Follow these steps to open a gym:

  1. Create a business plan
  2. Get a personal training certification
  3. Calculate your startup costs for opening your gym
  4. Estimate ongoing operational costs for running your gym
  5. Come up with pricing strategy and calculate potential profits
  6. Determine your business structure
  7. Choose a business name
  8. Find a suitable location
  9. Purchase gym equipment and begin hiring staff
  10. Modify your business plan in response to real-time developments

This is a detailed article focused on how to open a gym or fitness studio without stress.

I’ll explain the following to you:

  • Why open a gym?
  • Ten-step guide to opening a gym or fitness studio
  • Is opening a gym profitable?

Banking on 10+ years of experience working at different gyms, I’ll show you how to turn your effort into a profitable venture and have fun while at it.

Let’s make some money while helping people lead better lives.

How to open a gym

Do you dream of opening and operating a small gym or fitness studio?

In this article, we will help you make that dream a reality! 

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Why open a gym?

Let’s get one thing straight from the get-go – starting a gym is not easy.

It’s going to take time, effort, and money.

If you are looking for a get-rich-quick scheme, this isn’t the guide for you.  

But, if you want a business that is rewarding, satisfying, and ultimately a lot of fun, owning a gym business could be your next logical career move. 

Gyms usually employ personal trainers or pay rent to work in gyms.

Some train their clients in their homes, local parks, or green spaces.

While there is nothing wrong with these options, owning a gym provides some advantages and benefits, especially compared to working for someone else.

Those advantages and benefits include: 

  • Create the gym you want 
  • A base of operations – your clients come to you 
  • Lots of different revenue streams – are discussed below 
  • Set your own schedule and work hours
  • You have control over all operating systems 
  • No real earnings ceiling 
  • There is potential for expansion 
  • You choose your work colleagues, or you can work alone 
  • More kudos – you’ll be a small business owner! 

Of course, there are a few disadvantages too… 

  • You’ll need money.
  • You’ll probably need more money than you first expected   
  • You are personally responsible for all the day-to-day duties of running a gym business – from opening up to maintaining the equipment, training your clients, and keeping the place clean
  • Insurance, taxes, licenses, etc. – they’re all your responsibility too 
  • The hours can be long
  • Running a business can be stressful, especially initially 
  • The business could fail 

However, despite these potential disadvantages, and there may be a few we’ve forgotten, owning and operating a gym provides an excellent way to keep your fitness career moving forward. 

After all, you can only train so many clients per day, and that means your income will soon plateau.

But, if you own a gym or a small fitness studio, your income is free to grow. 

So, you want to know how to start a gym business?

You are in the right place!

Here’s your ten-step guide to opening a gym or fitness studio.  

Step 1 – Get Certified

You should have a recognized personal training qualification to open a gym.

Even if you don’t want a hands-on role and are planning on hiring trainers to work for you. 

If you are qualified, you can step in and take over if any of your trainers are sick, and you’ll be better positioned to judge if your PT crew is doing a good job.

Knowing more about the job means you can talk to your staff on an even footing, which is useful when interviewing. 

Of course, if you intend to train clients yourself, you MUST be appropriately certified. 

Step 2 – Decide on what type of gym you want to open

Gyms come in all shapes and sizes, from compact 1-to-1 personal training studios owned and operated by one person to gyms with large rolling memberships that offer group exercise classes and other fitness-related services. 

If you are new to running a business, starting small, earning your spurs, and upsizing and expanding over several years is probably best.

After all, it’s a big jump from managing your finances and schedules to running a large facility. 

Some gym owners have been very successful at the deep end, so the choice is yours. 

Owning a large gym will probably take you away from training clients.

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There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work that will demand most of your time and energy.

So, a small gym is probably your best choice if you want to maintain a hands-on training role. 

Once you’ve decided what type of gym you want to open, it’s a good time to start thinking about a name.

This can be tricky, and names that speak to you may not have much impact on your potential patrons.

A wrong name could even hurt your business before opening the doors. 

The name should reflect your business, so if you are a 1-to-1 personal training studio specializing in older exercisers, calling yourself Hardcore Henry’s House of Muscle is not recommended. 

Similarly, something like Tone and Shape Studio won’t appeal much to bodybuilders, should that be your intended demographic. 

Brainstorm many different names and whittle them down over the coming weeks until you are left with the perfect one. 

Step 3 – Organize your finance

The cost of opening a gym can vary enormously.

You could do it with just a few thousand dollars or spend so much money that you make a millionaire blush. 

It depends on the gym type you want to open and whether you buy or lease the building and equipment. 

But however much money you THINK you’ll need to set up your gym, you should probably double that figure.

That may sound like an unnecessarily large safety net, but it’s always better to have more money than you need than need more money than you have. 

Remember, too, that your business could take weeks or even months to start meeting your financial responsibilities. 

