Company culture can be defined as a set of shared values, goals, attitudes, and practices that characterize an organization. –Built In
What is your company’s culture?
I would describe my business’ culture as “the child comes first.” That might seem an obvious answer for a business that caters to kids, but in my case, it’s not. For my business partner Maria Lawrence and I, Impact Gymnastics Academy is not about gymnastics as much as it’s about all the positives that result when a child trains in gymnastics. And that attitude makes us an outlier in our industry.
Let me step back a moment and explain. I trained in gymnastics for years before quitting because—under pressure to put practice time before school or family obligations—I felt like I was missing out on life. When I became a coach, my attitude was different. To me, building healthy, strong relationships with my athletes and building them up as well-rounded human beings was more important than scores or winning.
With three children, Maria was a “team mom” at one gym where I coached, and our decision to open Impact Gym in Phoenix, Arizona, seven years ago flowed directly from our shared philosophy about what a gymnastics program should (and should not) be.
At Impact we pour this philosophy into our staff. We explain it to prospective hires, reiterate it during regular training, and insist on it from all coaches. We explain it to parents early and often. And it permeates our public face, from online posts to charity events.
We’re #ImpactStrong. That’s our culture—one that sets us apart from other gyms. Let’s get into the details of how it’s done.
- Determine what your studio/gym’s culture will be. Your culture is based on values and what you believe is important.
- Work to root this culture in all aspects of your business. Strive for 100 percent buy-in from staff and parents.
- Be consistent. Make sure both your internal company operations and external marketing reiterates the message about who you are as a business.
“I want that for my kid.”
Our staff’s embrace of the culture is our biggest marketing tool.
When we attend competitions, both our gym parents and those of other teams can clearly see how our coaches interact with our athletes. We’ve had multiple families admit they joined our program after watching our coaches hand out high fives, hugs, and plenty of positive support to our athletes despite their scores. They’ve witnessed our coaches and kids cheering on other teams, heard our coaches say, “OK, so you had a bad routine—it happens to the best of us.”
“We have never seen that before,” these parents say. “I want that for my kid. I want my kid to know her coaches love her whether she scores a 9 or a 4.”
Since many of our coaches are high school or college-aged, and the part-time nature of the job leads to high turnover, we strive to be consistent in our expectations. At every staff meeting we talk about why we are here and the message we are sending out to students. Talking up our culture can be redundant—sometimes I feel I’ve said it a million times—but even some long-term staffers will forget. We are upfront with our coaches that a positive attitude in action is what attracts parents (and kids) to our teams.
“I’d love to have you watch practice.”
Shockingly, a lot of times parents come to Impact looking for a “cutthroat” gym where coaches push the kids to Olympic levels. Right from the beginning we explain that while we want our athletes to be great and successful gymnasts, we also want them to go on family vacations and to birthday parties. We want them to be kids.
In our relationship with parents, transparency and trust are hugely important. It’s no secret that national gymnastic scandals put a black mark on all gymnastics programs. But even before those news stories, I encouraged parents to stay and watch practices, something many gyms do not allow. We have surveillance cameras almost everywhere (for safety and transparency) and we complete USA Gymnastics background checks on all staff. Parents must accompany athletes on out-of-state trips—no unaccompanied minors. In a sport where questioning the coach is frowned upon, we want parents to be comfortable talking to us about any and all concerns.
Many of our marketing videos feature audio overlays of parents talking about their experiences here, including the openness and trust we cultivate. These videos are made by fellow More Than Just Great Dancing!® member Alicia Knopps and are fabulous: we send them out to our customer base every few months and post them on our social media accounts.
“I don’t have time to get on the news anymore!”
Our external marketing, such as social media, plays up this internal culture. Our social media specialist is Charlotte Shaff, owner of The Media Push, a company that helps small business owners gain traditional and social media attention. She creates marketing content that she posts once a day on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and sends out email blasts. Every three months or so she gets big news—such as our winter or summer camps or an upcoming fundraiser—into the local newspapers. We’re on the TV news so much that I’ve complained that I don’t have time to get on the news anymore!
Charlotte is in constant contact with all the people on my staff so that these coaches and leaders can share photos and communicate news. Each week our public posts focus on a different gym program or activity: “Here is our Ninja program star of the week;” “Here’s our Level 5 team winning state;” We had a holiday party;” “We did a sleepover at the gym.” She even creates family-oriented activities like “whole-family home workouts” that we share with our clientele.
In all of our videos and posts, we are cognizant of showing the diversity of our students. Gymnastics is expensive, and many people from minority populations do not or cannot participate. (When I trained, I was the only brown kid on my team for years.) When you walk into Impact you see every skin color, and though you may not realize it, a mix of students from different income levels. The message is: everyone is welcome.
All this culture-based marketing encourages new families to want to join in the fun. Rather than families focused on scores alone, it attracts families who want a gym program that’s healthy and supportive.
Additionally, we attract positive news coverage for our Make an IMPACT Invitational, a USAG sanctioned meet with proceeds going to charities. Our inaugural event in 2021 benefited the Civitan Foundation Inc., a local non-profit that supports children with special needs like the 21-year-old athlete on our team with Down syndrome; the proceeds for our 2022 event were donated to a local school for autistic children.
“We want to make an impact on kids’ lives.”
Maria is adamant that our logo is prominently displayed in all our marketing. When we were initially touring potential facilities, one was a church called Impact Church. We looked at each other and said, “Oh, that’s what we want to do with gymnastics.” We took “Impact” for our name, and our logo and that name’s definition—”to influence, to change”—is painted on our gym wall, along with uplifting phrases such as “You are beautiful.”
Including our logo in everything has not only gotten our name out there, but it explains to the public who we are. We truly #MakeAnImpact. We’re proud that everything we do at Impact is about our athletes’ positive and happy gymnastics experiences, and I enjoy seeing that message being sent out and pushing it in the direction I want it to go.