists of how many members attended, if any injuries occurred, drop-ins, member PR’s, etc. “All those details really help,” said Shatila. “Anything like that can just help make your class more efficient, and in the long run, if your classes are run efficiently, your members are happier. They’re going to get more out of the program.”
Plus, the reports keep Shatila up-to-date on the happenings at her Box. For someone who travels to teach seminars almost every weekend, she can still know when a member hits a PR and send them a “congrats” via email.
The intro to CrossFit class is another staple that differentiates Belltown. Known as Basics, new members learn all the movements, and only once they demonstrate proficiency in each can they test out. “What makes our Basics program so effective for our athletes is that our requirements to pass are conditions-based, not time. When our members can display their knowledge and understanding of the foundational movements, then they are granted access to our CrossFit classes,” said Pacquing.
Beyond attention to detail, Belltown is also a Box of clear-cut rules and expectations. But that doesn’t come without solid leadership. “You have to be able to look up to who is in charge of you. I look up to Nadia as an athlete and Affiliate owner. She’s a talented leader that inspires her staff and members to have fun and pursue greatness everyday,” said Pacquing.
And that is something Wright echoed as well. “She is not only a really amazing CrossFit athlete, she’s an entrepreneur who knows how to build a business,” she said. “And I think she’s a role model for other Box owners — how she has built her business, how she has grown it and also how she has built her brand.”
Because, when it is necessary, Shatila can step back from the details. In her own words, she explained it’s her job to look at the big picture and assess if Belltown is on the path to fulfilling the mission for which it was originally created.
“I think really just taking the time to step back and assess, because often times it’s easy to get very wrapped up in the day-to-day details, but to just allow yourself that time to step back and make sure that your Affiliate is moving in the direction you want it to,” said Shatila.
But The Belltown Difference isn’t just about what’s inside its four walls. Wright summarized it best: It is not enough to be brilliant, but also to be able to demonstrate your brilliance well. That, she said, is where Shatila excels. “That’s the key to what CrossFit Belltown has been able to do, is they have been able to shine the spotlight on where they’re brilliant and they demonstrate it continuously,” she said. “I think being brilliant at demonstrating their brilliance is something else that really has helped put them on the map and keep them there.”
And that is what makes up The Belltown Difference. The slogan may have started as a joke, but no one can argue it now defines the Box. Attention to detail in décor, staff and leadership, CrossFit Belltown is leaving a permanent, but unique, mark on the industry.
Photos by Rob Wilson.