Dani Chieko of Maximum 3 CrossFit talks about going from member to owner of her gym

Peter Keller: Good morning, this is Peter Keller from Fringe Sport here again and I'm super excited today to be talking with Dani Chieko. So Dani and I actually have a little bit of history because we competed at this really weird kind of sketchy crossfit competition in a nightclub in downtown Austin like 3 or 4 years ago. Dani do you remember that?

Dani Chieko: Yes I do remember that. I completely forgot about that but yes, yes, I do remember.

Peter Keller: I thought that like it's kind of weird because it was really promoted on the radio and it was done by this guy who – I still like the guy who promoted it but he definitely wasn't into crossfit and it was just really kind of a weird comp. But it was still fun, I mean did you enjoy it?

Dani Chieko: Yeah, it was really fun. It was strange though, like working out with people around you just like drinking, you know like talking and drinking just like a club and there's like fog and everything.

Peter Keller: Yeah, so it wasn't like crossfitters maybe having a beer and then cheering you on when you're lifting, we're talking about like night clubbers just kind of like they’re like staring at you.

Dani Chieko: Yeah, it's true. I mean it didn't start alike 11 at night.

Peter Keller: I had actually forgotten about that.

Dani Chieko: I was tired. It was weird but it was fun, it was different. I've never done anything like that ever, again, but I mean it was really cool though.

Peter Keller: Yeah. We've been involved a little bit with the Rush Club which is out of – typically out of Arizona although I think their next event is in Florida. And they do events in nightclubs but it starts more like I think like 6 pm or 7 pm so it's not basically throwing down at midnight.

But anyway, so moving on. So Dani you're the owner, the head coach, what do you call yourself of Maximum 3 Crossfit in Kyle?

Dani Chieko: Yes, I'm owner and head coach of Maximum 3 Crossfit in Kyle.

Peter Keller: Awesome. Tell us a little bit more about Maximum 3.

Dani Chieko: So we – my sister and I, we bought about a year and a half ago from the previous owners, they were like some brothers. I actually started crossfit at Maximum 3. I started with a Groupon and I just went in for the first time. And I was actually working at a school as a PE aide and my sister was the principle there. And then one day they just asked me like after I had been doing crossfit for 3 years they had all decided to move other places and they didn't know what to do really with the gym so they asked me if I wanted to buy it. And I was like heck yeah!

So my sister and I talked about it and we bought it a year and a half ago. And about I guess the end of last year my sister quit being a principle and decided to come into the gym full time which was the perfect time because I was pregnant.

Peter Keller: Oh, alright.

Dani Chieko: And I just had my baby like 2 weeks ago.

Peter Keller: Wow. I didn't realize that, congratulations!

Dani Chieko: Thank you. And so it was the perfect time because you know like the last – I don't know – month of pregnancy I was basically just on the couch, not doing anything really and not able to move. So it was a good time for her to come in and kind of start taking over. And I'm more of like a fitness person and I get the coaching and I get the crossfit and she is more of a business person. So she's like the people person, the organizer and all that so we make a really good team, you know, how we do things.

Peter Keller: I love it. Let's back up a little bit and then I want to dig into that a little bit more because you said a lot of really interesting things that I want to unpack a little more. But tell me about the box itself. So you're in Kyle, Texas. So for people who are listening how would you describe Kyle?

Dani Chieko: Kyle is growing so fast. When I first moved here I mean like I don't know... 8 years ago there was really just – I mean the biggest thing was maybe HEB Plus (a grocery store) I think that was probably all that was here and that was a big deal because there's not many HEB Pluses around here. But now we have like a hospital and Target and all these things – I mean they're always building something. We have a theater, we have – I mean it's just growing, and growing and growing.

And so Kyle is actually like the perfect place I think to live because you're in between Austin and San Marcos so you kind of get a little bit of both places and you're not far from either of them. So I just think it's a really good location to live and to have a business because we're right off the highway too so you can see us from 35.

Peter Keller: There you go. So that was something that I was going to pull out. So Kyle is I think of it kind of as a suburb of Austin.

Dani Chieko: Yeah.

Peter Keller: It is in between Austin which is like a decent sized or midmarket city and San Marcos which is a smaller city in Texas but is growing as well. So you've got a box in Kyle, this kind of fast growing area. What is your clientele like? You know, who works out at your gym?

