• Terrence

The Evolution of Forge Valley Fitness

While many businesses run out their timeline with a single name, and sometimes a single logo, it’s very common these days for a business to rebrand. This can be in the form of several things; services it offers, their logo and marketing messaging, or simply the name itself. It can also be done for several reasons which are certainly specific to the business, but often it will fall into a category of; updated core values, marketing awareness, business and industry evolution - there are likely many other reasons a business could rebrand itself, but I would suggest these are the main factors, and ones that were considered upon the rebranding and name change that we have been through.

For those of you who may not know, Forge Valley Fitness has only been our name since 2017, prior to that we were CrossFit North Okanagan. April 2022 actually marked the 10 year anniversary of the business and we are extremely proud of that; given the most recent circumstances (COVID-19) that we have gone through in the last 2+ years.

The reason I wanted to write this is to explain and showcase why we rebranded from CrossFit North Okanagan (CFNO) and evolved into Forge Valley Fitness (FVF), and to showcase how we are a unique gym and coaching service.

As a brief overview, the business was established in 2012, which feels like yesterday and also forever ago. From 2012 through 2016, we were CrossFit North Okanagan (CFNO). In 2017 we unveiled the new name, Forge Valley Fitness. We selected this name as it aligned with the history of Vernon, and bodes well for what we do in our gym - forging fitness, lifestyle, health, strength, muscle, etc. Then in 2019, the business was bought by my fiance (Bonnie) and I (Terrence).

“Vernon was at one time (c.1877) known as Forge Valley because of Ellison’s blacksmith shop.” - History of Vernon https://www.vernon.ca/activities-events/museum/history-vernon

Before we dive into the details of why we rebranded and how we got here, there are four key time stamps to know;

  1. CFNO was established in 2012 by Garth Cooke and Erica Livett,

  2. I (Terrence) joined the CFNO staff in March 2015 as a full-time coach,

  3. CFNO changed to Forge Valley Fitness (FVF) in January 2017,

  4. My fiancee (Bonnie) and I purchased FVF in August 2019 (yes, great timing for the pandemic, we know…)

The stage is set, let’s get down to business.

Before we talk about why we are now Forge Valley Fitness, let’s briefly explain why we were CrossFit North Okanagan in the first place. While I cannot speak specifically to the years of 2012-2015, the brief version is that in these ‘prime years’ of the inception of mainstream CrossFit (the time when it was becoming more publicly aware and available), it made a lot of sense to affiliate (not franchise) with CrossFit. Having that name and brand affiliation did most of your marketing for you - a great idea for most ‘microgym’ owners since the majority of whom do not come from a business or marketing background.

Let’s quickly separate affiliate and franchise - this is an important distinction which plays a role in how a business may operate, and why the operation of affiliates influenced our decisions. CrossFit Inc. operates an affiliate strategy as opposed to a franchise strategy. When you open a franchise, it means you are simply opening a location of an already existing and established business which has proven metrics of operation and has a complete SOP Manual (Standard Operating Procedures) to give you the path to success. You must adhere to the operating standards set forth by the franchising company, but can run the small things how you like, mainly some local marketing and how you create the environment with the staff that you have - there is not much room for play.

When you open an affiliate (CrossFit Affiliate), you are simply attaining marketing and branding rights, with no real assistance on the business or training elements and with no boundaries on how you operate any facet of the business. Fortunately for current and future CrossFit affiliates, there are materials being created to assist gyms in developing, but there are still no boundaries or standards you must adhere to. As you may imagine, this can create inconsistency, confusion and mixed messaging among different affiliate locations.

This business strategy (affiliation) makes sense for a lot of people who found connection, passion and enjoyment from the CrossFit exercise methodology and group workout model. It usually goes something like this, “I love this newly defined training program, I believe in its effectiveness and scalability, I want to help people experience what it’s like to have a broad and deep range of fitness.” While I always have, and always will believe in this statement, the #1 problem when it comes to affiliation, is that brand awareness, perception and messaging is not in the individual affiliates’ control - and this is absolutely true when it comes to the brand and company of CrossFit Inc. And this is the backbone of why we are now Forge Valley Fitness.

The #1 problem when it comes to affiliation, is that brand awareness, perception and messaging is not in the individual affiliates’ control - and this is absolutely true when it comes to the brand and company of CrossFit Inc.

At this point, you are probably thinking the question, "Are you still a CrossFit gym?" Which is a pretty deep, but also arbitrary question. As you'll see below, there really aren't any guidelines to what a 'CrossFit Gym' IS or ISN'T, wherein lies the difficult and path to rebranding and name change.

I would like to provide a very brief explanation of the CrossFit Exercise Methodology. It is in nature, and by its own definition; constantly varied, functional movements, executed at high intensity, with the intention to form broad, general and inclusive fitness (inclusive meaning all types of fitness). CrossFit has also evolved into a highly competitive sport from the original messaging of ‘Forging Elite Fitness’. Although the message is good, with such a general and bi-polar definition (general and inclusive, but also elite), and many levels of evolution throughout affiliates around the world, one can almost classify anything as CrossFit, and CrossFit as anything. To simply define and clarify; CrossFit is just a brand of exercise which popularized metabolic conditioning and interval training in a group workout format. How an affiliate or individual interprets and applies these parameters is completely up to them, leaving inconsistency, confusion and mixed messaging in the marketplace.

CrossFit is just a brand of exercise which popularized metabolic conditioning and interval training in a group workout format.

