#10: Jim Crowell, CEO of OPEX

In Episode 10 of the Fitt Insider podcast, Joe Vennare spoke with Jim Crowell, CEO of OPEX Fitness. This conversation has some valuable insights for fitness professionals, gym owners, and anyone interested in the space.

The two talk about:

  • Jim’s experience as a gym owner and CEO of a fast-growing company
  • How fitness professionals can provide value for their clients in an era of connected fitness
  • Thoughts on the future of the fitness industry

Check out an overview of the conversation below or listen to the entire episode for more.

How did you get started in the fitness industry?

JC: I loved coaching and training from a young age. I was a pretty decent athlete in college. I also loved the business side of things. So I was constantly merging this love of fitness and business.

Post-college I went to work at a hedge fund, but after five years there, I had a huge desire to be aggressively active again which led me to CrossFit. I loved the concept and the capitalism of owning a gym, to be frank. From there, I started to coach and build out gyms, and I loved building the concept of making coaching bigger.

What led you to OPEX?

JC: While I owned my gyms, I got hooked up with Optimum Performance Training (OPT). They introduced me to this really intricate but structured way of viewing human health and fitness. 

When I sold the gyms, I was recruited by OPT, which was then rebranded to OPEX shortly after. I was coaching at that time but quickly recognized I needed to be on the business side, so I stopped coaching and started to help build out the business, and then ultimately moved my way into a CEO role.

What does OPEX do?

JC: There’s OPEX Coaching Education which is a big business for us. We also have OPEX gyms all around the world and Big Dawgs Coaching which are fitness athletes we coach remotely. We also invest in Brand X which is kids coaching education and TrueCoach which is a technology platform for coaching programs.

Our core ethos is coaching education. OPEX gyms are a way of giving a coach a home forever with a great business model. 

We’re not trying to sell a concept that says you’ll go from 0 to 5,000 clients overnight. Rather, we educate coaches on how to do it. We’re giving coaches the right education to create this value proposition for clients. We want them to understand very holistically and comprehensively how to serve a client. 

We have an entire methodology of how you can serve a client in a unique one-to-one way. We deliver a different version of personal training where we want the clients to have autonomy.

What differentiates OPEX from other programs?

JC: There’s the professional portion of it, which is what I teach in the course. We want these coaches to have professionalism in every aspect of the business. This allows them to go out and build the type of business they want, which is more impactful than only teaching the physical aspect.

The majority of coaches mean well and want to help people, they just don’t know how to do it and stay a coach. Leaving coaching is often a result of not making enough money or losing clients. It’s not because they don’t care, it’s because they haven’t been told how to implement a system. So we want to teach the coach how to build their own franchise system. 

When somebody finishes our program, they should have a very clear understanding of how they can build a coaching business to work with people in a personalized way.

What’s the big vision?

JC: We’re just kind of scratching the surface on how effectively we can impact an entire market of coaches out there. Basically we’re saying we don’t actually coach the end consumer directly. Our coaches do and our gyms do, but we coach the coach.

We’ll continue trying to grow as effectively as possible. I want to make sure that we become a beacon for success at the coach, the client, and the owner level.

What role does technology play?

JC: The technology is coming — the platforms and tech stacks for marketing, fulfillment, operations, etc. So if you don’t utilize it, you’re going to be behind the curve and the franchises and other businesses that utilize them are going to eat you up.

Ultimately, there’s value in people understanding how to live better and longer and I don’t think that value ever goes away. So if I can create a service that helps you live longer and better, I have tremendous value in your life. 

What impact does streaming and on-demand fitness have?

JC: I think anything has potential to disrupt or help a company. As it relates to OPEX, I think it will help because many of our clients are the people who are taking the next step in fitness. So, if we could have a 100 million more people a year start fitness, that’s a beautiful thing. 

The interactive and the streaming services are going to grow like wildfire and there will be serious success in that field, but I also know there’s an energy when you’re live that you cannot reproduce digitally. There’s a large chunk of people in this world who want to experience face-to-face energy, and so I think we can really do something effectively for them in the coaching space.

What are some keys to success in the industry?

JC: You have to have a passion about the concept you’re exploring. There’s a ton of power and inspiration in loving the concept you’re pursuing. 

Another thing is, you just have to work your ass off. In the fitness industry, people just think that it’s cherry picking and that’s just not the case. You’ve got to grind to succeed in this industry, it’s not set up for low-level trainers to win.

You also have to be open minded to how fast this industry is changing. 

If you were to start something new right now, what would it be?

JC: I think it depends on the type of person you are.

If you’re somebody who is entrepreneurial and likes risk, then I think you have to go into the digital space, because the growth potential is absurd. If you can build it and truly have an insight in the fitness industry, there’s no faster time in history to get that insight to a market.

If you’re less risky, I absolutely still think there’s potential in the in-person gym business. If you’re smart and savvy on the marketing side, you can fill a space with the power of in-person networks supported by digital. 

I love what I’m doing right now, but think I’d have a hell of a fun time building out something digital that still allowed coaches to work more effectively with clients.

**Note: Jim’s answers have been edited for brevity and cohesion. 

About Jim Crowell: 

Jim is a CEO, a business investigator, and a communication strategist in the fitness industry. His work ethic, experience and vision allow him to help fitness businesses in multiple verticals grow and protect their businesses at scale.

Over his 15 year career, Jim has successfully traded energy commodities at $750M hedge fund, he’s owned and sold 2 gyms with over 500 clients under his coaches’ tutelage, and he’s helped build and grow OPEX Fitness, Brand X, Big Dawgs Athlete and numerous other coaching companies within the chaos of the ever-changing fitness industry.

Along the way, he’s never stopped learning. Jim graduated Harvard’s Core Course with honors and then went on to earn his MBA from The University of North Carolina all while working full time with OPEX. He’s got a ferocious interest in understanding how systems works, and he couples that with his love of simple communication to support his team, gyms, coaches, and clients.

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