Darren of Crossfit GSP talks about his journey from retail with Reebok to owning his own CrossFit gym.

Good evening, or morning, depending on where you're listening to this. This is Peter from FringeSport, and I'm on the horn today with Darren Simpson of CrossFit GSP in Rochelle Park, New Jersey. Darren and I were actually talking a little bit in the run up to the episode, and he's got a ton of really interesting stuff to share about his box. Darren, what did I miss in that intro? Tell us a little bit about yourself and about CrossFit GSP.

Darren Simpson: Thanks, Peter. Thank you for having me on with you. Just to kind of give you a little bit of background on myself, I have a background in the retail side of the business. Back in 2010, I started my journey with Reebok, and at the time is when they signed their licensing agreement with CrossFit. That 10-year agreement. I had the opportunity to work regional events and games events, and in 2012, my wife and I moved up to New York City to open up Reebok FitHub Fifth Avenue, on 37th and 5th. I was the general manager on that project, as well as opening up future location throughout Union Square, Upper East Side Manhattan, South Shore Plaza up in Boston, and Georgetown, and as well as the Garden State Plaza Mall in New Jersey, which is where CrossFit GSP derived from. That's a little bit of background on me and kind of how I got started and where we came up with the idea for CrossFit GSP.

I love it. Thanks for sharing. Now, one thing, before we go any further, this is just an interesting thing to me. How common is it for Reebok guys to jump into the life and actually open boxes? Do you see a lot of your colleagues doing that or is it kind of just you and your wife?

Darren Simpson: There's a few. A lot of the corporate culture up in Massachusetts, up in Canton, back in 2010, as Reebok decided to go in this direction it became our culture. You lived, breathed, and slept the functional fitness community, and CrossFit in specific. For myself, I was always into sports. I was, from a very early age, wrestling, and playing football, and basketball, and baseball. As I got into my collegiate years and got into more extreme sports like skydiving, and scuba diving, and all that kind of great stuff.

 As a culture, there's a select few. Not everybody had the opportunity. Not everybody had that entrepreneur spirit. Some enjoy being able to participate, and others like myself and my wife who have a little bit more of that business drive took that next step and was able to move forward in the direction of owning our own business. That's been something that I'll be forever grateful to Reebok for, for introducing me to the sport, as well as giving me the opportunity to open my own affiliate.

I love it. I remember when Reebok came in and everybody's a little resistant to change, so I remember some cheeky shirts that said Prebok, and things like that. For every Reebok person that I've chatted with, it does really seem to have gone into the DNA of Reebok. Hearing you say that, it seems like that was your experience as well, so I love hearing that.

Darren Simpson: 100%.

Cool. Tell me a little bit about CrossFit GSP. You were talking with me before that you've got a really fully outfitted 8,000 square foot facility that includes indoor running track, a, I think you said, sauna, and full changing rooms.

Darren Simpson: We do. My first experience with CrossFit back in 2010, was at your traditional garage gym. Roll up the industrial garage door. No AC. No Heat. South Florida weather. It's over 100 degrees and 90% humidity. Just like most, even being a fitness enthusiast, I pretty much passed out on the floor, blew some chunks out the back door, and had a hard time driving home. That's what turned me onto the sport. However, as I had the opportunity to move to New York City, open up Reebok FitHub, and have the experience to kind of experience what Reebok CrossFit Fifth Ave was that was the next step into the evolution of where some our facilities have gone to today.

In 2012, seeing that and seeing the evolution of the boxes, and what the amenities the consumer out there was looking for, my wife and I said, "This is the direction, and so if we're going to do it, we're going to do it this way." We had the opportunity to renovate an 8,000 square foot self-standing facility. State-of-the-art in regards to an indoor running track. We have a lounge, locker rooms, four showers in each of the locker rooms, saunas, and we do own a Total Nutrition Supplement Superstore inside of the facility as well.

It's definitely a full circle of wellness space where our members can come. They spend lots of hours there. They're not just there for that one hour. We wanted a place where everybody could bring their family, their kids, and hang out, and not feel as if they had to get in and get out that they couldn't get into Manhattan from a commuting standpoint early in the mornings. Because most people in New Jersey do work in the city, and so they need a facility that they can come to, take a shower at five in the morning, six in the morning, and still get into the city by eight or nine o'clock to be at their corporate jobs. That was really, really important to us, and we're really excited to be able to offer that to our member.

Awesome. Now, without getting too much into the economics I took a quick peek at your website before we were chatting, and it seems like your pricing tiers mirror what I'd see in a lot of other places in the country and even a lot of other garage gym type of setups. It seems to me that you're offering a much higher amenity experience than a lot of these people who are offering a very warehouse experience, and yet to my eye, it looks like your pricing is more or less in line. How does that work out for you guys?

Darren Simpson: At the end of the day, for us, it's about the experience. We want every single customer that walks in our doors not just to be sold on our amenities, but it's all about the coaching, and it's about the programming, and what we have to offer to keep them long term. At the end of the day too, we have competition. Just like most gyms and most CrossFit boxes around the entire country, we do have sister and brother boxes within three miles, four miles, five miles. To your generic consumer who has never heard of CrossFit, which, yes, there are a lot of customers out there in our marketplace that still do not know what CrossFit is. When they google it, they do not know the difference between box A and box B.

A lot of people are price conscious, and we need to make sure that we fall in line with everybody to make sure that we don't miss out on those individuals as well. Because at the end of the day, we need to make sure that we have something for everyone, and we're excited about the fact that we can offer that. That's the nature of the marketplace today. Sure, we have a premium product from a facility standpoint, but at the end of the day, pricing and the market price goes back to we all offer the same product.

