Starting a new gym or fitness studio can be intimidating, especially for first-time business owners. A first-time boutique studio owner must successfully transition from working as an instructor or personal trainer, to being an entrepreneur who is focused on managing and growing a business. As their priorities shift to include marketing, hiring and managing staff, increasing revenue, and providing clients an exceptional customer experience, it's easy for first-time gym owners to get overwhelmed.
To help new fitness studio get their business off the ground, we spoke with 7 experienced fitness studio owners, and asked them to share their best tips and tricks that helped their businesses thrive throughout the years.
1. Build the best team possible
Jason Markowicz, Owner/Operator, Fitness Premier Clubs
I've owned and operated fitness centers for the past 17 years. For an entrepreneur looking to open a new gym, I suggest focusing on having great systems in place and finding great people. Your systems and processes within your club will make it so much easier to manage and get off the ground. The second part of that is making sure you have some great team members with you. This is a service business and you'll need some great team members that are just as passionate about fitness and helping others as you are. Surround yourself with great people! As your gym grows, I would focus on driving your systems and owning the culture within your store. If you do these two things, good things will happen.
2. Spend your money wisely
Janis Isamam, Owner and Movement Specialist, My Body Couture
If you are adding staff, you need to pay your staff. Hire the best trainers you can, pay them well and consider your business from their perspective and not just your own. I wrote a blog called “pay your teachers” because I believe so strongly that this industry is underpaying instructors. Professionals in any discipline need to be able to take continuing education, and staff need to have enough financial compensation that they can afford to teach— full time if they want to—and to upgrade their education.
Staff won’t stay for a decade if you pay them $25 an hour and make them work front desk shifts to “meet potential clients”. Would you?!
So run your business from their perspective, not just your own. Be transparent about the costs of running the facility. We are taught culturally to “never talk about money” but a little education goes a long way: the cost of equipment and operations isn’t actually clear to most staff unless you make it so.
I worked at a private training gym where we had staff meetings and the owner openly told us the costs of running the business. I didn’t think I cared about the cost of the flooring upgrades or the liability insurance at the time, but I never once begrudged the 50% the facility took from my client billout.
Be transparent about how much things cost, and your staff will be more likely to believe they are getting a good deal.
In addition, it's important to take on a space you can reasonably afford. In the years I’ve been in operation, I mourn the facilities that close. The #1 thing I’ve observed that contributed to those closures, sadly, is taking on a lease for a space that’s too big.
I opened a small space that I could afford even if my numbers were way off. And sometimes, my numbers HAVE been way off! Big gyms seem exciting and filled with potential, but make sure you aren’t driving yourself into potential closure if you don’t meet your projections.
3. Find your niche
Amanda Dale, Personal Trainer & Fitness and Wellness Coach, This Fit Blonde
The average consumer cannot differentiate between gyms; what draws them into your space is a distinct image and personality (not a gimmick!) that is consistent throughout your marketing, personnel, and actual gym environment.
For example, we added a bodywork room to our facility, where we offer sports massage, radiofrequency therapy, and physiotherapy. This way, our gym is not only a place to just get fit, but also a place for holistic wellness, which is a value-added service that doesn't cost me too much, but helps set my studio apart from competing facilities.
As a personal training studio, our clients don't tend to interact with each other—-— we work with one client at a time, privately. What we've been trying to do is build an online (virtual) community for our clients to share recipes, articles, questions, and comments about their experience with us so that even though they train separately, they feel some sense of camaraderie around our brand. Secondly, I've been doing more and more public speaking (lunch & learn, meet the nutritionist sessions at workplaces, etc.) to help drum up awareness of my business not only as a gym, but as a place for expert advice and professional-level guidance.
4. Always be closing
Amy Jordan, CEO and Founder, WundaBar Pilates
I've opened Pilates Studios in LA and NYC with my personal financial resources, so I know firsthand how nerve-racking this decision can be. Before you open doors in this industry, it's critical to evaluate if you're focused on making money, or truly on improving your client's wellness. If you are passionate about health and serving your community, then go for it! And prepare yourself to hear "no thanks"... a lot. If you're getting less than 100 no's a month, your gym is a hobby, not a business. If you want your passion for fitness and entrepreneurial success to grow strong, get out there and invite everyone you meet to join you at the gym, literally in line at Trader Joe’s, at the coffee shop, at your favorite restaurant. Always see talking to potential clients as an invitation, not a sales pitch. You’ll grow with authenticity and with the right energy you attract within your community!
5. Focus on the essentials
Kim Moore, Owner, Fitness Snob Studio
It's important to really understand what things are critical for bringing in and retaining customers, and which things are just nice to haves. When opening a new studio, it is easy to get caught up in all the fancy new bells and whistles and end up spending too much of your budget on those items instead of areas that really matter. For example, spending thousands on lockers with charging outlets that most customers rarely use while budgeting to pay instructors less than $2 per student is a poor use of budget. The studio won't keep customers because they won't be able to get the best instructors, and those expensive chargers will have been a waste of money. If the studio is about delivering the best sound experience, invest more on the sound and maybe scale back on the bathrooms. The bathrooms can still be nice but will a Toto toilet really make a difference to customers?
6. Work on your business, not just in it
Daniel Nyiri, CEO, 4U Fitness
The key is to work on the right things— this means working on your business as the owner and in your business as a personal trainer. First, you must understand that a personal trainer is not a gym owner! As soon as you became a gym owner, you entered into a new field with new roles and titles. The #1 mistake personal trainers make is that they are doing the exact same thing as before—personal training —while trying to pay the bills, answering the phone, booking clients, advertising and cleaning the bathrooms. Work on your business, and not just in it.
7. Understand your clientele
Lesley Logan, Owner, of Lesley Logan Pilates & Author of Profitable Pilates
I always advise new studio owners to get really clear on who their clientele is: what are they offering them and how can they schedule or sign up?
If you are trying to advertise to everyone, then no one will feel like you are the gym or studio for them. If you are not able to easily state what benefits clients can get by coming to your facility, then you have nothing to offer. And, if they don’t have an easy way to sign up for a session or class late and night when they are thinking about working out then you’ll lose them to your competitor.