A Look at How Affiliates are Paying Their Coaches During the Pandemic

April 7, 2020 by
Credit: @elementcrossfit
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Being an affiliate owner right now isn’t easy — That’s a gross understatement.

And one of the pressing concerns most small gym owners are facing is how to continue to pay their coaches through economic loss and utter uncertainty about how deep this thing will go.

After surveying three dozen CrossFit affiliates or small gym owners, and a handful of coaches, it became apparent that opinions about how to proceed with coach pay are diverse and polarized.

Pay coaches at all cost: “If the community is loyal to you, you are loyal to the trainers…We continue to pay, payroll or not. After this shit is over, you (will) earn loads of goodwill for a long time in your staff,” wrote Peter-Jan Kops, the owner of CrossFit 071 in the Netherlands, in the CrossFit Affiliate Owners Only Forum on Facebook.

Be realistic and make hard decisions: “Things to consider: If you are leaving everyone on, that is great, but keep an eye on virtual class attendance. Most of us will be closed through April, at least, and attendance will drop. Contacting every client everyday doesn’t necessarily take a full staff. Watch your cash flow now, as Chris Cooper (the owner of Two-Brain Business) suggested,” wrote Joe Thiede, the owner of Train Harder CrossFit in Odessa, Fla.

  • Thiede added: “It’s very possible (your coaches) could collect full pay by filing for unemployment. It’s an uncomfortable conversation to have, but you have to base it on fact. You might need to lay people off now so they have a gym to come back to later.”

Some of the common approaches affiliates are making in the trenches right now include:

Pay as normal: “We are still paying all of (our coaches) for their regularly scheduled classes, even though no one is coaching quite a full load. We moved to an almost full schedule online, haven’t lost members, so haven’t reduced pay at all,” said Alyssa Royse, the owner of Rocket CrossFit in Seattle, Wa.

Pay only full-time coaches: Other owners, such as Alex Cibiri, the owner of Element CrossFit in Mississauga, Ontario, are continuing to pay full-time coaches only. Cibiri’s full-time coaches receive a base salary plus commission on any upsells, such as for additional personal training. This hasn’t changed, although upselling clients has become a lot more challenging right now. Cibiri also had a handful of part-time coaches, who have other full-time jobs, and are no longer coaching for him at the moment.

  • “They’re too busy with work and kids…so they’re OK with not working at the gym right now,” Cibiri said.

Similarly, Andres Schwartz, the owner of FTX CrossFit in Wheaton, Ill. is only paying coaches who usually work more than 20 hours a week.

  • “The rest unfortunately are not getting paid, but fortunately they all have other jobs that are still paying,” he said.

Pay for as long as you can: A handful of affiliate owners expressed they will keep paying their coaches as normal for another month, but then will have to reassess.

  • Arthur Pruneda, the owner of CrossFit Unchained in San Antonio, Texas, for example, said April should be normal, but “May will be questionable if we are still closed.”

This uncertainty in terms of how long we’ll be living like this has led other affiliate owners to change the way they pay their coaches entirely.

Pay based on gross revenue and client retention: Chris Cristini, the owner of two gyms — CrossFit East Woodbridge and CrossFit Markham, both in Ontario — acted quickly and switched his coach pay for three full-time and five part-time coaches, so that it’s tied to the gym’s gross revenue and ongoing client retention. This effectively protects the business from not being able to afford payroll, allows coaches to continue to earn a wage, all the while incentivizing coaches to be focused on client retention during this time, he explained.

Cristini took this advice from MadLab Group, a business consulting group for gym owners, and assigned each of his current 330 clients a personal coach. Each coach is now responsible to do weekly calls with their book of clients, where they talk about goal setting and accountability. In some cases, coaches are also providing nutrition coaching and extra homework, Cristini said.

  • “Some are going as far as Zoom poker, drinking nights and salsa classes,” he added.
Credit: @trainhardercrossfit

In return, his coaches, who were previously paid by the hour for both group classes and personal training sessions, are now paid a percentage of revenue of each of their clients’ monthly fees, as long as the client keeps paying. The percentage they’re receiving depends on a number of factors, Cristini explained.

  • “We had to figure out a way that our coaches can provide for themselves and families. We had to come up with a way to pay them that didn’t involve teaching classes,” Cristini said. “We need our coaches to provide value to our members that goes way beyond teaching a workout, because my partners and I cannot properly service our current members (in a one-on-one) capacity to the degree they need at this time.”

So far, so good: “The responses that we have been getting from our members have been incredibly positive, and I believe our community has created a bond that cannot be broken. Being a coach is easy when times are good, but to see how they have stepped up when times are tough is something special to watch,” Cristini said.

Cristini isn’t the only affiliate owner who has chosen to divide up his clients amongst his coaches.

Ben Owen, the owner of PXM CrossFit in Chicago, Ill. has done the same.

  • “We are paying all our staff and coaches as if we were still open. We assigned a client roster to (the coaches) in TrueCoach according to their normal hours worked,” he said. “So basically if you work(ed) 10 percent of all hours in the gym, you get 10 percent of our client roster, and so on.”
Credit: @ftxcrossfit

He added: “(The coaches) provide pre-workout modification if needed, advice on equipment, and motivation for the clients….Their (main) responsibility is to be an owner of a client relationship (during) this time.”

Owen also said he thinks he has the ability financially to keep this up for the next six months, if need be.

Cibiri, too, has provided each client an “accountability coach.” Coaches are responsible to check in with their list of clients regularly, and offer additional programming or individualized scaling options if needed.

  • “Home coaching is like a fitness concierge,” Cibiri said. The coach’s job is to figure out what the client wants and needs, and provide it to them, he explained.

How long can he continue to pay his coaches their base salary this way? Cibiri isn’t sure.

“It’s tricky, but we’re not going to just stay stagnant. We’re going to find ways to grow as much as we can. Adding in personal training and ways for new clients to join,” he said.

For OPEX coaches, not much has changed in the face of a pandemic:  At OPEX-licensed gyms, coaches have always had their own book of clients, and provide individual program design and monthly consults to their clients. They receive somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of the revenue their clients generate each month—similar to how Cristini has shifted his compensation model in recent weeks.

Julie Migliaccio, the owner of OPEX Gold Coast in Norwalk, Conn. explained her gym’s clients have seamlessly shifted to home workout individual programs, and are continuing to work with their personal coach and pay their monthly dues for programming and lifestyle consults. Her coaches are able to make their same wage and have been a bit busier than normal shifting from mostly in-person to purely online.

  • “We are really practicing more moral support and motivation…and we have found that more than half the clients want more workouts than usual,” she said.  

Over in Dublin, Ireland, Andy Ewington has had a similar experience following the OPEX model.

  • “I am about the only coach in my area that’s still as busy as ever,” Ewington said. He credits this to the fact that his clients were never paying for a physical space. Instead, they signed up to pay for a personal coach, and that hasn’t changed just because they have to pursue their fitness from home, he explained.
  • “For me, (COVID-19) has been a bit of a non-issue for my business (so far),” he said.

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