Why You Should Own Your Own Brand

By: Madlab Group

In the aftermath of the CrossFit scandal, hundreds of former CrossFit gyms are left wondering how to rebrand their business. 

Some are flocking to places like NCFIT to provide them with a lifeboat,  while others are looking for a quick way to chop something together in a hurry.

We get it: It’s a scary and uncertain time for many affiliates wondering where to go from here. But there could be a silver lining in all this: Owning your own brand.

If you do not own your own brand—if you don’t have franchise laws to protect you—then you cannot protect it, you cannot control it, and you cannot sell it. 

When you don’t own your own brand, as we learned recently, all it takes is one man to nearly burn the whole ship down.

This is part of what we do and have always done: We help independent gyms tell their story and create their own unique voice, and a brand they own, control, can protect, and one day, can sell and retire. 

We learned this lesson back in 2012 in Vancouver:

Our story: Our flagship gym Madlab School of Fitness started out as CrossFit Vancouver. In the early days—2005-2008—being called CrossFit didn’t help us at all because nobody knew what CrossFit was. Then, for a couple years, the name maybe helped us gain some clients; however, our prime method of bringing on new clients has always been through referrals.

Then in 2012, we started to realize that having CrossFit on our door was actually hurting us.

Before all our classes, we do what we call a circle question, where we go around and ask everyone the same question (a great way to build community). One day, we asked the group: What do you tell people about CrossFit and our gym?

Circle Question

Throughout the day, as more and more people answered the question in the various classes, a trend emerged: 

The moment I tell people I do CrossFit, they roll their eyes and stop listening.

I can’t get anyone to come to the gym anymore because it’s a CrossFit gym.

I don’t say anything anymore because people want nothing to do with CrossFit.

It became obvious the brand had a problem.

Then there was the Groupon scandal: A new gym down the street opened up and went the Groupon way, offering 8 group OnRamp sessions for $20. They sold 472 of them in eight hours.

All of a sudden, people start showing up at our door looking for this cheap training. We keep turning people away explaining to them that our fundamentals package is  $80 a session for 10-15 personal training sessions (now it’s $90 and 15-20 sessions).

Then our phone starts ringing off the hook with people looking for us to honour the Groupon. They actually start getting angry at us. Eventually, we stop answering the phone and change our voicemail to say, “We’re not the discount CrossFit. They’re down the street. Here’s how you find them.”

So began our long process of rebranding to become Madlab School of Fitness. 

That’s the thing with rebranding: You cannot change your brand in a hurry. If you want to chop something together, God help you. But a good brand can’t be jettisoned overnight. It takes time.

But it is possible. Here we are in 2020 and the only members who know we were ever a CrossFit gym are the people who started before 2014, and they started to have an easier time bringing us referrals. Anyone who has joined in the last five years don’t even know we were the first affiliate in Canada. They also had no idea who Greg Glassman was.

It’s a long process, but it’s worth it. Since beginning our rebranding in 2012, we have grown 5 to 12 percent each year. 

On an Affiliate Panel a few weeks ago that had nine veteran affiliate owners, one of the owners Chriss Smith, who recently cut ties with CrossFit made some comment about building his own brand and how great it would feel if people show up looking specifically for you. For your coaches. For your services. Not for CrossFit, or whatever other brand people are considering hopping to. 

It takes time, but it does feel good when people start showing up for you. And it’s possible. We did it eight years ago, and we have helped hundreds of gyms do the same.

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