Don't Sell Out: Selling Supplements at CrossFit Affiliates

A handful of ITA readers requested that I write about the kinds of supplements and products we sell at CFSBK and why. The short answer is that beyond our training services, we don't sell much else. Like most affiliates, we sell shirts and some other seasonal apparel such as hoodies and sweatpants, which are both fun to design and help build community by allowing­­ members to rep their home gym. Beyond that, we carry lacrosse balls, Kelly Starrett’s book Becoming a Supple Leopard, and the following three supplements: fish oil, magnesium, and vitamin D. We are also a host site for a local Paleo prepared-meal service and three different CSAs. The food service pays us in food credits, and we don't make any money off the CSAs—we just think supporting local, sustainable agriculture is the right thing to do. 

The long answer is that we don't really "sell" anything per se at our gym, meaning I've never had a conversation with someone with the primary intention of getting them to buy a product so we make a profit on it. My general attitude is that we provide training services, which are how we pay our bills, and we offer a few other products that people can pick up if they want. For example, as I mentioned, we now sell fish oil. If folks want it, it's there for them. But if they're curious about a different brand that we don’t sell, I'll gladly recommend a variety of other options that are well-sourced and taste good. The important part to me is that they're managing inflammation to the end of being a better athlete. The profit we make from these items is certainly appreciated, but not the primary motivation for why we chose to stock them in the first place.

Whatever you choose to sell at your affiliate is a personal decision, but perhaps more important than what you sell is why you sell it. Partnering with companies that have capitalized on CrossFit’s popularity can be extremely fruitful for both parties, but it can also be a slippery slope that takes the focus of your business off training your members and puts it onto increasing your bottom line for its own sake. As I wrote about in “The Organic Affiliate Growth Model,” we’ve hopefully all gone into this business because we love coaching movement and facilitating the positive impacts it has on peoples’ lives. That positive impact should inform all decisions you make about where and how to grow your business.

That being said, below are my three criteria for why I would choose to sell or not sell a product:

1. Has the specific product been requested by members on a regular basis?
For quite a few years, CFSBK didn't sell anything except our first shirt design. Over time, I noticed members were consistently requesting fish oil, lacrosse balls, and more merchandise, from new t-shirts to hoodies and hats. I'm totally comfortable stocking a product that members ask for and I’m completely uncomfortable trying to convince them to buy something they might not need. The point of our gym isn’t to sell these products, but we want to be flexible and respond to the legitimate requests of our members—not attempt to fill holes that don’t exist.

2. Is this product a legitimate investment for most people?
Basically, I ask myself if I believe a given product is worthwhile. A lacrosse ball can easily mitigate the pain of someone’s cranky shoulders, and Kelly’s book can help someone do independent research to perform basic maintenance on his or her body; both of these things have obvious and straightforward benefits, which make my decision to endorse them just as obvious and straightforward. 

I don’t feel this way about products such as a pre-workout "energy blast" supplement that promises to take someone’s WOD “to the next level.” Advising someone to just get better rest and figure out their eating schedule seems far more sustainable, healthy, and wise compared to relying on a powder to jack them up. CFSBK believes in the basic philosophy that effective training, quality nutrition, and ample rest are usually all you need to stay healthy and continue to make progress as an athlete.

If someone wants to experiment with supplements, ergogenic aids, and meal replacement powders, then it's up to them to source that stuff out. We also have plenty of members and coaches who utilize these kinds of products and can make some personal recommendations on a case-by-case basis. I’m not denigrating the benefits of these products, which may be plentiful in certain cases, but I'm not interested in part of my gym looking like a GNC, or giving the impression that people need additional, expensive powders and supplements beyond generally taking care of themselves to be fit and healthy. 

3. Will the vendor enable a hands-off relationship that doesn’t require more resources than their product is worth?
If a product has met the above two criteria, then CFSBK will consider stocking it—but only as long as the sales rep isn't trying to get me on their "team," working on strategies to push more product and hit their particular quotas. An ideal relationship is that I buy some of the product and when our inventory is low, I'll purchase more. Beyond that, leave me alone.

Getting in bed with the already nefarious supplement industry might be the actual last thing in the world I want to do. I'm first and foremost accountable to the needs of my members and coaches—not an independent company primarily looking to make a profit off of them. When a sales rep starts trying to woo me with spreadsheets about all the money I'll make if we hit X number of sales, I tune out. Remember that whatever profit the gym will skim off the top is going to be a fraction of what the supplement company makes. To them, YOU are the commodity, something you should always keep in mind when considering what kinds of professional relationships you want to engage in.

Final Thoughts
Additional income streams are obviously enticing to any business owner, especially new affiliates who may have just racked up a small fortune in debt. That being said, whatever you choose to sell beyond your training services should be carefully considered and scrutinized before you decide to line your shelves with large plastic jugs. Think about what is important to you and to your members and why you got into the coaching business in the first place. Your members are not naive, and I guarantee one of the easiest ways to alienate them and create a sense of distrust is attempting to sell them something they don't really need or want. Your job as a professional coach is to use your knowledge and experience to help your members make the most appropriate and practical decisions to enhance their training and health, not to squeeze a few more bucks out of them at the "pro shop."

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Reader Comments (5)

Great Article! As a new affiliate, we are bombarded with sales reps, emails and literature enticing us to carry/sell/stock/offer their products. It could be very easy for someone to "sell out" early on in their venture with the promises of profits by some of these companies. I agree, Stay true to why you coach in the first place!

You are so on it! Couldn't have said it better. I love my gym owner because he only carries what he 100% believes in and actually takes himself. When someone tells me how much money I can make off of sell their product, I immediately tell them to go find someone else. Quality services and products create money, money doesn't create them. Keep up the good work, no doubt you guys will stay prosperous!!!

June 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Angove

Adovcare! FML!!!!

June 3, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermike

Thanks for the comments guys, glad you enjoyed the article!

We were quiet this week while I was at Regionals working as the competition director but we'll be back with a new post next Monday.

June 4, 2014 | Registered CommenterDavid Osorio

You make great points, and you are exactly the type of business I prefer to deal with... no matter what service you offer. Nobody likes being pressured into buying something they don't need. Besides, as I imagine myself walking into a box for the first time and feeling like I'm in a GNC; I can tell you that I'm not going to stay. It's a bad vibe.

June 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJohn B

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