This week I caught up with Duncan Aldous, owner of CrossFit box Solent 2.0 in Southampton. As this is Duncan's second box, I wanted to find out how he was introduced to CrossFit and what he feels is important in running a box - lucky for me Duncan loves a chat! Although there were times I felt like he was interviewing me (we discussed where I work, how often I coach and how I got into CrossFit!) we also managed to talk about what it takes to run a business, and he was more than happy to share some of his valuable do's and don'ts for opening a CrossFit gym.
Hey Duncan, how’s it all going at Solent?
Really well, thank you! Busy! But going well. I have the Nasty Lifestyle boys coming down on the 16th to check the venue out themselves. We’ve moved into an old crayon factory, which originally was 10,000 square foot. Luckily, we’re only renting half as I felt that 5-6000 sq. ft. is more than enough space. Anything more than that loses that community feel.
I got the keys for the new Solent in October, and my lease on the old gym was ending 23rd December. I definitely felt the pressure. Since being in here I have already moved all the equipment around three times!
Wow. I can imagine that was a lot to take on. How did you become a CrossFit gym owner in the first place?
In 2007 I moved to Washington D.C on a scholarship for American football, and my strength coach said I would benefit from something called CrossFit. Before I moved out there I was a qualified personal trainer and so I joined CrossFit Doneright in Washington in 2010 and then began to coach on the side. They were really good and let me shadow the coach to begin with, so I could learn the ropes and then coach the classes. I was in America for five years doing that.
When I came back to New Forest, because my visa in America ran out, I opened a small unit. For three months it was just me and my friends training there (laughs) but I soon managed to rent the whole unit and open it up to more people. The first Solent was open for four and a half years before we moved in January.
What have you done differently with Solent?
With 165 members, it was really important to me to keep that community feel. I ensured it kept its character with the same posters and t-shirts from the first box. We now have more equipment, like Ski-Ergs, assault bikes and row-ergs, meaning the programme for the classes can be a bit more varied. We are closer to the water so I am hoping to get some paddle work in for some in-house competitions in the summer. We have loads more parking, which was really important to me and also a zone A and zone B, enabling us to have two classes running at the same time.
We also have a stretching/cool down area, which the coaches take the members to at the end of the class, setting up a ROMWOD for people to follow.
Sounds amazing! Do you have the same class running at the same time in your two different zones?
No. We have the main class and then a specialty like lifting or gymnastics. I am really lucky as I have a fantastic team at Solent. I have my gym manager, Olly who looks after everything and makes sure I am doing what I need to and the gym is running smoothly. He also is an endurance specialist and qualified precision nutrition coach. Then we have Sam, another precision nutrition coach, who mainly focuses on nutrition for our members, along with coaching and his own PT business. Kelly is our main Olympic Lifting coach and then we have coaches Rob, Leigh and Becky. All are awesome and bring a friendly vibe to the box.
Talking of nutrition, how do you approach it with your members?
So as I mentioned we have our in-house nutrition coaches, and Sam deals with most of the questions and the introduction to a healthy lifestyle. What I really love is that he approaches habits and lifestyle changes rather than diet. We are currently doing the January fat loss challenge, with before and after pictures and circumference measurements. Everyone is in a pair so they work together, again building on that community feel. We also have a Facebook nutrition page for our members so they can ask questions and swap nutrition tips and recipes.
That sounds like a really good idea. That must really help with the members getting to know one another and that community feel.
Yes it does, and the community is really important to me. We have a “Member of the month” award as well, which enables us, as coaches, to get to know everyone, and they get to share their fitness stories.
At the end of the year we also have “gains of the year”, “most inspirational female”, “most inspirational male” and some funny ones too, like “moaner of the year” (laughs).
Haha. Brilliant! So when a member first joins, how do they go from walking into the gym never having done CrossFit before, to then beginning to join in on the classes?
After someone comes for their free trial, and they love it, they sign up for a monthly membership. They then attend two classes a week, which are for beginners, teaching the movements, along with providing some sweaty conditioning. They have to do a minimum of 10 beginner classes, each class being different, but each one going through the pull and push movements (deadlifts, push press, pull ups and press ups, squats etc) along with Olympic Lifting. We make sure that the beginner classes teach each movement, the coach is confident that the new member is moving well, and the member feels confident attending the main classes. The last thing we want is to have anyone in the main class who doesn’t feel like they know what they are doing, potentially taking the coach away from the rest of the class.
This brings me to my next question: How do you program for each class?
I used to program for the class but now Olly does the main program for the box and Kelly does the Olympic Lifting program, whilst I program for the gymnastics.
Do you still coach?
I coach one class in the morning and one class in the evening. At the moment we have a competitors’ class, which is for those individuals that want to compete. We know that those competing are representing Solent, and the problem with open gym and someone following their own program is we don’t know anything about those people! A great way for people to get to know one another, and us as coaches, is through the classes and training together. I think it’s really important that I know the members that come in the morning as well as the members that come in the evening.
Our motto at Solent is “coaching and community”. Whilst I like open gym, and we want people to practice the movements, we also want everyone to support one another and be part of our community.
Do you have competitions planned this year for Solent?
We have some in-house competitions scheduled, and we will be holding a “Solent throwdown” which worked really well last year. We invite 10 boxes from the South to get together and compete against one another, with five females and five males.
Sounds awesome, Duncan! Finally, what are your top three Do’s and Don’ts when opening a CrossFit gym?
1/ “Always Ask Questions” - When I opened CrossFit Solent, I made sure I asked plenty of questions of people who had done it already. I travelled around America whilst living there, and then visited boxes around the UK when I returned home to see how things were being done. The answers to my questions were out there, all I had to do was go and find them. That included CrossFit-related questions plus business, council, and running the affiliate itself.
2/ “Put Community First” - One thing that has always stuck in my head is the true indication of how strong your community is; how long your members stay after the class has finished. There are many ways to grow your community and build a strong army, but you must listen to your members and always look at evolving and developing your craft.
3/ “Remember Me Time” - There are lots of examples of affiliate owners burning out and crashing. I have a very understanding wife, who has stood by me from the beginning. Make sure you put time aside during the week that is yours. It could be something completely different, outside the Box, learning something new, or even your own training.
1/ “Never Lose Sight” of why you opened your affiliate in the first place. To help people get better in all areas of their life.
2/ “Don’t Get Stagnant” - I am very lucky to have a great team around me that keeps me on my toes. They come up with new ideas, and keep CrossFit Solent evolving and not staying in one place. Your community deserves it.
3/ “Never Stop Learning” - After CrossFit Solent 2.0 has been completely finished, I will be back developing my craft and learning. This is extremely important for yourself but also your team and community.
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