T Nation

Any Gym Owners Out There? Advice?

Hi all,

Just curious if any of the memebers here are gym owners or have been? In the area that I live there are a few places to workout. A lot of 24hr franchises, a couple Gold’s gym franchises (I used to work for them and the owners are people of no integrity so I refuse to work out there, and the have decided to go the $10/month route), a Planet fitness, and a “Botique(spell) Style Club”. Long story short. No place that I would truly like to workout at. Only places that I can make do with. So, Im seriously considering putting a business plan together and opening my own gym.

I know enough people in the area that I will have the ability to get funding, legal, real estate, etc… Also, I know enough people that I have talked with that feel the same way I do and would be willing to join a gym like the one Im proposing. It’d be a niche gym probably topping out in the 1500-2000 member range.

However, although I feel I have a sound ideas and the ability to create something special in this area I am open to hearing suggestions from anyone who has had ownership/operations experience to give thier best advice and thoughts on operations and ownership of a gym.

If Im going to do this. Im going to do it well and create a place that I would be confident a Dave Tate, Jim Wendler, or any T-Nation type of mentality would want to workout in. So, again Id love advice and insight so I can cover all my bases and be prepared as possible as I move forward.

Thank you for your time

~Travis

You greatly over-estimate your member range in the near future. If you get more than 100 members in the first few months I’d be surprised. If you’re creating a powerlifting type gym/serious gym you may be lucky to have more than 250 members in the first few years. Just being realistic here. I help operate a powerlifting gym and even with marketing and everything it’s still hard to get your name out and be profitable because it is indeed a niche gym. This is one reason why these type of gyms fail so often.

Things to keep in mind:

  1. Train people - this is going to be a good way to have money going into the gym - it’s also one of the few ways you can differentiate between crappy commercial gyms. You can win on quality here (if you are actually a decent trainer).

  2. Keep costs low. Bottom of the barrel low.

  3. Separate needs vs wants.

  4. Determine how you’re going to be different than commercial gyms while still bringing in the “normal” person. T-Nation members are not the norm and most people are likely to be intimidated by any place Tate, Wendler, etc. might truly come and train.

There are only two models (OK, 2 and a half) of gyms that make money:

  1. Those that service the treadmill set that does not show up, but pays dues forever (any of the 24 hour things, Curves, Planet fitness, etc).

  2. Really, really elite gyms that serve professional, or near-professional, athletes

  3. Related to No. 2 above, niche gyms that are personal-trainer heavy and high-end, but low volume, serving the rich-but-lazy set — largely rich housewives who need to be in therepy, but use wine and a personal trainer as their therepist.

Any other gym is a labor of love.

@liquid mercury in response

My estimation is total. I understand that may take a few years to touch. Im ok with that.

  1. I do not plan on training clients in a facility I own. However, I do know many trainers in the area. Many are crap but I know a 5-10 great trainers. One is a world strong man. Like Met-RX, on ESPN, he has competed and placed in the top 10. I also know the standard pay scales around here. My plan is to allow trainers to train as independent contractors and pay me a “rental” fee.

  2. Here you on this one. I plan on going warehouse style. Im blessed on living in a place that has a low cost of living(and a fairly high household income). Commercial spaces are affordable. My main investment would be in equipment.

  3. GREAT ADVICE. This is a constant battle I imagine.

  4. I see what youre saying here. I believe that culture can help here. I know alot of people who are passionate about helping people no matter who they are. Including myself. I dont care who you are, just that you have a desire to better yourself. I want to foster a culture where we are in the community and part of it and we strive to help eachother become better through support and the sharing of knowledge.

Thank you for the advice.

Anybody else who reads this I want one thing to be understand. This isnt about how come I cant/wont succeed. This is how can/will I succeed.

Start with used equipment that can be had for about $0.50 per pound on craigs list. It is amazing how many people end up selling their plates cheaply. Buy GOOD bars ! they are worth their weight in gold and less headaches if someone decides to throw 5 plates on a side with 200# of chain !

Talk with your local WELDER and see how much he would charge for a proper power Rack. We try to support the local guys and that way you are not having to pay for shipping either.

Talk with the local high school to see what you may be able to offer that they do not have i.e. Prowler,
weight releasers, chains, bands, plyo boxes. Our high school up here does NOT have a weight room so the
local spa/club/ athletic club cuts the students a pretty good deal with specific time periods that they
are allowed to use the facilities.

See if you can get an On-sight Massage/stretch therapist to go along with the personal trainers. This is
my specialty and it works very well. I pay a portion of my income to the club but my business has BOOMED
because of it.

