Fitness studio

Ultimate Guide to Starting & Financing A Gym

There are more than 62M gym-members in the US, and roughly 1 in 5 Americans hold a gym membership. The gym industry is one of the fastest-growing in the United States and the most common questions we receive are related to opening a gym.

If you’re passionate about fitness and wish to open your own gym, this exhaustive guide will take you through each step. 

We’ll help you navigate the complex process of financing a gym, selecting fitness equipment, renting gym space, insurance, developing marketing strategies, membership structures, choosing the right membership management software, and more.

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Why Starting a Gym is a Good Idea: Gym Membership Statistics, Trends & Growth

Before you open a gym, you need to be sure that it’s a good investment of money and time. The following statistics should ease your mind:

What do these vital statistics reveal?

For one, the United States is the best place to open a gym in the world.

As mentioned above, there are currently almost 39,000 gyms in the US, which is the most of any country. Brazil follows with 30,000, and the UK has only 6,000 gyms. The demand for gym memberships is increasing, and entrepreneurs who put a lot of hard work in maintaining their gym can reap serious profits.

The price of a gym membership is on the upswing too. 

  • In 2011, the average gym membership used to be only $40/month. 
  • The average price of membership is now approaching $60/month. 

The fitness industry grows at an average of 3.7% per year, and as the demand for gyms increases, so does the viability of opening a new gym. 

Gym attendance is also on the upswing worldwide. According to IHRSA (International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association), gym members recorded 6 billion visits to the gym worldwide. Moreover, most of this revenue is due to small local gyms rather than large fitness chains that dominate the industry.

These facts open the pathway for beginner entrepreneurs to make a living by opening their own gym. 

How Much Profit Does The Average Gym Make?

Fitness Studio Revenue

The revenue a gym produces depends on its location, equipment, and membership size. It is impossible to estimate the average profits of gyms across the board. 

However, one can calculate the average profit a gym can make based on their monthly membership structure. If this is your first time opening a gym, you perhaps want to know how much you can expect to earn in revenues to calculate how much financing you’ll need to cover rent, staff, and equipment costs.

Each new member you add can potentially bring you thousands of dollars a year (especially if you add customized programs and class packs to the mix). However, for the sake of averages, we’ll calculate profits using a fixed monthly membership fee.

If a member pays $50/month to join the gym, they’ll be paying $600/year over 12 months.

If the membership fee is $50/month for the gym (average for the US):

Number Of Members Yearly Revenue
50 $30,000
100 $60,000
500 $300,000
1000 $600,000

If the membership fee is $25/month for the gym (below-average for the US):

Number Of Members Yearly Revenue
50 $15,000
100 $30,000
500 $150,000
1000 $300,000

These numbers might sound impressive, but they are realistic for most gyms throughout the US. 

However, gym owners have to compensate for costs and expenses such as paying off staff, mortgages, rent, licenses, insurance, and other liability that nip at their bottom line profits. 

It all boils down to one fundamental truth: the higher the attendance at your gym, the more profit it generates.

The location of your gym plays a crucial role in your success as well. You need to make it appealing for customers via pricing structures or equipment and market to the right crowd. We’ll teach you how to achieve this in a 6-step process.

Requirements For Opening A Gym

If you thought all it takes to open a gym is to rent a space and throw up a few treadmills, you thought wrong. Running a gym requires complying with the law, financing efforts, equipment selection, staffing, and marketing.

Here are the six main requirements that you’ll need to open a gym. Use this list as a form of a check-list to cover before you open your gym to stay on the safe side. 

Licensing

Financing

Space

Equipment

Staff

Marketing

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Opening A Gym Requirement #1) LICENSING

Licensing

Documents, documents, documents. Opening a gym is not as simple as bankrolling the fitness equipment and renting space. You need permission from the government to open a gym, and this can cost you thousands of dollars in license fees initially (depending on the corporate structure you choose).

Most legal requirements happen on the state level, and you’ll have to research the individual requirements in your state to determine the local and state licenses you need.

Consider seeking out legal help before you get established, or get in touch with a gym owner in your city and ask them what they had to file to get approved. Doing this is the fastest way to find out about individual state requirements in the state where you reside.

The following are the top four things you need to cover when applying for approval with your state:

  1. Licenses
  2. Establishing your business as a legal entity
  3. Insurance
  4. Certifications (Optional)

Licenses

Licensing is mandatory to operate a gym. If a gym runs without a permit, the government can shut it down during an inspection, and similar to other commercial enterprises, you need permission to operate on a legal basis. 

State Licensing

Gym licensing is a complicated matter, as it’s not uniform across all US states.

Gyms do not require any permission at the Federal level, as there is no Federal regulation regarding gym licenses. However, all states require specific licensing procedures

If you want to look up the individual requirements for your state, this is made easy by accessing your state’s licensing page. There are two things to remember when it comes to licensing:

  • The Federal government does NOT regulate licenses for gyms and other fitness enterprises; it only regulates heavy industries such as alcohol, pharmaceuticals, and firearms. Gyms only have to apply for state licenses.
  • Individual states require dual licenses. Example: In California, you will need a state and a local business license to open a gym. Consult with your local government business regulatory bodies to find out more about the requirements. If in doubt, consult with local gym owners and ask them about local licensing.

EIN

Once you’ve sorted the licensing on the state level, you have to cover your duties to the Federal government. If you want to incorporate your gym or pay taxes, the first step is to obtain an EIN. The EIN, short for “Employer Identification Number” is a number the IRS will issue to identify your gym.

