T Nation

Opening a Gym- Any Advice?


#1

So I have been throwing around the idea of opening up a gym back home. I’m curious if any of you have good advice or lessons you’d be kind enough to share.


#2

Don’t buy new equipment. Restore or make your own. Especially plates are overpriced new. Most people seem to love cables too.


#3

Find 5 closed/abandoned old gyms in your area. Look up who owned them. Call them up and offer to buy them coffee to pick their brain. Ask them where they went wrong and what they’d do differently. Independent gyms fail as often as reateraunts.


#4

Not sure what area you are in but if any of the big boys are there it will be difficult to compete. Many of the big chains offer $10 per month memberships. Find a niche.


#5

Don’t build the gym you want, build one people want. Accept that you’ll have to “sell out” on a few classes etc to make ends meet. Consider renting space and time slots to clubs such as cross fit, powerlifting etc.


#6

This is huge. Experienced lifters and bros talk all the time about “how great it’d be to open a gym” but overlook the fact the the overwhelming majority of people who will buy a gym membership are “average” not-super-intense-or-particularly-dedicated people.

A gym is a business, so treat it like that, not like a cool and easy way to make money with your hobby. As far as going niche and opening a powerlifting-specific gym or a strongman-only gym, unless you have a very strong network with established pros (competitors, meet organizers, etc.), it’s almost certainly not going to work because then you’re limiting yourself to a sub-group (strength athletes) of a sub-group (consistent, dedicated lifters) of a sub-group (people who buy gym memberships).

@Alpha recently had a video answering a bunch of business questions related to his gym. Doing anything the way Alpha does is probably a good idea.

Also take a look in the Personal Trainer’s thread. Some of the links and posts there should help point you in a direction.


#7

Have you ever worked in a gym pookie?


#8

If I was to open a gym one of the first things I would do is line up PTs to pay my bills. Owners charge PTs different amounts (I’m sure the PTs can add much more than me on this). I would probably charge them a flat rate depending on how many trainees they’d have. For example, maybe $500/month for up to 50 trainees (just making these #'s up). Then I’d either not charge their folks at all or give them some kind of discount to be a member of my gym. PTs then can charge whatever they want and pocket the difference.

I would also try and “borrow” from the Crossfit box group workout concept or just buck up and pay for the dumb cert so I can name the gym _____ Crossfit and charge way more for a membership.

I’ve been mulling over opening a gym for years myself and am hoping my current side hustle (if it ever launches…) can help spring board me into a gym. There are a lot of gyms in my area, though (including @Alpha and I don’t want him to hurt me…:wink:)


#9

Have great equipment. Everyone has seen everything on the internet. They know about it, and want it in the gym. If the equipment is top notch, any “kind” of lifter can do any “sort” or work with it.

Have a great stereo system, with a good selection of music. Like streaming options or something? Everybody will want something different, or at a different volume, so make it easy to use and adjust, but hard for gym clowns to mess with.

Put a tanning bed in there somewhere.

Be in there often. Dudes love working out with other dudes who are huge and own the gym.


#10

Thanks so much for the tips guys and please keep them coming.

@hugh_gilly Nope. Never worked in a gym. I’ve thought about getting certified as a PT to get some time in and make sure I like it, but not as of yet.

@Chris_Colucci and @Sturat Yeah the bread and butter back home where I’d be looking at opening up is a cross between soccer moms and retirees who want to stay active. I’ve pretty much figured on having to maintain a gym that will cater primarily to that crowd while having a segregated area for strength sports training. I’ll definitely check out alpha’s video as they’re always helpful (even if I never will do grenade pull-ups).

@Basement_Gainz That is a great idea, though I don’t know of any gyms that have closed in the area in a while. Need to do a little more research, but there’s several smaller gyms that have been at it for years in the area.

Thanks to everyone.


#11

I used to run 9 gyms for the City of Edmonton so here’s a little more advice from those years.

As much as possible separate your “hard core” lifters from your “fitness center folks”. Different rooms are ideal, but even just different ends of the gym separated by shared equipment (cardio, selectorized etc).

As much as possible be efficient in your equipment use. Bench press stations aren’t a good investment, not when it’s cheaper and more space efficient to just have people bench in squat cages or on platforms with combo racks. Texas power bars are good for everything, then a few specialty (trap, SSB) to round it out. Do you really need a chinup station if your squat cage has a full set of handles too?

Combo racks, squat racks, and platforms are cheap (comparatively) and hugely cost efficient for what you can do with them. Specialized equipment like shoulder press stations and bench stations are more expensive.

Buy what you can used. People love new machines but your iron plates can be 50 years old and it won’t matter, check kijiji, Craigslist etc. Try to stick to one brand as much as possible but the plates don’t need to be new.

An elitefts adjustable box will work for squats, step ups, various jumps etc for less than having 10 boxes built. If you need them built get it done locally.

