Eric: Hey, everybody. This is Eric with the “Future of Fitness” podcast and the Fitness Marketing Alliance. During this interview I talk to Sherman [Merricks 00:00:06]. He is from Dynasty CrossFit in Gainesville, Florida. He is the owner of that facility out there and he’s been the owner for about five years or so now. I’ve had the pleasure of talking to Sherman many times over the past few years and I can tell you that he is an extremely driven individual and he is extremely passionate about what he does. His goals that he has are bigger than business and I think that’s a big part of what drives him.
When you listen to the interview, there’s a couple things that you should pick up on is how he uses his clients to differentiate his business and how his marketing really is his passion and it’s crazy cool to listen to and I have nothing but respect for this guy and there’s a lot of lessons. I think you’re going to be hearing from him quite a bit in the fitness industry as he is now just about to be a mentor at TwoBrainBusiness.com. Without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, Sherman Merricks.
Hey, everybody. This is Eric with the Fitness Marketing Alliance and I have the pleasure of sitting here with colleague Sherman Merricks. He’s at Dynasty CrossFit out in Gainesville, Florida. Is that correct? Gainesville.
Sherman M: Yes, that is correct. Gainesville, Florida.
Eric: Sherman own quite a successful crossfit gym out in Florida and I have some questions for him but I thought, first of all, maybe, Sherman, you could tell us your fitness story. Every fit pro has a fitness story. I’d like to hear yours.
Sherman M: Yeah. I’ve been active in sports my entire life, played basketball through high school and college. After college, got out, typical going to the gym. I actually ran a marathon. I’m never doing that again. Once I really got into working out, one of my buddies invited me over. He was like, “Hey, you want to work out?” I was like, “Yeah. Work out.” I went in this guy’s garage. This is 10 years ago so I go to his garage. I want to say we did the lumberjack or something, something crazy. Back then I couldn’t even pick up a [crosstalk 00:02:16].
Eric: Lumberjack 20?
Sherman M: Yeah. Yeah, so he was doing [inaudible 00:02:20] and I was like, “I can’t swing that.” I remember when I finished that workout, I was like, “What was that?” Then when we finished he was like, “Yeah, it’s a thing called crossfit,” but I didn’t think anything of it. Then he invited me over a few more times and then I just sort of fell in love with it. From there, he was like, “You know, you could open up a gym.” Actually, he was like, “We could open up a gym.” Then I sort of thought about it. It went on the back shelf and the more I was at my job I was like, “No, I need to do something that I really enjoy. I’ve always liked sports, always enjoyed working out.”
From there I started training people out in the park. From there it sort of grew to my garage and then to a smaller space and then to another space into where we currently are today so that typical sort of getting punched in the face by crossfit and then falling in love with it and the rest is history.
Eric: Yeah, yeah. I know that story really well, man. I love that you started in a garage and a park, right?
Sherman M: Yeah.
Eric: That’s the classic crossfit story.
Sherman M: Yeah, that’s the new school.
Eric: Sherman, one of the things I know about you is you’re a hustler. You hustle. You work hard. You bring a ton of energy to what you do and a day to day basis. That being said, I don’t want to spoil this question but how do you differentiate yourself from other fitness businesses or other fitness professionals, especially in your area?
Sherman M: Yeah. This is a good question. I think that there’s a lot of guys that hustle and work hard and that type of thing. I think that really knowing the type of individual that you’re trying to get into your gym, right?
Sherman M: I have a client avatar that I know that I want in the gym so that’s who I speak to when I’m creating videos, posting stuff. There’s certain people that I don’t want in the gym. Everyone talks about having 300, 400, 500 members. That’s cool if you want to do that type of thing but I don’t see that for my gym. I want 200, 250 solid people that want to be part of a community, that want to work hard, that want to support each other so those are the type of people that I speak to when I’m doing anything. That’s where I really focus on, the type of people that I want and I’m trying to get them in. I’m not trying to get everybody. I only need 100 people out of hundreds of thousands of people in my town.
Eric: Yeah. That’s such a great answer, too, and I know that you come from the Two-Brain Business family, as well, which means that your fundamentals are strong. I think what’s really impressive about that answer is that when I asked you what differentiates you, you basically said, “My clients differentiate my business.” I think that’s a really cool lesson.
You touched on this a little bit. How do you go about generating leads? Do you have a conscious plan or effort that you put into it or how do new people find your gym?