Although you only need permission from your state and municipality to open a gym, you’ll still have to pay taxes on the profits and register employees. 

EINs are required for all IRS tax administration purposes as well as to get insurance. If you don’t have an EIN, you’ll won’t get the insurance coverage that is vital for running a gym.

The EIN application is straight-forward and easy. Gym owners can fill out the application online, and this usually takes 10-20 minutes. There are no wait times, and upon completion, the business owner gets an EIN for their business.

Once you’ve successfully obtained the EIN, you can register to pay taxes with the IRS. You can register for all Federal, state, and local taxes at the same time by applying. However, you will require an EIN before you can file for taxes. 

Tax regulations for gyms vary by the state too, and sometimes the location of your gym within that state. Example: In large cities such as NYC and LA, you might have to pay higher local taxes depending on where your gym is.

Certain states mandate that gym owners register for multiple state-tax numbers, including state tax and state unemployment insurance tax (if you have people on the payroll).

Music License

Furthermore, gyms require a music license if they play music in the background. Although your Spotify account grants you the right to stream music, it does not give you the right to use it for commercial activity. 

To obtain a music license, you must register with copyright-holding agencies such as ASCAP. Here’s their Gym Music Licensing page.

NOTE: I have written an article covering music licensing requirements for dance studios. However, the concepts and resources shared in the article apply to gyms as well. Read the post if you want an in-depth guide on music licensing for commercial businesses. 

Establish your business as a legal entity

Establishing your business is the final step of the way. You need to have a state-issued certificate as evidence your business is registered legally. 

It’s up to the business owner to decide the kind of business they want to have. The most common business types are S Corp, C Corp, and LLC. In the U.K., the most common formation type for gyms is a Limited Company.

Many agencies can legally establish your business for a low fee and save you the paperwork you’ll have to do. For most business types, the government filing fees are as low as $50-200. However, the agency handling your filing might charge an additional amount. 

In most cases, you will have to decide on a business name. Certain business types, such as sole proprietorships, do not require names, but most do. Use the name of your gym for incorporation to be safe. However, your incorporation name can be completely different from your gym’s name

There might be some local regulation you’ll have to comply with during incorporation. Example: Gyms in California are required to register as “DBA” + Name of the gym with the local county clerk’s office where they intend to operate their gym.

Insurance

The final necessary step, and the most crucial one in terms of protection, is to buy insurance for your gym. 

You always have to take care of your members. If one of them injures themselves at your gym, you could face lawsuits that cause you to go bankrupt and send you into permanent debt.

You have no option to bypass this, and insurance can cost thousands of dollars a year. Gyms have to purchase liability insurance that protects them against lawsuits, and in some states having this kind of insurance is a requirement before you can obtain a license.

Most injuries at the gym are self-caused, as the users frequently over-work themselves during high-intensity exercises. Even if you’re not at fault, you could get sued and have to pay hefty legal fees for a defensive case.

The way to avert lawsuits is to hire law experts who can draft up a legal agreement that you ask all new members to sign upon starting their membership at your gym.

To be fully protected, each gym requires “Liability Insurance” to the tune of millions of dollars. Insurance of this kind is quite expensive and can cost $5000-10,000 a year, depending on the gym. 

Start by looking up “Gym Liability Insurance” in your state and consult with multiple insurance agencies to get a quote for your gym. 

Read the reviews as you might discover the insurance company is not reliable, and they bail on clients in the event of a claim.

If you can’t find Gym Liability Insurance, you will need Commercial Liability Insurance that covers all businesses. The insurance agency will require your EIN and other creation documents to prove you’re a business entity.

They will then sign you up for liability insurance that protects you from all accidents at your gym. 

Certifications

Certificates are optional for gym owners, although they can increase the appeal of the gym once members learn that the owner is a certified fitness expert

Certifications are only mandatory for personal trainers who want to train people and charge them for training. If you’re running a gym, you’re primarily a business owner and an entrepreneur; however, you can still obtain certificates in a matter of months.

If you’re passionate about fitness, you’ve likely considered getting a certificate at some point. Most certifications can be obtained online by taking classes for a few months, paying the fee (usually $100-300 for beginner certificates), and passing an exam. 

While you’re carrying out administrative tasks at your gym, many people will ask you questions related to fitness. The certificate course will give you the foundational knowledge you need to answer their fitness questions. You can obtain basic fitness knowledge in a matter of months using a training program.

There are also options to upgrade your certificate to more dedicated “Masters” programs, which can cost as much as $2,000, but most beginner certificates will do. 

You should also consider getting a CPR course for first-aid/emergency, which costs as little as $100.

Many states mandate that your employees have CPR courses and certificates before you hire them, so keep that in mind. If you have one yourself, you’ll find it easier to connect with your instructors.

You can get certificates from several certifying institutions. Their classes and prices vary; however, most are modern and comprehensive. 

Fitness Certification Resources

You can easily learn online through each one of these:

Certificate Cost: $200 (lowest).

NASM, short for the National Academy of Sports Medicine, is the largest fitness certifying institution in the United States. NASM offers beginner courses that take nine weeks, including a test money-back guarantee. So, if you fail the test, they will fully refund you the cost of the certificate course.

They have courses ranging from $200 up to $1000, depending on the expert level. NASM also offers a “CPR bundle,” which teaches you about emergency procedures and saving members at your gym. They have a test pass rate of more than 95% for the beginner course, which means you’re almost guaranteed to pass the test on the first try. 

