Lying in a trench of water under a house in Indiana’s chilly November weather, Case Belcher said that wasn’t even the worst part of the crappiest job he’s ever had. The worst part was being electrocuted.
“All the while me being dumb and not safe, there was an extension cord that just kept falling in the water and it kept giving me little shocks,” he explained.
It’s funny to picture the founder of Four Barrel CrossFit having a rough time of it, as he now has a business under his belt with two locations, numerous staff and a nationally-known name. But, Belcher attributed the success he’s found to a work ethic and “try in all areas” mentality born from a bunch of crappy jobs.
From a family who came from nothing, and a father rich in the entrepreneurial spirit, Belcher recalled how he and his siblings were expected to work if they weren’t in school or sports. “At the time, you’d get so angry that other kids were just screwing around all summer and you were working, but now you look back on it and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s the work ethic they instilled in us,’ and that has paid off hugely now, and that’s probably one of the biggest things I’m thankful for that our parents did for me and my siblings,” he said.
Shock, it seems, has been a trend in the life of Belcher and his journey to Affiliate owner. His father, Richard, said it was a shock when their son, the head of a marketing department of a world-renowned firm, came to them and said his last day was on Friday and he would be opening a CrossFit gym.
Belcher had found CrossFit after overuse injuries arose from his time as an endurance athlete. He happened upon the fitness regimen in a magazine and soon began incorporating it into the personal training job he had in college.
In 2010, he joined Derby City CrossFit in Louisville, Kentucky. Eventually, he would get his Level 1 in 2011 and start coaching in the evenings at CrossFit The Ville. “It took me a long time to figure out that one of the things I was probably passionate about was teaching people,” he recalled.
Mulling over the decision for six months, and writing numerous pseudo business plans, Belcher finally made the move to open Four Barrel CrossFit in New Albany, Indiana.
But, he never did find a magic bullet that shot him straight to success. In the beginning, Belcher said it was a lot of putting up flyers and getting involved in the active scene of the area to get the word out. He opened with about 30 members and finished out the first year of business with 100.
Interestingly, the Louisville location — his second Box — had a similar growth rate, which was a shock at first to Belcher. He explained their initial thinking was they’d have 100 members to start and 200 members by the end of the first year, due to having an established name in the area. But the growth rate reflected that of the original New Albany location. “Looking back at it now, I’m glad because I don’t think the team that we had, I don’t think we were ready for that,” he said.
The build out of the Louisville location in and of itself was a beast, providing a few shocks of its own. Belcher explained while they signed the lease for the space in July 2014 and hoped to have it ready by November, a slew of construction delays in the end led to it opening in November, but of 2015. The hardest part, said Belcher, was having to continually tell those who had bought pre-sold membership that the location opening was delayed. “It’s not who we want to be as a company,” he said. “I think a lot of those days I felt sorry for myself and I felt sorry for our team, but then I realized that’s part of life and that’s part of business, and there’s a lot worse things that could be happening.”
Belcher did say that if he hadn’t made it a goal to be cash positive since starting his business, the Louisville location delay would have sunk Four Barrel into financial ruin.
Tom Teal has been a member at the Louisville location since it opened, though he originally started in New Albany, having known Belcher in the corporate world. He explained that while the community is thriving at the Louisville location, it ultimately starts with the Coaches. “Case, he’s very particular in the type of Coaches he hires,” said Teal. “I know he spends a lot of time trying to find the right people with the right mentality that fit into and can help build the type of community that he wants in the gym, so it starts with them. They’re all very good and supportive, very outgoing, very knowledgeable.”
A solid staff though doesn’t happen overnight. Belcher said he looks for hard working, good people. He continually pushes them to seek continuing education – in and out of the CrossFit realm – and will have five-minute daily stand-up meetings. Even then, he has to be vigilant and have conversations with Coaches who are simply checking off the box. “Beyond that, just encouraging Coaches to do things like take part in our classes, get out front and lead by example,” he said.
A Coach at the New Albany location, Sean Smith, said they really look to get to know people as a person versus as a member or athlete. While he helps Belcher with the continuing education piece, he said the biggest thing he’s learned from Four Barrel’s owner is building relationships. “Obviously there’s technical coaching that I’ve picked up from him, and things like that, but again the relationship building is such a big part of really the fitness industry as a whole, but specifically what we do at Four Barrel,” he said.
But, if there isn’t community within the coaching staff, community among members will be difficult as well. And Smith said their goal is to have people come for fitness, then stay for community. Whether it’s through events or the ice-breaker question at the beginning of class, the goal of each remains the same. “If we drive this relationship building not only among a Coach and athlete, or Coach and client, but also member to member and class to class, then I think it really makes a productive experience for people. It makes it easy to come back because they want to come back and it makes it much easier for people to achieve their goals,” said Smith.
Dedication to the gym’s community is evident in Belcher’s choices. His father Richard owns a 36-acre lake around which all of his kids live. However, he said Belcher currently lives in New Albany as “he feels like he needs to be in the community where his business is at because of the family-type, the community-type, business that he tries to run.”
And that dedication runs deep in the family. Richard and his wife travel 20 miles three times a week to attend class at the New Albany location. “His 60-year-old mom and dad being there at the gym, that helps alleviate people’s fears of not being able to do it,” said Richard. “He’s got a lot of support, but he just puts forth a big effort.”
Originally, that big effort had a goal of a nationally known brand. But Belcher said they soon realized the reward was in deep relationships and deep roots in the community. So, he reevaluated his definition of success at the time – grow at all costs to make more money – to instead reflect that of richer relationships. His hope now is that in 100 years, Four Barrel will be a staple in the community. It will adapt and change to stay relevant, it will face shocks and surprises. But it won’t be shaken by those changes or shocks because Belcher doesn’t plan to go 30 miles wide; he plans to go deep.
“We want to be around for 100 years,” he said. “We want to be 30 miles deep, and we want to be as ingrained in our community as possible.”