Sherman M: Yeah. I really, really try to focus on taking care of our members that are in the gym. I do personally have a plan where there’s three months out of the 12 months in the year that I’m specifically trying to recruit people inside the gym but the rest of the time, that other nine months, I’m just taking care of my clients because I know if we really service the heck out of them, they’re going to talk about it, hopefully to the point where it’s annoying to their friends when they finally come in. I know they’re going to talk about it so that’s what we really do. We really try to, for the most part, 75, 80% of the time, we’re just focusing on our clients, trying to get them in, trying to make sure they have a great time so they can basically go out and talk about it.
I can talk about it until I’m blue in the face but I’m only one person and I only have so much reach. If I can leverage all the people in my gym to have them talk about it, of course not the same way I would but if they’re just talking about getting their results so when their friends see them getting fitter and better, they can have that conversation with him and let him see that it’s not this scary thing. Surprisingly a lot of people still thing that about crossfit.
Eric: Yeah. Yeah, people do. It’s unfortunate. A curious question for you. You mentioned there’s about three months that you really push. Do you have a set three months out of the year at you drive marketing or that you really work on getting new clients?
Sherman M: Yeah. For us, the summer is normally the slow time. The summer’s normally the slow time for us in the gym business so that’s when we’re really out there pounding the pavement, trying to have specific challenges and stuff like that going on to get people in. Summer’s just a tough time just because people are traveling. Yes, kids are out of school but also everyone always wants to be in shape. Everyone always wants to look good so you just have to find, again, those right people the are going to make that sacrifice for those summer months. Most people aren’t, though, because maybe they’re gone for two weeks so they aren’t going to pay for a six-week challenge if they’re going to miss a third of it. There are a lot of people that are willing to make that sacrifice and make it work and that’s where we really go at.
During the summer, we’re trying to get more members in because a lot of our members are in and out of the gym during the summer. They’re traveling, too, so the gym gets a little bit slow so we can sort of readjust, do some fun stuff in-house but then sort of leverage some of that extra energy and trying to get people in the gym or at least get an awareness, trying to have a lot of awareness so after the summer they know where they want to come after they’ve blown the summer away.
Eric: Right, right. I’ve always found that when I fall off the fitness wagon, as long as I know there’s a plan in place for a month from now, that I’ll enjoy my time a lot more. That’s an interesting point. Give me some creative ways, Sherman, that you’ve marketed your gym and your services, some kind of out of the box thinking that you’ve done before because I’ve seen some of the ones you’ve done and it’s pretty cool.
Sherman M: I don’t know if I have stuff that’s out of the box really but I really believe that video is the way of the future as far as marketing to people, getting in front of them. I think really learning how to turn those captions on on your Facebook videos and stuff like that because people don’t think, yes, they may be on Facebook at work when they really shouldn’t be but they can’t turn the sound on if their boss is sitting a couple cubicles over so if you have the [inaudible 00:09:08] captions on, they can read it and that may be able to get them. I really, with all the videos that I try to make, I try to have a good time. I try to put my personality across so that they know we’re going to take care of you. We’re going to have a lot of fun but you’re definitely going to get fitter and you’re going to look better, you’re going to feel better. We just really try to have fun with all the videos that we do. That’s my main thing. Any time I’m in front of the camera, we’re trying to have fun with it.
Eric: Yeah and I’ll vouch for it. It is fun. I watch them. Let me ask you this. What are some key metrics? There’s always parallels between fitness and business. We always want to be tracking some numbers in our fitness. What are some numbers that you know for sure that if you focus on, maybe three to five metrics that you focus on in your business, that help you run your business at a successful level?
Sherman M: Some metrics that I use inside the business that basically help us be more successful, for us we want to look at what we call in our Two-Brain family, we want to look at our length of engagement. We want to make sure that we don’t get people the are coming in for a month or two and then leaving. That’s not so that we could get more money from them or anything. That’s just a byproduct of having a great service.
If someone comes in for one, two, three months, we both know, all fitness pros know they’re not going to see huge, lasting change in three months. Most of the time most of the clients that we get, they haven’t been working out in a long time. Three months, yes, they may lose, 10, 12, 15 pounds in three months but that’s not enough. We’re looking at length of engagement because we want people to stick around so they could have a really good lasting result. We’re not thinking people are going to stay in our gym for 20 years like they do at the big global gym. They just let it run and run and run and never go. That’s really not what we’re after.
