Welch’s Journey From Sailor to Affiliate

Chris Welch, the Affiliate of CrossFit Five Plus

Almost everyone that has committed to CrossFit for long enough feels the pain, enjoys the community and sees the results. But CrossFit Boxes, unlike other gyms, are focused on improving life and building community. If that’s true, how quickly can you show a new member that they are improving?

Some Boxes have on-boarding programs to help get members involved immediately in the core concepts of CrossFit. But does a month-long on-boarding class show improvement?

Unfortunately, in today’s society people won’t give it a month to experience results. They need to see some sort of improvement almost instantaneously before they will commit — and even then the commitment isn’t 100 percent guaranteed.

CrossFit Five Plus wondered the same from where it sits in Beverly, Massachusetts, just north of Boston. “How quickly could we get members to see some type of result, whether that be improved mobility, strength or skill?” asked Chris Welch, the Affiliate of Five Plus.

Welch certainly understood that at the root of CrossFit was the ability to measure fitness. It was this concept that had him look deeper into how Five Plus could on-board new athletes.

At Five Plus every member begins with six days, completely free. “I don’t ask them for any kind of financial information until after they’ve completed day six,” explained Welch. “From a sales strategy, they repeat the same workout on day one and day six, which we usually see a lot of improvement performance-wise between day one and day six.”

Over the six days, Welch and his Coaches breakdown the CrossFit methodology and movements for the new members. In six days a person won’t look into a mirror and see extreme results. They won’t see a six-pack or extremely bulging muscles, but what they will see is a better time and a better performance.

“We run them through the CrossFit baseline which is a 500-meter row, 40 squats, 30 sit ups, 20 pushups, 10 pull-ups for time” explained Welch. “I tell them their time after day one, but I don’t repeat their time up until they’re done with their workout at the end of day six, because I don’t want them looking at the clock thinking, ‘I just need to beat this, I just need to beat this.’ I just tell them just go as hard as you feel comfortable going. I try to engrain on them that success isn’t on the clock, but success can be doing better pushups, and having greater depth in your squat  — that is success because movement is success. The clock is just a measure of how long it took you to complete the reps.”

In most instances Welch sees everyone improve their time, but in the one instance he didn’t, it still came out as successful. “A guy that went from doing 10 ring rows to doing 10 strict pull-ups over six sessions,” said Welch. “When he looked at the clock he added four seconds and I said, ‘you added four seconds but you did 10 strict pull-ups. That’s success.’”

In the six sessions new members take at CrossFit Five Plus, they are blown away by the success experienced, either in time or ability, which becomes a factor in rolling those people into full-time members.

“I try to explain to them they are fitter after six sessions, but they’re also learning how to utilize their body better, so they are more efficient,” said Welch. “I don’t claim to make somebody three minutes faster at the CrossFit baseline fitness alone after six sessions, but we’ve seen people drop three minutes.”

Once potential members see how CrossFit Five Plus has helped them improve their lives after six sessions, it’s on the Coaches, programming, facility and community to keep them engaged. “We really focus on driving our community,” said Welch. “One of my friends, a different Affiliate, did [something] that I think really went a long way, is we start each of our classes off with a question of the day — something as simple as that. Our members learn something about the person they are lifting with or working out next to. It could be something as stupid as ‘what’s your favorite fast food restaurant?’ But all of a sudden it really does drive home that feeling of this is my community, this is where I belong.”

Also, Five Plus’ ownership team and head Coaches sit down each week and look at the attendance record. “We pick off people we haven’t seen in the past week,” said Welch. “If somebody’s been missing for a week, they get a phone call. And we just want to make sure they’re not injured and they didn’t tell us, that they’re not sick and we just don’t know, or they aren’t happy with us for some reason.”

Welch could remember two members that had been on the fence about quitting the gym. They hadn’t been around for a while and were starting to question whether they might have enough time. Someone from the team at Five Plus, following the Box’s contact policy, touched base with the two members and they both ended up saying, “hey, you’re keeping me accountable and I want to get back in there, so I’m not going to stop paying you because I know you care about my fitness,” explained Welch.

Although it may sound like a long shot to have that situation occur, Welch believes his members enjoy the feeling that they aren’t alone on their fitness journey. “People don’t have to give us their life-story, but we just want to make sure that if people are paying us good money, that they know we care about them being happy with our product,” he said. “That’s gone a long way.”

