Nice grandmas in their 70s was Matt Scanlon’s vision of the average nursing home resident. But he was sorely mistaken.
Taking a policy advisory position out of college, his focus was on long-term health care. He began visiting one nursing home after another. “The unfortunate reality is the majority of nursing home residents are people in their 40s and 50s, and they just treated themselves like shit for a long time,” he said. “I realized that was a massive issue I wanted to be part of solving. I felt like I was putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound.”
And of course, that’s where CrossFit came in. Having incorporated it into his own training, Scanlon saw the benefit. He and some friends began offering free workouts in the park. After a summer of outdoor WODs — and eliciting over 1,000 participants — it progressively became more and more official. Eventually, Scanlon and his friends formed a group of five investors and found a warehouse at the bottom of Memorial Hill in Kansas City, Missouri. Thus, CrossFit Memorial Hill was born.
A year and a half later, Scanlon volunteered to quit his job — he would ultimately become the sole operator of the business, buying out his other partners. But he learned a lot from his time with partners. “You have to create a lot of structure and communicate regularly to make it work, but when it works well, it’s one of our key advantages,” he said.
Snyder said he made an instant connection with Scanlon when he came to the gym within the first 18 months of it opening. Even with previous coaching experience from his time in the Marine Corps and at a Box in San Diego, Scanlon still made him spend three months as a member before Snyder could coach. “He really reinforced if you’re going to lead, you’re going to lead from the front, but you’re going to be part of the pack first,” said Snyder. “I love that. It’s something that rang home to me being a Marine.”
Over time, the two meshed until finally Snyder bought into the business. And Scanlon said it’s been for the best.
In his own words, Scanlon said his skillset — that of one who tweaks and changes things often, always pushing the envelope and trying new things — becomes a detriment as his business matures. “There’s a time when you need to let the thing grow and marinate at a sustainable pace, whereas my zone is I’m really into doubling our growth year over year,” he said.
Hollie Siegel, a member of CrossFit Memorial Hill since 2015, described Scanlon as an amazing visionary and Snyder as the captain of the ship. “What amazes me about Matt is he is not capable of standing still … He’s really truly the visionary guy,” she said. “[Josh] has the discipline and he has the drive.”
Siegel said both want to see members and Coaches progress, but both also have defined expectations. And even more is the fact she’s noticed what both have done to empower staff. “They really try to bring the people up that are around them, and I admire that tremendously,” she said.
In fact, staff are a large part why Memorial Hill is where it is today. Scanlon said there was a whole new motivation factor to do well in business when he brought his first Coach on. “When you have somebody that relies on you to pay their rent, you can’t screw up,” he said.
But it had also been his goal to build a place where talented, driven people would shine. He saw his status as an Affiliate owner as playing a part in advancing Coaches’ careers in the fitness industry.
However, success in this area didn’t come without mistakes first. Scanlon said the budget was the biggest issue — it was much less than required in order to build career paths for his Coaches. Oftentimes, an Affiliate will set his or her budget without first looking at how much he/she will get paid. And then, they will often only allot $20 per class for Coaches, a number that just doesn’t add up to a sustainable income. But, if you want your Coach to make $50,000 a year — on top of your salary — that’s a very different budget game, which is something Scanlon realized.
“When it came time to get realistic about it, I had to look at the business and say, ‘Holy shit, if we don’t change something there’s no way anybody would want to work here,’” he said. “And I’m not going to work here 14 hours a day for the rest of my life, so it just felt like it’s time to shit or get off the pot.”
Still, it wasn’t easy to let go, shared Scanlon. A fear of being replaced and not feeling needed by members anymore haunted him. In fact, he talked a little on codependency as one of the greatest strengths — and greatest weaknesses — found among Affiliates. “I think if you really dig into the heart of that, for a lot of gym owners, we tend to be pretty codependent. We tend to not be super healthy emotionally,” he said. “We tend to take on other people’s problems and ignore our own … For me, it was I need to have this look in the mirror where I need to ask myself is my need to be wanted worth potentially holding back my business?”
Once Scanlon addressed that question, his business began to truly grow. It now boasts additional offerings, like its BLOC Life programs for cancer survivors and adaptive athletes. BLOC is a nonprofit that provides scholarships to those two programs, as well as Memorial Hill’s Legends class. Coaches can pitch programs and the rest of the team will talk through them, allowing the Affiliate’s staff to thrive and grow as well.
In fact, Snyder said one of the key lessons he’s learned has been the idea to fail early and fail often. “We’re not afraid to implement something we know isn’t necessarily going to be the most accessible,” he said. “We want to make a decision based off right now … We will never lose from making a mistake; we will learn from making a mistake.”
The biggest mistake that was fixed dealt with the overall membership of Memorial Hill. Scanlon said he began to wonder how much it cost to acquire a new customer. Sifting through the numbers, he realized it took on average 18 months for a new customer to come through the doors of Memorial Hill. “That was a big wake up call for me,” said Scanlon. “It became really clear retention is way more important than acquisition.”
But when he went to look at retention, he found those retained the least were members with a discount in place — as in they were receiving the most amount of service for the least amount of money. “The people that stay around the longest, they pay full price for the service, and in addition to that, they pay for one additional service,” he said.
Something needed to change.
Memorial Hill reconfigured its business model, onboarding process and membership packages. For example, instead of group intros, members had to do three months of personal training. Free classes are no longer a thing. People pay for the value they are getting, and the gym’s churn rate has gone from about 10 percent to less than one.
Scanlon broke it down in a simple analogy that helped him overcome the fear of losing members with the above changes: Say you have two cups of coffee side by side. One is priced at $5, one at 50 cents. They could be the exact same coffee, but your perception of the $5 coffee is much different. The same concept went for the services Memorial Hill offered. As Scanlon shared, “there’s no shitheads around” anymore, which is a big positive.
Plus, deeper relationships with members are being built, and as Snyder pointed out, that is their focus. The one-on-one setting allows for Coaches to show members they care. “If I can give a shit, that carries over and surpasses a physical skill they’re ever going to learn from us,” he said.
Because it all goes back to Scanlon’s original vision of making an impact, of no longer just throwing a Band-Aid on the wound. And if an example is needed, Siegel is it. She spoke about how Memorial Hill has changed her life in its entirety and how she doesn’t understand when people leave a place she has come to love. “For me, I really like the comfort of the gym. I like knowing the people there. Really, all of them, I think they’re quality people, from the members to the coaching staff,” she said. “I can’t say enough good things.”