In 2010, Champlain Valley CrossFit opened. Owner and head trainer Jade Jenny shares about the business – located in Williston, Vermont – below.
Jade Jenny: To start, we were the first in our area and early adopters of the CrossFit platform. I personally started experimenting late 2008 early 2009 and we opened fall of 2010, so we were still pretty early on, within the first couple thousand of Affiliates worldwide. We were the first in our area and second in our state. We are probably one of the most successful CrossFit Affiliates around from a competitive standpoint when you take into account we’ve never recruited athletes and we haven’t had athletes move here to train with us because of our success. It has all been homegrown. We have some 20-plus CrossFit Games jerseys hanging on our wall.
However, when it comes down to it we are a general population fitness gym. Of our clientele, 98% comes here to be healthy and fit for life and other activities. We just happen to be located in a fit area which has brought in a number of amazing athletes over the years.
JJ: My introduction was originally through Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I had been lifting weights for a while — I was only 23 at this point — and actually working with a coach online, as my original passion is mountain biking.
At the time I held my UCI Pro License, so I was racing downhill as a regional level pro. As I was getting out of that sport for a number of reasons, I was also training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and there was a guy in the gym that was doing CrossFit in his gym. I looked it up and thought it was cool and wanted to get into it.
I wasn’t your traditional gym meathead. I was already pretty well read, and while I had no personal instruction, I’ve always had good body awareness and learning prowess, so I pretty much taught myself everything. From the get go I was deadlifting, front and back squatting, performing high-pulls and kettlebell swings, among other things. So, jumping into CrossFit solo and self taught was a little bit of a learning process, but I got a handle on it pretty quickly.
I think the biggest hurdle was ultimately finding the money to open the place. I applied to a couple of Vermont-based non-profit entrepreneurial loan programs, all of which denied me, stating my business wasn’t feasible. I was able to raise the money through private/family sources — $2,500 here, $5,000 there. I wrote a check, used my credit cards that had a no interest option for 18 months, and raised $35,000. I opened the doors September 2010, broke even our second month of business and haven’t looked back.
JJ: I’d say I’m pretty knowledgeable and a good Coach, but I think more importantly, it is about being a good business person. It’s important having a good sense of humor, being compassionate for people and their struggles both in and outside of the gym, helping people learn, and understand how, what, why, etc.
We are definitely not a militant gym; it shocks me that people still “punish” their customers for showing up late to classes and the such. We want this be to the best place of everyone’s day, and I think that means being open to the nuances of every persons’s life and personality.
I think a kind of funny personal thing would be that I’m not a CrossFit zealot. I absolutely think a well-designed CrossFit program accompanied with a person who has a good head on their shoulders for backing off when they need to and listening to their body is great. I really follow that personally; I don’t need to work out five to six days per week. I think there is a time and place for that, but five to six days per week for years I don’t think is healthy.
I think so many people are worried about their work just disappearing overnight. We see a lot of fitness addicts, and just like anything, too much of anything isn’t good. My personal experiences show the efficacy of what CrossFit can do.
For example, over the last year I’ve probably barely averaged over one training session per week, not because I didn’t want to, but I was building a house and had also suffered a random back injury, not CrossFit related. Here I am a year later, and I can still run a mile around six minutes, I can Snatch over my bodyweight, do 15 to 20 strict pull-ups and can do a strict muscle-up, among other things. Am I as fit as I used to be? No. But I’m still fitter than 99% of the population, and honestly for my life, I’m plenty fit and strong to do anything in day-to-day life I want to.
JJ: First my parents, who for most if not all of their lives have worked for themselves. Second, my wife, Dani Horan, because she has been a part of my life pretty much since I opened the gym. You might know her as she has been to the Games seven times. Also, the people who believed in me enough to give me money, and finally the glue that holds it all together, our community of members. Without them none of it’s possible. They believe in us and our guidance and have allowed us to create one of the more impressive CrossFit facilities in the country.
The other large piece of the puzzle is just luck. I found something I was interested in and was in the right place at the right time. Had I tried doing this five years later than I did, I would imagine it would have turned out completely different, maybe worse, maybe better, who knows.
JJ: I think the biggest thing is there is no right way to do most things in business. There is definitely a wrong way, but there isn’t a right billing procedure, a right programming structure, a right set of hours. It’s a lot of trial and error.
The other is be prepared to work. I’ve heard of Affiliates closing more and more, and I think for a lot of them it is often because the owners sometime aren’t willing to grind and put the hours in at the beginning. I’ve routinely worked 100 hour weeks in the past, not been paid for weeks, etc. While I think most have done that, I think many don’t understand it’s part of the process; they have to want to work that hard. If you’re dreading having to work hours like that, then you’re not cut out to own your own business. Not saying it should be like that forever, because it shouldn’t, it’s not healthy, but it’s part of the growing pains in opening a new business.
JJ: CrossFit. We have three, soon to be four, different tiers of programming. I think we give our athletes a lot of great options, along with a good understanding of our programming and great coaching. Are we the best? Likely not, but having been to a good number of Affiliates, and having some members who travel a lot for work — I think we have one guy who has dropped into 100 different Affiliates — I know from personal experience as well as hearing from our members how much better we do; from a coaching standpoint, to re-investment back into our facility, and constantly looking for feedback from our clients to try and improve.