Episode 331

Does Your Gym Culture Suck? with Pete Dupuis

In this episode, Pete Dupuis joins me to talk about the question: does your gym culture suck?

[00:00:00] Hello, my friend on today’s episode, I’m speaking with Pete and we are talking about culture. It’s a buzzword. You’ve heard probably a lot over the last 10 or so years, but in this podcast, we break down for you. What is it to have a culture at your company? How do you create culture? How do you maintain culture and how do you use culture to create a consistent client experience and help grow your business over the long haul?

So if you want to dive into all things, culture today is the episode for you. So keep on listening.

Welcome to the Business for Unicorns podcast, where we help gym owners unleash the full potential of their business. I’m your host, Michael Keeler. Join me each week for actionable advice, expert insights, and the inside scoop on what it really takes to level up your gym. Get ready to unlock your potential and become a real unicorn in the fitness industry.

Let’s begin.[00:01:00]

Hello, fitness, business nerds. What’s up? Welcome to another episode of the business for unicorns podcast. I’m back with Mr. Pete Dupuy today. How are you, my friend? I’m doing very well. Thank you for having me. Pleasure pleasure as always before we dive into today’s topic I just want to give a quick shout out to all of you out there who have not gotten Mark Fisher’s Latest book mark put out a book about every year ago at this point about all of his business Fitness business secrets from the last 12 13 years of running Mark Fisher fitness and business for unicorns It’s a great little read with great content Tons of really actionable takeaways and you can get the book.

It’s it’s super cheap on Amazon. Click the link down in the bio below. Give one to each of your gym owner friends, or you can go to businessunicorns. com slash book, and it’ll take you right to the place to get it. And everyone has great reviews. Everyone that we’ve talked to that we’ve, that has, has read it, has walked away with real tangible.

Practical action steps from it. So this is not just a bunch of stories actually gives you strategies and tactics [00:02:00] for growing your business. So go get the book today and let us know what you think by leaving us solid review, let’s dive into today’s topic, which is a topic we’ve covered a while ago on this podcast, but we wanted to circle back because it’s a really important one that we just haven’t covered in a while.

And that is the importance of having a strong. Culture in your gym. And this word has become a buzzword in kind of business land over the last few decades. But Pete, you can just start off by saying, what the heck do we mean by having, what is a strong culture at your gym even mean? Oh, I want to be careful by using the word we here, as I describe it, because you and Mark have one of the most unique cultures I’ve ever seen in your operation.

And we have, I would say. A mutual appreciation for the importance of an authentic culture and wildly different ways of getting there or expressing it. So to me, this is a good one. I’d say [00:03:00] culture to me is about delivering an environment where the personality of the team is authentic to the team and not the owners, especially as people like you and I are getting further and further away from the training floor.

Especially in a gym like mine where we’re performance training based and I keep getting older, but our clients stay the same age. I am less and less qualified to drive the culture. Of the operation that we’re running. And so gym culture is a combination of the personalities that are delivering the service and the people who are in the building at a given time.

That, cause I like to think about our clients impacting culture just as much as the staff delivering the experience. Does that make sense? Yeah. 100%. 100%. Yeah. I think if I was going to start with an analogy about culture, I think a good one, a good analogy is like, it’s like the flavor of your soup. If your business was a soup, the culture is, what is it?

What’s the [00:04:00] taste like? How do you describe the flavor? It’s a combination of all the ingredients working together and hopefully making something delicious that allows like all the ingredients to shine and thrive, right? And so when using that in real life. People terms, it’s, it’s the definition of how do we do things around here that helps us all thrive?

What are the ways that we approach things? What are our values and beliefs? What are our norms and habits and practices? What are the ways that we do things around here that enables us all to show up as our most authentic selves and thrive as a community? And that’s a tall order. That’s a, that’s a big ask, whether you’re talking about like a single sports team or a gym, like a small, just like a gym or your whole community, the whole community that you’re a part of in your neighborhood, all of those are versions of, of collective culture.

And, and so that’s a lot of pieces to that. So let’s maybe break it down a little bit in this conversation, actually, before we break it down, cause I don’t want to dive right in too fast. Just talk a little bit about what’s been your approach over the years to trying to [00:05:00] manage. The flavor of the soup at CSP.