Getting a NASM certificate will give you immediate credibility.

Certificate Cost: $500 (lowest).

ACE, short for the American Council on Exercise, offers the second-largest certificate program in the United States. 

Their courses are the most modern and easy to follow out of all fitness courses; however, they’re more expensive and start at $500 for the beginner program. 

They have other more expensive programs for masters, and their study bundles and tests tend to add to the total cost of the certificate.

ACE courses are for fitness instructors who want to specialize in a certain fitness niche and don’t mind paying a premium. They offer many advanced Masters courses, including specialization courses for different groups such as elderly, children, people with medical conditions, etc.

Certificate Cost: $500 (lowest).

ISSA, short for the International Sports Sciences Associations, is a widely popular international organization that services fitness trainers around the world. ISSA offers similar comprehensive courses to ACE and NASM, starting at $500; however, the main difference is that their courses are available to fitness trainers worldwide.

While the organizations mentioned above only service gyms in the US, ISSA certificates are available to all via online learning. The course also includes study materials/books for free, saving on total certificate costs.

Certificate Cost: $285 + $200-400 for the test.

NSCA, short for the National Strength and Conditioning Association, offers comprehensive membership courses that can be quite affordable. They start at only $177 for beginner classes for members of the association and $285 for non-members. 

There are also additional fees for the exam, which range from $200 and $400 depending on how you take the test (paper testing costs less than online testing with NSCA).

Certificate Cost: $500-1000.

ACSM, short for the American College Of Sports Medicine, offers a certificate course for personal trainers. ACSM provides test-preparation bundles for $135, and different workshops ranging from short 1-day workshops up to 3-day workshops. There are also online webinars, and the certification test costs $300.

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Opening A Gym Requirement #2) FINANCING

Financing

The average cost of starting a small gym is between $50,000-100,000. This range is not the limit as many large gyms with world-class amenities can cost over $1M to start. If you want to spend the least, you could probably get away with spending as little as $10,000 on equipment. Many factors can offset the total price.

One example is renting a space vs. purchasing a facility. If you own your facility and you don’t have to pay rent, you only have to buy the equipment and insurance.

If you don’t own your own space, you’ll have to rent, which could rack up your monthly expenses to the tune of thousands of dollars. The decision is whether you want your costs to be front-loaded as capital expenditure or monthly as operational expenses.

In general, there are two ways to finance a gym: Self-financing and commercial borrowing.

Self-Financing

Most gym owners start by self-financing the gym. I love self-financing and bootstrapping, and I always tend to bootstrap my businesses. 

If you’re starting a small gym, you might not need a bank loan because you can cover the amount yourself. Tap into your savings or ask for a loan from relatives, and you’ll quickly have the minimal amount necessary to start a gym.

You’ll have to cover expenses such as licensing costs, treadmills, dumbbells, machines, merchandise, and marketing, but this is all achievable if you save up for a year or two on your own. 

The financial requirements are not as rigid as people think, and there is a lot of leeway around small gyms. Anything between $10,000-20,000 is a good start for a small private gym.

Self-financing is the way to go because even in the event your gym doesn’t produce ROI, you can always sell off the equipment and make your money back. You’ll be in a lot more trouble if you finance a $300K gym on a mortgage and have to shut down and declare bankruptcy.

If you feel that you’re 6-12 months away from starting your gym, my main advice is to start saving money. If your dream is to own a gym, you could have the finances available in as little as a year of saving.

Commercial Borrowing

Commercial borrowing is the way to go if you’re starting a mid-sized or large gym, and you need over $50,000. In many cases, you can even borrow small amounts such as $10,000 or $20,000 for your gym.

Lenders are eager to help out small businesses as it means more clients for them. Also, the perception of gyms is that they are relatively “safe” investments compared to innovative companies that carry risk. 

This differentiation is because the requirements for starting a gym are low, and the equipment preserves its value over the long term (commercial gym equipment is always in demand). The gym will always have assets on its books, unlike innovative internet companies.

Business Plan For Commercial Borrowing For A Gym

If you decide to opt for the borrowing route, expect each bank to require a business plan. Writing a business plan is a straight-forward process, and all you have to do is cover necessary information about your business:

  • Name. The name of the gym, including any taglines or promotional words/taglines that you own associated with the brand of the gym.
  • Location. Include the exact location of the gym. Also, explain the location’s benefits in terms of access to a client base. Lenders want to see this to ensure the gym will be profitable.
  • Cost Requirements. Make a list of all the equipment you have to purchase, the rental costs, the licensing, and the marketing budget. List the total costs.
  • Marketing Strategy. Write down how you’ll attract customers, whether it’s local promos or digital marketing.
  • Expected Turnover. Investors want to know how much money you’ll be making to guarantee you’ll repay your loan in due time. List your projected revenue based on the number of members you expect to join the gym.
  • Business Software. The gym will require gym management software, so gym software is another expense you’ll have. At StudioGrowth, we built a simple member and class management software for fitness businesses. We have a free 14-day trial. Give it a try, and I promise you will love it! 
  • Membership Structure. List all the membership structures, the sign-up fees, the specialized training offers, and any other promos you offer at the gym.
  • Target Audience. Make a list of all the people you expect will be coming to your gym. Are you opening a traditional gym that caters to everyone, or do you plan to attract a particular type of body-builder?

Alternative: Franchising

If you want to avoid opening and branding your own gym, some popular brands will let you use their name and operate independently. They will let you run as part of their brand as long as you pay an initial licensing fee and a percentage of revenues or profits.

