The Case For Giving It All Away (OPINION)
One of few things that can froth up a frenzy as frantic as “Kill Cliff or FITAID” is the mere mention of discounts. Or, heaven forbid, free memberships. “Don’t devalue yourself,” the bravado warns. “It’s a slippery slope,” cry the cautious admonitions. “It’s unfair to your other members,” chides the churlish counsel.
Then there’s us, Rocket CrossFit. We’ve been giving it away from the get-go. We’re gonna’ continue to do so, because we’re running a really profitable business with a thriving community. Making sure that people have access to fitness is core to who we are as people. But also, it’s good for business.
Look, if free samples weren’t good business, neither drug dealers nor those people in Costco with their tasty bite-sized cocktail wieners would be handing them out to anyone who passes by. That said, “freebies” seem to fall into three distinct categories at Rocket CrossFit , and they all work for us.
Donations to charity.
We almost always say yes to the “will you donate to our auction” question. We are clear about our boundaries, but we donate to every school in our neighborhood. We donate to the organizations that our members are part of. These are the most successful for us because we know that the people who come through our doors are already connected to the community in some way, and those are the people who are most likely to stay, and pay, in the long run.
Our standard giveaway is a one-month membership, which can be our beginner series if someone has no experience, or a month of unlimited membership if they do. This has paid off in spades.
Maybe 30% of the gift certificates that we send out actually get redeemed. Of those, close to 85% stay on as long-time members. That’s a great return on zero investment. More importantly, 100% of those donations are seen by people in our neighborhood, which gets our name out there better than any advertising. It’s more powerful because not only is our name and logo seen, it is attached to the concept of “good people.” It positions us as connected and caring in the community. It also raises money for good causes that need it, while costing us nothing.
Maybe 30% of the gift certificates that we send out actually get redeemed. Of those, close to 85% stay on as long-time members. That’s a great return on zero investment.
Free or Discounted Memberships
Yup, we have members who don’t pay at all. They are valuable members of our community.
We’re clear that one of our goals as a fitness community is to remove barriers to access. Cost is a barrier for some, but the benefit of fitness is universal. Some of our members who have never paid are the very people who kicked drug addiction, reversed Type 2 diabetes, gotten off blood-pressure meds, and recovered from cancer. Or, just plain needed a community to help them through life when they were struggling. It takes a lot of strength to ask for help, we’re here for that.
Short Term Discounts
Sometimes our members go through “stuff,” in their lives that makes paying full fare hard. Divorce. Layoffs. Medical Crisis. Or even the joyfulness of having a baby but not working full time. When our members have needed a short-term discount, we’ve given it to them. We lay out clear timelines and expectations, and we’ve not been taken advantage of yet. It has helped us hang on to members who we not only value as people, but who are paying members. As most of us know, when someone leaves for a few months, for whatever reason, they’re very likely not to return. This helps us keep the member, and helps the member keep fit and connected.
How To Do It
In every case, we explain that when we give someone a discount, it limits the funds we have available for the next person who needs it. We expect that when someone can pay full price, they will. We make sure they understand the reality of it, and we check in with them when it seems that circumstances have changed.
It costs us nothing. I’ll repeat that, because I know that people are squirming to yell “but lost opportunity cost” or “that could be revenue.” Hush. No.
We are running classes and paying coaches the same amount of money whether we give away memberships or not. Our rent and electricity doesn’t cost more with a scholarship member. Our coaches aren’t on commission (and yours shouldn’t be either, but that’s a different post.)
When our members have needed a short-term discount, we’ve given it to them…It has helped us hang on to members who we not only value as people, but who are paying members. As most of us know, when someone leaves for a few months, for whatever reason, they’re very likely not to return.
No, we don’t ask our members to subsidize them, we do that. Brady and I “spend” our profits however we want, sometimes that means cutting into them to make sure that the community within our walls better reflects the community in which we operate. Our membership costs what it costs. Our expenses are what they are. Whatever’s left is profit, and we can do what we want with it.
As for those members that are going to feel somehow cheated because we gave away something that they pay for? I don’t know what to tell you, maybe we’re just lucky that we don’t have assholes for members. I don’t know anyone who’s mad that we helped someone else out. I think the reverse is true: We have really generous members, most of whom make enough money to pay for membership at Rocket. Aware of that privilege, they are loyal to our community precisely because we care about others. They’ve jumped to action to help whenever a member — or just someone in the community — needed help.
A few months ago, I was working out at a really amazing gym. They have a class that is just for people who are struggling with their fitness. People who are battling health issues, or serious obesity, or age or injury. A class of people who one might lovingly call “broken,” but who come together with passionate — and compassionate — coaching and are changing their lives. They’re turning things around. And the class is totally FREE. Not a single member of that class pays to attend.
It was inspiring as hell.
It was also at CrossFit HQ.
I would argue that giving it away, as long as you can afford to do so, is very much the CrossFit way. It’s certainly the Rocket way.
CrossFit is for anybody. Tear down the obstacles wherever you find them. If you can afford to give some away, good for you. And good for business.