So your soup analogy, I think of this as, there need to be rules for the foundational pieces, about how we do things around here. You’re, you can’t have this hardline non negotiable recipe. That’s the problem to me. It’s soup in your world. It’s a grandma recipe. Recipe. It’s, it’s a little of this, a little and it’s negotiable because the volumes of the, this and that change all the time.

And in my house, my wife makes a really great ramen and my kids are obsessed with it. And I’m not talking like the 80 cent packet of ramen noodles with whole pouch. I’m talking about like, my wife is putting her own shaved steak into this concoction. And she’s like, She builds this foundation, but every single time she takes a slightly different approach because she didn’t bother to write it down last time.

And every time we have it, my kids are like, this is amazing, but it tastes different. Why does it taste different? She’s like, I don’t remember how I made it last month. I’m just doing it the way it felt [00:06:00] right today. But the basics are there. We know kind of the framework of what this is supposed to be, but then all of the little.

Accessory pieces that get tossed in or what change the vibe each time. And in the gym for us, I can’t say our culture is static because I infuse upwards of 20 different interns into our operation in a full time format, three different times a year. And they have such a significant impact on the personality of the team.

They just, they changed the whole vibe. We, I don’t want to say we reinvent the culture, spring, fall, winter, and summer. We, we, it’s just because we’re bringing different personalities into the space. Exactly. It’s shifting all the time. Like they say, a shark can’t stop. If a shark stops moving, it dies. It’s just always going to be moving.

Our culture is always moving and adjusting over time. And I love that. And I know [00:07:00] for a fact that the clients love it. Clients will come up and they’ll say, When are the summer interns here? I can’t wait to meet them. Tell me about the summer interns. They are, they’re not telling us I have a problem with the current culture.

They’re just saying, I can’t wait to see the new iteration of this space that we’re going to have the spring cleaning and the new and improved summer version. Yeah. Listen, I think right off the bat, Pete, that’s a great takeaway for our listeners, right? Is that some people think that the culture that you make in your gym is one thing.

It’ll always be that thing. And if it changes at all from that one thing, something’s wrong and nothing could be farther from the truth, right? Culture is a constantly changing soup of people coming and going, and it has to evolve with the people who were there in any given moment who are present. Part of the collective, I’ll just go back.

I’m going to stick with this fucking soup analogy because I like cooking, but it’s, you’re making tomato soup in the winter with sad winter tomatoes that just tastes like nothing. You got to change up your strategy. You got to add like some salt and some sugar because [00:08:00] winter tomatoes taste like. Garbage, but in the summertime you get some fancy heirloom summer Jersey tomatoes, right?

You don’t need to do shit to them, right? They’re good to go. So the approach changes as the ingredients change over time and I think even swallowing that as initial lesson about culture I think is really powerful because you have to go with the flow which leads me to Bring a little structure to this conversation in that there are a few components of culture that I think are really meaningful.

I’m going to create three buckets and then let’s talk about the three buckets. One of the buckets of culture is actually creating structure. So you need some structure in your gym to teach people roles and responsibilities, have clear SOPs, clear expectations for your clients. team and your clients.

That’s one piece we’ll talk about. The second piece is you got to be clear on your values and philosophies. The why behind the what, why do you do what you do? Why is it important you show up in the way you show up? There’s got to be some clear values that your, your team and your clients follow. And the third bucket is really have to wrap your [00:09:00] arms around, um, any beliefs, beliefs and feelings, right?

Or you have to manage beliefs and feelings in a culture because they’re ever evolving and changing and they’re good information about whether things are. Heading the right direction or not. So again, it’s structure, it’s values, it’s beliefs and feelings. So when it comes to structure, you just talk a little bit about what are the structural pieces you have in place that help maintain your culture at CSP?

What are the rules, norms, policies, processes? What are the things that you have in place that you think make a good impact on your culture? I think clarity about what’s important to us provides clarity on where we’re not that interested in micromanaging, which I’m willing to give the range over to. Just about anybody on my staff.

If I haven’t made a stink about it or looked you in the eye and said, Hey, this system is non negotiable. Then it means be creative, take some liberties with this. There are certain non negotiables like professionalism and punctuality and [00:10:00] music selection, like language in the weight room, things that could be.

