Affiliate name: CrossFit Solace
Location: 38 East 32nd Street, New York, NY
Year started: October 2014
Estimated number of members: 300 and growing
Square footage: 11,000 square-feet
Gym owner’s name/s: Tristan Keeffe, Jim Loperfido, and Chad McDonald
Number of full-time and part-time trainers: 16
ITA: Tell us the story about how your gym started.
Tristan Keeffe: Jim and I initially met working out at EVF on the Upper East Side in 2012. We began discussing the idea of opening a CrossFit gym after investors showed interest in providing capital for Goattape, a company Jim was a major owner of. In January 2013, we set out in earnest to raise capital for our vision of what a CrossFit gym could truly be.
CrossFit Solace wouldn’t be what it is today without the gyms that came before it. We felt it was our obligation to push the boundaries of what had been done well in the past and combine that with what we felt would be the next evolution of the CrossFit experience. We built Solace to be more accessible for those still yet to catch the bug while providing all the tools necessary to take training to the next level for those already committed to the cause. We built the facility we wanted to train at—with a welcoming and aesthetically pleasing ground level, a professional-level training facility, and programming in the basement. So far the badass and beauty have been playing well together.
ITA: How do new members start at your gym?
TK: For members new to CrossFit, we have a Six-Class Foundations package for $99. We priced this in a way to expose CrossFit to as many curious fence-sitters as possible. We feel strongly that we can adequately explain the value proposition of a $250 a month membership through our structured Foundations program as long as we get the chance. This package forms the backbone of our sales strategy.
Our Six-Class Foundation Program is structured as follows:
101: "Sitting” | Air Squat, Back Squat, Overhead Squat, Front Squat | Cool Down Lecture: What is CrossFit, Benchmarking, and Performance Tracking Importance
102: “Pushing" | Press, Push Press, Push Jerk | Cool Down Lecture: Appropriate Scaling for the Individual
103: “Pulling” | Deadlift, Sumo Deadlift High Pull | Cool Down Lecture: Nutrition
104: “Core” | Hollow Holds/Rocks, Arch Holds/Rocks, Planks, Push-ups, Pull=ups, Ring Rows, Ring Dips | Cool Down Lecture: Mobility
105: “Posterior Chain” | Good Mornings, GHD Machine, Kettlebells | Cool Down Lecture: Rest, Recovery, and Outside Activity
106: “Olympic Movement” | Clean and Jerk, Snatch | Cool Down Lecture: Solace Facility and Offerings
ITA: What are the different programs that you gym offers, and how would you describe them interacting with each other?
TK: We offer:
CrossFit: programmed by Hayden Courtland of Science for Fitness
Freestyle: Our gymnastics skills focused class run by Sadie Durante of the CrossFit Gymnastics seminar staff
Yoga/Pilates: From Hatha to Power Flow
Solace Barbell Club: USAW-sanctioned weightlifting club
Strong: Our eight-week Strength Cycle (a.k.a. CFSB) run by Michael Wolf of the Starting Strength seminar staff
Krav Maga: Run by Krav Maga Institute (on Saturdays)
Solace was designed with CrossFit as the backbone to providing better health through fitness. While developing the concept, though, we were seeing an attempt in the greater community to try to cover too much scope in a typical class. This was resulting in the loss of the underlying CrossFit programming in an attempt to give members what they required across a broad need basis. As any CrossFitter can attest, there are certain plateaus that one will inevitably reach and we were determined to provide the tools to push through those plateaus, such as flexibility (through yoga), strength (through Strong Cycle), skill (through Freestyle / Solace Barbell Club), and recovery (through mobility)—all while not diluting the primary CrossFit programming. Offering these outlets allows for a much more individually tailorable product at the member level, serving as a means to further increase member results and therefore loyalty.
ITA: Describe your group class programming style.
Hayden Courtland: Our classes typically have a warm-up, skill/strength component, and then a WOD. Although having both a skill/strength component and a WOD is a more modern approach, it is quite common these days and our members respond well to it. We are fortunate to be able to offer separate, regularly scheduled classes targeting strength, Olympic lifting, and gymnastics. This allows us to program our group CrossFit classes in a more traditional style. The skill/strength components give regular exposure to a wide variety of skill-based movements and lifts (with varying rep schemes). Our WODs, in turn, balance exposure to the modalities (monostructural, gymnastics, weightlifting) and priorities (task, time). However, within this structure we are somewhat flexible. We will add benchmark workouts, Hero WODs, and competition-level WODs to push the envelope for our members. We also want our members to have fun, so team WODs and themed WODs also make regular appearances.
ITA: What kind of engagement do you have with the surrounding community in New York?
TK: As a new facility, we were very conscious of fostering the type of community we came to love from our collective past CrossFit experiences. Without delving too much into cliché, we felt that community is intrinsically bound to the success of CrossFit at both a global and local level. Mess up the community and not much can save the business.
With that in mind, our focus has been primarily focused on developing community internally, but as the community gathers momentum of its own, we are beginning to develop ties in the greater Northeast community through competitions, seminars, and drop-ins.
ITA: What have been your most popular events so far?
