In Part 1 of this series, we introduced four very different companies that cater to the CrossFit community—Blonyx (supplements), AsRx (apparel), IceAge Meals (food), and SweatWorks (computer software).
All four company CEOs said they discovered their perfect niche market for their products and services when they discovered CrossFit. Though the CrossFit community is still relatively small, companies like Blonyx, AsRx, IceAge Meals and SweatWorks are creating more and more opportunities in the labour market. And best of all, they offer their employees a chance to work in a career they love, with teams of people who all hold similar values.
So what does it take to become part of a team at a company that caters to the CrossFit community?
Let’s find out:
What advice would you have for people who would like to work for a CrossFit-related company?
Rowan Minnion—Blonyx CEO: Find a company you would love to work for and reach out to them directly. We have a firstname.lastname@example.org email that is totally underused. CrossFit is still a tiny market on a global scale so it’s still tough to find highly skilled employees for things like marketing, sales, operations etc., who are well versed in CrossFit. We are rarely approached by CrossFitters who are interested in working for us, and hunting down good employees is a lot harder than you would think.
All hands on deck at the IceAge Meals kitchen.
Nick Massie—CEO of IceAge Meals: Get a hold of us! We need lots of help. Reach out to email@example.com. Aside from that, I’d recommend getting involved in CrossFit as the first step. Don’t just pretend. Get in the community, spend some time learning about it. It’ll help you understand the benefits of the program; it’ll give you energy to be productive; it’ll open doors.
Researching the company you would like to work with is important and will pay off in the long run, says Iqbal.
Mohammed Iqbal—CEO Sweatworks: Do your research. I am sure this applies to virtually (anything), but in software, it's relatively easy to set up a website and be open for business. In our case, our support team alone is larger than four of our competitors combined. By working with a reputable vendor, you not only protect yourself, but you can also ensure that your participants or members get the best experience possible. I would also recommend that you work with a vendor who has had success in CrossFit and elsewhere, as well. Having insight from other industries helps drive product innovation.
How important for your marketing is it to understand the CrossFit community? Do you hire people who understand CrossFit and why?
Massie: I think it’s pretty important. We’ve had a couple employees who weren’t CrossFitters—didn’t know anything about it. It doesn’t come across well when you’re not really involved. So yes, I hire people who understand the CrossFit community as best I can. However, I’ve hired people who understand CrossFit but were terrible workers. We need productive, hardworking people ahead of people who know about CrossFit, but it’s a definite plus if they do it and understand it.
Iqbal: Understanding the CrossFit community is integral to the success of our products and services. We have to not only understand the community, but also be a part of it. When it comes to our Conquest Events product (the events platform for the CrossFit community) we only hire those who actually CrossFit as part of their daily lives. It goes beyond marketing: Even our developers, support staff, and sales all do CrossFit.
An understanding of CrossFit is an 'absolute necessity' for Blonyx staff- demonstrated here with a staff visit to RainCity Athletics.
Minnion: It’s an absolute necessity. CrossFit has a very strong, libertarian identity and its general skepticism towards the mainstream fitness market means you can’t approach it half-arsed. Selling to CrossFit gym owners and athletes without understanding their needs and demonstrating 100% dedication to CrossFit is like turning up to a vegan dinner party with wild boar sausages: They’ll smell you coming and will have a hard time relating to you in order to make the sale. On the flip side, being ingrained in the community will get you 50% of the way there. Being sold to by a fellow CrossFit gym owner comes with an assumed trust and respect.
Nobody understands this better than Regionals athlete Erica Livett—a Blonyx sales rep.
Erica Livett, left, works for Blonyx and is also a coach, athlete, and active member of the CrossFit community.
“I don’t feel like I have to ‘sell’ their products, rather it’s more about educating people. I coach because I love the human body. I love helping people realize their own human potential, and supplementation with quality products is an awesome way to maximize that potential.” - Erica Livett
“I love talking to coaches and gym owners about best business practices and about CrossFit and about their gym. And I like the competitiveness of growing sales. And I like working with our Blonyx athletes. It’s ever-changing. We have absolute flexibility to pursue any avenue of work that we want. Creativity is allowed. There aren’t a lot of ‘no’s’ here.” - Graeme Macdonald on his sales managing role with Blonyx
What about sponsorship opportunities? How do you choose which athletes you’re going to sponsor?
