Should I Start a Gym?
The Harsh Realities of Gym Ownership
For many trainers, owning a gym seems like the ultimate dream in the fitness industry. But behind the glamor, grim statistics reveal this common path leads many to failure.
Across industries, about 20% of small businesses fail in the first year. Within five years, around 50% no longer exist. That’s already a high failure rate and gym owners face additional hurdles with unpredictable membership revenue models.
With passion alone not enough, we need to go in armed with realistic expectations. By collaborating and sharing these insights, you can mitigate risks and beat the odds.
Sacrifice Required to Give Your Gym Its Best Shot
Many expect owning a gym will provide freedom and flexibility. The reality is longer hours and rarely clocking out.
As owners, we must:
- Handle issues whenever they arise
- Fill schedule gaps when staff call in
- Wear every hat from sales to marketing to finance
Our income relies largely on fluctuating profits too. While rewards exist, appreciate the trade-offs.
By being honest about the dedication and sacrifice required, you’re empowered to make fully informed decisions. Gyms thrive when we set realistic expectations from the start. This allows owners to step up, leading to success.
Equipment and Facility Won’t Cut It
Most personal trainers and coaches operate under the misconception that if they simply build a nice fitness facility stocked with equipment, clients will magically walk in and sign up at their new gym.
But the reality is that an impressive facility alone will not lead to profitability. As fellow gym owners, we need to debunk a common myth – an impressive facility and top-notch equipment alone will not bring success.
With over 31,000 gyms nationwide, simply having quality gear and coaches is the minimum requirement. It fails to set us apart.
Many of us transitioned from being personal trainers to owners assuming our expertise would translate. But operating a thriving gym business requires a very different skillset.
Just being exceptional fitness professionals is inadequate nowadays. We’re competing with endless local facilities also equipped with solid coaching, equipment, and gym management software.
To thrive in this crowded marketplace, we must master:
- Marketing Strategies – Promoting our unique value and brand to aquire new members.
- Sales – Converting leads to new customers through consultative approaches.
- Customer service – Developing raving fans of current members who refer others.
Having the basics covered is the starting point, not the finish line. Our collective success requires excelling at on the business side, including marketing, sales, and service on top of quality offerings.
By being honest about these truths, you can develop the skills that drive real gym prosperity.
Staffing Pitfalls Trip Up Gyms
Growing a gym means hiring coaches, trainers, and staff. Passionate owners need days off and can only train so many clients.
But staffing comes with huge hurdles that sink many gyms if mishandled:
The Churn of High Turnover
Let’s be honest – the average personal trainer has a career span of less than a year. Those who stick around longer often switch gyms, burn out from the demands, or leave to pursue their dream of owning their own facility.
When interviewing coaching or personal training applicants, it’s common to hear five year plans include “own my own gym.” Ambition can be great, but also signals future turnover.
High turnover is baked into the fitness industry. Rather than fighting it, we need to strategize around it. Having a hiring and training system that anticipates frequent churn is essential. We can’t rely on any one staff member to be permanent or a business pillar.
Viewing turnover as inevitable allows us to build resilient operations. We maintain quality even amidst constant change. Our gyms thrive through transitional periods when we plan ahead for the churn.
Why Turnover Matters
High turnover poses real risks we need to mitigate:
- Disruption of client relationships. When experienced trainers leave, long-time client relationships get severed, impacting member satisfaction and retention.
- Operational instabilities. Relying too heavily on a few veteran staff members makes a gym vulnerable when those individuals depart suddenly.
- Wasted resources. Constant churn means recurring time and money spent on recruiting and onboarding replacements.
By anticipating and minimizing turnover’s downsides, we can build resilient operations that hum along smoothly despite inevitable churn. Strategic preparation inoculates our gyms from turnover’s threats.
Rather than fighting constant staff churn, we need strategies to thrive through it:
- Build systems and processes not reliant on specific people. Standard operating procedures create consistency amidst change.
- Fill in regularly so clients connect with you, the owner. This lessens reliance on particular staff who may leave. You become the stabilizing face of the gym.
- Budget ample time and money for continuous recruiting and training. View it as an ongoing operating cost, not a periodic expense.
When we anticipate and systemize around turnover, it doesn’t have to hamper our gyms. We maintain quality service and consistency for our clients even through transitional periods. It’s not painless, but savvy planning prevents staffing churn from sinking our ships.
Staffing Blindspots that Undermine Gyms
In our eagerness to fill roles, it’s easy to make missteps that come back to bite us:
- Rushing to hire without thorough vetting
- Minimal onboarding of new hires
- Neglecting ongoing staff development
- Pay and benefits that drive away talent
As fellow owners, we’ve all dealt with the pain caused by common staffing pitfalls. By identifying these blindspots, you can avoid these mistakes and build and even more successful gym.
Proactive Steps to Avoid Staffing Pitfalls
- Vet applicants rigorously; never compromise
- Implement in-depth onboarding programs
- Make staff development and training a priority
- Offer compensation and benefits that attract and retain talent
By avoiding staffing missteps and implementing these strategies, you can raise the bar and find success. Gyms thrive when they are proactive about recruitment, development, and retention.
Failing to Differentiate Dooms Gyms
Gyms are a dime a dozen these days. Just having basic equipment and classes isn’t enough anymore. Members can get a good workout almost anywhere.
Gym owners love to tout how much they care about members and pour their heart into the gym. But let’s get real – every owner says that. Members see through the fluff.
Don’t think fancy equipment alone will save you either. One competitor with deep pockets can wipe out that advantage overnight.