Then also, as far as business goes, we look at average revenue per member, right? I think that there’s a lot of gym owners really starting to understand that, yes, we want to help people. Yes, we want to see people get off their meds and PR, hit personal records and all that stuff but if you have 300 members in your gym and they’re spending on average 100 bucks per month, yes, that’s 30 grand just looking at the fees value like that. Me personally, I would much rather be that guy that has 100 members and they’re spending $300 a month, just giving them that extra value so that I can, A, in turn turn it back on the members and, again, service the heck out of them so they have a great time and then that also makes it better so you can pay your coaches so the owners could have a better lifestyle as opposed to having 300 members. Now you’re stretched out. You still have 30 grand but now you need three or four coaches. Then that really starts to run shorted.
The gym business, I’m figuring out more and more with the more success that I have with it, this is a tough business. I think, especially crossfit, I think with it being so easy to sort of get involved, guys just think, “All right, I’m a decent coach. I’m a decent athlete. I’m going to flip over and just open me a business.” Basically we’ve heard it a million times. They’re out their selves a job which I think most entrepreneurs, when they’re starting off, they’re buying themselves a job. I can say that. That’s what I did in the beginning but if you don’t have that mindset coming in front day one … I’ve had a mentor even from when I was in my garage because I knew long term I didn’t want to be tied to this thing 24/7, 365 not able to enjoy anything.
We definitely look at that so length of engagement, average revenue per member and then inside the gym with our coaching, I really try to focus on keeping my staff super happy, super engaged. To me, this is one of the hardest things as you begin to grow because you can grow your gym to a certain level by yourself. When I say by yourself, you may have one or two coaches but you can do most of the work by yourself. You can get you 125, 150 members. 150 may be pushing it but 125 members, you can probably get there and everything’s going to be all right. You’re going to be working like crazy, a lot, but you can sort of do that. If you want to get 200 members, 250 members, you’re going to have to delegate some of those roles that you think are very important or you think, I emphasize think, that no one can do better than you. You have to find the people that can do it better than you because eventually I’m at a different point in my gym career now where I don’t coach any classes.
I do some personal training just because I want to but it’s a totally different ballgame now. It’s a totally different ballgame from five years ago when I was coaching every class and scraping to get by. Now I’m not coaching at all, finances are good but we have to make sure that community, everyone’s staying happy. Everyone’s staying engaged and obviously I can’t keep up with 150, 200 people but I can make sure my staff is taken care of. If they’re taken care of, they’re going to deliver the product exactly the way we want it. I’ve definitely learned a lot of stuff, made some mistakes but that’s the beauty of this whole entrepreneurial life.
Eric: Yeah. Yeah, that’s beautiful, man. That’s a beautiful answer. You kind of touched on this so this segues nicely. Who were your mentors and influencers when you first started out? Then who are they now?
Sherman M: Yeah, good question. When I first started out, as far as business goes, I was with a business group called The Biz with John Birch. I was with old John Birch way back in the day and I got hooked up with him. Actually a cool story here. When I first opened up my gym there was another gym in town. Dude named Chris Thorndike, he owns Live Athletic, formerly Crossfit Gainesville and I went to him and he was super helpful and he told me that’s who he was getting mentoring from so I was like, “Well, this guy,” back then this gym, it was big and he had all these members. I was like, “If he’s doing it, I need to do it.” I was with John Birch for a little while and as far as personally goes, it’s a guy that he’s still sort of my mentor, big brother, best friend today. He’s a little bit older. I’m still with him personally today. He helps me out a ton. His is definitely more informal.
Then as far as business goes today, like you touched on earlier, I’ve been with Chris Cooper with Two-Train, I don’t know, for a few years now. That’s changed the game tremendously for me on a lot of fronts. Yes, the business but really seeing how other successful gyms do things. It’s not always easy but it’s quite simple, like I say. I wouldn’t change it for the world. Obviously I’m biased. I love Two-Brain and Coop and everyone else. Regardless who people are with, I would say that you have to have a mentor. You need someone to help you before you need that extra GHD machine, one [inaudible 00:17:04]. Put that money toward the mentor because if you get it right, there’ll be a point where you can pull out your card and you can go to Rogue and buy you five rowers any time you feel like it.
Eric: Yeah, just for fun.
Sherman M: Yeah, just for fun but if you don’t get that business side down, you’re always sort of stuck on that hamster wheel of I need more. It’s not worth it. Am I cut out for this? That type of thing right there.
Eric: Yeah, great. Where do you see yourself in two years?
Sherman M: Oh man.
Eric: Let me follow that. Do you have a roadmap to get there or are you kind of just gun slinging it right now?
