It takes a special kind of person to dream about opening their own fitness club. Some may say these people are passionate, some may say crazy, and honestly, those two things are probably true.
Opening your own fitness club isn’t exactly glamorous; in fact, the process in itself can be extremely difficult, stressful, and time consuming. Despite the popularity of fitness right now, 80% of new fitness clubs shut down during their first year of operation due to a number of different factors and considerations. But with a proper plan of attack and comprehensive steps, your fitness club has every chance to grow into whatever you would like it to be.
First and most importantly, establish your fitness club’s mission by asking yourself a simple question: Why do you want to open a fitness club?
There is no right and no wrong answer to this question, but the why behind your gym is crucial for your gym to be successful.
The logical reasons to start a gym are obvious:
Consumer interest in fitness is at an alltime high and continues to become more popular every day. There are few industries showing this kind of continual growth, and more importantly, show no signs of slowing down.
- Not only is public interest in fitness expanding, but the rise in preference for an intimate, personalized experience at the gym is also growing.
- This landscape naturally will draw clients to a small-scale business
- Compared to other small business ventures, gyms or fitness clubs are relatively low cost to open.
However, why you should open a gym and why you want to are two completely different things. Your personal reasons for opening your own fitness club will be what defines your mission, and ultimately drives success or failure.
It is obvious that you are passionate about health and wellness and that you want to help people reach their fitness goals, but think deeper! What about opening your specific gym excites you? What is your ultimate dream for your fitness club to become?
On top of that, running a fitness club is not something that can be done passively. As an owner, you should be prepared for the amount of time commitment this position will require. How will your gym validate your work and commitment?
Pre Planning: Establish Your Vision
Having a clear vision is crucial for you to build your fitness club into exactly what you want it to be, and most importantly, to stick out in such a highly saturated market.
Consider the following questions when deciding to open a gym:
- What kind of customers do you want to appeal to?
- How will your gym disrupt the local fitness community?
- What can customers get out of your gym that they won’t find somewhere else?
- Will you opt into a gym franchise or establish your own brand?
After clearly establishing your why, the hard work begins! The following steps to open your own gym will inevitably come with stress, setbacks, and tough challenges; no one ever claimed opening a gym is easy. Use your why, your purpose, and your intentions to fuel you when these problems do arise.
Step 1: Setting and Understanding your Gym's Budget
Just like with opening any small business, your first year is probably not going to be very profitable, and that’s okay!
But with low profit margins, budgeting and finances should be one of your top concerns as you initiate the process of opening a gym. This also means being realistic with expenditures when or if you are applying for a business loan.
Financial considerations means understanding your own budget, but also understanding the local rent prices and differences between possible locations.
How much it costs to start a gym does not come with a one size fits all answer. On average, most gyms cost roughly $50,000 to open, but can vary wildly depending on the area. You should also have your budget segmented into different investments of your gym, like equipment, facility restoration, rent, etc, in order to balance expenses over the long period it will take to officially open your club.
More important than establishing your budget is sticking to it. You need to be realistic about the locations you are considering and amenities you will include at your club. Even after establishing a budget, having an additional emergency fund is highly advised by others who have tried and succeeded at opening a gym. As unexpected costs can add up quickly in the fitness world, make sure you have a sizable rainy day fund so you do not need to stray from your original budgeting plan
Step 2: Researching Basic Requirements
While your passion for fitness may be driving your desire to open a fitness club, your first job as an owner is acting as an authority on your fitness niche.
When deciding on the crucial characteristics of your fitness club: location, size, specialty, structure, all of your decisions must also have a “why”
Since fitness clubs have become so diversified, finding your niche category does not have to limit your services in any way; you can blend fitness styles or services.
In fact, some of the most creative spins on traditional fitness specialties have become some of the most famous within the boutique fitness club industry: like how OrangeTheory revitalized circuit training classes to revolve around heart monitor technology and implementing as much HIIT cardio as plyometric exercises.
That is not to say that traditional fitness clubs are becoming unpopular. Now more than ever, consumers are craving authenticity as well as to find fitness clubs that provide for their particular fitness needs. If you can deliver, you will attract and keep customers.
Location is a top strategic priority for fitness clubs for a number of reasons. Not only will location directly affect your client-reach and network, but local demographics will determine the break down of your price points and expenses. Important factors of this include:
- Rent and utility costs
- Reasonably pricing your services
- Proximity to high traffic or congested areas
- Geography relative to target audience
- Your gym’s location in relation to competition
- Access to parking and visibility
Gauging competition will not only let you be strategic about where to open your gym, but will also give you credible insight as to how your pricing model should be structured.
After considering these factors, make sure to formulate a new why: why will this location be the best for your club and how will it position your club to grow over the years. Be prepared for ups and downs when scouting and trying to secure a lease for your location, many fitness owners site this task as one of the most difficult parts of opening their clubs; the reason for this being how location factors will directly impact your gym in terms of business.
- Will your gym appeal more to suburban area demographic more than an urban area with a denser population? Why?
- Will a strategic placement in a high profile shopping center bring in more customers simply by direct exposure?
- Is your gym’s location conveniently placed on a major route people can visit between home and work?
- Should your gym be close to age specific hubs, like high schools or universities?
Always put your location considerations in respect to your particular fitness niche or ideal demographic instead of grouping it under the general requirements for a gym.
Step 3: Tackle the Technical Issues
Just like any new business, you will have to handle the tedious operational an administrational tasks before actually building your gym. These measures vary greatly between states, countries, or regions, so make sure you are completely informed with all protocols in your area before proceeding. Generally, all new fitness clubs should have to complete some degree of the following:
- Registering your business on both the state and local levels in order to obtain proper licensing certifications. This will also include registering to pay taxes. Registering your business’s name and taxation processes are dependent on state, country or region, so make sure you are complying with whatever your area requires.