Ensure you include that in your budget to weather the first few months of operation – even if the money is slow to start rolling in. 

That financial safety net could be the difference between surviving your first few months or failing before you even get past your first quarter. 

How do you get money to open a gym? Options include: 

  • Bank loans
  • Small business loans
  • Personal savings 
  • Private investors 
  • Business grants 
  • A combination of the above 

Make sure your business is financially viable, on paper, by creating a proper business plan.

We’ll be covering this crucial topic in a later article. 

Step 4 – Choose your location

Location is critical for your gym’s success.

The location will determine your client base, your rent, the purchase price of the building, and what sort of premises are available.

Accessibility is also important – your potential patrons need to be able to get to you easily. 

A lot of business owners fall into the trap of choosing locations that are convenient or familiar.

While this can work, it’s not the mindset you need right now. 

Instead, you must put yourself in your potential client’s shoes and ask, “Would I come here to work out?”

If the answer is no, you can’t expect your clients to either. 

You may have found a great building that will make the perfect gym.

But if it’s in the wrong area of town or is difficult to reach, you are already creating barriers that could undermine your business. 

Step 5 – Find your premises

Once you have decided on a suitable location, preferably more than one, so you can be flexible, it’s time to start looking at the premises.

Revisit the type of gym you want, and then look for buildings that accommodate your needs.

Things to consider include the following: 

  • Parking and access – how easy is it for users to enter the premises? 
  • Square footage – you don’t want a facility so large that there is a lot of wasted space, but you don’t want to move in three months because you outgrow it, either. 
  • Layout – an open plan with side offices is best. Avoid building with lots of nooks and crannies. 
  • The strength of the floor – it’s got to support a lot of weight 
  • Light and air – no one likes training in a semi-dark, hot, and oppressive atmosphere. 
  • Permission to make alterations to the building – for example, hanging mirrors, building a reception area/juice bar, turning offices into treatment rooms, etc. 
  • Cost – can you afford these premises?
    If renting, can you get a long-term lease? What are the get-out clauses? 
  • Impact on and from nearby businesses or homes – who are your neighbors?
    Will your business negatively affect them?
    Will they affect your business? 

Step 6 – Equip your gym

This is the most exciting part of opening a gym for many trainers! 

But, before you go spend-crazy and buy all the workout equipment you’ve always wanted, stop, pause for breath, and remember who this equipment is for. 

You might be an elite powerlifter, but will your clients appreciate (or even use) that state-of-the-art power rack, lifting platform, competition bar, and massive pile of bumper plates?

Or would they get more use from some cardio machines, a leg press, and a cable cross-over?

Consider your intended clientele and base your equipment purchases on their needs and not your own.

Buy the best equipment you can comfortably afford and look for ways to accommodate multiple users for less money. 

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For example, a rack of dumbbells and a few benches mean that many people can work out simultaneously.

In contrast, only one person can use a lat pulldown machine. 

Also, remember that you get what you pay for, and low-cost gym equipment is usually less robust than more expensive gear.

At the very least, equipment for your gym should be rated for light commercial use.

Buying cheap could cost you more in the long run because you have to replace it sooner. 

Some companies offer lease and hire purchases.

However, remember that exercise equipment devalues quickly, and you can often get used and reconditioned equipment at bargain prices.

While we’d love to tell you precisely what you need to buy to equip your gym, we can’t because we don’t know your budget, available space, or intended clientele. 

That said, we’ve produced a guide that makes buying the necessary equipment easier. 

Step 7 – Address the legalities of operating a gym

Running a gym is a big responsibility – financially and legally.

The laws regulating gym ownership vary from state to state, but you’ll probably need the following: 

  • Business registration 
  • Tax registration 
  • Business bank account and credit card 
  • Business accounting services
  • Business Insurance 
  • Liability insurance 
  • Equipment insurance 
  • Any necessary permits and licenses, e.g., music license 
  • Premises coding (certificate of occupancy) 
  • Liability waivers 

While that might look like a long list, the good news is that a lot of it is straightforward to obtain and is usually just a matter of filling in a few forms.

However, to operate legally, you must address these points.

Make sure you adhere to all local regulations so that, on opening day, the powers that be won’t turn up and shut you down, a process that is usually accompanied by hefty fines. 

Step 8 – Hiring your team

If you only want a small personal training studio, you probably won’t need to hire many or any additional team members.

You are a one-person band! 

But if your gym is bigger, will have a membership, or has additional facilities, you’ll need some help.

Avoid hiring more staff than you need, as that’s just an unnecessary expense.

But, also, don’t try and do everything yourself. It’s almost impossible to run a gym on your own. 

Create a bare-bones crew that makes your life easier or who will increase profitability.

Choose people you know you’ll enjoy working with and who share your vision for your business.  

And, of course, make sure they are qualified for the role you offer. 

