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How to Start Your Own Gym

16 min read

How to Start Your Own Gym

If you’re into exercise and on the hunt for a new business opportunity, starting up your own gym is definitely worth a look.

The global health club industry rakes in a cool $81.2 billion each year. American gyms alone enjoy a market size of just under $26 billion a year — and they’re not struggling for customers, either. Approximately one in six adults have got at least one gym membership. But just because the market is great does not mean you should dive into the industry without doing a bit of research and planning.

Opening a gym could potentially be a great business opportunity, but there are quite a few factors you’ll need to bear in mind before you’re ready to start up. So here’s a handy how-to guide in order to help you get started.

How to Start Your Own Gym

Get Certified

Unfortunately, earning a bronze medal at your local fun run does now qualify you to run a gym. You don’t necessarily need to obtain a professional fitness qualification before starting your own gym. But accreditation from groups like The American Council on Exercise or the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association could ultimately bolster your credibility and make it easier to obtain a business loan.

More important still, it’s definitely worth obtaining a personal trainer or fitness certification and trying out these roles in a non-management capacity before you hop right into the deep end by starting your own gym. Not only will you be able to test the waters to ensure you’re happy with the industry, but you’ll also be able to make contacts and develop a client base that will follow you to your new gym.

Find Financing

Once you’re content within the industry and know what type of gym you’d like to set up, you’re going to need to suss out where you’ll find the money to start up. Experts say it usually takes around $50,000 in order to set up a gym — but a lot of that will depend on where you’re setting up shop. In New York City, for example, it could take more than $500,000 to get started. Other places may be less expensive.

Either way, you’ll need to produce a concise and well-organized business plan before investors or loan providers will touch your business idea with a thirty-foot pole. It’s worth checking out The U.S. Small Business Administration website, which offers a free service to help out with business plans and loan advice.

Be Strategic About Location

Location will most likely be a key factor within your business plan, since location is often critical to a gym’s survival. First and foremost, you’ll want to do a bit of market research about your anticipated client base. Figure out what key demographics will account for the bulk of your foot traffic, and figure out where a high concentration of those individuals can be found. Accessibility and convenience are important to most gym members. Try and find somewhere readily accessible by car, foot and public transport.

Meanwhile, you’ll need to be thinking about rent. Unless you have acquired some major financing, chances are you’ll need to rent space. This will vary from location to location, and has got to be factored into your initial operating expenses. You must also ensure that you’ve got written permission from your landlord or the building’s owners to make alterations or conduct building work. After all, you may need to alter the property layout in line with regulatory guidelines.

Source the Right Equipment

Once you’ve got financing and the perfect location, you’ll need to turn your empty space into a vibrant gym. That will take a lot of equipment — and it won’t come cheap.

You’ll definitely need to purchase basic free weight equipment for serious lifters. That includes bench presses, squat racks, dead lift mats, dumbbells and racks for curls and dips. You’ll also want to have cardio equipment like bikes, rowing machines and treadmills. For reference, you can track down a decent treadmill starting at around $150 each. But depending on your startup size, you may want to buy multiple machines. Isolation equipment like leg press, tricep extension and chest fly machines are also popular gym staples.

Don’t forget to think about classes, either. If you plan on leading (or hiring someone else to lead) Zumba or yoga classes, you’ll need studio space and communal equipment for these classes. It all adds up very quickly, but it’s all essential in order to ensure you have the equipment your members will expect.

Consider Licensing Requirements

As a gym owner, you’ll be expected to apply for most of the permits and licenses that any other business owner would need to obtain. You’ll need to register for an Employer Identification number and local and federal taxes. Unlike most businesses, you probably won’t need to apply for a federal business licence, but you will be forced to comply with a range of state oversight. In California, for example, licensed gyms are required to have automated external defibrillators and staff trained in CPR. You’ll also need a written emergency plan developed by a physician.

On top of various state licensing guidelines, you’ll also need to observe municipal rules on building and business zoning. When in doubt, you should always consult a legal expert before firing off permit applications willy-nilly.

Understand Your Insurance Needs

If you plan on starting a gym, insurance is absolutely crucial. It’s important for any business owner. But loads of people are going to be taking part in potentially hazardous activities on your premises on a daily basis. High-intensity exercise can be unsafe for some, and so you’ve got to ensure both patrons and your business are legally and financially protected from major accidents.

In addition to your ordinary, run-of-the-mill business insurance, it’s worth taking a look at gym liability insurance. Depending on state or municipal laws, liability insurance might even be an operational requirement before you’re allowed to obtain a permit. If you’re forking out a reasonable amount of money on equipment, you may also want to consider equipment coverage as part of a separate policy.

There are several insurance providers that specialize in these types of coverage. It’s also worth including a clause within member contracts that will prevent them from pursuing legal action against you or your business in the event of a self-caused injury.

Hire Wisely

Most startup owners spend an unhealthy amount of time on the job — but you can’t possibly run a gym without some help. And you’ll need to ensure you’re hiring qualified and accredited individuals to join the team.

You should aim to have multiple in-house personal trainers or bring in trainers on a freelance basis to offer your patrons guidance. That said, you should vet each individual and ensure they are properly certified. Likewise, if you’re offering classes, you’ll want to bring in licensed or accredited instructors who know what they are doing. If you’re bringing them in as independent contractors, you should make sure they are personally insured, too.

Get Started

Once you’ve got insurance and have met all permit and licensing requirements, you’re almost ready to get started. As you’re setting up your new premises, be sure to consult municipal authorities to ensure you are meeting any layout requirements that may exist. You’ll also need to ensure you’re properly supplied in terms of utilities, get everything set up and provide adequate induction training for staff to ensure everyone is on the same page prior to your start date.

From there, it’s simply a matter of marketing  your business and doing everything else you can do get people in the door. As outlined, it always helps to have your own steady client base handy in order to have an initial, built-in customer base. That may also be a deciding factor in the personal trainers or class leaders you ultimately bring on as staff.

But in terms of appealing to new clients to win your local market share, you should always start online. Social media and the web can be very helpful in marketing your business. That being said, traditional local advertising is also something you will likely need to consider. Be creative. Know your demographics, and reach out to those individuals wherever possible.

Just remember that no two businesses are alike, and you may run into a few unanticipated hurdles along the way. You’ve just got to roll with the punches — and when in doubt, never be afraid to seek out professional advice.

Kettles Photo via Shutterstock


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