From Hobby to Business


When CrossFit 859 opened in 2012, it had not one owner. Or two. Or three. It had eight.

“We had a crazy idea to open this gym,” said Eric Karls, a co-owner of the Box in Lexington, Kentucky. “Everybody threw in money and it wasn’t that much, which was probably the only beauty of having that many people.”

However, reality set in as the crazy idea subsided. Karls said dissent and conflict happened quickly, and he explained one of the owners dropped out within the first week of owning the business. “There was no foresight into how things would run in the future, and that’s where we ran into so many speed bumps with people not wanting to be a part of it or anything because the shininess wears off,” he said.

Over the years, owners have faded or been bought out. Currently, CrossFit 859 has four co-owners, three of which are of the original eight.

Although it was a rocky period to go through, Karls said they learned it’s essential everyone on the team has the same vision and goal for the business. Decisions can be based on that vision, and people’s talents can be plugged in to the business in specific ways to reach the goal.

But CrossFit 859’s growth was more than simply weeding down the ownership. Karls said when they first started, the Box wasn’t a business. “What we did was we bought a hobby,” he said.

That expensive hobby was something Karls recognized needed to be turned into a legitimate business. He began attending mastermind events, researching successful Boxes and figuring out how to succeed. Along the road of going from hobby to business, Karls learned some essential lessons.

First, be proactive versus reactive. If you start losing members and don’t have a plan in place, Karls said you might start doing something you normally wouldn’t, like offering discounts. And that doesn’t do wonders for the membership base. “When we tried to get anybody and everybody through the door to get them to be members, they’re not good members,” he said.

Second, as Karls and his co-owners transformed their Box from hobby to business, it took realizing it was OK to be afraid. “Another thing that helped us was when we started admitting that we didn’t know what the hell we were doing,” he said.

By setting their vision, the co-owners of CrossFit 859 have evolved their hobby into a business. And Karls even sees a dream becoming realized. “With it evolving into an actual business, what it’s done is it’s given me a pathway to actually make this a profession and not just a hobby that takes up a lot of my time,” he said, explaining he is currently transitioning into a full-time position at the gym.

But just because CrossFit 859 has transformed so much over the past four years doesn’t mean its metamorphosis is finished. It could be, in fact, far from completion, and Karls said that’s because the industry of CrossFit is constantly changing. “The other thing that we’ve found is that it’s going to be ever-evolving,” he said. “And if we ever think we’re there and that this is how we’re going to run things all the time, that’s one of the biggest mistakes we could make.”

Heather is the editor for Box Pro Magazine. Contact her at