At its core, CrossFit is a business. And Melissa Roza runs it like one.
The owner of CrossFit Sanitas in Boulder, Colorado, has been growing her business since 2013, alongside her husband Eric. While Eric helps with vision and strategy, Melissa is the one in the day-to-day details, handling the business side of things.
Eric found CrossFit first, eventually talking Melissa into giving it a try. “I do remember the very first class I ever took thinking, ‘Wow, I could never go back to a regular gym now,’” she recalled.
But when it came to CrossFit, the offerings in Boulder at the time were missing two things for the Rozas: a lack of intimidation and a sense of being upscale. So they decided to open their own. After searching for some time, Melissa found an old movie theater that had been converted into an Eco-Products store. It was a perfect place to create a friendly, upscale environment, what with its bright open space complete with tons of natural light. Although a rocky start meant spending the first two months of Sanitas’ life in a Gymboree gymnastics studio, they eventually moved into their space.
“We just wanted to open something that was really geared toward professionals and family and had nice amenities,” she said. “We tried to make it this place where you could come and get healthy.”
Fast-forward five years and Melissa’s desire has come to fulfillment. CrossFit Sanitas now offers about 80 classes a week, along with amenities like a cold plunge pool, massage therapists in-house and lots of different food options. For example, Melissa said they sell fresh-cuts of meat and wild caught salmon, both brought in from locals. “I think we’ve learned as we’ve gone down this five-year journey about what makes someone healthier, and we just try to share that and communicate that as much as possible,” she said.
Dwight Upshaw, the head Coach at CrossFit Sanitas, said everything they do at the gym comes back to meeting people where they’re at. “What we’re trying to do at CrossFit Sanitas is make people move better, gain mobility and feel better about what they can accomplish on an everyday basis with where they’re at,” said Upshaw.
But even more than telling people what makes them healthier, Melissa said they listen. And this is done in one of two ways. The first is the front desk, which is staffed whenever the gym is open.
Tom Baker, the manager of Sanitas, said the front desk is a keystone element of the gym. It means whenever someone walks in, they have support readily available to them. Even members will hang out, chatting it up with the front desk staff person; in fact, he said a big part of that job is simply talking with people. Plus, Baker schedules a 30-minute session with any new member as part of their Base Camp – a.k.a their intro class program. He shared it’s been key to demonstrate to people Sanitas is there for members on all levels.
While the front desk is more of a daily way to listen to members, CrossFit Sanitas is also big on surveys. It uses both MailChimp and SurveyMonkey to ask members what they want. And oftentimes, it’s the little things.
For example, Melissa said in one survey someone asked them to switch out the commercial toilet paper rolls the contractors had originally put in. In another survey, a member mentioned wishing for better soap in the bathroom. So Melissa obliged, investing in local soap company Pangea.
Surveys are sent out twice a year. Questions and comments are about both the gym and the Coaches. Once they get them back, Melissa said her and her entire staff head to Vail, Colorado, for a weekend away. While they might go bowling and have some fun, they also take time to discuss what came back in the surveys, especially pertaining to Coach feedback.
“Those feedback surveys have been really helpful for people to grow because I think we’ve had a couple of Coaches who’ve had more of a militant background, and that just doesn’t jive with our members very well,” said Melissa. “It was good for them to get that feedback in the survey.”
The annual weekend away consists of fun times, growth, goal setting and getting to know one another. “You think you know somebody’s goals, but then you don’t until they have to stand up there and talk about what’s their one year goal, their three year goal, their five year goal – and it’s surprising and it’s important not to think you know that,” explained Melissa.
While the annual offsite has been going on since the beginning, what has changed over time is the staff structure. Melissa explained over the years they’ve transitioned to more full-time staff. “If coaching CrossFit is someone’s only job, then they have the time to be much more dedicated,” she shared. “They spend their free time learning about CrossFit, health, coaching, etc. They are also more available for important things like weekly meetings, activities with the members, annual offsites, etc.”
Upshaw agreed this has made a huge difference as he’s been at CrossFit Sanitas since the beginning. “Those who coach the most are the best Coaches,” he said, sharing he had often been worried part-time Coaches weren’t giving members the best experience possible.
Now, mostly full-time Coaches run classes. They coach about 25 hours a week, have a wage they can live off of, and are given career opportunities and continuing education money. But finding solid, full-time Coaches has also meant dialing-in on the hiring process.
Typically, this process lasts three months at Sanitas. Baker explained they have potential Coaches shadow for hours. Spending time with a Coach is the only way you can get to really know who they are, he shared.
On top of looking out for glaring issues in cover letters – does a Coach speak more about his or her athletic ability then about their coaching? – Baker also noted they will throw hidden tests at potentials. For example, Upshaw will introduce the interviewee to Baker without telling them he’s the manager. “We see how they interact, see if they just blow me off or if they engage with me,” he explained.
Another thing they will do is have the interviewee in to fake coach for a day. They will be present in classes, coach fake classes, meet other staff, etc. But, during a lunch break they will introduce the interviewee to a staff member who is cleaning some rowers or pieces of equipment. “Do they offer to help clean? Do they just blow it off and disappear for an hour?” shared Baker. “Your Coaches are your everything … It really is worth it for any owners or any managers or anything to take all the time they possibly can and really drill into that hiring process.”
So from 2013 until now, CrossFit Sanitas has been run like a business. It has grown and changed and adapted to whatever Boulder has thrown at it. But in the end, Baker said both Melissa and Eric are business people at the core, both self made. And that has helped Sanitas thrive. “Having that around is a really cool resource,” said Baker. “It’s not just people who love CrossFit. It’s people who love CrossFit, but also know how to run a business.”
Want more? Check out this episode of Box Talk with Roza.