The Washed Up Athlete’s Playbook for a Successful Gym

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A collection of stories, tips and strategies of how one washed up meathead found success in running a small boutique functional fitness space.  More specifically: an exact guide (playbook) on how to do all things when it comes to running a small boutique fitness center. 

Intro: Who I am and what/who is the Playbook for? 

Hi! My name is Barrett Danz.  I live and work in the Madison, Wisconsin, area.  My smokin’ hot wife and I live just outside the city in Sun Prairie  with our three rescue pups, two silly kittens and one sweet baby girl to be.  My wife and I are both Wisconsin raised cheese-heads. In high school and college, I was an athlete – in my mind I was at least.  I played football at a small Division 3 school in Wisconsin where I met my wife and got a degree and made some pretty great memories and even better life-long habits.   

One of those life-long habits that was developed throughout my years of playing football was fitness.  At the time, the focus was on weightlifting and field conditioning specific to the sport I was in, but the core concept was: wake up early, warm up, crush a workout for about 60 minutes, then take on the day.  Sound familiar?    

I was a former/washed-up athlete when I first started. If you’re reading this, maybe you have gone through some of the same experiences as I have, or maybe you know someone who has.  If so, here is my best analogy of how we have done things here at the Big Dane that have brought us success. Remember, however, that the specific practices or ‘plays’ if you will, may change over time but that the bigger picture or core concepts – a.k.a. the ‘playbook’ – seem to hold true over longer periods of time.  I will lay out pretty close to exactly how we do things here and you are more than welcome to take/steal/re-brand and make it your own.   

The Playbook is systems.  Everyone is talking about systems these days, but why and what are they?  Well, in the simplest terms, your system is your and (more importantly) your employee’s playbook.  Your playbook (systems) tells you exactly what to do when someone calls looking for more information.  It describes in detail exactly how the bathrooms and workout floors should be cleaned, what questions to ask during the intro session and when to reach out to members who have been MIA.   

Systems allow for automation.  A damn good system allows you to hand off tasks to others.  This is where building and cultivating a solid team pays big dividends.  Sometimes this will be an employee and sometimes it may be technology.           

A super common need among gym owners is how do we get more members? This need is really that of cashflow and we will cover that ASAP. However, even if you found some way to get mass new leads in your door, without at least a few basic onboarding and retention focused systems (playbooks), you’ll just end up ‘churning’ through those members, losing current or OG members, and burning yourself out in the process.    

So, before we get into talking about ways in which you can improve upon your onboarding process, let me at least first qualify that the following plays and systems will never work to their full potential without a full grasp of the above/previous concepts.  This is not a get- rich-quick, six-week challenge set up. These playbooks or systems will set you up for long-term, consistent growth and optimum work-to-life balance ratio.  

 Next Week: Section 1: The Cashflow Playbook 

Barrett Danz is the owner of CrossFit Big Dane located in Madison, Wisconsin. It's a a small but tight-knit and quickly growing community.  The focus of the business has always been on better before bigger.