Patrick Claffey: What’s it really like running a gym?

“The focus in the early days of running a gym is getting the sales. You need the customers and you need them getting the results.”

What’s it like running a gym? What are the fun moments? What are the most challenging aspects? 

Welcome to mPowered minis where we talk to gym owners who have done it all – literally, because running a gym is all about wearing multiple hats!

Who is Patrick Claffey?

In our first mPowered mini episode, we talk to Patrick Claffey, gym owner of RxGym and Crossfit Didsbury, about his experience growing a business in the fitness industry.

Like many others, Patrick entered the industry with a strong passion for helping others. While passion is the first step to making a difference, running a successful gym means adding all the right practices and sticking to the plan!


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[00:00:01] Craig McNeill: Welcome listeners to mPowered. We have a new different fun – you’ve gotta be fun now, I’ve just said it – guest on our mPowered Mini, so this is a short 20 minute quick chat of gym owners in the UK. Let’s find out what it’s really like owning a gym, and let’s see whether there’s some fun stories.

[00:00:23] Patrick Claffey from RX Gym and CrossFit Didsbury is with us today. Patrick, how are you?

[00:00:29] Patrick Claffey: Very good. Thanks. Thanks for having me on.

[00:00:32] Craig McNeill: Thank you for spending some time with me. So we’ve had a couple of chats before our recording cuz we are professional Patrick and we’ve obviously had a bit of a, a brief of what we’re gonna go through.

[00:00:43] We’ve just had the weekend and what’s what, what’s your life and work balance like? Do you have any time outside of the gym? And if you do, what are you, what are you doing at the moment? What’s your interest, Patrick?

[00:00:53] Patrick Claffey: Outside of the gym? Yeah, I mean I’m a, a big City fan, so I go down to the matches there and see us play and [00:01:01] enjoy really, really enjoyable at the minute. Especially rubbing it into those United fans. And apart from that, I like to try and play a bit of golf whenever I can get out there hack away and get stressed on a golf course. And then family. I’ve got two kids, wife.

[00:01:18] Love it. Love spending time with him whenever I can. But yeah, I mean, you know, work takes up quite a lot of my time running two sites.

[00:01:25] Craig McNeill: Sounds great mate. And I’ve heard your wife has recently joined – working with you?

[00:01:31] Patrick Claffey: Yeah, the real boss is now working for me, sorry, alongside me and it’s, it’s been great actually.

[00:01:38] You know, she looks after the social media, marketing side of things and takes a task away from, from me. And, and she’s done really well. She, you know, changed career to come and come and do that and she’s really taken to it and doing a great job.

[00:01:53] Craig McNeill: Amazing training wise, What, what are you I into your training, yourself, Patrick?

[00:01:57] Patrick Claffey: So I love CrossFit. Yeah, [00:02:01] just love getting into it. Getting a challenge. Working alongside athletes and, and pushing myself from that side of things. Learning new skills, gymnastics, weightlifting.

[00:02:13] Craig McNeill: Awesome. I’m dying to ask our five questions in our mPowered Mini series, Patrick, so the first question of five: what is it really like to run a business in fitness?

[00:02:29] Patrick Claffey: Don’t do it. (laughs) . No, I’m only kidding! It’s it, it’s, it’s got everything. It’s, it’s fun. It’s difficult, it’s stressful. It’s great leading people. Yeah, it, you, you’ve gotta, you, you’ve gotta wear every hat, I think as well, At least initially you have to wear every, every hat from payroll, accounting, business development, coaching.

[00:02:55] I could list loads of things.

[00:02:57] Craig McNeill: Did you really know it was gonna be such a [00:03:01] widespread of skills that you’re required to, to do this?

[00:03:04] Patrick Claffey: No, naive. Hundred percent. I, I think I had this ambition of helping more people and being the coach, which that is the product. You, you, you dive in and you, and you’re coaching and then all of a sudden you realize, Oh, hold on a minute.

[00:03:19] I need to do payroll or, or hold on, you know, that bit of kit needs fixing or, and all of a sudden every single hat you have to wear within month one. It just all of a sudden you’re like, Oh, actually, yeah, this is, is this business? Is this, is this, you know, having all these hats on. and then over time you, you kind of.

[00:03:41] Progress where you’ll either have a coach working alongside you or you can kind of delegate some of those tasks. And I, I know some gym owners that continue coaching quite a lot of classes and managed to manage to do it. Yeah, I think for me, it, it became a lot harder when, when we had two sites.

