Do You Own a Business or Just a Gym?


Currently, there are over 15,000 CrossFit Affiliates worldwide. They have a website, brick and mortar location, and at the very least, they’ve passed their L1 certificate exam. They have members that pay them money, expenses associated with providing their service and they are hopefully filing their taxes each year.

Though all these characteristics would lead you to believe the proprietors of these Affiliates are running profitable businesses, that’s unfortunately not true for many.

While I can’t argue with the data that there are over 15,000 Affiliates worldwide, my question is this: How many of them are simply gyms and how many of them are legitimate businesses?

Opening up a micro-gym is not difficult. It requires a relatively small financial investment — compared to the globo-gym antagonist in our market — and minimal experience. Anyone can open up a gym. Just lease a commercial space, throw down some rubber flooring, buy some barbells and you’ve got yourself a gym.

But do you own a business? Do you own an entity that is profitable and, if desired, repeatable? Does your business work for you or do you work for your business?

This is where the line in the sand is drawn, and though I don’t know the percentage of gym owners who stand on one side or the other, this I know for sure: Those standing on the “I just own a gym” side, want to cross over as soon as possible.

If you’re not sure, I’ve compiled a list of questions that should help you figure out where you and your business — or gym — stand:

1. Does Your Gym Pay for Itself? 

If this is just a hobby or passion project, you probably don’t mind sinking money into it without a dedicated ROI. My Uncle Marty loved making model airplanes — simply loved it! He would spend thousands each month on new models, commit countless hours per week assembling them, and then they would adorn the shelves in his garage for no other purpose than his own satisfaction. Uncle Marty had a hobby, not a business.

The transition point between owning a gym versus owning a business is profit. Once your gym starts paying for itself, once it can cover your operating expenses and provide a profit margin, you now own a business. Until that point, you’re just renting space for all your awesome fitness equipment.

2. Does Your Gym Create Opportunity for Yourself and Your Employees?

Your business, if successful, has two ultimate fates: You sell it when you want to retire. Or you hand it off to family, friends or colleagues and they continue your life’s work. That’s it. It either creates opportunity for you and others, or it doesn’t.

A gym doesn’t create opportunity outside of the realm to increase fitness. A business, however, transcends the physical walls and bears fruit so your children and the children of your employees can benefit.

*Side note: Please do not adopt the thought process, “Well, my gym creates opportunities for my members through their life changing experience, blah, blah, blah.” You realize they paid for that experience, right? Sure, I get the rush of good feels when I think about all the clients I have helped, but that isn’t going to mean shit if I haven’t been able to pay my bills or spend time with family. Of course your service changes lives — but is it changing yours? 

3. Does Your Gym Currently Make You Feel Bored or Jaded?

A funny thing happens when you’re actually a successful businessperson: You realize you enjoy conceptualizing, creating and growing businesses. If you were to interview the top 100 most successful CrossFit Affiliates, I believe you’d find an unexpected common theme: They all are involved in additional business that spawned due to the success of their gym.

For me, I got into commercial real-estate and started my business coaching handle WTF GymTalk. Others may create a line of protein supplements or athletic apparel line. If you truly own a business, and not just a gym — and you’re successful with it — what you’ll find is it breeds additional opportunity for more businesses.

If you only own a gym, you’re probably not seeking additional responsibilities and challenges. Your lack of forward progression may have you bored and burnt-out. Do you start seeing your 5:30 a.m. class members as a nuisance because you are no longer lit AF to jump out of bed and stoked for the opportunity to coach them every morning?

If not, it’s cause you’re not seeing a reward for your hard work. It’s because you own a gym, not a business.

Stuart Brauer is a 15-year student of strength and conditioning, and he was fortunate to find CrossFit in 2006. Since then he's dedicated his life to building a fitness business simply based on the pursuit of excellence. From humble beginnings making three figures and running park workouts to owning a million dollar gym, he's now ventured into business consulting for gym owners looking to chase their dream. You can find his content on Facebook and Instagram @wtfgymtalk.