In the early days, CrossFit South Brooklyn’s “Front Desk” was a broken and badly worn desk I found in the Brooklyn Lyceum, the facility where I was renting space by the hour. On that desk, I kept a pencil pouch with a Post-It note on it that said, “Please leave $20 for class.” There was also a composition notebook where people logged their names as they came in. The pencil pouch was our honor-based payment system, and the notebook was my clumsy attempt at tracking CFSBK’s membership.
This arrangement was the extent of our “Front Desk” for several years until we transitioned over to a software system called Mind Body Online. Then we moved to Volusion, and finally found Zen Planner. Even with the software, and for years after we moved into our current location, our initial point of contact with our membership remained that same pencil pouch full of $20 bills, and our composition notebook upgraded to a three-ring binder.
My primary focus was the quality of our training services and everything else was a sort of formality that I knew I had to somewhat have in place. At the time, it worked—not necessarily well—but it worked. As we grew, however, having no formal point of check-in became problematic. All too often I would hear that a member had been forgetting to put money in the pouch and would have to guestimate what he or she owed. I’m a very trusting person, but I hesitate to actually consider how much money we lost.
Additionally, this lack of a check-in process became problematic for our coaches and potential members interested in joining the gym. As CrossFit started becoming more mainstream, more and more people began to stop by the gym during group classes or personal training session, looking for information about signing up. Anyone who works at a gym in this situation knows how this goes: everyone sort of looks at each other to see who is the least busy, and eventually someone runs over to hand the interested person a brochure and directs them to the website—which they probably checked in the first place before coming in. More often than not, you could tell this person was annoyed that no one could talk to them for a few minutes. Again, I hesitate to think of how many people got turned off by it and headed somewhere else. Eventually, the writing was on the wall: we could no longer afford to go on without a staffed Front Desk.
Fast-forward to now, and I can’t imagine how we really ever got by without it. I wish I had started it years before I did because it immediately made EVERYTHING better. For those of you like me who started gyms based on their love of coaching and had never really thought about what goes into some of the administrative components, this article is for you. I hope to provide some of the benefits of having a Front Desk operation, as well as provide specifics about the job description, responsibilities, and what has worked well for us.
Hiring and Compensation
For me, hiring from within your own gym is imperative. The person communicating with potential and current members NEEDS to be a CrossFitter and needs to be someone who understands the culture of your gym. We’re looking for people who are outgoing, friendly, and professional. We start Front Desk staff at $10 an hour plus a comped group class membership ($230 a month value). Because CrossFit affiliates aren’t necessarily cheap, advertising the comped membership may attract members simply looking for free training, so be sure to weed out those people in the interview process and hire only the folks who love your gym and are excited to be part of the team. We always start our interview sessions by asking, “So, what made you interested in working at the gym?” The response to this question is often very telling.
It’s also important to pay an hourly rate in addition to the free membership. If someone isn’t getting paid by the hour, then picking up coverage shifts for other staff or staying a little later than expected when something comes up becomes altruism, not employment.
Along with what we’ve listed above, our minimum requirements are that the staff member works at least two shifts per week and can commit at least six months to the job. Because we need to take the time to teach them our policies, how Zen Planner works, and get them acquainted with the daily, weekly, and monthly responsibilities, we don’t want people who are going to apply and decide it’s not for them after a few weeks.
Your Front Desk staff members become the face of your business to everyone who walks through your doors, so only hire the right people!
Just like we did with group classes, CFSBK started small—staffing the Front Desk during evenings and weekends when we had higher levels of traffic and more walk-ins coming in to ask questions. Our AM and Open Gym times were initially unstaffed until we were able to afford it. This also kept our original staff quite small. We had about three people before we really began to understand what the roles and responsibilities of the position would be. We’ve since evolved to a point that the desk is staffed during all group class hours. The shifts are below:
Monday through Friday
AM Shift: 5:45am-9:30am
Afternoon Shift: 9:30-1:15pm
PM Shift: 4:15-9:45pm
AM Shift: 7:45am-11am
Afternoon Shift: 11am-2:15pm
AM Shift: 7:45am-12pm
Afternoon Shift: 12pm-4pm
PM Shift: 5:45-8:15pm
Front Desk Responsibilities
Though we’ve already listed a few, it may help to have a full list of the tasks and duties our wonderful Front Desk crew is responsible for:
- Check members in to classes
- Upgrade/downgrade/suspend memberships
- Sell memberships
- Communicate policies and answer questions
- Communicate with potential members
- Handle inquires from walk-ins
- Manage other basic membership issues
- Light cleaning (stocking bathrooms, making sure gym is clean, cleaning up spills, etc.)
- Updating Leader Boards and Goals board
- Manage Lost and Found
- Track inventory of merchandise and various products (towels, cleaning products, etc.)
- Miscellaneous tasks (changing a broken speaker, labeling barbells, etc.)
- Coffee runs for early mornings (so appreciated by the coaches!)
- Manage CFSBK’s Front Desk email account for solving member issues that doesn’t require input from our Admin
- Write an End of Day summary that provides daily staff-wide communication regarding membership issues, inventory needs, facility notes, class numbers, everything sold that day, etc. (We pay our staff an extra hour a week because they’re expected to read every End of Day summary to stay on top of all the moving parts)
Our Front Desk also keep their ear to the proverbial ground and they’re often the first people who become aware of various issues we need to address. Those issues are often pretty minor. Maybe the kettlebells are out of order or the dumbbells need to be relabeled, or people keeping moving the Assault bike in the entrance where it’s blocking traffic in and out of the gym.
We should also say that part of the Front Desk staff’s job is to hang out and have fun with our members (within reason, obviously). We love seeing our members chitchat with whoever is working at the Front Desk. We want all of our members and staff to feel comfortable and welcome.
Front Desk Manager
We also recently hired a Front Desk Manager, who is responsible for training all new Front Desk staff. She also manages the schedule and coverage, communicates issues we’re having to me and our Admin, and plans our bi-monthly Front Desk staff meeting.
This role isn’t critical when you’re just getting started, but if you’re really busy and your Admin is also really busy, these tasks can be great to delegate to another competent employee.
We’re also providing a link to an edited version of our Front Desk Procedures. If you feel like wading through it, it could help further elucidate the benefits of a Front Desk staff. You can also use it as a jump-off guide for creating your own version of manual.
If you have any other questions or ideas that we didn’t consider, please list them in the comments!