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The Legend of Freddie
Originally Posted 04/06/11

Freddie was a dumb employee. He was born dumb, his parents were the kind of folks who would spend the equivalent of a month's salary to go to wrestle mania and the sum of the entire IQ of his friends was less than that of a typical poodle. Freddie was unique in that he was smart enough to know he was dumb.

I hired Freddie because he showed up on time, learned to dress decently (this took work and extra training by me and the managers), was polite and did whatever I told him to do with a smile on his face. He was good at running errands, picking up equipment, fixing minor breaks, cleaning and helping the members on the floor and doing anything, at anytime, that was needed in the business.

Freddie was a legend because of the amazingly stupid things he did on an almost daily basis that validated his less than a chipmunk brainpower. For example, he got out of his car to tell me something but left it in gear and running. It slowly plowed into the side of the building. He also managed to fallout of a moving bus, get arrested for streaking, shoot a farm animal on a deer hunt and marry a woman who held the record for eating the most hot dogs in 10 minutes at the local sports bar. Freddie appreciated the work and was loyal but keeping him was more an adventure in management than an act of good business.

He was paid near minimum wage but I gave him a little extra cash each month because he showed up and did his job without much hassle and with a good attitude. He was with me for years and I was sorry to see him move away. In all the years he worked for me, he never called in sick and never failed to do his job. He was a good man at heart, a good worker and was one of the few people I have ever met that used most of the talent he possessed. He wasn’t bright, but he did get more out of dumb than many smart people get out of their talent.

The mistake most owners make is that they think that a Freddie hired for near minimum money can then be magically converted into an employee that can generate revenue and take responsibility. It is kind of like the shows on television where a bunch of people bid on an abandoned storage locker, the winner buys the rights to the contents of the unit cheap, and then hope he hopes to find valuable stuff long forgotten by the original owner when he opens it.

The difference is that when you buy an abandoned storage unit, you don't know what is really inside. You might just find that priceless painting if you are lucky. In Freddie's case, and in the case of most other cheap and dumb employees, what you see is what you get. There is nothing hidden inside here that might become more valuable later. You hired a guy willing to clean toilets for minimum wage and that is what you get and all you should expect. He might be a nice guy, but he is not a diamond to be mined from the mud. He is, an always will be, a guy willing to do menial, demeaning tasks for a low pay.

The problem here is that most owners can't tell the difference between a basic employee and a storage unit. These owners hire cheap, because they are cheap, and because their accountants teach them to keep the payroll expenses down since that is the only thing they recognizes on the statements.

After hiring the first available person at the lowest wage in the market, this owner then expects the person to suddenly bloom into a rare find capable of making him a lot of money. You see it all the time in this business: an owner who is mad because his staff can't perform, are totally unreliable as a group and who show no interest in the business beyond, "where is my check/it is time for me to leave now." If there was ever a case of you get what you paid for, then hiring cheap employees is it.

The old saying, you can put a tuxedo on a pig but it still is a pig, applies to employees. If you hire cheap because you are cheap, then what you hire is what you get and you have to recognize that the 19-year-old dumb ass at the front counter checking people in, chatting on her cell phone and bitching because she has to empty the trash is working at her upper limit and all the management books in the world can't elevate her game. You hired wrong and you got exactly what you paid for in potential and performance. You cannot fix stupid and your plan to make money with a herd of immature talentless minimum wage drones will fail.

On the other hand, if you pay a little more, say a couple bucks more than the local minimum wage, you will usually get talent instead of a warm body that merely fills a time slot on the schedule. In this example, local minimum wage is what it takes to get someone to take a front counter job in your area. In the northern states, this is often $4-5 more than real minimum wage.

Buying talent is always worth the extra money. Buying adults with real life experience and business skills is always a good investment, with the emphasis here on investment. Productive people can get more done in 40 hours than 60 hours of labor by people who are more worried about the next text than they are the person needing help standing in front of them at the counter.

Look around your club. Are you staff with the people working for the lowest wage you can get by with in your market or did you pay a little extra and get talent capable of generating revenue. Real salespeople need real money. Real assessment people capable of putting big training numbers on the board should be the highest paid people in your business.

It is an easy test. Could you leave your club for a week, not call in, and count on making a little money while you are gone? If the answer is no, welcome to Freddie’s world, the land of good people who on their best day aren’t going to make you any money.

The Freddies show up as needed and you will have clean toilets, but would you trust a team of Freddies with your business while you’re on vacation? Come on, he only set the dumpster on fire once, how bad can he be at your front counter selling memberships?

Oh wait, I forgot, you have your own Freddies and you did give them real jobs in your business expecting low-end wage slaves to sell members and become great trainers. How is that working out for you? Maybe you have more in common with Freddie than you think?

Original Comments:

Mark-

Thanks for keeping me away from the Freddies Thom…The test for me was last week in Atlanta…Left my club, did not call in, and (not to my surprise because of your help) made some money. Best part about it was that I had no dumpster fires to put out and our numbers went up!!! See you in Orlando.

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Frankkole-

Well I just let my Freddie go last nite! That felt pretty good no more Freddies for this club for now on! It was crazy I did what your blog said. Or what I read into. I took his cleaning and desk hours away slowly and really worked with him on building his training and WOW he wanted those hours like it was a drug. He would jones and beg for cleaning hours instead of working the floor for clients. So text book just wild to watch it unfold in front of your eyes. I almost feel bad because what is this guy going to do. But I guess its not my day to save them all. That to be said we closed the biggest deal we ever did on membership with 40 memberships sold to one company at full price on EFT! So Freddie gone and the signing of a major company in one day! Oh no what is next! Whats going to break and cost us! Lol!

Thanks Thom! Frank

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Maher-

Great post. U helped a lot in fitness business by reading your books. Great job

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CH

Had a great young man that we picked up from a homeless shelter to do a short-term project around the club (5 years in prison). Ended up giving him a regular job. He ended up getting his GED and eventually a 2 year degree. He took mechanical courses and learned valuable trades that helped the club. He got married and has a beautiful family – he now runs the entire dept at the club. BEST THING THAT I EVER EXPERIENCEDD IN 30 YEARS OF THIS BUSINESS.

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Frankkole-

Lol Just Lol! :}

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Jeff B-

Funny, we king of have a Freddie. He’s not dumb, but he has NO personality, zero, none, nothing! He has a degree in exercise physiology but I’ve never seen him workout. We hired him to help us fill out people’s workout charts on a program we use. He comes in at 9:00 sharp every morning, gets all the charts (usually well over 150 of them), sits at the desk, puts his head down and fills out the workout charts. When done, he asks if there’s anything else he needs me to do.

He does not speak unless spoken to, other than letting me know he’s done with the charts. We don’t have him answer phones, we don’t have him give tours, and we don’t have him even attempt to sell memberships.

He comes in, does a great job on charts very quickly, then leaves. That’s it. We pay him $10 an hour and he’s worth every penny.

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Ken-

Great blog, Thom! I think I may have hired a couple of "Fredericas” myself. Ha

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Thomas Plummer-

Looking good or effective is a whole different blog but it does highlight your personal issues as well.

See you soon

T

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