Music’s a good example of something that could be construed as part of culture. But we have some non negotiables there. Like you’re just not going to tolerate certain types of lyrics. Yeah. And this is exactly why it’s a structure like this, which is why your clients can tolerate, not just tolerate, but actually appreciate the ebbing and flowing of all the interns is because the.

The baseline experience is the structure that is maintained through. We still always start on time. Programs are delivered in this way. Music selection is carefully thought about no matter who’s in the building. Right. It’s like those kinds of SOPs that help maintain the same flavor of experience, regardless of what.

Round of interns you’re on. Exactly. I’ll give you two more, two more kind of, we’ll say technology driven rules that make it very clear that one, we have guidelines, but two culture is important to us under no circumstance. Can you wear headphones on our [00:11:00] training floor? We do not want to take the. Premium pricing strategy that we are extracting from you and then allow you to water down your own experience because we can’t communicate coaching cues to you because you don’t like the music.

So there’s will forever be an agree to disagree on gym music. That’s gym music is type deal. If you hate the music so much that you can’t bring yourself to train in that environment with headphones, you’re just not a fit for us. We need to be able to look you in the eye. Give you a cue or maybe even be standing behind you and give you a cue that you can process An auditory cue and that just doesn’t happen when you’ve got a guy with noise cancelling headphones on not to mention the fact that A big pair of bulky noise cancelling headphones basically says to the coach fuck off And that doesn’t really fly in our space So that’s a really good example of what you can and can’t get away with now You I will allow [00:12:00] them over the years.

We had hard rules with like staff lift, no headphones during staff. If this is about community and culture, but as the team has got bigger and bigger, it’s just impossible to get so unified across the board as a team that we all train at the same time. And we all get, we get on the same page for that. So I will allow it for the team during non client hours.

But if you are a staff member and let’s say you don’t start till two, but you get here at noon, cause you want to lift. If there are clients in the building, you’re not allowed to train in headphones, even if you’re not on the clock because it just sends the wrong message. Does that make sense? Yep. The second one I was going to give you is we just have a absolutely non negotiable no telephones on the training floor rule.

We’ve had it since day one in 2007. And I have had parents, I have had college athletes, high school athletes, I’ve had countless people say it’s refreshing because I’ve come to realize that this is the only place that I go and I don’t hold my phone the whole time. And so, nobody fights it. I can’t remember the last time we had to have [00:13:00] that argument.

And we almost don’t even need to explain the rule. I can’t remember the last time I saw a coach saying, hey, just so you know, no phones on the training floor. Because the behavior is observed and people know better. And so it’s not a rule that needs to be declared. It’s just, it’s been in place since the beginning of time.

And the messaging by our behavior has got that across. Yeah, 100%. I think those are such great examples of like small, relatively simple policies, but they have a big impact in the way people behave in the space. And we all know that kind of behavior is contagious. So when people see someone acting in a certain way or not acting a certain way, we mimic it.

We’re social mirroring creatures. And so we absolutely will follow the norms of the space we walk into. And those are great examples. I also say big picture when I think about creating structure that supports culture. I think about a few big picture things. One is I think about onboarding people, onboarding clients and onboarding your team, making sure there’s a consistent [00:14:00] process for bringing people into your culture in the first place.

So they have time to learn your rules and your norms and your policies. I think when it comes to the team, having really clear roles and responsibilities, I think is a big part of the culture, knowing what is your lane, what’s not your lane, who do you go to for what, like those kinds of parameters, I think help people navigate.

And make a consistent culture. I think the last thing I’ll say is that I think meetings for teams are really a big part of culture because meetings are the moment where you all have the most and hopefully the best kind of communication, the most consistent kind of touch base and FaceTime meetings also are the place where you hold each other accountable to making sure you’re doing the things you said you were going to do.

So I think if I was going to like structurally. Start to make progress on the culture of my business. I would focus on how do we onboard people? How do we create clarity of expectations and how do we hold each other accountable to meeting those expectations? And if you can do that consistently. Over years, you can have a really strong culture that’s [00:15:00] grounded in the things you care about with people coming and going all over the place.

I think you’re a little sheltered on the meetings thing. Cause you guys are, you have it so buttoned up at MFF since day one, and you’ve built this unicorn society community where it’s a non negotiable. The weekly mission control meeting is, it’s like the cost of doing business. If you want to participate in this community and to you, what feels normal, I don’t think is quite.

