In the first four years of business, my CrossFit gym basically had zero business partnerships outside our licensing deal with Rogue and CrossFit. As we matured, we have been able to partner successfully with two complementary businesses that now operate inside our facility. These partnerships have been key to our growth and our long-term sustained success. While we have been successful creating mutually beneficial partnerships, I often see these experiments fail or fizzle out.
Hopefully my experience and these tips help you find business partnerships that benefit both parties.
First and foremost, the best thing to do is allow it to happen organically. Being open to business partnerships is a good thing; jumping into them really fast isn’t. Both of our business partnerships started slowly and picked up steam until it just made sense to partner and actually share a facility.
Our first partnership started with my then girlfriend and now wife, Kate Couden. She was a trainer at Lifetime Fitness and a nutrition coach. I personally worked with her and found out she was really good at what she did. Soon after I started referring her clients from my business who I knew she could help. As time went on, her business started coming more and more from our CrossFit membership. After about two years, it didn’t make sense for her to still work at Lifetime and she moved over to our facility full time and started her own business, “The Body Biz.” That business has now grown into an industry leader. They have four employees, and they do nutrition and lifestyle plans for over 100 clients at all times.
Our second partnership started similarly. I had a nagging shoulder injury I couldn’t shake. I went to local physical therapist Dr. Mandi Vonderhaar who was patient and very skilled. We chipped away at the injury until it got better. She then joined the gym and eventually started treating myself and some patients at our facility. Eventually she was working inside our facility full time, and it didn’t make sense for her to own and manage multiple brick and mortar locations. She sold her company to her partner and moved into our facility and started Affiliate Physical Therapy. Affiliate Physical Therapy has quickly grown into a three-therapist business and they all train at the gym.
In my experience, partnerships work best when the businesses previously stood well on their own. When a new or struggling gym desperately seeks partnerships to stir up leads, those partnerships typically fail pretty quickly. Bringing in an in-house dietitian or chiropractor to a struggling gym does not fix their problems. These partnerships tend to fail for a variety of reasons, too high rent costs, not enough client base to feed the complementary business, and jealousy and animosity toward that partnered business if they’re having more success.
When both businesses have clients and do good work, they feed each other without much effort. In our situation, I personally used both services and believed they were the best in the area at what they did. The same holds true for our partner businesses whose employees all workout in our gym. There is no heavy pressure to cross refer. We simply and authentically just recommend what’s best for the clients when they ask and it works. Since each business is successful and confident on its own there is no jealousy toward another success, no deal changes, ect.
The last and most important thing is partnerships need to be mutually beneficial. Our partnered businesses pay rent, including my wife’s business. The deals in place do however allow those businesses to run at excellent margins and don’t stress the owners too much. It has to be a good deal for the partnered business and provide them less stress than a traditional brick and mortar to make sense. These businesses are also complementary and aren’t competing with similar services. I have seen CrossFit gyms allow independent personal trainers and Olympic Weightlifting coaches to house their independent business inside their gym. These situations typically seem to end poorly due to the fact two different training cultures are going on under one roof. It becomes competitive and divisive and bad for everyone involved.
At our facility, three businesses operate under one roof and even share some employees, but each business is independent. This means each can do as they please and don’t require oversight and management from the gym. However, we collaborate and communicate consistently. At CrossFit Grandview’s weekly staff meetings, representatives from all businesses attend and we collaborate on challenges and events. In these meetings we also roundtable any and all issues we’re dealing with at the gym. This allows us to always be rowing in the same direction as one big unified team.
Business partnerships can and do work well if done correctly. Be patient and let them happen organically over time. It will become apparent that it makes more sense for you to partner than to not. The best way to find a business partnership is to be a good customer. Get out there, support local businesses and find new partnerships.