[00:04:00] Craig McNeill: So [00:04:01] you have two sites. This is interesting. So your two sites are 400 meters apart, aren’t they? Yeah. RX Gym and CrossFit Didsbury. And actually, how do you manage those two facilities? Cause there’s a slight difference to both of them, so how, How’d you do that?

[00:04:17] Patrick Claffey: Yeah, you, you’ve hit it, hit it on the nail. I mean, I, I look at the business as a hybrid business. So we have the traditional gym in Rx gym, and we have functional training in CrossFit. CrossFit is class based, group X size, and the gym is an open gym with some HIIT and strength and yoga classes. So they’re, they’re two different beasts two different prices and You know, it, it’s, for me, it’s having that approach of, of, of that all inclusive kind of balance.

[00:04:46] Someone might not be into CrossFit but they might wanna do a HIIT or a strength class, or they might wanna just go in headphones on and use, use the, use the gym. So it’s combination and then, the CrossFit side of things. We [00:05:01] have athletes that need to do accessory work, mobility, additional strength things, additional skills or gymnastics.

[00:05:07] So they’ll use Rx gym as their open gym time to, to do those additional things maybe after a class or something like that. So that’s how it, that’s how it, that’s how it kind of sits. But then, you know, we have people that kind of will upgrade from the gym to CrossFit or, or, or vice versa, decide to, to do, to do gym work for a month or so. So yeah, it’s, it’s having that balance really.

[00:05:31] Craig McNeill: Yeah. And you’ve got two children like I have and Yeah. You can’t, you can’t have a favorite child can you?

[00:05:38] Patrick Claffey: (laughs) No, no!

[00:05:38] Craig McNeill: Nor can you have a favourite gym from the two that you have, but I’m sure you’ve got moments where you hate one and love the other one more and vice versa?

[00:05:52] Patrick Claffey: No comment.

[00:05:57] (laughs) Difficult. I, yeah, it is. I, I, I’ll be [00:06:01] honest, I tend to be in the CrossFit box during the day. More than in, in Rx gym. And then I tend to be working over the business, on the business on both sides. So it’s, I’ll go into Rx gym and I’ll, you know, do some conditioning. I’m training myself. I mean and then I’ll, I might say it occasionally.

[00:06:20] I’ll, I’ll do some, I’ll, I’ll cover the lunchtime class or CrossFit or something like that. So it’s, it. It is a balancing act. And over the years I’ve tried to put systems and processes in place that the general manager and gym manager oversee and that, and that is, that’s starting to work well for me.

[00:06:41] That they basically now run the sites and it allows me to oversee the business and develop the business and, and help coach whenever I can.

[00:06:51] Craig McNeill: And I’m sure they respect you because you’ve done and still do a little bit of what they do. You know that that relationship obviously works really well. So [00:07:01] this is a million dollar question, really hard question – what is the most enjoyable part of running your own gyms?

[00:07:10] Patrick Claffey: The most enjoyable? I think when you, when you’re on the, on the dance floor and you’re coaching I, I, I, I find that like seeing results and, and like, I don’t know, where someone hitting a PB or that, that kind of, that’s satisfying because you’ve, you’ve helped develop them to that success or to that PB or.

[00:07:31] And that’s, that’s part of why well, that is why we do it, is, is for members to, to be achieving things. So I think it is, yeah, I think it’s, I think it’s PBS really. And that’s from like, you know, the. The hands on coaching side of things from a business point of view, you know, being able to have a team lead a team and, and, and look after them.

[00:07:55] You know, the, through whatever difficulties we’ve, we’ve faced. And I won’t [00:08:01] mention Covid.

[00:08:02] Craig McNeill: Nicknamed it the C-bomb!

[00:08:06] The C-bomb! Yeah. There’s a

[00:08:10] different, there’s different kind of C bomb, which is not from podcast either! Okay. So it’s all nicey nicey. And we’re, we’re talking about the, the, the rewards and we’re talking about the, the PBS and the best bits. Let’s change it a little bit. Let’s just change the scenes.

[00:08:28] What is the biggest challenge and let’s, let’s bring solutions to that problem. And what and how do you overcome that biggest challenge?