In some instances, the franchise company will cover the expenses of opening the gym and buying the equipment as long as the entrepreneur convinces them they’ll make a profit in that particular location. However, in this case, the parent company also retains a large portion of the profits.

The benefit of franchising is that you go with an established brand that already has recognition, connections, and can offer you support throughout the set-up process. Licensing for franchises is also a lot more affordable than people assume.

However, there are no guarantees the gym will be successful – similar to opening your own gym. You have to account for the location and the appeal to the client base if you want to ensure your franchise ends up becoming successful.

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Opening A Gym Requirement #3) Choose a Location

Location

The third requirement is obtaining an excellent location. A gym in a large, high-earning community with access to many wealthy clients will out-perform a gym in a smaller, more impoverished community. However, several low-cost gym chains in the U.K., such as Pure Gym, have shown that cheap gyms can be wildly profitable.

Moreover, the total costs of the rental space can impact your bottom-line profits. If you only have to pay $1500/month to rent a 1500 sq. Ft space for the gym, you can keep a lot more of your profits than if you have to pay $4000/month for a gym of a similar size.

Rental Costs

The gym can be as small as 800 sq. Ft and larger than 10,000 sq. Ft. for a top-notch luxurious gym. No State or Federal laws regulate the size of the gym. However, the rental budget can have a significant impact on your bottom-line profits if you don’t take into account the cost-to-size ratio of your gym. 

Note: You don’t have to rent commercial space, as many residential condos can convert to gyms. In many cities where space is tight, people rent large apartments or entire floors and convert them to gyms. However, most gyms rent commercial spaces in shopping plazas, office buildings, malls, and similar locations.

Anything between 800 sq. Ft. up to 10,000 sq. Ft. is suitable for a gym.

The gym has to have a large workout area, toilets, showers, locker room, lobby, and storage area.

If your space is tight, you might do away without showers and locker rooms, but most gym members will expect these conveniences at the least. 

In the lobby, you’ll need 2-3 benches where people who are not members can rest and wait for their friends/relatives until they complete their exercise.

The toilets might have to be separated by gender, which means you’ll need double the allocated space for them.

Also, many municipalities require licenses for shower installations. If you plan to change the layout of your gym, you’ll have to consult your local city administration for permission. 

Unless you rent a fully decked-out gym that someone else prepared, you will have to do this on your own. Getting permission from the city might take several months, so prepare your paperwork in advance.

Population Density

Many people will join your gym out of convenience, not because you priced your membership lower or your equipment is better. Gyms are the most successful in high-density areas that have many people interested in fitness. If you open a gym, always take into account the general demographics of the location.

The most crucial demographic stat is the town’s population density. You want to place your gym in a dense area that is always growing in population. The least you should settle for is a small city, while gyms located centrally in suburbs of major cities or urban cores tend to perform the best.

Try to place your gym in a community with at least 50,000+ residents.

Ideally, the gym should be in an area that has 50,000-100,000 residents within a 5-minute commute to the gym. If you place your gym in a rural area, you will have difficulty to break even. If the gym is in a super-dense area, you will get members even with all the competition near you.

It is inevitable that out of millions of residents, dozens or hundreds join your gym out of convenience. Keep in mind that your proximity to other people will be the deciding factor in how successful it is. Even if your equipment is not the best, or your marketing strategy falls short, your location by itself could drive dozens of new clients each month.

Commute Time

American cities are for cars, and the closer your members are to your facilities, the more your membership will grow. There are different rules for commutes in suburban and urban areas, though. 

The main rule of thumb is that your members shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes to reach your gym. Think in terms of minutes instead of distance.

Almost 90% of your clientele will consist of people within a 10-minute commute from your gym. Use time as a measurement when you calculate how convenient your location is to clients.

Always take the prime time for commutes as a measurement tool when you calculate how reachable your location is. Primetime means peak times between 6-8 am and 4-6 pm when people are coming back from work, during business days.

To test this yourself, get in your car and drive to the edge of the community. Try to see how fast you reach your gym during these peak hours. If it takes you 5-10 minutes, you will have the whole area covered. This ease of access allows you to market to nearby residents and establish your gym as the main gym in the area.

Many gyms are in urban areas where vehicular commute time is irrelevant, but the walking distance is essential. If you open a gym in a dense city such as Chicago or New York City, you want to calculate the walking time your target audience needs to reach your gym.

Even if the market is super competitive, your location in the city will make you stand out and allow you to attract customers over gyms without visibility.

Income/Demographics

The final element you want to consider aside from location convenience is the general demographics of the area. If your gym is near an elderly area with a lot of retirees, it won’t attract as many members as a college-aged area with a lot of new families. 

The age, marital status, education levels, and household income can significantly impact the success of your gym.

If you look up the town name on Wikipedia, you should be able to get a general idea for the demographic stats of the area. Each article will also contain the average household income, letting you know about the kind of opportunity you have. The higher the household income, the more people will be into fitness.

Pro Tip: The average American gym member makes $75,000/year. Gym members are some of the highest-earning citizens in the country, and placing your gym near a high-earning community is an excellent way to ensure success.

If the household income is below the poverty line, typically less than 10% of residents express an interest in fitness. This percentage can be more than 50% in high-income areas. Keep in mind the income disparities in your city and how certain areas can prove more successful for your gym.

Income level of the community will not only affect your rents, but it will also affect your membership fees. If you place your gym in a stable middle-class area, you can easily charge the national average of $50-60 per month for membership.