Sherman M: Yeah, so in two years I see myself still owning my gym, sort of in the same row now. We’ll be a little bit bigger but also I’ll be doing, because I’m finishing up some mentoring training now with Two-Brain so I’ll be …
Sherman M: … more actively involved in that. I’ll be able to help other gym owners hopefully not make some of the same mistakes that we made or just helping them just become better and better. I’ll still be owning the gym. I see myself in two years. We’ll be running a more successful gym, that type of thing right there. I’ll also be doing some mentoring with Two-Brain. That’s where I see myself in a couple years.
Eric: That’s exciting, man. You’re going to be really, really good at that. We like to discuss not only where things are now and I’m a closet futurist, too, so you can see where this direction’s going. I want to see six to 12 months from now, what is the industry going to look at? How do you see the digital age and the speed at which technology is changing, how do you see it affecting the fitness industry and possibly even your business?
Sherman M: That’s a good question. I believe that in the next six to 12 months, either you’re going to have to really understand digital marketing or you’re going to have to outsource it to someone. I see a lot of business owners, not only gym owners, really focusing on marketing and that type of stuff which I think is vitally important. I take huge advantage of it but if you don’t have the basic, if you don’t have a strong foundation and you were to get a extra 25 members in one month somehow, you ran something right, you got one of your Facebook ads right. If you brought in 25 people, if you don’t have systems ready for that, well, less than 30% of those 25 are going to stay and then you’re going to lose some of your good members who’ve been there for a while because now you’re so distracted and so stressed out with these 25 people.
I see it sort of like Greg Glassman says. The cream’s going to be rising to the top even faster now because I think there will be some guys that will outsource their marketing and keep a lot of people inside the gym, coming in fresh faces but, at the same time, you have a revolving door in but then you have three or four people going out the back when you’re bringing in six at a time. You have a plus three or four each month but you’re losing people, you’re gaining some. I would much rather have a positive three every month and not lose more than one or two people each month. That’s just part of our business. We’re going to lose people for various reasons but if you’re not losing more than you can keep most months, of course there are going to be some months where you may lose more. That’s really the thing right there.
I really like to keep members that we had in the gym but slowly but surely bring members in. We’ve had some huge success with some of our Facebook campaigns, stuff like that. That’s only for a little while. We don’t do that all the time because we have too many people in here. Then that service is going to go down and that’s definitely not what we want long term.
Eric: Yeah, man. I totally agree with you. We have a term for it. We call it binge marketing where essentially people just throw a ton of time and effort into the sprint and I did it. I owned a crossfit gym for the better part of nine years and I did it, ticked off a lot of my current members, had a lot of issues with that and ended up six months later retaining 10%. Let me ask you this. As fitness professionals, except for maybe you and people in a similar situation, imagine the average fit pro. Always seems to focus on the kinesiology, the physiology, rep set scheme, all those things that work. Where do you think the fitness industry overall has its biggest blind spots as far as business and marketing and kind of what everybody else in the business world knows that the fitness industry is missing?
Sherman M: Yeah. For me, I may have one or two but I’m going to say systems, systems that really work. I think that if you can turn these gyms, these fitness empires into a turnkey business, you’ve done something special because basically you can remove yourself and then put someone in and then it’s going to run just the same. People aren’t going to freak out but when you don’t have a turnkey business, what happens when you sort of take the icon out of there? What happens when the guy that coaches most of the class, he’s there all the time, he deals with all the people, when you up and remove him for various reasons, maybe he’s burned out because he’s built this thing to something great, he’s burned out, he’s tired of it, now he just wants to give it up.
For me, one of the toughest things that I’ve seen personally, even though it doesn’t affect me per se, is when gyms close down. It really hurts me when I see especially crossfit gyms because we all know the community, man, it’s powerful. If you’re not in it, you really don’t get it but a lot of times when a gym closes down, those members, some of them get dispersed but a lot of them don’t join another gym because they liked that group of people so much they done feel like they’re going to get the same level of service anywhere else which it’s quite possible they can go down the road and get even better service but that’s not the point. The point is there’s a group of people that are going to be displaced probably for a long time now. I think having systems in place really, really is vital, man.
I also believe another thing that we as fit pros have to see, just because we’re so involved in our members’ lives, because we care and we should be, I think that we have to definitely learn how to remove all our emotions from our day to day activities because when someone cancels, me personally, I don’t deal with the finances or the cancellations or anything anymore. I don’t even know when someone’s canceling and stuff, I’ll get a report from my operation manager every so [inaudible 00:24:48]. Not that I don’t want to know, but it hurts, though.