[00:08:37] Patrick Claffey: Biggest challenge I guess staff continually overseeing the processes are done correctly, the systems that you’ve put in place, the time that you’ve spent developing the systems and processes, and then making sure they’re executed to the best professional ability that, that your team can and, and that’s one thing that I’ve always tried to do is [00:09:01] actually do the job myself and then create a process, a system, and then lead and direct the team on, on how I’ve done it and how I want it, want it doing. So I think. Everybody has a different way of doing things, and I think that’s something that over time I’ve realized that I have to allow staff, coaches to have their way of doing it.

[00:09:21] But as long as they’re kind of hitting the steps of, of, of, you know, process, then that, that’s fine in how they get there. So. I think, I think sometimes it, it’s, yeah, allowing staff to get on with it as well. Really. Yeah.

[00:09:37] Craig McNeill: Okay. So I think this is probably one of my favorite questions, so hopefully you don’t need to go back too many days.

[00:09:46] Well, we’ve mentioned wearing different hats, which is really appropriate. Kind of to the next question is kind of is a phrase that we know of. So wearing different hats for different skills. So come on then. Pick any day, any day and [00:10:01] explain the, the amount of different hats that you have to put on just in one day to, to basically get through that day and be successful for that day.

[00:10:10] And if you’ve got different caps where you are, mate, that would be even better.

[00:10:17] Patrick Claffey: Golf

[00:10:21] Craig McNeill: ones is.

[00:10:28] I can’t wear sun visor ones because of my bald head.

[00:10:30] Patrick Claffey: There you go. There you go. Go. Doesn’t help me swing a club, by the way. . Yeah. So last, last week, I can’t remember what date it was now cause they all blend into one. My little girl was up with nightmares. I ended up waking up at half five. Couldn’t go back to sleep.

[00:10:44] It rained really bad. We had a leak in the box at the back. The lights went out. So I had to get down there. My friend’s electrician managed to get him to come in to come and help. And that was, that was the start of the day. We managed to get that fixed.

[00:10:58] We,

[00:10:58] Craig McNeill: So were you electrician or were you site manager?[00:11:01]

[00:11:01] Patrick Claffey: So I was, I was actually screwdriver in hand, like looking around going, What is going on? What, where is this? Why isn’t it working? We had a class just about to walk in. So we, I managed to get that sorted. And then whilst I was there, I managed to fix one of the monitors on the, on the bikes. Someone had knocked it and it just wasn’t coming back on.

[00:11:22] So. I took that to bits, realized that there was a, a wire that looked like it needed soldering, so ran it around to my dad’s who’s got soldering kit and managed to solder that back on and it started working again. . Then I managed to sit down and do my emails and begin the process of getting payroll together to send over to, to payroll.

[00:11:46] Then I, yeah, then I trained then I taught the lunchtime class.

[00:11:52] Craig McNeill: Site manager, electrician. Then you’re service on your own, on your own bike. Then you, then you were a coach. Then you’ve [00:12:01] had your own session. Yeah. And you’ve been financed Cause you don’t payroll. Yep.

[00:12:07] And then it’s lunchtime!

[00:12:09] Patrick Claffey: And then, Yeah, it’s lunchtime.

[00:12:11] And then that was about what, half one or something? Twoish maybe. And I haven’t even really sat down and kind of, I mean, I’ve done I’d, yeah, done, done some emails, but getting back to, to people, I hadn’t really managed to get back to people yet at that point. So then I, Yeah. And then were they

[00:12:28] clients or were they members,

[00:12:29] What?

[00:12:29] It more kind of getting back to starred email. So what, what I, what I’ll, I’ll read it then I’ll star it and I’ll, I’ll pick it back up in the afternoon if it’s okay. If it’s not, if it’s not too too important. Then waiting for payroll to come back to me with the final draft to then be able. To pay people.

[00:12:49] So then in the afternoon, then I’d sit back down at the desk and I go through paying people basically. So yeah, it, it’s, and that was a difficult day. The next, the next day wasn’t quite as, as [00:13:01] difficult as that, but you know, or I think what can happen is, It seems to be that everything hits you all at once sometimes, and you can have as many systems and processes in place as you want, but ultimately the buck lies with me, the gym manager, the general manager, and you’ve got to just have that passion to step in and deal with it.

[00:13:26] Absolutely. Cause you know, it can be difficult at times, especially waking up at five in the morning and then having. Get down to the box for six

[00:13:37] Craig McNeill: you know, and I’m sure you didn’t have an, you didn’t have an open morning for yourself to go this far and have some treatment, so you, your task that you had in place just got pushed back. So payrolls a massive, important thing that had to happen that day. Yeah. So you couldn’t push that to the next day.