If your gym is in a high-earning area of the city, you can easily increase that to $60-$120/month. The more people earn, the more they can afford to spend on their health. They also exhibit a higher interest in wellness and fitness, which naturally drives clients to your gym.

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Opening A Gym Requirement #4) Equipment

Gym Equipment

The total costs for equipment can be as little as $10,000 and up to $1M for luxurious gyms equipped with state-of-the-art equipment. There are many ways to lower the price of the fitness equipment, such as to buy used/refurbished equipment or to purchase less essential machines.

The cheapest pieces of equipment for gyms are dumbbells and racks. In contrast, the most expensive equipment is electronics-powered equipment such as treadmills and stationary bikes. 

As a new gym owner, you have to apply smart budgeting to equip your gym without overspending. The gym only requires essential equipment at the beginning. Once it gains membership, you can progressively update the advance equipment you have. 

The following are the essential pieces of equipment for every gym:

Dumbbells

The gym doesn’t exist without dumbbells. When people think of a gym, the first image that pops in mind is a fitness enthusiast lifting weights. You need dumbbells for hundreds of different exercises, and most members will be spending their time exercising on dumbbells, even more than technologically-advanced machines.

The benefit of dumbbells is that they’re pure metal, and they cost very little, making purchasing a vast number of dumbbells affordable for all gyms. Dumbbells will always vary in weight, and they can weigh anywhere from 2 lbs to 100+ lbs (1kg to 50+ kg).

Certain dumbbells are adjustable based on weight, and users can simply remove or add the weight they need.

The average cost is $10 on the low-end up to $200 for the most expensive dumbbells. The more they weigh, the more they cost. There’s also the brand factor that influences price.

Kettlebells

Kettlebells are similar to other dumbbells, but the main difference is that the weight is within a circular box, and this makes them practical for different aerobic exercises and unconventional lifting.

Kettlebell exercises combine the benefits of weight-lifting and cardio training. Each gym typically has dozens of kettlebells. 

These weights are some of the most used and affordable pieces of gym equipment, and you can buy them in bulk.

NOTE: I have written a guide on the number of kettlebells a fitness studio should have. Give it a read as you will find it helpful.

Treadmills

Treadmills are an essential piece of equipment for cardio workouts. Many people exclusively come to the gym to run on treadmills if it’s not possible to run outside due to bad weather. Each gym will need at least one working treadmill, and the largest gyms have 20-30 treadmills lined up against each other.

The best treadmills can support multiple users. They’ll also have customized workout regimes, making them usable for gyms with hundreds of members who all want to exercise on their own terms. 

Note: Treadmills are dangerous, and they must support the weight of all users. For gyms with a lot of overweight members, you’ll need a treadmill that can support at least 300-400 lbs.

Treadmills also vary in things such as belt size. In general, you want to opt for a treadmill that provides at least 50” in length because some users might be taller than others and have bigger strides. This way, they won’t fall off the treadmill or feel uncomfortable running. 

Regarding speed, gym treadmills require at least ten mph speed, but ideally, they should be even faster.

The average cost of a treadmill is $200-2000, depending on the brand.

NOTE: I have written a guide on the number of treadmills that a gym should have. Review the article as I cover the ideal number of treadmills based on the size of your gym.

Indoor Bicycles

Indoor bicycles are essential cardio equipment, and each gym needs at least one indoor bicycle. They’re similar to a treadmill but far less dangerous, as the person is comfortably seated on the bike seat, similar to a real bicycle. 

There are many different kinds of indoor bicycles, and they vary in size and price. They can target different areas of the body, including the upper body. The following are the three main types of indoor bicycles to consider for your gym:

Indoor Cycling Bikes

Cycling bikes imitate the functioning of regular outdoor bicycles, and the experience is very similar. The downside is that they’re not optimized for improving the condition of the body as much as other stationary bikes.

Recumbent Bikes

Recumbent bikes are “upright” in the sense that the user is seated at the back of the bike and the pedals are straight, which makes them stretch while they’re biking. These are ideal for all forms of lower-body exercise.

Upright Bikes

Upright bikes are similar to indoor cycling bikes, but they tend to be more featured-loaded and expensive.

The average cost of a bicycle is $100-200 on the low end up to $1000-2000 for advanced bikes.

Pullup Bars

Pullup bars are simple to install and attach to walls. They are essential equipment for strength-training and upper-body exercises. 

There are numerous exercises one can do on a pull-up bar, from slow gripping exercises to fast-moving exercises that increase stamina and strength.

Pullup bar exercises target different muscle groups, depending on the needs of the trainee. Most people train by pulling their chin over the bar and dropping down. The advantage is that they’re affordable and highly essential. Each gym needs at least a few pullup bars.

Pullup bars start at as low as $20, going up to $100 for high-end pullup bars.

Pullup Frame/Squat Rack

The pullup frame, also known as “Squat Rack,” is similar to a pullup bar. However, the main difference is that the person has to enter the frame to start exercising. 

The pullup frame is ideal for squatting, and it can target all areas of the body, not just the upper body. The main advantage is that pullup frames look like large machines, but they are relatively affordable and will suit any gym.

The lowest cost is $100-200 on average, while more expensive racks with safety nets can cost over $1000.

Bench Press

The bench press is one of the most used exercise machines in the gym, and it’s a staple of body-building. They are moderately expensive, but the advantage is that you only need one or two to complete your gym.

Bench presses are used for strength-training and increasing power in the upper-body by targeting the arms, biceps, and chest. They are highly in demand, and each gym needs at least one bench press.