Dani Chieko: Well, I was just thinking about that today. We have – I try to think of like what kind of people we have at our box and I can't just group one type of person or type of athlete that we have because we have some college kids and we have some grandparents. And it’s like everything in between. So I mean I would say the majority are adults that have children.

Peter Keller: Okay.

Dani Chieko: Or that are like not in college. We have a handful of like the college kids and then the rest are working parents and middle aged people that aren't really there for competition; they're there for fitness and health. We have like a handful of competitors but the rest of them are just there to be healthy and work out, you know, fitness stuff.

Peter Keller: And a side note to that, how do the college kids kind of mix in with the older people or the people who are more established and with families? I mean is that challenging or is that just very organic?

Dani Chieko: It's really organic. I actually thought coming into it that it would be a little weird but because I've gone to tons of different boxes because it's like my favorite thing to do it's just kind of go around and see what it's like because everybody is so different. But like you go to places in San Marcus and it's completely all college kids. And I'm 30 and I'm still a grandma there because nobody has children. And I am over there talking about my kids and they're all talking about like going out and stuff. But the few that we do have that come to our box they seem really mature. I mean I have like a high school student that comes and I was so sure she was in college but when she told me she's in high school I was like “You are so mature.” But I feel like the people that come in they just they feel like... I don't know, they're more comfortable so I don't need to act like that. You know, it's they seem to be a little more mature than you would think of a college student.

Peter Keller: Got it.

Dani Chieko: So it actually mixes in really well with the moms and stuff they don't act all grandma-y, they act pretty young for their age anyway.

Peter Keller: Got it.

Dani Chieko: So that works out.

Peter Keller: Cool. So let's get back a little bit to you buying the box. So the first thing you mentioned that I kind of tweak to that was kind of interesting is that you first came in on a Groupon. So I've interviewed quite a few box owners and talked with many, many more in my capacity at Fringe and a lot of people are super down on Groupon. So it was really interesting for me to hear that you first came in on Groupon. So how long did you stick around after – sorry, what was the time frame between you coming in on that Groupon and then them asking you if you're interested in buying a box?

Dani Chieko: It was probably 3 years or 2 years. Yeah, it's like I'm pretty sure it's 3 years before I actually bought the box.

Peter Keller: Wow. And so you'd mentioned bouncing around from box to box after you were a member for this 3 year period – were you still kind of going to other boxes for fun in between or did you bounce around before...?

Dani Chieko: Yeah.

Peter Keller: Okay.

Dani Chieko: I mean Maximum 3 has always been my home but I started to work in really North Austin and I still lived in Kyle. So there was some days that I wouldn't be able to make it back. Until I start working out I would drop in at that city because I knew the people there. I've dropped in at Woodward just because they were closer to me. But also I made a lot of friends at competitions and they'd say, hey, come work out with me here or come try this place. And that's whenever it sort of started for me to really enjoy going to different places. And a lot of times they had different times that worked better. And it's really fun and it's really different.

There were some places I just didn't like at all the way they did their things. But for the most part I really enjoyed it because you get to see how different everybody is and you learn a lot, too. Especially – I mean it was before I even bought a box but I mean I take a lot from what I saw in all these different places and I use it now with my box.

Peter Keller: So are you still – now that you own a box are you still going to other boxes here and there?

Dani Chieko: You know I haven't since I bought the box, no. I just haven't had time because for the most part I coach, it's during all of these class times. But I mean now that I'm not pregnant anymore which felt like I was pregnant for 5 years but it would be a lot of fun to still go and do those things. Especially now that my sister is there so we kind of get to split the work.

Peter Keller: Awesome. So let's talk about – so you were client at the box or were you coaching back when they approached to you to see if you wanted to buy it?

Dani Chieko: I wasn't even coaching.

Peter Keller: Oh wow.

Dani Chieko: Yeah, like we talked about it, then I went and got certified and then I bought it.

Peter Keller: Wow. It sounds like a whirlwind.

Dani Chieko: It was.

Peter Keller: Do you know if they approached other clients or other people to buy the box or was it just you?

Dani Chieko: You know, I have no idea. I think that they put it out there to some other boxes in the area to see if they wanted to buy it or merge with them or something like that before they asked me. I think that that's what they did but I'm not sure. I mean I just – that's what I heard.

Peter Keller: And why do you think they asked you versus somebody else or not asking you at all?

