Recently, news spread that the owner of the Equinox and Soul Cycle chains of gyms was holding a fundraiser for President Trump and met with backlash from many in the fitness world who didn’t agree with that position. As a business owner in this same industry (full disclosure – sadly, no politicians have approached me for fundraisers) and I think it’s an important opportunity to call attention to a few things.
Fitness is a multibillion-dollar industry and businesses exist at every level from world-wide fitness franchises, to large “globo” gyms, to boutique fitness, to personal trainers, to shake-weights. Some of those gym chain companies are packaged into even larger groups of companies with ownership structures. Fitness certainly isn’t unique in this either as there as the conglomeration of commerce is happening at a staggering pace (take a minute and google around who actually owns many of the brands you support – you might be surprised). The larger the company – the more money it both makes and requires to operate and thus gets harder and harder to ascertain where your money goes after you give it to them.
I solely own Subversus Fitness | CrossFit Center City and I live in the city. For better or worse (#blamewylie) the end of the line is me. CrossFit in particular, is an interesting model. CrossFit’s expansion has been the broadest in fitness history, over 15,000 affiliates around the world. As an affiliate owner, I pay CrossFit an annual fee to use their name, no other money goes to CrossFit HQ. What’s even more interesting is the fact that one person can only own one affiliate and affiliate owners are largely first-time entrepreneurs.
When you choose to support small businesses, you pay for car repairs, doctor’s visits, groceries, rent – the lives of those operating and employed by those businesses, not corporate jets. This isn’t meant to imply that large companies are evil empires or that all small businesses are without fault. Small business should still have to earn your money, it’s merely to point out that our money is our speech and the week’s events should give us pause as how we choose to speak. As successful companies get gobbled up, our community spaces become populated with more and more franchises. Where this gets tricky is that these companies employ people locally – your Coach at Soul Cycle is likely not hosting political fundraisers in the Hamptons, not have they probably ever had any degree of contact with the owner of the company. This leads to many people who also need and deserve to make a living doing so as part of these complex systems. I don’t envy those who make those choices right now and I do my best to make sure that Coaches I employ are clear on my values, time and priorities.
My point here isn’t to plug our gym, I believe that everyone should both move and have the opportunity to do so. All I will say is that in your city or town, you will be hard pressed to find a quicker line to ownership priorities than at a CrossFit affiliate due to the nature of the people and business model involved. Whatever the mode is that you believe in and find your tribe within – awesome – do it, embrace it. Some may argue that to attend a Soul Cycle or Equinox is also a convenience or the fact that those gyms are both god damn beautiful inside (which they are). They can pay those rents and use those towels because of money. Wish your local spin studio looked like Soul Cycle or had those towels? The best possible thing you can do is buy a membership there (and no, being a friend does not mean asking for a discount on their services). Trust me when I say that every member matters.
This post also isn’t one to decide gym or methodology superiority when spending your money, it IS to build a stronger community. I am so fucking proud of what we do and how we do it, but I’m not going to denigrate others in our industry to make a buck nor imply that we can’t be better. I stand by what we do. Learning how to improve on that is why I and I would argue most small business owners get excited to do what they do every day and yes, it’s nice when we can pay our bills and make a profit. One of the biggest reasons I decided to buy Subversus Fitness from the previous owner was because of my respect for our staff as well as community and making sure they had a path forward. I didn’t do so from as part of a hedgefund (my dog looks more like a hedgehog), I did it by borrowing, scraping and working my ass off to stay independent. I also won’t lie that remains a tough thing to do economically, not cede control.
You, the athlete, the consumer, the member, the citizen, you have the power to empower or crush businesses with your money. All that I ask from my tiny basement soapbox is that these events give us all pause to decide how we choose to spend our money and the questions that we ask. Before we just boycott something and post on social media, let’s make sure we don’t run right into the arms of the same thing somewhere else, let’s use a moment like this to re-evaluate how we spend our money and our speech.