It costs $200-300 for the average bench press. More “luxurious” options by brand names can cost $500+.

Pulldown Machines

Pulldown machines work on the principle of pulling from the top down, which strengthens the upper body muscles in the back. They’re essential for the gym because they allow users to enhance the back area.

Pulldown machines are easy to use, and all one needs is to pull towards the bottom while keeping the back straight. The best part is that they tend to be moderately priced and immense.

The average cost is $200-500, depending on the pulling capability and brand backing.

Leg Extension Machines

Leg extension machines exclusively target the lower body and improve the condition of the legs. They’re relatively affordable and highly desirable for any gym.

The average cost is $300-500 per machine.

Dipping Bars

Dipping bars present an alternative to both pullup bars and squat racks because they allow people to grip on the bars and pull themselves up, which boosts strength in the upper body. 

These bars can be a bit more dangerous as the whole weight of the body is carried by the shoulders, and users might injure themselves if they’re not careful. They are very affordable, with the average set costing $100-200, depending on the brand.

Incline Bench Press

The incline bench press is almost identical to a regular bench press. The main difference being they are raised while regular bench presses are flat. The incline provides an elevation which enables users to target different muscle groups.

Incline bench presses cost $200-300 on the low end over $500 for bench presses with more weight options.

Pulley Machine

The pulley machine is one of the largest machines for the gym that can perform dozens of different exercises using customizable grips and cables. This machine is a serious investment, and you might want to consider whether your gym needs a pulley machine when you’re starting, as the $3,000 average cost is quite expensive. 

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Opening A Gym Requirement #5) Hire Staff

Hiring

Hiring staff is for established gyms as many gym founders start by running and managing the gym by themselves. 

Once your gym starts producing income in the 6-figures yearly, it’s now time to consider hiring your first employees. Most gyms only need a few employees to cover administrative tasks such as reception, personal training, and cleaning/maintenance.

The staff has to deliver a fantastic customer experience for new clients because this will reflect in your bottom line profits. To motivate people to work harder, you’ll need to pay them fair wages, and this can cause new gyms to go in the red. 

Don’t hire anyone until you’ve established a stable income, and you’re confident you can cover the extra expenses, which can amount to $50,000-100,000/year for a few employees.

Once you start getting consistent membership and you need help, hire your first receptionist or personal trainer who can help you with daily tasks. The most common reasons to hire staff are that you’re expanding and you need all the help you can get. 

When you’re starting, you’ll probably enjoy dealing with the administrative tasks of signing up new members, helping members achieve their goals, promoting on social media, etc. 

The following are the top 3 signs that your gym is ready to hire people:

  • Membership goes over 50-100 consistent members per month
  • You find yourself running out of time to do everything you need to do.
  • You are always overwhelmed by the sheer number of responsibilities you must handle. 

Pro Tip: If you can maintain the gym on your own and you don’t mind training people and cleaning the gym yourself, only hire a receptionist. Don’t rush to hire more people unless you absolutely need to. 

Essential Gym Staff

The following are the top 3 most essential personnel types for your gym:

1) Receptionists/Front Desk Staff

Average Salary: $20,000-37,000/year.

The first thing people will notice when they enter the gym is the receptionist. Once you’re not at the gym, you need someone who’s a people person to welcome people into your gym, sign up new members, sell merchandise, and help answer questions.

Receptionists have to possess excellent communication skills to engage with people who might not be members of the gym but mere prospects. Their job is to invoice clients, collect payments, register new members, schedule opening/closing times, sell merchandise, and assist with any questions. It’s a full-time job and requires a lot of patience and dedication.

Gym members often want to ask questions and socialize, so the right person should enhance the vibe of your gym by welcoming everyone and making them feel at home. 

Receptionists bring a lot of value for owners because they free up the majority of your time and allow you to focus on the back-end of running the business, such as accounting and marketing.

NOTE: Low-cost gym successes in the U.K., such as pure gym, have proved that you can run a profitable gym without having a reception area or a receptionist. Secure, password enabled check-in doors, limit access to members.

2) Personal Trainers

Average Salary: $60,000/year.

Personal trainers are present at every gym, and this is an essential requirement because they can customize every member’s workout. 

If you want to save money, you can become a personal trainer yourself by getting certified. This certification will allow you to legally charge members for training lessons and produce customized workout/meal plans.

If you hire a personal trainer, you need someone with a deep background in fitness who is certified and knowledgeable about exercising. They have to be approachable, empathetic, and willing to help out clients. 

The purpose of hiring a trainer is to help your clients achieve their fitness goals by individually paying attention to their needs and devising workout plans based on their fitness level.

Big gyms tend to have multiple personal trainers. Personal trainers either work on an individual basis by engaging with students face-to-face or train large groups at pre-scheduled classes.

The personal trainer can operate as a manager of the gym by being present and individually training members at each point of the day. You can charge members for access to your trainers and pay them a full-time salary or pay them for each student they get.

3) Maintenance Staff

Average Salary: $30,000/year.     

Maintenance staff is essential for maintaining the cleanliness of your gym. A gym is a messy place with a lot of sweat on the ground. You need someone who can clean up in the late hours upon closing and someone to refresh the gym before opening and during operational hours.

The maintenance staff doesn’t need any experience in fitness because they won’t be engaging with your clients directly.

Hire people who are hard workers and who understand the importance of keeping things in order. Your members will notice the cleanliness of the locker rooms and equipment – make sure they see you’ve put a lot of effort into keeping it top-notch.