Dani Chieko: I don't know, maybe because it's just crossfit became what – you know, was my life. You know I have a son that's 5 but I mean he came up there with me; I mean I was there twice a day every day. I was competing all the time. I mean it was what I was. I was crossfit. Everything. So maybe they just knew that I would want to do that and that I wanted it to become more of my life instead of just kind of just a part of it.

Peter Keller: Got it. So how did they – what did that conversation look like? I mean were you just finished working out and they're like “Hey, do you want to buy this place?” Or help us understand...

Dani Chieko: It was sort of like that. I think they just kind of put it out there like “you know, we’re doing” – there was three guys and two of them were brothers and one brother had moved to Dallas, one brother was moving to Houston. The other friend was moving to Dallas as well with his girlfriend. So we all kind of knew like all the members and I, we were kind of like “What's going to happen?” Because we knew they were all leaving. And so we were all kind of asking about what was going to happen. So maybe they were just like “do you want to buy it?” and I was like “yeah.” So I don't know if they were expecting me to be like yes or if they were just like kind of putting it out there to see who would buy it.

Peter Keller: Got it.

Dani Chieko: But it worked out.

Peter Keller: And what was the time frame between them approaching you and let's say the deal closing?

Dani Chieko: I mean it was really quick. I would say maybe a month.

Peter Keller: Wow.

Dani Chieko: Because you know we had to work out all the details and my brother-in-law was involved, he's like a financial adviser and stuff so he was doing that part for us and we needed to get lawyers and contracts and everything. So I mean if we didn't have to do that it would have probably been like a week but because we had to do all of the paperwork and all of that stuff it took a little longer.

Peter Keller: Got it. So this is a little bit of a touchy question.

Dani Chieko: Okay.

Peter Keller: I'm not asking – and to preface this I'm not asking for the actual dollar value of what you bought the box for but one of the biggest things that I found when I talk with people is they don't know how to make evaluation on their box. Which is to say what is even the logic that you use to figure out what this thing is worth? Are you comfortable sharing with us kind of what the logic was?

Dani Chieko: Like what we did to think about it?

Peter Keller: Exactly, yeah. Where your head was at and how you figured that out?

Dani Chieko: Well, we had to take into account, how many current members were there. And I think that the fact that I was a member there and I got to see everything really helped me put into perspective if the business was doing well.

Like I don't think if I would want to go into – walk into a gym and be like “yeah, I'll take it” without knowing and seeing how the progress has been going and how things are run and everything like that. I think that because I was a member there for so long I felt comfortable enough to say that yes, it can do well and I will do well and I would change this and that but I wouldn't change very much. I think that that is a big factor in what made me decide.

And another thing was equipment. I mean how much equipment is there and what would you need to buy? And we didn't need to buy anything because it was all there. So I don't know if that answers your question on what you're asking.

Peter Keller: It's getting there. So I guess what I'm trying to find a little bit more clarity into for everyone else out there is; were you looking at like the income statement and saying you know, this box is making X number of dollars a year and then we're going to multiply that out by 3 – assuming a 3 year payback and that's what we're going to pay for the box. Or did you have any sort of conversations around that?

Dani Chieko: Yes, I mean we did look at all of that like how they've done since they started because they had all of the statements and everything like that for us to look at. And that was a big factor. You don't want to go into something where you're not going to make anything.

Peter Keller: Yeah.

Dani Chieko: But yes, I mean we did all of that and we thought this is good but it's not good enough for us so what do we need to do to make more than what they were making?

Peter Keller: Absolutely.

Dani Chieko: Because I mean why would you go into a business that you're not going to improve on anyway?

So that helped but I mean, again, I just think that whenever you go into a business and especially whenever you’re buying it from somebody that they had it for 3 or 4 years before I even took over, you just have to look at what they're doing and think about what you need to do better because what they were doing worked for them but it's not going to work for you. And you’re not going to run the business the exact same ways that they were. Because what's the point, you know? Like they did it a certain way and it worked for them but it's not going to work for you.

Peter Keller: Got it. Totally got it.

Dani Chieko: You know what I'm saying.

Peter Keller: Yeah. So what are a few of those things that you've changed and what are the results?

Dani Chieko: Well, I mean no offense to men but it was run by 3 young guys. Two of them were single and one was married with some kids but they just did not – I mean they did amazing things like they built a lot of their own stuff and I'm sure it saved tons of money but they just weren't clean because they were men.