TK: Our first ever competition, "February Fling," saw over 90 athletes compete in a scaled and Rx-ed male-plus-female couple competition, supported by Lululemon, Paleo Packs, Kettlebell Kitchen, Progenex, and Brick Bars. The competition was very well-received and consisted of three events plus a final, and saw athletes from all over the Northeast compete. It was a great way for us to showcase our style of programming as well as our facility, and have some fun with the greater CrossFit community at the same time. The events were short, intense, and a lot of fun to watch. They consisted of:
1. 1 RM Clean & Jerk
2. 75lb Overhead Squat for Men and Front Squat for women, as many reps as possible in 5 minutes, passing the bar between each other
3. Four rounds of 250M Row, 15 Toes-to-Bar, 10 Handstand Push-ups, partners alternating by exercise
ITA: How do you communicate with your members outside the gym?
TK: We utilize Facebook, Mail Chimp, and the physical whiteboard for almost all communications.
Coaching and Administration
ITA: What does it take to work at CrossFit Solace?
TK: We take great pride in the quality of the coaching staff at Solace. We sought experienced and proven teachers over athletes. While being a good coach and a good athlete are not mutually exclusive, it is incredibly difficult for someone dedicated to the sport of CrossFit to pour the required amount of energy into their coaching in addition to a full training load.
Very early on Jim, Chad, and I recognized that no matter how passionate we may be for CrossFit personally, we had access to coaches who were more highly qualified and we would be doing a disservice to our members if we didn’t capitalize on that talent. For this reason, the three of us primarily coach Foundations or assist the lead coaches, which has given us the ability to really get to know our members. That may not have happened had we been coaching every class.
Our staff understands Solace’s vision that through education we can improve our members’ lives at a fundamental level. We firmly believe that teaching “why” we do the movements, programming, nutrition, etc. will spur the curious minds to then further their knowledge and ultimately achieve a better level of health long after we finish coaching them.
ITA: Which aspects of your gym's operations are you most proud of?
TK: Since we’re a new facility, I am most proud of our adaptability. We have hosted high-end events for Athleta and Daily Burn only 45 minutes after finishing our morning CrossFit and yoga classes without disrupting service to our members. While corporate events aren’t necessarily our passion, the events put the bread on the table for our premium coaching staff and facility, while keeping the price competitive for our members.
ITA: What is something you tried that did not work out?
TK: We are currently still learning from our first few months, analyzing what has worked and what can be improved. As our understanding of the market for yoga grows, we have been toying with programming that is a little more structured in its offerings than when we first started. We are significantly simplifying our price offerings and getting away from deals at the individual level. We are also moving away from Mindbody as an operating system after a long string of issues and will likely retail less third-party apparel brands and focus more on consumable products and Solace-branded merchandise.
ITA: How can Solace get better?
TK: By continuing to focus on the community at the individual level. We pride ourselves on giving individualized attention despite our size. We constantly refine our product and try to provide not just what our athletes want but educate them about what they may need but not necessarily be immediately focused on. We will continue to build on this concept of better health through better education, and implementation through smart and tailored training.
On the business side of things, we constantly analyze what is worth pursuing financially that will allow us to either improve the underlying offerings directly or make funds through alternate means (events, consulting, retailing) which would then allow us to reinvest into the underlying offerings themselves.
ITA: In your experience, what kind of personality and qualities are valuable in running a successful gym?
TK: I have always felt that if you’re going to do something, then do it right. However, “right” means something different for every gym owner—which is what makes CrossFit such a beautiful and diverse community. Have a vision and hold fast to it. (Holdfast CrossFit was the original name we applied for.)
At the end of the day I feel the quality that is most valuable to running a successful gym is to deliver a product you truly stand behind, for a customer you genuinely care about. We have what some would call perfectionist (read: anal retentive) traits that can sometimes mean we create more work for ourselves than may be necessary, but it always comes back to standing behind the product. If I wouldn’t buy it, I won’t sell it. The flipside of that coin is the incredibly important ability to stand back from time to time and analyze the decisions that have been made to date in a truly objective manner. Learning to say, “I was wrong” is just as important to standing steadfast behind your ideals.
ITA: What transforms a good gym into a great gym?
TK: Ruthless self-analysis on a regular basis, from both a product and a financial perspective.
ITA: Do you have any cool equipment hacks (novel ways you store/label/decorate gym equipment)?
TK: Custom pull-up rigs on the main floor between columns and in the basement keep the floor free for multiple purposes. We also installed 20ft steel beams on the ground floor to hang our rings and ropes for freestyle class.
We are yet to develop any cool equipment hacks!
ITA: What's one thing your gym has that can't be found anywhere else in the world?
TK: Necessity is the mother of invention, and as a CrossFit gym in a major city, the ability to drop 300lbs from nine feet without waking the neighbors was a non-starter for us. We were able to develop a system that 100-percent isolated the impact of these weights and have not had a single noise complaint to date. They may not look like much but there is a lot of science in our floors!
We also have luxury locker rooms and bathroom amenities, and a small-box feel in a big-box package, thanks to our awesome members.
ITA: Do you have a gym pet?
TK: Reggie the manic-Minpin and Kilo the Shiba-Inu!