So commonplace, I think a quality meeting cadence, a hundred percent. It is the exception, not the rule. And even the operations that dabble with meetings. Say so they say they’re important to them, but they don’t build any structure into their approach Yes, I think you have come to see us like the norm if that’s Okay, 100 percent Yeah 100 percent I think it’s one of those things that and it makes sense in running small businesses like gyms We think we really can’t [00:16:00] afford to take time out of like Doing the work to talk about the work and improve our ability to do the work.

And it’s one of those things where I think big companies, large corporations have taken it too far. Right. We both have spouses that work in big companies and they spend all day in meeting. They have almost no time to do the work. They’ve gone too far in the other. Direction. Yeah. And, but I think for most gym owners I talked to, they could stand to go a little farther in that direction.

It’s just not enough. I was just talking to someone, a university member today who only has a quarterly team meeting once every three months, they have a team meeting, which is better than nothing. But on their last team meeting, they announced some changes to roles and responsibilities, and then were shocked that they weren’t immediately implemented by everyone without any hiccups.

I was like, I don’t know who you’re speaking of. I can’t say that I know which of these members you’re speaking of, but I will say that there are a lot of gyms in my experience that run into this for the forgivable reason that it’s really hard to get a team of [00:17:00] partially full time and partially part time together all in the same place, and it’s also expensive.

It’s an investment because they’re going to mandate that they give you their time. They are entitled to tell you, okay, it costs that much money. And so I know why it is not prioritized a lot of the time. 100%. And let me just say, I’m not throwing shade. I’m not judging. I get it. Means are expensive. You absolutely pay people to be at them.

Part time people might never be at your meetings. There’s a lot to consider. And the reality is if you’re only getting together as a team to talk about how you work together once every three months, you can’t be surprised that you’re not more cohesive, right? You can’t be surprised. You’re not all on the same page.

It’s like having a sports team where it’s like we had a practice three months ago, but the game is not for another three months. We just don’t see each other between now and then we’re expected to get on the field that day and crush it. Yeah. How do you not know the sports, but we talked about this back in sports.

Yeah, that seems ridiculous to expect that. So, yeah, but I think that the whole point here is that a big [00:18:00] part of culture is the structure you put in place that is consistent as the culture evolves. Let’s go into the second bucket. Second bucket here is really about core values. And I feel like we talk a lot about those podcasts about core values, but they play an important role in helping people understand like the why behind the what.

So you just talk a little bit about what role has values played in CSP’s culture over the years. I think we’ve leaned so hard into the CSP family hashtag that we’ve been spewing all over the internet for years. That, that piece of our values that we deliver this clubhouse environment, but a family vibe is infused in everything we do and it’s, yeah, it can be off putting if you are new and it can be.

It’ll catch you by surprise like this place is a tough environment to thrive as an introvert right out of the gate Because when you walk through our door, I mean it might it’s not that uncommon For one staff member to spot someone [00:19:00] if you walked in Michael Then yell your name and then people start clapping and all of a sudden 40 people in the gym just stop what they’re doing and clap And I’ll watch you walk to the warm up area for no reason at all It’s just the vibe and the environment and the way people have fun and kind of bust balls.

And when you get into it after a couple of weeks, months, program to deal, you realize, Oh, that’s just part of being in this family. There is unique, but there isn’t an example in my space where we say to our clients, Hey, sit down, I want to run you through our core values because we are. A traditionally younger training environment than that, which the gen pop gyms are delivering.

And if I said to a 17 year old who barely looks their parents in the eye, and it’s already enough of a grind to get them to act like an adult, sit down, let’s talk about CSPs core values and how it’s going to impact your training. Moving forward. They’d be like, cool. So you never, I’m not booking the next session.

So for us, the [00:20:00] values need to be. Gently imposed upon them without them realizing it 100 percent and you just gave a bunch of examples. Yeah, but listen, you just gave a bunch of examples as we’ve been talking about how people learn about your values, right? If I walk in and people are not wearing headphones and not in their phones, I learned the value of like face to face engagement that you care about actually connecting with each other, communicating while we’re on the floor.

If I see people laughing and poking fun and making fun of each other and all that, I learned that you have a value of like humor and humility and poking fun is a love language in this space. Right. And growing up in Jersey, where all we did was make fun of each other to show our love that resonates with me and it may not resonate with certain people.