When it comes to trainers you can either make them staff or let outside ones in. Don’t do both, your staff will hate you and the workload will increase exponentially. If they’re staff pay them per session based on qualifications ($25/hr for basic cert, add $5 for a degree, add $5 for advanced cert etc, numbers are just an example). Charge more for their time as they get more qualified, just take your % or set $ off the top.

If they’re external then don’t try to regulate the number of sessions they can do. Huge work tracking that and guaranteed arguments about “it wasn’t a session, it was a friend”. If you’re going to restrict them do so by hours or day ($200/month for m-f 8-4, add $100 for evenings, add $100 for weekends etc). Just make their clients buy memberships. Also ensure that everyone has insurance in place and that it also covers you for what they do on your premises, also carry your own insurance.

Classes are a great $$ (crossfit, intro to weights, other snazzy names). Womens only classes will fill super fast every time since women love classes where men can’t attend. Tell the whiny me to suck it the fuck up when they complain but do ensure you offer a co-ed version. Don’t be afraid to cancel classes with poor registration.

Don’t teach classes or train people yourself if you can avoid it. Work ON your business not FOR your business.

I have about 1000 more points but those should do.

Again, feel free to ask questions, I did run 9 gyms.


#12

One of the local gyms back home had a “power pit” where it was no holds barred chalk, swearing, loud music, etc. with a couple squat cages, deadlift platforms, and the like but it was an entirely separate room. I thought it was bullshit 15 years ago, but really began to understand it within the last 5-10. Great ideas!

What do you think is the minimum budget for opening a small gym? Buying used equipment, building what you can, and all that, keeping staff to a minimum (me and maybe a teenager in the evenings to work the desk and keeping PT’s external), what would you say I would need cash money to make it happen?


#13

I’ve worked in a gym for just under two years doing about 30+ hours a week. About 30 mins a week of that is actually doing “training” with people, the rest is cleaning, reception and drinks, putting plates away etc. I’m still not qualified as a PT as am still in school. I’d recommend getting some experience working in a gym, not doing PTing, not doing the fun stuff just working. None of that short shift bullshit either get in there from open till close, doing work the whole time. That’d be my advice.


#14

I think the Crossfit model is soooo much better for both members and owners.

Your Monday schedule may look like this:

6am - 8am: squat training
8am - 10am: deadlift training
11am - 1300: open gym
1300 - 1500: gym closed
1500 - 1600: open gym
1600 - 1800: squat training
1800 - 2000: deadlift training
2000: gym closed

You then hang around and coach people on those lifts during the allocated times.

This allows you to charge a premium over just having a place with equipment available - which is a suckers game as you are fighting with big chains over 10 bucks a month.

Throw in a free Strongman Conditioning session on a Saturday that is open to everyone where you are carrying kegs, flipping tyres, dragging stuff, farmers, etc (people LOVE that shit) at 0830 for 45 minutes before the real strongman stuff starts at 0930 and you are likely to carve our a nice niche for yourself.


#15

13.00- 15.00 closed. It’s one of the busiest times in most gyms. At least the ones I have been to.


#16

As @Chris_Colucci said, this is a business Do not approach this from the bottom up. Do it from top down. Research the market and determine the feasibility of your venture. Create a proper business model. Define your values, target market, value proposition, unique selling points, brand, etc. Know the needs of your target market. Then you worry about equipment and calculate costs etc to determine your budget.

Someone who does not even lift will have a higher chance of success than a seasoned lifter if he does this. I guarantee you this.

A note about a word people keep throwing around.

Passion.

Passion is rubbish. All it does is keep you motivated towards your goal because of your belief in your product. However, your objectivity would usually be compromised as passion is a fickle thing that can diffuse or get diverted to irrational options when the chips are down. This is terrible for business. If you have a tight plan, the fundamentals alone will give the belief and confidence needed and you will know what options to take when required. It’s like when Wendler talks about principles. When you have them, the world can throw lots of shit at you but you will not budge from your position when you understand and abide by them. Which is what I mean by approaching this from top down.

15 years of self-enterprise and several business investments. My only failed venture was an investment in something to do with the Arts, which was a disaster lol. Very talented(and I mean very fucking talented and accomplished, credentials and all) people with lots of passion but with minimal business knowledge does not guarantee success.

Good luck.


#17

To go along with what a lot of people said, I was listening to louie simmons on joe rogans podcast and im pretty sure he said that westside barbell actually loses money and is not profitable.


#18

Yeah and super training gym is free. Don’t know how that works.


#19

If you don’t charge members, you don’t have to let Jokers in. Westside and SuperTraining are about Breaking Records, not making money.

That’s what equipment sales are for.


#20

I wouldn’t doubt that. There just isn’t much to be made from a hand full of guys in a very unique niche like they have.

Its great network, performance, branding, equipment sales, seminars etc. that really set a a few of the big dogs apart from anything else. <- Multiple revenue streams.

Mark Bell has a great take on this stuff, and seems to have done very well with it too.

@FlatsFarmer beat me to it.