This means realistically, you could walk into 10 different affiliates and have 10 extremely different experiences, ranging from equipment availability and workout structure, to member intakes and most importantly of all coaching ability. Imagine going into a Boston Pizza, but getting a pizza that looks like it’s from 7-11. I’m sure you wouldn’t be impressed, and then you would associate all Boston Pizza with the quality of 7-11. This isn’t to say that some owners and coaches aren’t incredible and rise well above the crop, but you can never stop being associated with those who are not pulling their weight and are tainting the brand that you are affiliating with - or even just displaying different core values and business structures. This is not limited to a local market, but in fact very widespread, especially with the incredible reach the internet and social media has.

Throughout the years of being a CrossFit Affiliate it became inherently challenging to simultaneously create messaging of both what we were, and what we were not. Many people would stay far away from a CrossFit gym because their friend in another city had a bad experience and hurt their back. This creates a preconception of what to expect in ‘a CrossFit gym’ for many people which creates intimidation and fear of injury. We acknowledge there are incredible affiliates out there doing great things, but unfortunately there are many that are not upholding a standard.

This all lead into rebranding with a name change and mainly came down to the fact that while being able to market the brand and name that is CrossFit, it did not mean enough when we did not have any control or input on what the messaging from CrossFit was.

Now, into the details of how we came to be Forge Valley Fitness, the name, and more importantly the brand.

During 2014, CFNO started to make changes to stand out as a higher level coaching service instead of just exercise classes. This was in help from a gym consultant business - MadLab Group, which was derived from the FIRST Canadian CrossFit Affiliate - CrossFit Vancouver, now called MadLab School of Fitness. MadLab assisted in the development of the business, coaches and even clients. We still operate on many of the processes they helped us implement and would not be where we are today without their help.

As the fitness industry constantly evolves, businesses and consultants should as well. And we have been through some massive evolutions in the last 10 years and MadLab helped us navigate them to continue to stay relevant and hopefully inline or ahead of the curve.

The three most important client facing processes that were implemented are One-on-One Fundamentals Training, Hybrid Memberships and a Coach for Life. The implementation of these three processes are the foundation of what sets us apart from any other gym, near and far, and allows us to provide long term careers for our coaches. Simply put, it is rare to find a gym that takes these measures as closely and carefully as we do, and we believe that this is the future of what the fitness industry needs to provide meaningful change to our clients and lasting careers for our coaches. We’ll go into these processes in detail in another write up.

While implementing these new processes set us apart inside of our gym, we still faced the challenge of creating the messaging of what we were, and also what we were not. This is when the conversations of a name change started to surface. We wanted to control our brand and perception of what people thought when they heard “Forge Valley Fitness” and not their preconceived notions of what to expect at “CrossFit North Okanagan” from what their second cousin Sally experienced in another province.

The name change largely sparked as well from the change of values from what CrossFit was portraying, and what we believed to be most important to our members and the success of our business. The values being from CrossFit, constantly varied, functional movements, executed at high intensity, with an emphasis on elite fitness. We started to fade away from these values by what we found was applicable and sustainable in our members and our business. What our methodology values have evolved into are, Functionally appropriate movements, performed at varying levels of intensity with controlled variety and progression - with an emphasis on health and longevity.

We knew that the majority of people coming into our door did not really care about how strong they were, or what their time on ‘Diane’ was - a workout involving Deadlifts and Handstand Push-Ups. They really just wanted to be strong and fit enough to play with their kids, mountain bike and hike in the summer, ski and snowshoe in the winter, or get out of years of physical pain from lack of proper exercise. The devaluation of speed and intensity became out of alignment with the CrossFit messaging. Now don’t get me wrong, our members do become incredibly strong and fit, and give their full effort every day they are in the gym. But a full effort changes day to day when you have a stressful full-time job, a spouse with 2-3 kids, with a property to maintain, while also trying to fit in an exercise routine.

Functionally appropriate movements, performed at varying levels of intensity with controlled variety and progression - with an emphasis on health and longevity.

We were exiting the niche of ‘Elite Fitness’ and evolving into our own brand and style. Because we had spent the last 3 years improving our processes and services outside of and beyond what was typically expected in a CrossFit Affiliate, when the name change occurred, it was simply an evolution of the previous years of consistent business development and branding efforts coming full circle. This also meant that the only things that changed at that time were in fact the name of the business and our logo.

After the name change at the beginning of 2017, we have had full control of business and brand messaging, perception and awareness. We have not been relying on an affiliated party to craft the messaging and branding that they believe is relevant, it is now in our court. As we venture down the path of our brand, our main message could be summarized as ‘We are different. We are the future. We are now.’

We are different, because we are a fitness coaching service and not a fitness entertainment service.

We are the future, because we know how impactful a professional coach can be to provide solutions and influence for lasting, healthy lifestyle changes.

We are now, because we will not wait for the rest of the fitness industry to wake up and realize the potential that they have to give their clients so much more than just a workout.

To answer the question, "Are you still a CrossFit Gym?" The answer is as vague as the question. For many, it's a no because we don't place intensity on a pedestal or spend the entire class preparing for a 5 minute workout, and for many it's a yes because we do back squats, pull ups and power cleans. It depends on what YOU believe the definition of CrossFit is, and what it means to you.

What I can tell you with absolute confidence is that we help people improve their lives every day with our team of professional coaches and the fitness and exercise methodology we believe in. If you would like to learn more about what we do at Forge Valley Fitness, send us an intake and we'll be happy to answer any questions you have.

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