A Guide on How to Open a Gym

By Simret Samra

Published 20 June 2019

So you’ve made up your mind: you want to open a gym. But do you know what it takes to accomplish your dream?

Being a successful gym owner requires more than just some equipment and a nice location. You will be taking a big risk by opening a business, meaning that you’ll have to deal with making decisions about your marketing strategy, finances, hiring process, among other important aspects. 

But how do you make your dream happen? To help you get on the right track, we have compiled a guide on how to open a gym – including all the basics you’ll need to think about before you spend a single penny. This includes being a qualified gym owner, understanding your target audience, choosing a suitable location for your gym business, having enough funds in place to start your business, ensuring you have the right equipment and staff, effective branding and marketing tools in place, and a retention strategy in place.

Being a Qualified Gym Owner

First of all, make sure you have adequate training, certifications and personal experience to start your own fitness center. Just like in any other gym, your members will expect you (and all the other trainers you hire) to be professionals that can help them to get into shape.

If you feel like you’re missing some knowledge or expertise, you should consider doing market research and involving a business partner. Working with someone with qualifications that fit the type of gym you want to open can provide more direction to your vision and aspirations.

Maybe you’ve decided to open a CrossFit studio, but in your time as a trainer, you had more experience with Pilates. Whether it’s learning how to run your classes better or enhancing your marketing campaigns, working with a partner who is more knowledgeable in the CrossFit space can be invaluable.

Besides, being a qualified professional can have a positive effect on the reputation of your gym. As the owner, you are one of the main representatives of the image of your gym. Your expertise and professionalism can potentially inspire confidence onto your clients, and if you become known this might boost your gym’s reputation during its first stages.

Target Audience

In order to bring value to your members, you have to figure out what makes your gym unique. So, ask yourself: What type of gym business do you want to be? CrossFit? Pilates? Or would you like to focus on group classes and circuit training?

Amy Saltmarsh, an owner of a CrossFit gym in Florida, emphasizes the importance of this: “Figure out what makes you really different because the market place is UBER competitive.”

One of the things that should inspire this decision is the kind of customers you are planning to attract. If you provide the perfect environment for heavy weightlifting and bodybuilding, don’t expect the moms from the surrounding neighborhood to pass through your gym anytime soon. Likewise, trying to become a high-end fitness center will require a different approach compared to a gym that is targeted at more budget-conscious members.

However, the competitive landscape should help you to decide on your target audience. Opening another Crossfit studio might not be the best option if there is already fierce competition in town. With this in mind, remember that you don’t have to be a fitness giant in order to be successful. Niche gyms can also attract a lot of members if they target the right people.

Think of a gym for people who don’t like traditional gyms, where some of the trainers are long jumpers, dancers or musicians. Or maybe a ‘Ninja Gym,’ full of obstacles to make the workout sessions more fun and engaging. Depending on your situation, thinking outside of the box and having a unique proposition could help your business to stand out among the crowd.

Choosing a Location

Consumers’ choices tend to be fueled by factors such as costs and convenience, so make sure that most of your customer base doesn’t have to drive for half an hour to get to your facilities. Keep in mind that people tend to come up with multiple excuses for skipping the gym, so a bad location can impact your business.

Always look for an accessible place with good visibility. Staying close to streets with high foot traffic is a plus for bringing in new members. Also, don’t make the mistake of choosing a location in the wrong neighborhood. Most people prefer going to a gym based close to where they live, but they won’t if it’s too expensive or if it doesn’t match their demographic.

With that being said, don’t forget to keep an eye on your rent. A place with the perfect location might charge you an astronomically high price, and this will become a problem when you need to cover your expenses during the slower seasons. It might be difficult, but make sure you’re not paying too high of a price for having your ‘ideal’ location.

Funds for Opening a Gym

If you’ve found the perfect location and you’re ready to open your ‘dream gym’, you’ll need some funds before you start investing in the rent, buying some equipment, hiring adequate trainers and building a marketing campaign.

Whether you’re using your own savings, trying to raise funding or getting a loan, having a business plan will be essential for having a clear overview of your short-term and long-term vision. This can help you uncover some start-up costs necessary to open your gym.

Consider hiring professionals or using software services that allow you to track your finances and evaluate your business performance. Understanding some financial and performance metrics can really help you at working smarter. You’ll be able to decide where to allocate your resources and how to optimize them in order to meet your projections.

