The First Three Starting Strength Gyms – An Analysis | Ray Gillenwater

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Thread: The First Three Starting Strength Gyms – An Analysis | Ray Gillenwater

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    Default The First Three Starting Strength Gyms – An Analysis | Ray Gillenwater

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    "Evaluating our performance comes down to two important questions: First, are we making people stronger? If we're not, we are just like every other gym franchise. Second, are the gyms performing well financially? If not, they won’t be able to pay SSCs the premium they deserve, nor will gym owners be able to make a living. Let’s look at the data..."

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    I'm a member of one of the new SS gyms. I've done the SSLP in the past by myself and am happy to have a place to go to get coaching.

    I do have a suggestion and a question though. The time slots at my gym are 1.5 hours with no time between classes/time slots. I'd increase the time slots to 2 hours to allow for those days when a little extra time is needed to finish or when consultation with a coach is needed.

    When I go from novice to intermediate is the 1.5 hours enough time? I'm in the Masters category and I don't seem to recover as quickly as a did 10 years ago.

    Thanks!

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    Quote Originally Posted by psc15771 View Post
    I'm a member of one of the new SS gyms. I've done the SSLP in the past by myself and am happy to have a place to go to get coaching.
    Excellent to hear that. You are one of the main categories of trainees we had in mind when we built this concept.

    Quote Originally Posted by psc15771 View Post
    I'd increase the time slots to 2 hours to allow for those days when a little extra time is needed to finish or when consultation with a coach is needed.
    This is a good idea but one that's very hard to achieve in practice. Since a gym's prime-time is before and after business hours, there are two short windows per day where a gym can earn enough money to become a sustainable business. This factor must be coupled with gen pop's tolerance for maximum time spent in the gym. The best blend of those two considerations we've come across is 90 minutes. Frankly, 90 minutes is pushing it for many non-SS trainees that are used to 45 minute spin class or an hour on the Nautilus machines at the local commercial gym. However, we've found that most people can get all of their lifts in within 90-minutes, especially if they're being efficient with warm-ups and rests. More importantly, it's not practical to do anything less than 90-minutes for members to train productively in a group setting, so this is what we've settled on.

    For extra time to consult with your coach, there really isn't time during peak hours of the gym for this. For the business model to work, it needs to be a well oiled machine with trainees showing up, training, and heading out. Where we accommodate for check-ins with your coach is in the gym's Slack channel and at gym events. There's also the option to add one semi-private coaching session to your membership per month (at a discount) if you have masters related recovery questions, or other specific areas that need more one-on-one attention. This is how we keep the price of coaching at less than $30/session (the most important success factor), while paying the SSC like a professional services provider (instead of like a yoga instructor), while maximizing the the gym owner's ability to run a profitable business. It's the best blend we've been able to find and there are trade-offs (like with all things), but this seems to be the sweet spot.

    Quote Originally Posted by psc15771 View Post
    When I go from novice to intermediate is the 1.5 hours enough time?
    Yes, it should be, especially since your masters' intermediate program will likely not have a ton of volume. If you end up needing a four-day split to keep your sessions at short as possible, there is an option to train one additional day per week on your own as a keycard member (for an additional fee). However, I'd be surprised if you couldn't keep making great progress as a masters lifter, with 3x/week @ 90 minutes per session.

    Quote Originally Posted by psc15771 View Post
    Thanks!
    Thank you for the feedback and questions. I would love to hear more about your experience, the quality of the coaching so far, your progress to date, and any other feedback that you have about the gym in general.

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    I truly love SS and believe that both the programs and coaching certifications are top notch. However 300+ a month is not an affordable range for most people. Weight training is supposed to be for everyone and for that price you are pricing out most customers.

    If they have the money sure. But offer some cheaper options. Weekly coaching for 1 session, programming as needed, coaching on individual lifts as needed. The price has to get down to around $100 a month or it is going to only be an elitist gym and struggle to gain traction.

    Just my opinion but most serious lifters I know would only pay around $80 a month. At $300 only very wealthy folks with no children are going to be able to swing that for more then a few months.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Zappey1 View Post
    I truly love SS and believe that both the programs and coaching certifications are top notch. However 300+ a month is not an affordable range for most people. Weight training is supposed to be for everyone and for that price you are pricing out most customers.
    We have a $95 price point for a key-card membership during off-peak hours. For that price you can reserve a rack three times per week at a set time and a coach manages your programming. This is not something we promote heavily, because offering this service is not the reason we are in business. We are in the business of offering coaching to those that can afford it. The gyms (the facilities themselves) are simply a means to that end.

    I wish strength training was supposed to be for everyone, but it's not. It's for people that have the discretionary time, money, and desire to invest in self improvement. That's a smaller percentage of the population that I'd like it to be. However, the existing market dynamics do a great job of making strength training accessible to as many people as possible. The 24 Hour Fitness near my house is $39/month and it has six racks. The blue book is $25 on Amazon.

    We are not solving the "accessibility to strength training" problem. We are solving the "accessibility to regular, in-person strength coaching" problem. Quality in-person strength coaching is almost non-existent in the industry. Imagine wanting to learn Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and not having a black-belt at a BJJ gym near your house. Sure, you can watch YouTube videos and roll around with your friends, but your progress and ability to achieve your potential will be compromised. Can everyone afford hundreds of dollars a month to train at Gracie Barra? No. But there are 800 members at the one in San Clemente, CA - a city of 64,000 people.

