What If 'How Many Members Ya Got' Wasn't The Right Question?


The “How many members ya got?” query is like the “How much ya bench?” question for gym owners. It’s supposed to give the person asking the question a snapshot on how strong the gym is.

Maybe it does, but only so far as how much a person bench presses tells you about their overall strength and fitness. A gym’s number of members, like someone’s sweet bench press, is a cool number that might not mean as much as we think.

The “How many members ya got?” question is always forgivable, (especially from clients and guests), but when speaking from gym owner to gym owner, maybe we should be asking some better questions of each other.

If we did, perhaps our clients would benefit greatly, and so would our businesses and so would our impact on the world around us, both individually and as a collective.

I have owned a CrossFit gym since 2010. I have been told many times over the years that a person knows what our gym makes each month because they know how many members we have and how much we charge.

If our business model was weak, they would be right. Sort of. (Between you and I, the people who tell me how much our gym makes never seem to take into account the monthly expenses of our business before determining our profits.)

In truth, membership revenue accounts for roughly 50% of our total monthly gross revenue. The other 50(ish)% is made up of alternative revenue streams like personal training, specialty courses, nutrition services, retail, etc.

For any gym owner who has been in the game for awhile, diverse revenue streams are not really mind blowing information, although being reminded of this can often be helpful. Stuart Brauer wrote about it in TrainHeroic here.

Here’s the bigger question for gym owners, though, “What difference does it make?”

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What difference does it make how many members we have, how many personal training clients we see, or how many nutrition services we sell? If we’re not turning a profit (i.e. we have priced our services poorly, or worse, devalued them to the point our business is “upside down” and we can’t turn a profit), none of these numbers matter.

If we’re not turning a profit, we will eventually have to close our doors — assuming we operate a business and not a non-profit or a hobby — and we will cease being able to help people with our vision.

And if we look solely at profit we will eventually forget that we are in the service business, helping humans build better versions of themselves. This is why (and how!) we do what we do. The results of this misaligned focus (profits coming before people and value) will force us to either change the way we do business, sell our business, or close our doors — confused and worn out.

The real factors behind developing a strong, lasting monthly gross revenue for our business are:

  1. Appropriately priced services — another article for another time
  2. Focus on our people. Our Teams MUST have meaningful work and our clients MUST get their needs met that we promised to fulfill. Progress is one of the lead indicators of happiness!

Consistently exceeding team and client expectations is even more rewarding — for everybody. So, what if we stopped paying attention so hard to how many clients we have and started focusing on what kind of clients we have?

What if we asked ourselves each day, how many happy clients do we have? What if we asked ourselves each day how many lives have we changed for the better? What if we asked ourselves each day how fulfilled are the teammates we employ?

The Harvard Business Review seems to think this is an excellent idea.

How can we measure happiness? Excitement? Needs met? Progress gained?

Easy. Ask.

Test a version of this question with a few of your clients and see what happens: “Hey [NAME of CLIENT]. I notice you’ve been getting after it in here lately and your pull-up [or some other movement] has come a long way. How’s it going in here?”

Test this with a couple of your teammates: “Hey [NAME of COACH], I notice you’ve been hitting your cues a lot better on the snatch [or some other movement] this month and you seem to really be getting our clients engaged in each class. How’s it going in here?”


Be genuine. If you are not, these questions will fail miserably.

Distribute a client survey. People mess this one up all the time by asking the wrong questions. (I know I did!) Don’t do that. It will make things worse! Here’s an excellent Client Survey that can help you quantify “the feels” in the gym.

Perform Goal Setting Reviews with yourself, your Team and your Clients; and, most importantly, follow up on them!

There is nothing worse than having a meeting with someone and then not caring enough or being organized enough to follow up. I know from experience what dropping the ball can do on this. I screwed this up. It will create, as a former teammate once told me, “seeds of bitterness.”

Ouch. But she was right. And it was my fault. Automation and organization help tremendously on feedback and follow through!

Show people you care. Ask questions. Shut up. Listen. Offer the services that your people need; or direct them to service providers you trust if it’s not a service your business provides!

All of this is simple. Not easy.

Maybe a better question we gym owners can ask of another is not, “How many members ya got?”, but, “How do we continue to make our clients and teammates lives the best they can be?” If we do this, profit — as long as we intelligently invest back into our business and have effective management of our expenses — and therefore longevity, will take care of itself.

If you’re like me — somebody who has spent years looking at the numbers with a furrowed brow and watching them NOT move — merging into this lovely lane along life’s highway will change everything for you.

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About The Author

Craig has worked with state champions, Division I collegiate athletes, and professional football players. But his real passion lies in working with everyday people 35 years and older. Those "masters" folks who work to remain engaged (or who are re-engaging!) in their fitness-oriented lives while navigating all the challenges that come with work, family and aging happily.