Along those lines tie your business in with a reliable and respected Physical therapist / chiropractor.
This will work towards both of your advantages.

Hope some of this help you. One other thing a buddy passed on to me. Forget about buying 35# plates as they are a waste of money. remember that a 25# and 10# = 35 ! Very few people will need the entire length of the collar for their plates ; )

Start small and progress. Joe DeFranco I believe started out driving to his athletes & got his name out there.

I know its tempting to go big right away thinking you have all the data and schematics figured out, but if (knock on wood) your gym flops, there’s no where to go. At least starting small (garage, bootcamps, etc), if you bomb, you can always re-start.

Start from the bottom so the only place to go is up. Goodluck!

[quote]B.L.U. Ninja wrote:

Start from the bottom so the only place to go is up. Goodluck![/quote]

ya…set the bar high!

I actually always dreamed of opening my own gym. I might still do it one day but its clear after speaking to many gym owners that

  1. I’d make most of my money training people
  2. To be a good trainer, you probably have to “walk the walk” a bit.

Since I’m only what could generously be called an intermediate lifter (1.3 BW bench, 1.5 BW squat, 1.8 BW deadlift), I’m still walking the walk.

Maybe one day though.

On a related note, I spoke to Steve who owns Ironsport Gym and he did mention to me that even he, with his renown, 4,600+ fb account, exposure on elitefts and large base of clients in Philly / NJ, it’s not easy for him to be profitable. So take that for what it’s worth.

I own my own gym in IN. It is a Snap Fitness. We are struggling because of the economy and big box gyms that offer a low price. I know their service isn’t great and so do the consumer but money talks. With that being said the failure rate of gyms is pretty high nationally…above 50%. I agree with where you are wanting to go with it; powerlifting, BB type.

The main issue there is getting enough people to pay bills. I have a small club 2800 sq ft. I’m in a strip mall so the rent is prolly a little higher but I pay $3200 a month in rent and that is jumping to $4000 in June. Plus all my other bills. I’m able to keep things together through my PT but even that is a struggle at times.

A good business plan obviously will benefit you, but deciding on how you are going to run the gym is key. Are you going to run it yourself? Higher a manager? Have employees? Like a couple of guys have said go cheap where you can. Lower grade cardio will save up front but will it in the long run with repairs? I just replaced the belts on 5 of my treads and they cost $120 a piece and a new motor on one that ran $500. I’m over a $1000 in repairs in one month that I hadn’t really planned for.

Not to discourage you but if I were you I’d get a few friends together and build a nice big garage on one of your properties and out fit that out with the gear you need. Save you a ton of money and headache in the long run. It sounds like you just want a place to workout that fits your lifting style. If running a business isn’t really what you want to do then running a gym def isn’t for you. I work 60+ hours a week at my gym. I miss a lot of family time. But it was my dream out of college to own/run my own and now here I am.
Hope that helps give some insight into what it’s like operating one. If you what more info just PM me.

It’s also a big dream of mine to run a facility eventually so this thread is pretty useful. Stage one is get personal training qualifications and gain capital/experience… then I’ll go from there.

Fitness Business Blueprint by Eric Cressey and co looks like a must read for those seriously considering making it sucsessfully.

My uninformed opinion is that you’re going about this backwards. A business plan is:

  • Figure out who your customers are
  • Figure out how to meet their needs
  • Put together a cost-effective, competitively priced product/service that meets their needs

You’re just saying, here’s the kind of business I’d like to own, how do I make money off of it?

It sounds like the gym market is pretty saturated where you’re at (cheap–covered, 24 hr access–covered, mega-club–covered and so on). What is the selling point of your gym other than that you enjoy working out there?

@jake_j_m

I seemed to have missed that read. I know what my next investment will be! Thanks for the mention.

@pk0ad
Thank you for mentioning my uninformed opinion. However,

No, I am not going about it ass backwards.

  • I know who my target costumer is.
  • I know how to meet their needs. (There is an underserviced population here in my area that are serious about the lifting they do and the lifting sports they participate in. However, there is no place that caters to them. Just places where, I’ll put it in one of their own words: “You know it sucks but Ill just do the best I can with what they have available.”)
    -I’ve been in this process and I bleieve I have, for the most part, come up with a plan/model which will provide these people with a place that meets their needs for a competitive price.

If you read what I am saying is actually this:

I am thinking about, starting the process, of opening a gym in my area. Im putting together the business plan(meaning that I have thought about things and have a general idea of what I want to do and how I want to do it)but, I am asking anyone who owns, has owned, or who operates a gym if they have any advice for someone who is looking to do the same thing. Something that I have not thought of

Example: “Hey, when I started my gym I forgot to budget for repair and maintnence costs. Once I rectified this I found myself more prepared for those emergencies. Being able to take care of this allowed for a better quaility of gym, a better quailty of experience for my members, and as an extension a more profitable and less stressful business.”