How To Hire Gym Staff In 3 Simple Steps

1) Know What You Expect And Say It

The first step is to write clear ads that state precisely what you expect from employees, job duties, and compensation. You need clarity. 

Example: Let’s say you’re hiring a personal trainer. Instead of describing the personality traits of a personal trainer or their certifications, start by defining the requirements you have for their daily tasks at the gym. Use the “jobs to be done” framework.

  • Would you require them to work 8-10 hours a day? 
  • Would they have to make individual meal plans and workouts for customers? 
  • How many customers will they have to process a day? 
  • Will they get extra compensation for extra hours? 
  • Do they have to work on weekends? 
  • Will they have morning or night shifts?

Know what you need, and describe it correctly in your ads. This framework is how you write the ideal ad to attract employees. Focus on objectives instead of personality traits. You can analyze their personality once you meet face-to-face.

Think about the objectives you expect each employee to tackle throughout their employment. Do you have any long term goals and plans you want to set based on your employees’ performance? 

Here are a few ideas:

  • Goals. What do you expect them to get done over the first year? Do you expect them to train 50, 100, or 200 people individually?
  • Success Rate. Do you expect personal trainers to have a success rate dealing with clients? How do you measure that – is it by the individual success stories of clients or by how many remain on the training program over 6 or 12 months?
  • Client Reviews. Are over 90% of clients satisfied with your trainers and other staff? Do you get complaints in the complaint box about one of your staff members? What is the cutoff line for complaints before parting ways?

2) Schedule Personal Meetings

If you’re interested in hiring a person based on their CV, meet them in person, and start vetting them. 

Make no guarantees you’ll hire them, but only invite them for a short interview. This meeting will allow you to analyze their skills in real life, which is integral for a business like a gym that relies on personal interaction for success.

The people you hire are the people representing your gym – they’re the face of the gym when you’re gone. 

To an average client who walks in the gym, it won’t matter if they see John, the personal trainer, or Larry, the gym CEO/owner. Even if Larry could make a better impression on clients, if John messes up, they will leave the gym for a more customer-friendly gym. Check for personality traits:

  • Are they the kind of person with whom you’d like to train?
  • Do they look knowledgeable and empathetic?

The last thing you want is to hire incompetent or rude trainers that leave your clients with a bad taste in their mouth. Hiring good trainers who are rude can create problems for you in the long term as you’ll start losing clients. 

Your trainers have to have people skills, sales skills, and, most importantly, live up to their own ideals. They need to be in tune with the latest fitness standards and give adequate advice that helps clients.

Note: Each staff member plays a critical customer service role, no matter how menial their job is. 

The front desk staff has to be diligent, hard-working, and ready to assist clients with whatever needs they might have. Meeting face-to-face is the only way to determine how effective these candidates will operate in the gym without your presence. Trust your gut and hire away.

3) Check References & Certificates

Hiring personal trainers is similar to hiring other professionals, such as lawyers and doctors. They have CVs that list references from past jobs that you can call up and inquire about their reliability. 

This background check is the final step of the screening process. Once you’ve met face-to-face and you’re about to hire someone, the last measure you want to take it to call up the references provided and verify they’ve done an excellent job in the past.

Make sure the certificates they’re showing are legitimate and check whether they have the education necessary to train clients. This way, you’re not putting your clients in danger.

Today, you can also use the services provided by background checking companies. Such companies will do all the background checks you need for a fee.

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Opening A Gym Requirement #6) Marketing

Marketing

The final step to opening a gym is marketing. Once you’ve obtained your licensees, lined up the equipment, and hired the staff – it’s time to bring in the customers!

There are dozens of local and digital marketing strategies to bring in new customers, and the best way to start is to test them all and focus on the channel and strategy that delivers the most results.

Note: Marketing is a slow, time-consuming process. Even if you do everything right, your first month might be slow because it takes time to establish yourself among the local community.

As a long-term measurement, the best thing a gym owner can do is interview clients and ask them the magical words: “Where did you hear about us?“. 

Once you ask 20-30 people for an answer, you’ll find the most common way people learn about your gym. Use that information to double down or triple down on that marketing strategy.

Example: If people learned about your gym through Instagram influencers, hire more of them and make them run even more promotions. If flyers got the job done, go print 5000 more flyers and disperse them everywhere in a 10-mile radius. 

Both digital and offline marketing strategies work, the main difference is finding out what works for your gym. The following are the best ways to fill up a gym once you’re starting:

1) Make Your Location Visible

Location, location, location. When you’re looking for a gym, the first thing you want to know is how close to home it is. 

If you’re driving by the nearest mall to your home and you notice a giant “Gym” sign, this will stick in your head even if you’re not looking for a gym.

Once it’s time for you to join the gym, you’ll remember that it’s the nearest gym. The owners of that gym did their job right because they made themselves visible without running any digital marketing or trying to reach out to clients directly. Their location did the marketing for them.

Start by making yourself visible. No marketing strategy is as effective as being close to people. People want to know their gym is right by their home, and no one wants to commute 30 minutes only to exercise. 

You can tackle the visibility criteria even before you lease a space. Look for an area that is high-traffic and very open, ideally located in a central location.

Hang signs that are easy to understand and make your tagline simple – this way, people will remember it. Put lights around your sign and light it up at night. 

If your gym is near a shopping plaza or an office building, it will get recognition by merely existing. But if your gym is in the back of a basement, you’ll have to run aggressive marketing campaigns and word of mouth to make yourself known.