[00:13:57] Patrick Claffey: So, No.

[00:13:58] No. And that was the morning. That was supposed to be my [00:14:01] morning to sort that out. Do then go and train, then, then, then the lunchtime class, and then come back and, and finish that off. And that was, that was the, Yeah, this my, my, my initial plan or what was supposed to be happening. And then other things kind of crop up really.

[00:14:15] Yeah. I mean, you can, I mean, the leak at the, the leak at the, at the box, like, that’s just unfortunate, you know, You can’t Yeah. You know, and that, and that’s been, that’s been fixed. That’s just total one off. Really. So but it’s the little niggly things that are like, kind of get on top sometimes, like fixing the bike or, I don’t know, a cable going, One of the cable machines needs a new cable.

[00:14:38] And it’s just, just like, you know, making sure that the gym managers organizing that and following that up and, and, and it’s, it’s that continuous, kind of providing good service is what I, you know, push and try and focus on. Because, you know, you can, you, you leave a, a, a broken cable for a day, then they’re not gonna come in and fix it for another [00:15:01] four days, five days.

[00:15:02] So, Things like that you have to get on top of really early and kind of get ahead of it to stop any kind of issue. Complain coming in,

[00:15:12] Craig McNeill: OK mate. So one of my favorite films is Back to the Future still. Still Major isn’t, We’re gonna get in the DeLorean, I’m gonna go back in time and dunno if you know this date off the top of your head or what year, but it was kind of, it was the day before you opened RX, You opened RX before

[00:15:33] Patrick Claffey: cross. Yeah. Yeah.

[00:15:35] So the day

[00:15:36] Craig McNeill: before you opened Rx gym, which was I’m sure was a bit of a mad day.

[00:15:41] Yeah. What would you tell yourself with what you know now if you were able to?

[00:15:48] Patrick Claffey: I think. It would be something like, stick to the plan, stay on track.

[00:15:59] Craig McNeill: That’s what your coach says [00:16:01] as well. .

[00:16:01] Patrick Claffey: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I, I think, I think it’d be stay on track. I think that you can easily get distracted and you can zigzag on that, on that track. If, if, yeah, if, if you lose focus or allow other things to distract you. So it would be kind of really kind of sticking to that and aiming for that target and, and getting to that first success stone.

[00:16:29] You know that first success stone is opening the door. The second one is getting that first member. Mm-hmm. third one could be the, Success story for a testimonial, which then brings in more members off the back of that success story. You know, getting to a x amount of members after month one, hitting and hitting some KPIs, you all these kind of success stones that, that I like to, like to call it on, on, on the, on the track.

[00:16:59] But you can easily get distracted. You know, you can [00:17:01] have noise issues and you have to re-lay the floor. You have to interview more coaches cuz you need more coaches to come in, or, I mean, that’s not really distraction, that’s just part of the process. But I think, you know, the focus in, in early, in the early days is, Is getting those sales, getting those customers.

[00:17:21] Cause without them, you know, you, you gonna, you, you can have a contingency all you want, but you need, you need the customers, you need the, the members and you need them getting the results.

[00:17:31] Craig McNeill: Totally, totally. So, Rx Gym Crossfit Didsbury, where else could we find you if, if our listeners wanna ask any questions, any other gym owners and share kind of experiences. Are you on Facebook?

[00:17:46] Patrick Claffey: Yeah. Instagram. You’ll see me on there some cheesy moves. Handstands was the last one. I think . See some tips.

[00:17:55] Craig McNeill: And to, to be a social, social media expert, you’ve gotta know your, your what, what usernames are [00:18:01] they usernames off by, off by heart. What, what’s your Insta username?

[00:18:06] Patrick Claffey: Oh, CrossFit Didsbury is very, Yeah. All Jim. Yeah, I’m, I’m, I’m dead straightforward and I wouldn’t exactly call me an expert. I just, we like, we like to keep it fun.

[00:18:19] Craig McNeill: Again, thanks for your time today, Pat, and really good. No problem. Craig questions and learn a lot more about your, your journey.

[00:18:27] Patrick Claffey: Really appreciate it mate.

[00:18:27] Thanks for having me on.

[00:18:29] Craig McNeill: Thanks for listening, everybody. You can find us on your usual podcast channels and give us a, like, give us a comment and thank you very much.