Successful gyms find specific ways to stand out, like:
- Catering to a niche demographic or target market
- Offering unique programming or services like 360 Wellness Coaching
- Fostering community
But even solid positioning gets copied over time. Successful gyms get mimicked as rivals try to steal their thunder. Standing out requires constant effort.
Neglecting differentiation and evolution is deadly. Stagnant gyms Mystify their brand, market poorly, and lose sight of what makes them unique.
Key mistakes that doom gyms:
- Failing to analyze competitors and identify what sets you apart
- Not using your distinct advantages to shape your brand, marketing and operations
- Refusing to turn away prospects who aren’t a good fit for your niche
The road to failure is paved with:
- Assuming you’ll always stand out from the crowd
- Not constantly educating yourself, updating offerings, and tailoring to your core membersThe Importance of Ongoing Education
Failing to Learn and Grow Stunts Gyms
For our gyms to thrive, we as owners and staff need to continually invest in furthering our education. This means making time for both fitness and business topics.
Obviously coaches and trainers should stay up on exercise science, equipment, modalities, and trends. Gyms that ignore emerging fitness knowledge will get left behind. No surprises there.
But fitness expertise alone isn’t enough. Too often, unsuccessful gym owners believe the vast depth of their fitness knowledge will be enough to keep the business afloat. That’s a myth we need to bust.
Relying solely on our expertise in training, modalities, and emerging workout trends is not sufficient. We also need to devote energy to developing critical business acumen in non-fitness areas.
It’s easy as gym owners to focus overwhelmingly on the fitness aspects we are passionate about. But allowing business skill gaps to linger stunts our potential for growth and prosperity.
Common business skill gaps that can limit gyms:
- Sales – Old tactics won’t attract modern leads. We need to adapt or lose out.
- Marketing – Channels and tech change quickly. Let’s learn them ourselves or get expert help.
- Accounting/Finance – Grasping the numbers is essential. We avoid heartache when we master them.
- Management – Systemizing, hiring, scaling skills separate thriving gyms from stagnant ones.
- Software – Optimizing technology like gym management software boosts efficiency. Failing to adapt weighs operations down.
- Administration – Mundane but crucial. Sloppy back-office functions undercut gyms.
Most prospective gym owners are green in these areas. Not as exciting as fitness, but excelling here makes or breaks gyms.
Ongoing non-fitness development is as essential as keeping workouts relevant. Skill gaps in business stunt gyms.
The need for broad continual learning favors owners who:
- Enjoy personal growth and acquiring new skills
- Prioritize educational areas that benefit their unique fitness business
Know Thyself Before Pursuing Gym Ownership
This may very well be the most important point to note.
Many fitness professionals default to viewing gym ownership as the pinnacle position in their industry. However, owning a gym may not align with every individual’s personality and innate strengths.
To find success, gym owners must intimately understand themselves. They need to evaluate if they are naturally oriented towards handling the business details, chaos, and stress associated with a free market enterprise.
For some, gym ownership will not be a good personal fit despite their passion for fitness. By exploring one’s tendencies, motivations, and weaknesses, individuals can determine if they are cut out for ownership.
It’s important to note that those who lack natural business acumen can still potentially succeed by hiring others who complement their personality and fill gaps in their skillset.
However, some may be better off avoiding ownership altogether and instead flourishing as employee trainers. There is no shame in forgoing the ownership route if self-examination reveals that it would not be the best path for personal success and fulfillment.
Those considering gym ownership should sincerely weigh if their disposition and abilities align with the demands of entrepreneurship. Personal reflection and analysis before embarking on this journey can set the stage for triumph or help steer one towards a more suitable career that plays to their strengths.
The Path Forward: Achieving Gym Success
So why do gyms fail? We’ve listed a few of the pitfalls above. But to the fellow gym owners and hopeful soon-to-be gym owners it’s important to share that while owning a fitness business is undeniably challenging, the rewards can be tremendous for those who avoid those common pitfalls.
Now that we’ve explored the hidden realities behind many failed gyms, let’s focus on how we can set up our own businesses for longevity and prosperity. We’re in this together!
Specialize and Become the Experts
Don’t rely on your equipment or facility to set you apart. Develop specialty services and programs that your competitors lack. Become known as the go-to experts for certain client demographics, training modalities, services or fitness goals. Find your niche.
Optimize Company Culture
When hiring, prioritize coaches and staff who align with your gym’s mission and values over qualifications alone. Build a tribe of like-minded fitness professionals and be proactive with your recruiting and hiring processes.
Build scalable systems and processes that do not depend on any single staff member. Document procedures for training, sales, customer service, etc. Consistency retains members.
Continuously Develop Business Acumen
Don’t rely solely on fitness expertise. Devote time to building business skills in areas like marketing, sales, finance, management, and more. Learn to analyze metrics and build online presence. Business mastery enables growth.
Know Thyself Before Taking the Leap
Carefully consider if your personality and abilities align with the demands of entrepreneurship. For some, ownership may not be the right fit despite their passion. Reflect sincerely on your tendencies and motivations first.
With meticulous planning, realistic expectations, and avoidance of common pitfalls, your gym can beat the odds and find enduring success. Set clear goals, know your niches, hire strategically, and differentiate from competitors. If you enter into ownership fully prepared for the realities ahead, your fitness businesses can thrive long-term and make your entrepreneurial dreams a reality. You’ve got this!
When you’re ready to differentiate yourself from the competition, provide better results for your clients, and increase your income, check out the Behavior Science-Powered 360 Wellness Coaching certification.