Eric: Oh yeah.
Sherman M: Even though money’s fine, members are fine, life is good, Susie that hasn’t been to the gym-
Eric: Hurts here.
Sherman M: Exactly. Susie that hasn’t been to the gym in two months, now she’s leaving even though you already knew she was leaving because she hasn’t come in two months. You called her, followed up with her. She finally puts a cancellation notice, it hurts. I can see how we need to learn how to sort of step back, look at the situation, either A, figure out how we can make it better or, B, just let it be. You don’t see big time super professional business owners getting involved with a lot of the stuff that crossfit gym owners deal with. I think we have to raise our level of professionalism.
I’m going to step on a few toes here but this is just an example, right?
Eric: Please do.
Sherman M: Really. Outside of the crossfit community, when we talk about stuff that we do like bringing dogs to the gym and just other little stuff like that. I just use that as an example. I like dogs. I don’t have a dog but stuff like that, there’s a lot of stuff that we focus on that we worry about that in the grand scheme of things, bringing dogs to the gym, having kids in the gym with no daycare, no childcare, that type of stuff. If you’re going to have it set up correctly, there’s some things that you just can’t deal with. Of course there are going to be some members that cannot be members of your gym because you don’t have childcare or maybe you don’t allow dogs to come in.
Maybe you require people to work out with their shirts on. That’s a policy that we had a long time and now it’s just part of our culture but in the beginning it was a little scary for me but, me and my wife, we decided that’s what we’re going to do. What professional establishment do you go into, even the global gym, what professional establishment do you go into where guys and girls can work out with their shirts and just off, walking around in a sports bra and no shirt at all?
Eric: Yeah, that’s right.
Sherman M: No where.
Sherman M: That’s super rare but, again, I’m just pointing out different areas, not really picking on anyone. I think that we have to raise our level of professionalism because we’re charging professional rates for our training, our group training, which we should because most crossfit coaches are very, very talented and good coaches but at the same time I think it has to be sort of like a total package. You just can’t be a great coach but then the professionalism isn’t there, you know?
Eric: Yep, yep. It’s a great idea. I was talking to my business partner about this the other day. Community is a double edged sword, man. It’s incredibly powerful. It’s incredibly powerful and it brings people in and it keeps them together. On the other side, it’s a very difficult thing to manage and if you try to manage it, sometimes it bites you. It’ll bite you personally, professionally, financially. Yeah, I think it’s interesting. I never thought about the shirts off thing but these are all really great points. Sherman, I’m going to wrap it up here. I want to know if people want to reach you, if they want to follow you and kind of see what you’re doing in the digital space or even just seeing what you’re doing at the gym, where they find you and then if someone’s interested in getting business mentoring from you, when can that happen and how would they get ahold of you for that?
Sherman M: Yeah. If they want to follow, it’d be better to follow the business page DynastyCrossFit.com because all of our stuff, we push it out on that and then I’ll share from my personal page and stuff. They can definitely follow me on Facebook just from my name but DynastyCrossFit.com. Then if they want more mentoring and stuff like that, obviously they just need to go to TwoBrainBusiness.com. When they sign up, they’ll have some options but if they let them know that they’re looking for Sherman, that’ll be a easy fix right there. DynastyCrossFit.com if they want to follow us personally, see the type of stuff we’re doing, how we’re standing in front of people. If they want some more business mentoring, TwoBrainBusiness.com.
Sherman M: That’s it.
Eric: Awesome. Thank you so much, Sherman, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you, man. I know you and I’ll be talking soon.
Sherman M: Oh, for sure. Definitely.
Eric: All right, bud. See you.
Sherman M: See you, man.
Eric: Hey, everybody. This is Eric with the Fitness Marketing Alliance and I want to say thank you for listening to this episode of the “Future of Fitness” podcast and webinar series. We’re working really hard here to keep great content coming out and we’d like to express our gratitude by offering you a free seven-day marketing crash course so here’s how you can claim it. If you go to FitnessMarketingAlliance.com/FreeGift, F-R-E-E-G-I-F-T, and you enter the promo code fitmark, F-I-T-M-A-R-K, you can claim it that way. The other way is you can text us so you can text the phone number 8-0-5-6-1-9-5-5-5-0 and you text the word fitmark, F-I-T-M-A-R-K. Again that phone number is 8-0-5-6-1-9-5-5-5-0.
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