Right. I know my husband, for example, when we first met, he was like, why are you making fun of me? I was like, oh, yeah. Oh, this is how I express my love. I’m sorry. That’s not, that’s new to you. But I think those kinds of values, people do learn by experiencing, they don’t require a PowerPoint presentation, but they [00:21:00] learn by people consistently on the team, embracing values that matter.

It’s funny how it can carry across different demos in our space. And I’ll give you a really funny example. Maybe 10 years ago, we had this pitching coach named Christian and he, I don’t know if he started it, but he definitely amplified this habit of what they called callbacks, where if an athlete was walking out of the gym, they’d been there for an hour and a half.

It was very clear, like they got their jacket in their hand, their clipboard that they’re going to go out and put away and leave. And they left without saying bye to Christian. He’d wait until they were like, just at the door. And our space is big. We’ve got a 15, 000 square foot gym. He would shout across a busy gym.

He’d be like, Michael, And they’d turn and look and he’d give them the, Hey, come over here. And make them walk all the way over. And they’d walk up to him and he’d be like, why don’t you say goodbye to me? And the kid will be like, Oh, I’m sorry. And I remember him saying to a kid right in front of me, he’s like, how are you going to get yourself recruited?

If you can’t act like an adult. Say goodbye to the people that you interacted with today. And he [00:22:00] made them walk around and fist bump to every staff member. And he said, and don’t leave the interns out. And what started as a joke and him just busting balls and making things difficult for a kid leaving became the norm.

And so now if you walked into my gym and I was giving you a tour during a 10 minute tour, you would see four different adults. 40 plus walk up to me while I’m having a conversation with someone else and give me a fist bump, just the heads up, I’m leaving, just a heads up. And that’s because it started with this trolling of high school athletes, but now it’s the rule.

Clients don’t leave without saying goodbye to every staff member on the training floor. They weave and zigzag around our gym and around exercising people with their stuff in their hands to say their goodbyes, uniform. across the gym. Everybody does it. It’s not even unusual anymore. And if you see it a couple of times during your first week, you realize, I guess this is the expectation.

This is how this family interacts. So it’s strange, but it started a long time ago. Yeah, no, I think it’s fantastic. It’s a good example of how culture evolves, [00:23:00] right? How people in everyone who is part of the culture influences it in some way. And some of these values are emerge. Yeah. From the culture. And then some are really decisively put in, right?

And MFF, for example, we have a value that we put in of excellence on our team internally, not necessarily for our clients as an internal like team value. And it’s not that we didn’t care about excellence before. It’s not like we hired people who didn’t care about doing a good job, but we wanted to be more intentional about no part of what we care about as a team is doing good work.

Another example is this year we redid our business unicorns team values, just At the end of last year, end of 2023, and we added a value, which I have found challenging already this year, which is this value of simplicity that really going to embrace the idea of making shit as simple as possible, which is hard because people like us who are long students of this game.

Like to make things fucking complicated and so just keeping things simple. So listen, sometimes values can come from a need. [00:24:00] You have that you want to fill a direction. You want to push the culture and sometimes they emerge from within organically. Either way, your job as an owner is to understand what those values are.

What do you care about and make them as clear as possible. So the people you want to care about them, and this goes from everything to like how you show up to why you program design the way you program design, why you hire the people you hire, right? It’s all the whys behind the what. So just getting really clear about that, I think is a big piece of the culture.

Yeah, let’s switch in the last few minutes to our final bucket here. So there’s three buckets about structure. We talked about values. The third bucket, and this could be a whole nother podcast, but we’ll leave it brief, is really. Making sure that there’s someone in the culture who is managing people’s beliefs and feelings.

What I mainly mean about this is attitudes and assumptions people make about the culture and about the gym conflict that comes up in the culture. But between employees, between clients, between employees and clients, anxiety that rises on the team when things are uncertain, right? [00:25:00] Someone’s got to be present.

Paying attention to managing the beliefs and feelings of people in a culture. If not, they have a way of running away from you, right? They have a way of being like a mold or a fungus in a culture that erodes at it. I think that phrase like one bad apple is true when it comes to business culture. One person with a crappy attitude can ruin a lot of things in your business.