AsRx athlete Wes Piatt has an awesome personality, and works well with the company. CEO's are looking for athletes who will engage with their brands in new, creative ways.
Marcus Dedina—CEO AsRx: The sponsorship world of CrossFit has changed a lot. It used to be you gave an athlete a free t-shirt and they were sponsored for a year. Now it’s 25 page contracts and agents and negotiations. We mostly look for the right attitude. One of the best examples of this is Wes Piatt. He’s just got a phenomenal personality. He embraces who we are as a brand, and we embrace that. We like to try to avoid people with too much cockiness to them. We’re also excited about sponsoring younger athletes. I think the sport is going to start attracting younger and younger participants, and we want to keep our finger on the pulse there. And we like supporting them because they're more excited about getting sponsored. And obviously you need a certain amount of athletic capacity, but you don’t have to be a Games athlete. Some people are big influencers in their local communities so we like the hometown hero types, too. It adds a personal touch being involved in a person’s local community. And, of course, social media presence. Brooke Wells is very very good at social media—potentially the best in CrossFit. She has a natural presence and that’s important.
At the end of the day, the athletes they sponsor need to help AsRx in return, which Dedina admits is sometimes hard to measure.
Dedina: It’s hard to measure how our athletes affect our sales. It's not a direct correlation from social media to buying our products, but we need to know they’re helping our brand. And I'm a pretty anti-corporate guy, but we wouldn’t be a brand if we didn’t think about (our bottom line).
Minnion: First and foremost we look for athletes who understand the business case for sponsorship. Any business worth their stripes should try to understand and measure the value of the athletes they sponsor. The best athletes also tend to understand their role in promotion and customer attraction for your brand. Even better when they want to prove what they are worth. The best athletes on our team pro-actively work to get product into influential hands, and they spot opportunities to get us exposure.
Next is about a true belief in our company and what we are trying to achieve combined with the right personality. Almost all our athletes approached us because they love our products and wanted to be part of our journey. For them, promotion of our brand comes naturally.
From a personality perspective, athletes need to be outgoing and a joy to work with. We like to see them as a part of our company. We have even hired some of our sponsored athletes, like Tasia (Percevecz). Good personal relationships means better communication, understanding, and a want to support each other. It ads fun to what is essentially a business relationship.
What about from the employee end? What’s it like to work for these companies?
Working with the #blonyxcrew is a job perk, dressing the same as them is optional! Chelsea Maier and Emily Abbott in Portland, for the 2016 Regionals.
Meet Chelsea Maier—Marketing Manager at Blonyx
Chelsea Maier studied Interior Design and Architecture in school—at the University of Manitoba—and never thought her degree would ever translate into working for a supplement company, let alone a supplement company in the CrossFit community.
After graduating, she spent some time running a small business, all the while working as a freelance designer and an Executive Assistant for an energy company.
"I was getting to the point where I wanted to work full-time with one company, and apply all my energy to one brand," she said.
When she sat down with Blonyx CEO Minnion a half a year ago, she was surprised to realize she could put all her skills and interests—photography, social media, sales, branding, graphics and design to name a few—to use working for a company she believed in.
“I could tell Blonyx had the company values I really admired and would want to represent,” said Maier, who began CrossFit a number of years ago at CrossFit 204 in Winnipeg. “I liked that the products were really simple and backed by science. It didn’t look like a supplement company that was trying to capitalize on shiny marketing. They were doing it for the right reasons. It was refreshing,” she said.
Today, Maier finds herself putting her photography, social media and marketing skills to use. And she gets to travel and hang out with Blonyx athletes at CrossFit events.
“I work with our team of sponsored athletes—communicating with them, organizing events, on-boarding new athletes, and mentoring them on social media to help them build their presence,” she said.
Working with the Blonyx athletes makes her feel like she’s part of something bigger, she said.
Emily Abbott at the Cascade Classic in Seattle with the Blonyx team.
It’s not just Maier who feels like she’s part of something bigger. Blonyx athlete, three-time CrossFit Games star Emily Abbott does, too: “Being supported by Blonyx allows me to pursue my CrossFit endeavours. Not only do I have amazing products behind me, I also have a strong family unit that is the Blonyx company. I have learned so much from Blonyx, most of it outside of the realm of CrossFit. I hope to always be part of this amazing group of people.” - Emily Abbott
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