Step 9 – Get ready to open

So, now you know how to start a gym, but you also need to tell your intended patrons you are coming so that opening day goes off with a bang and not a whimper. 

Ideally, you should throw your doors open on day one, ready to welcome many new clients waiting for you to start trading. 

This means, as well as addressing all the points above, you should have also been busy marketing your new business.

Ways to do this include: 

  • Targeted social media adverts 
  • Website 
  • Radio adverts 
  • Newspaper advertorials 
  • Leafletting the local area 
  • Open days 
  • Signage 
  • Sandwich board promotions 
  • Sponsoring local events 
  • Opening month discounts

The best form of promotion very much depends on your location, target demographic, and budget.

But, that said, you MUST do something to draw people to your new business. 

If you don’t, there is a real chance that your shiny new gym will open without a user.

Financial ruin will soon follow.  

Step 10 – Improvise, adapt, and overcome

Man plans, and God laughs, or so the saying goes.

And while having a plan increases the chances that your new gym business will run smoothly, there are no guarantees.

So, be like the Marines and be ready to improvise, adapt, and overcome when things don’t go the way you thought they would.

That’s part of the fun and the challenge of operating your gym. 

You can prepare for the unexpected by creating action plans for as many scenarios as possible.

For example, what would you do if:

  • There was a fire at the gym
  • There is a first-aid emergency. 
  • You lose the key to your premises 
  • Your group exercise instructor is sick and cannot teach 
  • A valued member of staff quits 
  • There is a power cut
  • The heating or air-conditioning breaks down 
  • A piece of gym equipment develops a fault 
  • You aren’t hitting your monthly financial targets 

Accepting that these sorts of things happen, and having an idea of how you’ll deal with them, will make the day-to-day running of your gym much less stressful.

Is opening a gym profitable?

Opening a gym is a lot of work.

So, before taking such a big step, you probably want to know that it will be financially viable. 

And while there are no guarantees in this life, the good news is that you can make money by opening a gym. 

Judging by how many gyms are operating, it’s a safe bet that it’s a profitable business.

Of course, some gyms make more money than others.

The bigger your overheads, the more successful you’ll need to be to make money. 

Here are a few ways to increase your income without needing much more work. 

Rent space to therapists

You know that office you’ve got in the back, where you currently store all those empty boxes?

Tidy it up, turn it into a therapy room, and rent it out to a therapist for $400 (or the going rate in your area) per month.

Choose someone reliable as, even though they aren’t your employee, they still represent your company. 

Recruit some freelance personal trainers

Reduce your workload and make money simultaneously by charging freelance PTs to use your gym.

Take a monthly rental fee or a fee per client as preferred. 

Offer post-workout shakes and smoothies

A scoop of protein powder, half a banana, and a cup of almond milk cost nothing, but you can sell them blended for $5.

This is an easy way to increase your income. 

Sell sports nutrition supplements

A lot of sports supplement companies provide products on sale or return.

That means they don’t charge you for their products until you sell them, and you only pay the cost price, so the markup is clear profit. 

Sell workout apparel

Some sports clothing retailers also offer goods on sale or return.

Almost every gym-goer has, at some point, forgotten their shorts, T-shirt, shoes, or socks.

Profit from their forgetfulness by having workout clothes for sale. 

Sell your brand sportswear

If you’ve got a cool logo, put it on T-shirts, hoodies, shorts, and gym bags and sell them to your patrons.

Not only are you providing your clients with something that makes them feel they belong, but it’s also an excellent way to spread your company’s name far and wide. 

Wrapping up

While personal training can be very fulfilling, there is no escaping that, for many PTs, earning more money usually means working more hours.

While you can increase your hourly rate, doing so increases the risk of pricing yourself out of the market. 

If you want your personal training business to grow, taking your income with it, opening a gym could be the best solution. 

That said, starting a gym is not a decision to be taken lightly.

It comes with many financial and legal responsibilities, but it also gives you the freedom to take control of your career. 

Whether you set up a small PT studio to offer your clients a more exclusive service or build a chrome-plated state-of-the-art fitness palace, gym ownership can be hugely rewarding.

Financially and emotionally. 

Don’t rush into opening a gym. It takes several months, and even years, to bring such a dream to its conclusion.

But, once you have that key and are officially “the boss,” you’ll reach a job satisfaction that is hard to beat.  

References:

  1. “Loans.” U.S. Small Business Administration, https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans.
  2. “Rogue Fitness.” Rogue Fitness, https://www.roguefitness.com.
  3. “Compliance with Health and Fitness State Laws: Background, Best Practices, and Key Takeaways.” The National Law Review, https://www.natlawreview.com/article/compliance-health-and-fitness-state-laws-background-best-practices-and-key-takeaways.

Tyler Read - Certified Personal Trainer with PTPioneer

Tyler Read


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