Should you open your own gym?
Dan (owner/operator) of Finger Lakes Fitness in Ithaca came to talk our Fitness Administration class to talk about his facility and give us an insider’s look at what it is really like to own your own gym. I have to say right up front that I am even less interested in owning my own facility after his visit. The amount of red tape, politics and drama you have to deal with are for me, a complete turn off to the idea. There are so many things you have to consider when you are a facility owner such as utilities, tax forms, liability and insurance, hiring good help (and keeping them working for you), complying with city, state, and federal ordinances for your facility, health codes, emergency planning, litigation, marketing and the list just goes on and on.
I think the biggest drawback for me though, is that in the beginning you have to sink so much capital into starting up your business and then you are in debt from the get go, unless you are lucky enough to be wealthy and then it is more of just a project for you, but that’s not most people. If you are a normal person like Dan, or me, then you will be starting out in the hole, it is not abnormal for your business to be upside down for years! Dan had to take out a loan for 300,000 dollars to start his facility and did not make a net profit for 7 years! And this is generally accepted by people who start their own businesses, it is a small wonder that any small businesses ever make it, to me it is like the salmon swimming upstream to spawn where they were born, a genuine miracle.
All joking aside, it really is a massive undertaking to open a fitness facility and it takes guts, vision and commitment. For me personally, if I go it alone and open my own fitness business, I see myself as more of a one man operation. I would rather train people in parks, in their homes or in mine, and work just as a personal trainer, maybe as a side job to another steadier job that would give me a stable income which I could then supplement with my business. The advantage of doing just personal training is that your overhead is almost nonexistent. You have no rent, utilities, property tax, etc. You also don’t have to go through the headache of finding good help, paying them a salary, paying their taxes and liability, and doing the paperwork. I know there are people who have made it, and made it big this way, Dan seems to make a good living for himself. But it might have gone the other way for him, he told us that when he opened his doors he had no idea if people would come, and he was already committed and 300,000 dollars in debt, what a leap of faith!
Even though the risks are great, and it takes a lot more capital to start, the potential rewards are greater as well. If you are working for yourself and by yourself, there is only so much work you can get done. If you bring in more people you can essentially work without being AT work. This is one of the biggest motivating factors for people looking to be an entrepreneur. Dan said the reason he wanted to open his business was so that he could be his own boss and choose his own hours. He said that he has kids, and if his son is playing baseball at 2pm, he leaves work and goes and watches his sons game, and no one gives him any crap, because he is the boss! And while he is off having a good time with his family, his business is still generating revenue, because he has everything in place, not a bad gig if you can make it this far.
At the end of the day, if you want to open a fitness facility you have to do your research first. Don’t go into it blind, there is just too much risk to leave everything to chance, even if you plan it well and do your research, you will still be taking a big risk. Here are some things Dan told us about what to look for: check out the area you want to make a facility in and look at your potential competition. Find out how many people live in the area that you can potentially pull, remember, not everyone works out, and maybe 10% of the population of the U.S. will go to a gym, and of that 10% how many already belong to a gym in the area you are drawing from? Things to think about. Do research on the space you are looking to build in and shop around, be competitive when looking for prices per square foot. Buy discount equipment through other gyms that are closing or wholesale dealers, and buy used for things like weights and machines, even treadmills. Leasing is an option to if you have things that get a lot of use and will break down. Treadmills and AMT’s are an example. Leasing gives you the newest best equipment every few years and you also get maintenance, on top of that you don’t have to foot the whole bill up front, something to consider. Understand your market: are you in an area with an older population, a young hip cross-fit crowd, or a town where people would rather watch NASCAR and drink beer than workout? Any of them could come through your door, but for different reasons, this will affect your marketing strategy and the culture and appearance of your gym.
These are just a few of the important concepts of opening your own facility but it should get you thinking about what it really takes to make it happen. Just about everyone I know in the fitness field would like to own their own gym and kick back on the beach while their facility rakes in the cash. The reality is it’s a lot of hard work, scraping by in the beginning and taking risks. But if you can make your facility successful, it could change your life forever and you really might be able to lounge on the beach with the sand and surf.