Equipment

Getting your hands on the right equipment for your facilities is also a crucial step. You will want to have adequate equipment for the type of training you want to implement, as well as the right quantity for the number of members you’re expecting.

Some equipment depreciates fast, so having unused treadmills and spinning bikes lying around would be a waste of resources. Invest in things that add value, and serve multiple purposes. Equipment that can be used by multiple people will also prove itself very useful during busy times.

If you don’t want to pay too much for it, consider starting small and acquiring used equipment that is in good condition. Since this will be one of your biggest initial investments, it’s better to start slow and not get too excited about buying things that won’t be used in the future.

Additionally, teach your clients and promote an atmosphere in which they are expected to take care of what they use. This way, you’ll prevent equipment from breaking down.

Staff

Finding the right staff for your gym can be a challenge, but it will be necessary if you want to provide your customers with a positive experience that will encourage them to come back. At the end of the day, the instructors will be also a part of your gym’s identity.

During the hiring process, make sure to find qualified coaches who believe in your vision and your brand, as they will be a better fit for your business. But most importantly, don’t forget to monitor their performance and see how much value they could bring to your community. You can make use of software tools to gain insights on which instructors are attracting more attendees, how many bookings they get, and which classes are the most popular. Additionally, you can survey your customers about your staff. With this information, you will be able to give them feedback and encourage them if they’re doing a good job.

Experience is good to have in any field, so you should look for people who have it. But go beyond just looking for anyone who’s worked in a gym before. Look out for applicants who have run a weekly yoga class or spin class, for example. Even if you aren’t planning on holding classes right now, you might want to in the future, and having someone on hand who has done it before will be helpful. Furthermore, when you choose to hire people who were leaders in their previous positions, you can feel confident that they’ll take initiative and assume leadership roles while working for you.

Branding & Marketing

Before your official debut, creating awareness and promoting your gym among potential customers is crucial for establishing your business in your town or city.

Shelley Grieshop works at Totally Promotional, an online retailer that works with fitness centers for their marketing ideas: “With gyms of all kinds opening up at a rapid pace, it’s important to start branding your business before your official debut. Start by hanging or posting customized banners at or near the site of your new gym. Let people know who and what you are and how they can contact you.”

You can make use of traditional advertising, but don’t forget to start building a strong online presence. Social media is a very powerful channel in which you can start promoting your gym and build a following, especially if you’re targeting a younger demographic.

Partnerships and promotions can also help you gain some public attention. Think about offering branded sports bottles for the first 50 clients, or maybe a promotion in which they get a discount on their memberships if they sign up in the first week. Let people know who you are and what you have to offer!

Retaining Members

Last but not least: retention! Even if you land 100 new memberships during your first week, this doesn’t mean that they will continue being your clients over the following months. Member retention is extremely important if you want to keep a healthy business performance.

Besides providing a nice atmosphere at the gym, motivating and engaging frequently with your clients will increase the chances of them making return visits. Building a strong community should be one of your main priorities as a gym owner, and there are different ways in which you can achieve this.

Start by introducing fitness challenges, where you could track your members’ progress and reward those who hit the weekly or monthly goal. If you want to make it more competitive, you could include leaderboards and rankings to make it more interesting. Just remember to always keep it fun.

If you wish to take it a step further and engage with them outside of the gym, consider having your own branded mobile app. Thanks to this, you could communicate with your clients through the app, send them reminders, set up challenges and have your own online community. All of this under your own brand. Whether your gym caters to the hardcore CrossFit enthusiasts or to those who want some light exercise a couple of times a week to balance things out, a mobile app can make sure that your product gets marketed to the people you want to buy it. It’s not enough to only offer your product at a physical location. Gym consumers are looking for a personalized experience, not just a fitness program. High-value and informative SEO based content is essential.

Conclusion

Although there many other things you’ll have to think about as your business starts growing, this guide should put you on the right track and give you a checklist of things you should consider before making your final decision. Opening a gym is not an easy task: you will be starting a gym business from scratch and taking lots of risks during the first stages. However, now you know what the basics are for committing to this project and ensuring a solid start!

Simret Samra

Copywriter at Virtuagym. I am a former sports and finance Journalist, and a devout Liverpool FC fan. When I'm not in the office I enjoy exploring Amsterdam, my new home city!

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