It was under the hot sun in Lubbock, Texas, where Jeremy Thiel and Carey Kepler first learned the meaning of ‘family business.’
Since 1970, Thiel and Kepler’s father has run a farm with his brother and sister in the northwestern Texas town. And it’s under the same hot sun in Austin, Texas, where that meaning has expanded. “Family business and entrepreneurship is somewhat in our blood,” said Thiel. “It’s kind of what we do.”
In 2005 the brother-sister duo founded CrossFit Central in Austin, Texas.
It started after Thiel found the “Nasty Girls” video with Nicole Carroll, Eva T. and Annie Sakamoto. He immediately shot it over to his sister. “I sat there and watched it on a computer in my office and by the end of the video I actually was crying with Nicole Carroll,” said Kepler.
A month later, Kepler and Thiel got their Level 1, fell in love with the CrossFit community and wanted to open a Box. They started with outdoor bootcamps, and within 16 months had about 120 clients. Confident in the cash flow they were generating, they opened their first brick and mortar location.
Having been around since 2005, Kepler and Thiel have seen plenty of change in their business. In fact, at one point in time they had four operating Boxes across Austin. Currently, CrossFit Central has two locations – Burnet Road and Downtown.
Since the Downtown location opened in 2012, Michael Gregory has co-owned it with Thiel. However, he’s been with CrossFit Central from its infancy. “I worked for Jeremy and Carey for six years, and I decided that I really wanted to have something that I had ownership in,” said Gregory. “Jeremy and I had talked about ideas and options, and when I found the facility for downtown, I presented it to him for an option for us to move forward as business partners.”
A large part of Gregory’s decision to move into ownership was due to the opportunity Thiel had provided for him during his six years as a Coach. He explained CrossFit Central had one of the best business models in CrossFit, allowing for the Coaches to do well financially and thus, find success.
For years, the business model at CrossFit Central was a closed-class structure. Members would sign up for a specific class with a specific Coach. They would go to that class and be taught by that Coach day in and day out. “There was such high accountability,” said Kepler. “Our Coaches knew who the athlete was. The athletes knew their Coach … We know that the longevity of the client is in the results and relationship. We know that it’s easier to keep a client than find a new one, so the job is to develop that relationship and get clients the results they want, and that keeps a long-term athlete with us.”
That accountability led to a community Lisa – Jeremy’s wife and CrossFit Central’s previous operations manager – said was full of some of the fittest, leanest crew in the history of the Box. As a Coach during the time of the closed-class structure, Lisa said she loved the set up. “I know who’s coming, what to expect, how to help them. You can really see people change,” she said. “I’m in it to help people.”
In the past year or so, Thiel explained they’ve done away with the closed-class structure. CrossFit Central now offers an unlimited class model due to the changing client base in the market. But that doesn’t mean the business is doing away with accountability.
Gregory explained each Coach at the Box has a roster of athletes, divided up based on the typical time an athlete comes to the gym/whose class he or she usually attends. Between 30 and 50 members are on each roster, and Coaches are currently paid based on how many people are on their roster and the overall revenue their roster brings in. Plus, there are bonuses to incentivize Coaches to work for the overarching goals of the business as a whole.
Coaches are necessary to the community because, as Gregory said, a gym owner typically can’t manage much more than 100 clients. “When our Coaches take that ownership, that responsibility to say, ‘These are my clients, I need to be the one that’s checking in,” said Gregory. “‘I need to be the one that’s making sure they’re getting the attention they need’ so that they don’t lose clients on their roster, because if they’re losing clients on their roster, essentially they’re going to make less money every time that happens. So it’s more of a business or entrepreneurial focus around how they work for the gym as employees.”
But, if those employees aren’t up to par, they can only play so much of a role in the community’s accountability. Kepler explained they work hard to develop trainers at CrossFit Central beyond just the skills of knowing how to teach a movement. “A good Coach, they know how to teach the squat and the press, but a great Coach knows how to manage the floor and the people on the floor in relationship and conversations and engage at a deeper level,” she said.
Developing Coaches in communication skills and empowering them in their decisions, however, can also be a hardship. Gym splits have been one of the biggest challenges CrossFit Central has faced. With 11 years of being an Affiliate in the bag, Thiel explained they’ve helped spawn probably 20 gyms in the Austin area from Coaches and clients that had been in their community.
One of the biggest lessons Thiel learned from the gym splits was to have the tough conversations before it’s too late. For a long time, they looked the other away instead of acknowledging a Coach’s growth and making a decision. “If you can address them and be open and transparent, then I think you can have a winning situation,” he said.
Whatever comes, Thiel and Kepler have learned they can’t take it personally, focusing on their overarching purpose. “It’s to help people,” she said. “We can’t touch every person in Austin, but we have in some sense been able to [through these other gyms opening], if you think about it.”
With a focus on excellence and quality relationships being built, the brother-sister duo of CrossFit Central is looking to simply produce great work and see what comes from it.
Like the family farm from whence they came, Thiel and Kepler are toiling on the field they have at CrossFit Central. They are watering their Coaches with a strong mentorship program. They are sowing their members with a system of accountability. And most importantly, they are focused on that which is sprouting before their eyes.
“Prosper where you’re planted,” said Kepler. “Being here, being excellent, developing relationships that are lifelong. And we’re so blessed, and just acknowledging that gratitude toward that is something that’s on the forefront of my mind all the time.”