Got it. Thanks for clarifying on that. Now, let's go back a little bit to that Total Nutrition shop. You had mentioned coming out of a retail background, and when you and I were on the pre-call I had dug in on this a little bit more. A lot of times I see affiliates saying, "Hey, should I offer Progenex? Should I offer Stronger Faster Healthier? Should I offer Ascent, the kind of new kid on the block?" Away from that, you're just saying, "I have literally a Total Nutrition in the same box as me." Talk to me a little bit about how that works and why you made that choice and what that means for your athletes.

Darren Simpson:  I was introduced to Total Nutrition down in south Florida back in 2007, 2008. One of the things that drew me to Total Nutrition, in comparison to the competitors that are out there in the supplement world from a brick and mortar location, was their product knowledge. When you walked into these facilities you got, hands down, the best customer service. Number two, they knew what they were talking about.

When I was thinking about opening up a CrossFit facility, these customers that are coming to us and asking us for advice, they're always asking us for nutrition advice. Whether that's paleo, whether that's flexible eating and calculating macros, whether that's vegan and vegetarian, or it's additional supplementation. I knew that there was a market for that in addition to what we were going to be offering from the fitness side. I wanted to be able to offer not just one brand, but offer a plethora of everything that's out there in the marketplace. Whether that's multivitamins, to fish oils, to joint repair, to BCAAs, to pre-work out, to protein, you name it on the gamut, I wanted to give my members something that they didn't need to leave my facility to go across the street to one of the competitors and spend that additional revenue outside when I could have them spend that revenue within my four walls.

Got it. How much guidance do you give those athletes? Is it like a coach would kind of escort them into the Total Nutrition side and they help them or is it a completely different employee in the Total Nutrition side that is helping those athletes when they're trying to make the decisions in terms of supplementation?

Darren Simpson: It's our coaches. Our coaches, each one individually, they have their favorite products. They each take different supplementations. You mentioned some of those product lines just a few moments ago, and so as our coaches are our forefront in our building, our members look up to them. Not just from a friendship level, but also from an expertise level. If they're taking a certain product, they want to know what product they're taking. They want to know what they've experienced from a protein. They want to know what they've experienced from joint repair or fish oil. Our coaches are the ones that are going to give them that advice and hand them through that process.

Also, having a Total Nutrition in our facility, we do get visitors from outside the functional fitness community. I've got clients who come from military bases. They're in the area and they can't find their supplements because they're not in Texas, or they're not in Florida, or they're not in Georgia. They google us online and they call us up like, "Hey, do you have this protein in stock?" "Sure. We do," and they come on in, which leads them to do a drop in or maybe check out our facility if they wouldn't have checked out our facility because we didn't have it.

We have members of other gyms in the area. From 24 Hour Fitness, to LA Fitness, to other CrossFit gyms who, they come to us to pick up their supplementation. It offers, once again, a lot more opportunity from a business side as well as to our member base and non-member base to really educate our consumers in the marketplace from all avenues of fitness and health.

Awesome. Thanks for sharing. Do you think that this is something that we'll start seeing more commonly? Boxes having either nutrition retail or other types of retail, more fully integrated in the future?

Darren Simpson: I would hope so. I think that it's a part of the marketplace that a lot are missing out on. There is a business acumen that you do need to understand from profit margins, and making sure that you are making sound business decisions in looking for what your members or your client base in your area is looking for. You want to be able to make those sound decisions and not just put any type of product in and just hope that it's going to sell on your shelves.

There is a lot more to it than just purchasing and putting it in your facility and hoping that somebody's going to walk up to you and ask you about it and sell it. Definitely, down the road I think that whether it's from an apparel standpoint, from accessories, from wrist wraps, and knee sleeves, and RockTape, and all of those different things that we have in our world, definitely business owners and gym owners should definitely take a look at how they can start to incorporate that in their facilities.

Got it. I had mentioned a few products that are prevalent in the community earlier. Do you have a particular favorite in terms of a protein powder or any supplementation that you would recommend?

Darren Simpson: Really, right now I'm taking Force Tek. You can find it at Total Nutrition Superstores all across the country. It's gluten-free. There's chocolate, vanilla, strawberry. They do offer cinnamon toast crunch, and peanut butter smash, and things like that, that are not gluten-free. In regards to no fillers and really great high-quality protein as well as BCAs Force Tek is something to definitely take a look at. Then you also have your common brands, whether it's Progenex or SFH and others out there that definitely within the community are very popular and are definitely something that you can take and see results from, and definitely sell in your facility.

Awesome. Thank you so much. I feel like I've been saying awesome a lot. Well, Darren, I think that's about all we've got time for. Is there anything else you want to mention?

Darren Simpson: Yeah. One thing I just want to mention is my wife and I, we just had a baby, and my wife coming out of postpartum, we've launched these women only challenges in our facility, which has been very successful. We're locking Fitter Better Body. You can follow it on Facebook. Follow my wife @thevalsimpson on Instagram. It's a great online platform for women who are looking for motivation, but also an outlet to be able to do at home workouts before they can get back into one of the functional fitness gyms in their community. Some great things happening, and I'm really excited. Thank you so much for your time, Peter.

Yeah, that's fantastic. Will link up all that in the show notes. To find you guys at CrossFit GSP, it's just CrossFitGSP.com. Is that correct?

Darren Simpson: That's correct, and @CrossFitGSP on Instagram.

Awesome. Thank you so much, Darren. Have a wonderful evening.

Darren Simpson: Thanks, you too.

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