And so one thing that we wanted to change – my sister and I wanted to change was just I mean sanitary purposes like cleaning your barbells and cleaning up after yourself whenever you're sweating on mats and stuff like they didn't do any of that. The bathrooms were filthy. And so one thing that people noticed right when we got there they were like “it's so clean”. And so I know that it seems small but people really like that. Like they really like how when they walk in the gym and it looks like we take care of things. Because whenever you're taking care of the gym you're also taking care of your members as well.

Peter Keller: Yeah.

Dani Chieko: So that was one thing that we changed. It was a big change. And I mean we cleaned for like 6 hours one day because it was just so dirty in there.

I mean you know how warehouses are anyway, they never really look clean.

Peter Keller: Yeah.

Dani Chieko: That was another thing we changed big time.

Another thing that we changed is we added more like a holistic approach to things. We added yoga, so we have two yoga instructors that come in and we have like a really awesome yoga room now that’s really peaceful in there which is sort of like the opposite of crossfit.

You know, crossfit is intense and hardcore and stuff and then you go into a yoga room and it’s dark and it’s incense burning and it’s really calm. But we’ve realized you know that that’s what you need. Yoga is going to help you with your mobility, it’s going to help you calm down and we have tons of people who do it now and they just love it. And they say they’re not as sore anymore and they can just walk out, you know, they can actually sit on the toilet after a WOD and everything.

Because you know how awful that is. So I mean we’re trying to help them more in a way where it’s like your total body and everything. So we also added healthy smoker which is sort of like a delivery of your...

Peter Keller: Got it.

Dani Chieko: You know what I’m talking about?

Peter Keller: I do, yeah.

Dani Chieko: So like you order it online and they deliver it to the gym. And you just pick it up after your workout and people love that. It’s delicious. And then we also added RX Clubhouse I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. But...

Peter Keller: No, I haven’t.

Dani Chieko: It’s sort of like a kiosk. You haven’t heard of it?

Peter Keller: Maybe the thing that Carson is...

Dani Chieko: Carson is.

Peter Keller: Oh, there you go. So that’s what it is.

Dani Chieko: Yeah, that’s what it is. Yeah, Carson does it and he, and it’s really awesome and I just think it’s the greatest idea. They bring in a refrigerator, they bring in shelves and then they order all of the stuff and then all you do as a member is get an app and put in your debit card and whenever you want a KillCliff or anything, they have energy drinks and protein drinks, everything in the refrigerator ready for you. You just walk over and you click a button on your phone and you’ve bought it. And you just take it.

I mean there’s bars and everything. There’s protein, there’s fish oil, everything that you ever could need is right there. So you don’t have to go to GNC or all of those places like that. It’s right there.

Peter Keller: Awesome. Well I’ll have to ping Carson. Cool, well, I’ve got to call this interview to a close. Is there anything else that you would like to say or like to have people know about Maximum3 or yourself or your cross fit journey?

Dani Chieko: Nothing about my cross fit journey but I would say, like a tip that I would have for other box owners is really get to know your athletes. And all of your members on like a different level of than just walking through the door and then just doing a class and leaving.

I’ve noticed that whenever you get to know them more, they’re more invested in you and they’re more invested in helping you out with the gym and spreading the word because you know they’re your walking advertisements. And so whenever you get to know them and you’re really personal with them, like Rachel is walking in and I know she has a hurt back and we’re doing dumbbells today. So I’m really going to pay attention to her and I’m going to modify this workout for her and kind of making them feel like you’re paying so much attention for them but you’re really spreading, you’re distributing it out to everybody in that class and making them feel like you really care about them.

And you really do but really letting them know that you care about them and that you pay attention to every athlete and everything about them. It really helps you just investing in them because then they invest in you.

Peter Keller: I love it, cool. So if clients want to find out about you, I’m looking at your website right now and it’s Max3Crossfit.com or would you prefer that they go to your Facebook page? What’s the best way for a client to find you?

Dani Chieko: They can go to the website, the website has more information like on the coaches and our location and our rates and stuff. Our Facebook page, we post our WOD’s every day and announce things, I guess it depends on what you’re looking for. I mean I would say for more information go to the website.

Peter Keller: Cool.

Dani Chieko: But if you want to check out what kind of workouts and stuff we do, go to our Facebook or Instagram @maximum3crossfit

.

Peter Keller: Sounds awesome. Well, Dani thanks for sharing with us and best of luck. I’m sure I’ll see you around.

Dani Chieko: Thank you so much.


Peter Keller
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