- Creating a business tax identification indicator.
- If you are offering daycare services as well, you need to apply to separate licenses.
Obtaining both Business Insurance and Liability Insurance
Not only will you need proper business insurance, but you will also need injury and liability insurance for your clients. Fitness clubs do, unfortunately, have the likelihood that members may hurt themselves through strenuous physical activity. Even if the injury was caused because a member was irresponsible or reckless, you want be sure you’re prepared for anything in order to protect your gym and staff.
4. Proper Training and Safety Certifications
Your staff should be properly trained to handle small scale injuries or incidents are you gym, which will require them to be First Aid or CPR certified. In fact, in many states, safety precautions warn that there must be a CPR certified staff-member working in fitness clubs as well as access to defibulators.
While most personal training licenses make this a requirement, it would be a good idea to have other staff proficient in these areas to respond to emergency situations that could arise at a fitness club. This could also include budgeting to provide training to your employees to make sure all of your staff is on the same page in terms of qualifications.
Step 4: Making Your Facility Your Gym
Once location is decided, rent is paid, and legal technicalities are addressed, the fun part begins! Your gym should match your exact vision by way of design, lay out, equipment, and services.
Equipment will range dramatically based on the emphasis of your fitness club, but you will have to make the executive decision around what type, how much, and what specialty, if any.
If you are planning to open a traditional gym, the more options in terms of equipment and exercise options, the better. If space permits, providing options to play sports is a very popular and low-cost option for cardiovascular opportunities.
For machines and weights, make sure your weight machines cover a large range of exercise options. Also consider equipment with utilitarian use, like free weight racks, cable machines, kettlebells, and smith machines. As this will be one of the most costly endeavors of your fitness club, you can research options to either buy or lease new and used equipment to see which would be most cost effective.
Furthermore, equipment should be selected with the age of digitalization in mind! New technological developments have taken exercise machinery to the next level. Since most gym attendees will monitor their health stats on some form of application or device, think about providing options where your clients can sync their information and track their fitness progress.
Apart from actual exercise machines, these new technologies also include devices to make daily operations at your gym go smoothly, like electronic check in tokens or self serving kiosks. Additionally, exercise technology can provide the option to integrate across different platforms as well.
If you are opening a boutique fitness club, your equipment needs will depend on your services, which can either make them vary greatly cost-wise.
For boutique and high end studios, the thoughtful touches and aesthetically appealing details you put into your fitness club will go a long way. Similarly, numerous studies link physical atmosphere as a critical factor in motivating individuals while working out. Therefore, your gym’s design should not only create an encouraging environment to work out, but it should also aesthetically fit the tone or vibe of your fitness club.
Since you clientele is seeking a more personalized experience outside of a standard gym, you should be exceeding expectations. This can include providing luxury or spa amenities, access to heart rate monitors, or daily provided refreshments to enhance overall experience.
Step 5: Set Management and Operation Protocols
Your employees will ultimately set the energy and entire atmosphere of your fitness club, so a selective and intensive hiring process is essential. From administrational roles to fitness trainers, each person should represent the vision you set for your club. Furthermore, in terms of hiring trainers, hiring individuals with exceptional credentials will give your club a degree of credibility from the onset.
Key factors you should keep in mind while building your fitness club staff should include:
- Finding the proper qualifications and relevant experience
- Offering specific training or onboarding to have all of your employees on the same page
- Hiring well versed professionals to bring credibility.
Implementing Management Software
In addition to your in-person staff, you will need to make important decisions in terms of how you you will facilitate your club on a day-to-day business. The goal of your club management software should be to make sure that everyday processes of your club run smoothly while also handling procedures like collecting payments, databasing client information, and club-customer relations and communication.
Any potential problem with management operations can ultimately end up being a huge factor for customer satisfaction and even bigger headache for you as chief of operations. Not only should you be selective when choosing your gym management software, but you should be well versed in its applications and how to use it far before you ever open your gym doors.
Step 6: Fitness Marketing Frenzy
Given how competitive the fitness club market currently is and is predicted to grow, your gym marketing efforts should also begin months before your club does. As an owner, you are responsible for leading and carrying out the marketing efforts and making sure that when your gym does open, you have already created enough buzz to appeal to the local demographic that convinced you to build your gym in this location in the first place.
Your decision to operate an independent fitness club or consider franchising will also impact your marketing efforts. Franchising offers the benefits utilizing the clout from a brand that has already established itself as well as reputable resources and strategies they have already adopted for other locations. If you open your own independent brand, you will have far more creative control as far as how you choose to market your fitness club, but you will also have to deal with prioritizing exposure instead of more targeted marketing campaigns that established gyms can.
In order for your gym to make waves, you must be as digitally present and active as possible. Your gym should be registered as a business on google and you must have a full user-friendly website to connect with your prospective clients. One of the best ways to get your gym on people’s radar is to use social media channels to connect with your local audience and make them aware of your fitness clubs debut. A grand opening event paired with promotional membership sales or trial periods will add extra incentive to get clients to the door; your services will make them stay.
When you finally open your doors after months of planning, building, buying, hiring, and marketing, your hard work will be validated.
Even days, months, or years after opening the doors of your fitness club, operating and continually improving your gym will always take dedication and care. As you grow with your fitness club, always remember the why’s that got you there and why’s you will continue to decide in the future to make your club the best it can be.