One Box in a Million

When you’re one Box in a million, trying to grow and gain members can be a daunting task. In fact, the process has changed since the CrossFit craze began.

When Dan MacDougald started CrossFit Atlanta in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2005, CrossFit was not well known. “Basically nobody knew what the hell CrossFit was at that time so it was a little bit difficult to get members,” he said. “But as the awareness of CrossFit as a brand name increased, then more and more people would inquire or stop in or try it out, but at the same time more and more Affiliates were popping up all around. When I started I was the only one, but right now there’s more than 200 in the metro Atlanta area. There’s probably 10 within a four to five mile radius.”

So, MacDougald went from trying to inform people about what CrossFit was to fighting for a voice among all the Boxes. He began to attempt various pathways in hopes to not just gain members, but retain them: a free trial class on Saturdays, a free trial group introduction, a group on-ramp course, etc. None of it worked well. “What I was seeing is people would graduate from those things and they wouldn’t stay very long,” he said. “They were a couple of years behind our older members and they were kind of like deer in headlights.”

Then he met Craig Patterson, the owner of CrossFit Vancouver, at the CrossFit Games in 2009 — MacDougald found Patterson in front of a Kmart kiddie pool full of beer. After finding out about Patterson’s success at his own Box, MacDougald hired him on as a consultant and learned several things pertaining to growing his gym and members. But it all boiled down to one focus: selling value.

The biggest thing he said is to make the member’s first visit a one-on-one training session, enabling the Coach to spend a lot of time with the new member. Get to know the member and their fitness or athletic background, making sure the experience is one of quality. “People are impressed when you demonstrate you know what the hell you’re doing,” said MacDougald.

As for drawing people into the gym initially, MacDougald confessed CrossFit Atlanta isn’t doing much. “We’re not doing a whole lot to get them in the door, but once they’re in the door, the first visit is the sales piece and the more you do it the better you get at it, the more success you’ll have,” he said. “The next step is the personal training, [which] is a gateway to groups.”

For MacDougald, that first contact is essential. It’s an hour long with a talk and lesson on fitness, how the CrossFit method evolved, why it works, basic bodyweight movements and a fitness test.

CrossFit Atlanta focuses on what it’s all about in order to not just get members, but retain them. “The vibe in the gym, the community, is important,” said MacDougald. “People that come in for their first visit see that and see everybody greeting each other and smiling and laughing and telling jokes and working out hard … I think that’s important too. That’s as much art — more art than science — in trying to create that atmosphere and environment.”

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