So when you think about that function that you’ve. How do you think about managing people’s like beliefs and feelings on a regular basis? I felt like it was getting harder and harder for me as the business grew. Eric relocated to Florida to run the other operation and he was only here seasonally. And like I said, I was getting older and older.

Primary demo was staying the same. So for me, the, the workaround on this was empowering John, who was closer to all of that, with more meaningful relationships with the team and the people, and just [00:26:00] consistently elevating his status to a point that ultimately resulted in him being an equity partner. He feels the things you were talking about months before I do.

And when I find out without his awareness, it’s far too late. It’s like the things that happen behind closed doors in the staff lounge or in the gym after hours on a Saturday when we’ve closed doors and they’re getting a lift in or like literally having some beers in the staff lounge hanging out.

Those are the things that I couldn’t ever have my finger on the pulse. Early on I did because I was in that room. But now it’s just not where I’m at in life. Family obligations and things like that. And it may not be the answer you’re looking for but for me, I outsourced. My ability to manage those feelings.

Listen, I think 100%, when you’re the owner, you’re the person on the top of the proverbial power pyramid, then it’s hard for you to have your finger on the pulse of what people really think and what the people really feel. It’s sometimes just impossible. You’re going to be the last [00:27:00] person they tell, but it’s the meeting that happens after the meeting.

It’s the conversation happens after the door’s closed. It’s the thing that happens in the happy hour. It’s the under the breath things. It’s the, it’s a, I saw someone act this way. They said one thing, they said they were fine. But what they did was. Something else, right? It’s all of that reading between the lines.

And like you as the owner can’t be the only one paying attention to that and caring about that. Someone’s got to be looking for the iceberg, right? Someone’s got to be looking for the stuff that’s not working under the surface that no one’s ready to talk about because that’s the stuff that will come and bite you in the butt.

Another, I guess another maybe useful analogy here is, is gardening, right? Another part, another way people talk about managing culture is like tending a garden, right? Creating a great environment for things to grow and flourish. And you have to weed a garden. Like there are, there are bugs and there are insects and weeds and other things that are going to come up and ruin your shit, ruin your crop.

And you have to be on the lookout for that stuff. Um, and it’s not maybe the most fun part of our job. It may not even be able to be us to does [00:28:00] it. But we got to make sure we’ve empowered someone on our team to be looking out for that, have the tools and skills to be able to get in front of it. And again, sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it’s two people are fighting, but sometimes it’s less obvious, right?

There’s a whole bunch of new people who just joined and they, they really don’t like each other, or they’re really not happy about their pay, or there’s two clients who don’t like scheduling time with each other because they think one of them thinks the other one’s smelly. There’s so many permutations of things that can go wrong, but the whole point here is that someone’s got to be paying attention, looking out for that stuff to try and get ahead of it.

And I think delegating it is a perfectly fantastic way to go. Yeah. Yeah, and I don’t even want to pretend that I delegated it so much as I saw it as a strength that he might not have even known he had. And I just allowed him to lean into it. And then it, that, he’s going to outgrow that stage as well. And we’re going to need to reinvent ourselves again, because he’s getting older, just like I am.

And the interns are still young men and women. And [00:29:00] we may come to a point where he says, Hey, I’ve become out of touch as well. And then we sit down and we talk that one through and we course correct. Yeah. 100%. Let’s leave it there. I think we can keep going. This is a big topic. topic, but I think just for our listeners to recap, if you can think of the structure, some structure you have in place to set clear expectations, get everyone on the same page, that’s useful in a culture.

If you can get clear on the why behind what you do, your values, philosophies, principles, that really helps align culture. And if you can make sure that someone’s got their finger on the pulse of what’s going wrong, what are people’s beliefs? Uh, beliefs and feelings that might be misaligned with what we’re trying to accomplish.

How do you resolve that? Like that kind of stuff is the stuff that helps keep culture on track. Anything you would add a closing thought here, Pete? No, I was thinking, I can’t remember the last time you and I did a full half hour podcast. This has been a nice conversation. I know! We really kept going. Like I said, it’s a big topic.

We could probably have another four conversations on this topic and tell all kinds of stories, but maybe we will, but we’ll leave this one there for now. Thanks for a great conversation as always, my [00:30:00] friend, and dear listeners, go get Mark’s book. Click the link down in the show notes or go to businessofunicorns.

com slash book. See on the next one. Talk soon.