I will agree with you that the market is saturated. However, for the most part with clubs that compete for the same type of member. Zumba loving, BOSU ball ballancing, I need aqua aerobics, and if it isn’t fun it isn’t exercise pansies. You know the old catch 22. Its better that they do something then nothing but how much more then nothing are they doing? The serious lifters lift at one of these many places by defacto. The gyms dont market for that specific member type. Gold’s hold most of them because of Gold’s reputation. However, these Gold’s franchises are not even weightlifting oriented.
As one of my former clients, a fourtune 200 CFO and Executive VP, told me: " You have to ask yourself how do you build a better mousetrap?" In this scenario I provide a space and equipment that serves the underserved and most dedicated of lifters in my area. By extension we create a atmosphere of succeess, motivation, and dedication that attracts anyone in the area who truly wants to be better. In short we promote Quality by being better in every facet of what we do. I don’t want mom’s who want at least 60 classes a week but go to two. I dont want a place where somebody is looked at wierd if they use choke, puke, grunt, or lift over 225lbd(oh my). I want a place where success and hard work are appreciated, aknowledged, and celebrated. We have everything else in the area but we dont have that. I can provide that and although only a nutshell it is a better mousetrap.

@waldene

I wrote you a nice reply. It didnt post. Im not re-writing it sorry. Anyways, I appreciate the input. Im sure I will be in touch through PM

I do want to own a business. I have in the past. I enjoy it. Long story short.

Take care,

Travis

I am a minority owner of a gym here…my advice, don’t do it if you want to make money.

The only gyms making money these days are Crossfit Boxes…because they charge $100+ a month and have limited equipment.

See Steve Pulcinella’s log on EliteFTS…he owns an amazing gym (Iron Sport) in Philadelphia…and scrapes by.

Perhaps think of something else to do.

[quote]UtahLama wrote:
I am a minority owner of a gym here…my advice, don’t do it if you want to make money.

The only gyms making money these days are Crossfit Boxes…because they charge $100+ a month and have limited equipment.

See Steve Pulcinella’s log on EliteFTS…he owns an amazing gym (Iron Sport) in Philadelphia…and scrapes by.

Perhaps think of something else to do.
[/quote]
Steve’s the man. That is all.

@utahlama

Thank you for the advice.

Im not looking to get rich. Im looking to make enough to live, “affluency through wanting less”, However, I live in an area where I can live well (Pay my bills, own a decent home, have extra cash to do things I enjoy) on $35,000 grand a year.

So, two questions.

  1. Can I PM you some of my thoughts on financials and the number crucnhing I have done and to get your opinion on them to see if its sound?

In regard to your original Post and remembering that its not about how come I cant its about how come I can:

  1. I assume since your a minority owner, although I may be wrong, you may not have full input on the operations of the business. So. How would you improve profitability in the club that youre a minority owner in?

[quote]spar4tee wrote:

[quote]UtahLama wrote:
I am a minority owner of a gym here…my advice, don’t do it if you want to make money.

The only gyms making money these days are Crossfit Boxes…because they charge $100+ a month and have limited equipment.

See Steve Pulcinella’s log on EliteFTS…he owns an amazing gym (Iron Sport) in Philadelphia…and scrapes by.

Perhaps think of something else to do.
[/quote]
Steve’s the man. That is all.[/quote]

Im a fan of the personalities of Tate, Wendler, Kroc, and a few others. Seems I will have to get aquainted with Steve.

@Samir.

It’s an odd thing. I’ve been asked countless times if I had ever thought about opening a gym and I always answered no. But, I have always been a fan of wanting to own, owning my own business. However, after a long course of events that I dont really want or have the time to explain here I realized this. I was being asked the wrong question, therefore giving the wrong answer. See the answer was No. As in no I’d not want to own a gym like the ones available in my area. The question should have been what kind of gym would I like to own?

That is the basis for this now. Good luck to you in your future.

[quote]spar4tee wrote:

[quote]UtahLama wrote:
I am a minority owner of a gym here…my advice, don’t do it if you want to make money.

The only gyms making money these days are Crossfit Boxes…because they charge $100+ a month and have limited equipment.

See Steve Pulcinella’s log on EliteFTS…he owns an amazing gym (Iron Sport) in Philadelphia…and scrapes by.

Perhaps think of something else to do.
[/quote]
Steve’s the man. That is all.[/quote]

Absofucking-glutly