Finding Your Gym’s DNA

Dave Thomas San Diego Performance360Written by Dave Thomas
Owner, Performance360

Many people mistakenly think that community and culture are the same thing.

They are not.

Community is the high five between John and Kate after a squat PR. Culture is what got John and Kate into the gym in the first place. Community are the people in your gym. Culture is the DNA that pumps through the veins of the gym.

The right culture attracts the right people.

The unfortunate reality is that people come and go, but a culture is everlasting and without one that is honest and true to your nature, there cannot be any success past the status quo.

Culture comes first. It is never compromised. It is placed above all else.

What Cold Calling Taught Me

Prior to opening Performance360 and a career in fitness, I worked an inside sales job at a company that sold websites to realtors back in 2009. I would pick up the phone and for eight consecutive hours, five days a week, I would cold call motherfuckers and sling websites.

Those who know me always laugh at this because well, I can’t fake stuff.

I was awful.


Bottom ten percent of my sales team and had I not quit I would have been fired, most likely.

My idea of selling something is showing it to them and if they don’t want it…k, bye. I hate selling and I hate being sold. (This is probably why we’ve never had a single sales person at Performance360).

I hated this job. Every morning I would wake up to my alarm at 5:00 am, go in the shower and proceed to sit Indian style for a solid twenty minutes pondering what Metallica song I would play as I drove straight off the Coronado Bridge.


(The Four Horsemen, FYI.)

When I boiled down what I hated about the job, it was that I was just a cog in a wheel of something I didn’t care about, but most importantly, I didn’t learn. I didn’t progress. I wasn’t connected to anything or anyone.

I wasn’t part of anything bigger that motivated me.

Everything I did was scripted.

I realized that education and self improvement were vital to my happiness, and I knew those were powerful motivators to keep me engaged and keep me interested.

I couldn’t be alone in this.

Once I quit that job and Gronk’d my headset in our manager’s office on the way out, I knew at this point I was going to pursue a career in fitness in hope of one day opening a gym.

I didn’t know what or how, but I knew if I did I would one day take these lessons of misery with me.

After going back to school in 2009, getting my certifications and slowly building a personal training client base large enough to take on the risk of opening a brick and mortar gym, I knew it was time to ante up and go for it in 2011.

Death to Bloody Hands Culture

Opening Performance360 with Pritz in April 2011 was a daunting endeavor, but we were never fearful or doubtful. I don’t know if it was an ignorance is bliss type scenario or that we were both so inherently comfortable and confident in what we were doing, but we were never overwhelmingly nervous.

We were an independent gym with no experience, no brand, no exposure and no friends. It was quite literally just the two of us against the world.

So why weren’t we afraid?

Why weren’t we shitting our pants that the big dogs were going to muscle us out of the school yard?


We knew we had it and we liked what it represented.

While we considered most gyms to follow what we called “Bloody Hands Culture”, we were going to be the gym that hated that. The anti bloody hands gym. We wanted to be a place where personal achievement was motivation, not someone screaming, “No pain, no gain.”

Surrounded by gyms filled with Games athletes, we went all in our culture and never wavered from it. We understand that we’d be unattractive to some people but highly attractive to others. The last thing we wanted to be was a place that tried to appeal to everyone.

What most places lacked at the time and still lack today, in my humble opinion and for lack of a more eloquent term, is truly giving a fuck. Learning names, getting in the trenches, caring about the goals of members, not dictating what their goals should be.

To really teach. Not recite.

To have true partnership between member and coach, not just oversight.

To show people you don’t have to rip your hands open in a workout to call it a success.

To provide education and a place where people’s efforts are recognized. Cared about. To have partners on the coaching staff, not a VIP host who sits around on a plyo box twirling a PVC pipe and snapping videos of themselves.

To be out of breathe after a walkthrough. Sweaty. I’ve measured the amount of miles I walk when I coach and over the course of four classes it’s usually between four and five miles.

Hustle and attentiveness are traits coaches of any skill level can own. Get the hell outta here with sitting on a stack of weights in the middle of class, clapping and saying good job.

When someone achieves something in your gym, they should be recognized. They should be cared about.

Is anyone recognizing the little wins and little victories of your marginal members?

You know, the ones who pay the bills and keep your doors open? Or is it just cleat chasing the high level athletes.

Culture is not having a BBQ and talking about the Paleo diet.

That’s community. And that’s not unique.

Culture is your DNA. It’s where you will connect with your members. It’s understanding what you think is important might not be to others, but will be huge to some. It never wavers or leaves when people do.

It must honestly reflect what is important to you.

If it doesn’t, it will never trickle down to your staff. You will always be a hodgepodge mess of people because you have no identity. You’ll be like the lost teenager who goes goth one year, does theater the next, tries lacrosse the next year in constant search of identity.

Figure out where you kill it. What your strengths are and go all in on those. Focus in on your core values, what you can bring to the table better than others.

When you get compliments about your gym, what do people bring up most? What are the common themes in your successes with clients?

What’s going to keep your doors open in the next five years?

For us, it boils down to three things.

Education. Partnership. Recognition. 

While we are constantly correcting little mistakes and making improvements where we can, our DNA never changes.

That’s where our bet is and the hand we’re going all in on, for better or for worse.

What’s yours?

Agree? Disagree? Let me know what you think, and if you liked it, please hit the SHARE button below.

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