A lot of Welch and Five Plus’ customer service has come from time spent interning at other Affiliates, but it’s rooted in a belief in how people like to be treated, something that Welch has carried with him forever.

Being the oldest of four, Welch always has been a leader, which helped him as a multi-sport athlete in high school, which led him to play soccer for Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. Following college, Welch took a couple of jobs, but wound up finding himself in the military. “The first time I was in active duty I really liked the aspect of, ‘I can make a difference.’ I was part of a small specialized unit in the Navy and I was able to do some pretty cool things,” he said. “The more and more I served, the more and more I realized that I am capable and I like to be in the driver seat. I really like the pressure on me to perform. As my time was coming to an end with the Navy, I knew I wanted to get out, I knew I wanted to go to graduate school, I wanted to start a family. My wife Sarah and I looked at each other and I just said, ‘I love fitness. I already loved CrossFit, and I don’t think I want to go sit behind a desk and take direction from somebody else. I think I want to sort of hold my destiny in my own hands.’”

At first Welch thought of opening up a wellness cafe that would work hand-in-hand with the CrossFit gyms on the North Shore of Boston. “The more and more we talked, the more and more it was evident fitness was it,” said Welch. “Don’t get me wrong, I love eating, but fitness is really what I like. And if I was going to be successful, I better be passionate about it as well. That’s how I found myself in the role I am today.”

Being part of that specialized unit in the Navy didn’t just get washed away though. Welch knew that to be successful he’d have to surround himself with like-minded individuals. In fact, his first initiative in opening Five Plus was to find people that had similar aspirations, but different skill sets — his wife Sarah provided the nutrition element.

“I felt as if I had a unique set of experiences being in endurance, military and team sports, that … I wanted to bring that set of skills to the table,” explained Welch. “When I met my wife — and she’s a nutrition guru — she came from a completely different background of fitness and wellness than I did. I sort of looked at us together and said, wow, people will be able to relate to one of us.”

For Welch it was a good starting point to have his one partner, but he knew they’d need more input to be successful. “I started getting to know a couple friends and we actually built a team around me of people that are gifted and their backgrounds are from far different areas,” said Welch. “I feel as if the team around … is about as diverse and sort of skilled as you can possibly get.”

Welch’s team has been comprised of Sarah, his wife, and friends Brandon Arakaki, and Maggie and Greg Hood. Although the team was strong and brought a lot to the table, business owners can’t know all that they’ll encounter when embarking on a journey.

The first hurdle that the group had to overcome was with the Box’s marketing strategy. “The unforeseen struggle was, you think you have this marketing strategy down that you’re going to get your target market in the door, and eventually you have to look at it and say, OK, there’s still 7,000 people in this business park that don’t even know we’re here yet. How do we get them?” said Welch. “How do we get them to at least walk in our door at least one time? They don’t even have to work out, just come in. That was something we thought would go a lot smoother than did.”

The adjustment has been an ongoing revamp of marketing concepts to invite members through the door. “We definitely want word of mouth to be our biggest source of marketing, but by partnering with the companies — I’ve come in contact with about six of our members that are CEOs and presidents of companies — and just try and get into wellness workshops in their space. At least one Tuesday a month we’ve partnered with a chiropractic clinic and the chiropractors and my Coaches, we will go into the company spaces and we’ll just answer questions. We’ll be a face with a smile that they can connect to.”

Going into the doors of the businesses has worked fairly well for Five Plus, but Welch said it’s not the last strategy that they use. “It’s definitely been more powerful than us sitting in the gym, twiddling our thumbs waiting for them to come to us,” said Welch.

To Welch fitness isn’t over when you’re finished with high school or college sports. But, what he’s encountered is an entire population that believes they are out of their prime around 35 years old. “I think people are always looking for you to empower them to believe that they still have something left in the tank,” he said.

For Welch and Five Plus, that’s what the name truly defines, bringing fitness to a new level. Some members may believe they have run the course of fitness in their lives, but the five person team uses their unique abilities and backgrounds to prove each and every person wrong that walks through their doors, empowering them and making them stronger for the road ahead.

Photos by Von Berg Productions

Tyler is a former editor of Box Pro Magazine.