    Within that context, consider the fact that seeing a coach 3x/week at a Starting Strength Gym is less than $30/session. Having an SSC watch your work-sets for less than $30/session may be expensive from a monthly recurring dollar amount perspective, but it is high value. If you disagree, I would wager that you've never been coached by an SSC.

    There is another aspect of accessibility worth mentioning that's not about proximity and price, it's about barriers to entry. There are not many people like you and me (as a percentage of the total population) that are willing to read books, do research online, and tinker around in the gym to learn how to become an effective strength trainee. The gyms are meant to remove those barriers, if you're fortunate enough to be able to have the time and money to participate. How do we ensure we're near as many people as possible that have these resources? Commercial real estate selection based on demographic data and web-traffic data.

    For those reading this that live near a gym but can't afford $300+/month to train with a coach 3x/week: Spend $185 for an intro. It comes with a free week of group training. Get four sessions in with a coach and learn the fundamentals. If you need to cancel for financial reasons after week one, no one will be mad at you. We'd rather you learn from us and then train at 24 Hour Fitness with a better understanding of technique and programming versus doing what I did and fucking everything up for years before finally seeing a coach. When you need a tune-up, you can pay for a drop-in. It's $30-35 (depending on the gym). And when your retired aunt decides to take her osteo's advice and start training for strength, we trust you'll send her our way.

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    Thanks for the clarification on price points. It seems a little more accessible knowing all the options. SS is a great program and I would love to see many more gyms teaching as many people as possible how to lift effectively and safely.

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    Ray makes many great points in this thread.

    Those of us who love to lift and spend a great deal of time seeking out knowledge on the subject are a small minority. We forget the amount of time, effort and intelligent analysis it requires. Our motivations for training are often not the same as those of the general population. Within the general population, the market can be furthered segmented by motivations for strength training. At any given time, the potential market for strength training coaching probably does not exceed 10% - 15% of the population. If it is important enough to them that they will put in the time and effort to actually train, they will likely pay for the coaching. The perception that the cost is a barrier may actually be more of a marketing problem in many cases.

    On the other hand, it is important to listen to your customers and potential customers; The organization needs to be constantly considering alternative methods of growing the potential market size and removing barriers. The SS gym model seems to me like it would be perfect for corporate partnerships: Many companies will subsidize some of the cost of fitness, health or gym fees. Some of them will directly contract with gyms like the SS gyms on a company-wide basis. With an average annual per employee health care cost of $15k-$20k, there is a large incentive to make any option available that might improve the health of their employees and thus lower their costs. That would be one potential solution to lowering the cost barrier and exposing people to SS training that might not otherwise think about it.

    Then, there are a few other specific demographics that could be convinced to come in at non-prime hours if the format and cost structure were altered.

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    I've actually been really impressed with the amount of membership options rolled out by SS Gyms. Whilst it is clear that to be coached by an SSC three times a week is 'optimal', unfortunately such a 'one-size-fits-all' approach is just not possible. It appears to me that the franchise business has considered all the variables and is catering accordingly. It would be interesting to know the percentage split between the different types of membership. Perhaps save this for the year two update Ray! Ha ha. Keep up the great work.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Yngvi View Post
    The SS gym model seems to me like it would be perfect for corporate partnerships
    Agreed. I don't have any experience with with setting up this type of corporate partnership. If you do, any input on the most efficient way to approach this is welcomed. Separately, we've started a pilot with the company that offers discounts to the major health insurance companies' customers.

    Quote Originally Posted by Yngvi View Post
    Then, there are a few other specific demographics that could be convinced to come in at non-prime hours if the format and cost structure were altered.
    Yep, this is something we're going to trial as well. Gyms near retirement communities can do a seniors focused session in the late morning. Afternoons for high school and college sports. This will require skillful community building from the franchise owner.

    Quote Originally Posted by Travis Reid View Post
    It appears to me that the franchise business has considered all the variables and is catering accordingly. It would be interesting to know the percentage split between the different types of membership. Perhaps save this for the year two update Ray! Ha ha. Keep up the great work.
    Thanks as always, Travis. So far the vast majority of memberships (and revenue) for the gyms come from The Starting Strength Plan: $315 or $365 monthly, depending on the city for 3x/week coaching. Check out the chart in my latest article to see what the average membership price is per gym and you can get a good idea of what percentage of members are on a 3x/week plan. Note, Austin is $315/month and Dallas/Houston are $365 per month.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ray Gillenwater View Post
    Agreed. I don't have any experience with with setting up this type of corporate partnership. If you do, any input on the most efficient way to approach this is welcomed. Separately, we've started a pilot with the company that offers discounts to the major health insurance companies' customers.
    Often, the most difficult part is getting the right information in front of the right people or person. At this stage, you may not have the capacity to handle working with more than a few small to mid-sized companies and it would be wise to be selective about the company or companies you engage with first. Needless to say, the data generated by the first attempts would be incredibly valuable both for future sales materials and internal planning. I have several ideas about how you could approach it; Let me give this a little more thought.

    The pilot sounds interesting. I would like to hear more about the workings of that, if possible.

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