2) Build An Online Presence

The first step to a digital marketing strategy is to build an online website or get a member management software to take bookings and payments online. 

You don’t always need a website. Check out StudioGrowth. We offer brandable public pages where your customers can see your class schedule and purchase memberships and class packs online! These pages can seamlessly serve as your online presence.

In case you decide to go with a website, you need a website that connects all the dots and makes everything available to customers in 2-3 clicks. The site has to be clean and easy to navigate, presenting all the core information about your business.

If you want to develop your online presence successfully, your website needs to have the following:

  • About Us. Showcasing the history of the gym and the profile of the owners/fitness instructors.
  • Equipment. You should prominently display all the equipment at the gym. Ideally, you should have pictures and videos of people using the machines at your gym.
  • Directions. People want a Google Map showing the location of your gym, as well as the opening/closing hours.
  • Facilities. This page should show what facilities you have in your gym, such as locker rooms, showers, etc.
  • Prices/Membership. List how much it costs to join your gym by the day, week, or month. Also, mention any promos you’re running. Offer people the ability to sign-up online to facilitate sales. You can do all this with StudioGrowth, the simple gym member management software created by our team.

Although it might seem hard to create a website without technical experience, it’s easy with hosting services like Namecheap that can give you access to professional hosting for as little as $10/month. You can install WordPress, which makes creating a website a breeze. 

Alternative: Hire someone on UpWork to make a website for you.

3) Create a Google Maps Listing

Once you’ve established an online presence, the first step towards successful online marketing is to build a presence on Google Maps. This presence is going to be the main thing people see once they look up the name of your gym.

Your Google Maps listing will contain your address (including a pin on the map), website, phone, and opening/closing hours. Once you’re listed as a gym in the city when people look up “Gym + x city” or “Gym near me,” they will find your listing among the top results.

This process is known as “local SEO,” as it optimizes your business for local search listings. It can provide significant ROI for your business as you’ll retain a presence among all the top gyms in your city for free.

We recommend combining that with an SEO strategy for keywords that attract all the attention of people looking for gyms in your city. If you hire an SEO agency, they can develop a content strategy based on keyword research and publish articles on your website that attract new customers.

Getting a Google “My Business” listing is one of the first steps to successfully optimizing your online presence.

If this sounds too complicated, I have written a step-by-step guide on how you can get a local business on google maps. I have included screenshots and show you the entire process of listing, from start to finish.

Additionally, Google offers customer reviews that could impact your business based on the star ratings you receive. Google any gym in your area, and you’ll notice many of them have reviews and ratings.

NOTE: I have written a complete guide on how you can get more positive reviews on Google maps and surface to the top of the map search results. 

4) Give Free Merchandise

Most gyms sell merchandise – it’s easy to print t-shirts in bulk and sell them. However, a better marketing strategy when you’re starting is to give the merchandise for free

How does this help you? One answer: Instagram influencers. Many people think that Instagram influencers only work by paying people to market your gym in the post description.

However, there are people with tens of thousands of followers who can indirectly market your gym by wearing your merchandise and tagging themselves on social media in your gym.

Example: If one person has 5000 followers, each post gets tens of thousands of views. Instagram calls this “reach.” In this case, a shirt you paid $5 to print could bring you hundreds or thousands of dollars in free marketing.

Think about the upside of getting exposure on social media and real life, when people wear your shirts. Find a deal with a local printing company that can print 500-1000 shirts with your logo. Make the design memorable and easy to remember. Include your website and other contact information on the back of the shirt.

Hand them out for free for each new member and give more once they renew their membership to let them know they’re appreciated. This process is one of the fastest ways to make the word go out about your gym. The only thing better than Influencer marketing is getting influencers to promote you without knowing it!

Also, consider upgrading your merchandise by offering other forms of clothing such as hoodies or jackets for more dedicated members. You can also customize snacks and drinks with your logo and sell them or give them away for free. The initial investment will be worth it because the shirts will give you free marketing without much effort.

5) Run Special Offers

Special offers entice new members similar to offering free merchandise. The fitness industry is a large, high-growth industry with an average growth rate of 4% a year. This growth means you’re competing with dozens or hundreds of other gyms in your area who might offer better promos than you do. 

However, this begs the question: How do you stand out without giving away your gym?

The answer is to run creative promos. It doesn’t mean making giving away a t-shirt, the central point of your giveaway strategy. The shirts are only a tiny bonus. What you need is a serious attention-grabber, something that entices new members without making them think that they can get classes for free.

The “Special Offer” could be anything from a free hour with a personal trainer, a week of free access to the gym, discount for first month’s membership, or a combination of all those. It has to be good enough to make you appealing to the crowded gym industry. People still have to know you’re a for-profit gym and that they’re not getting it for free.

The gym can run events that attract people from other gyms and let them get a taste for your gym. 

NOTE: With the StudioGrowth gym member management software, you can set-up promotions and discount campaigns at the click of a button. You can set-up unlimited campaigns and discount codes. Check it out; I promise you will love it!

6) Get More Testimonials

The first thing people do once they’re on the brink of signing up for a gym membership is binge-reading all the reviews.

Your business will have a Google My Business listing that accumulates reviews from past members, which new members will read. Customer reviews will expose the weak points of your gym, such as the customer service, the cleanliness, and other aspects you might have overlooked.

If your gym is in top shape with friendly staff, it will make it that much better for new customers who will get reaffirmation that signing up is the right thing to do. 

Joining a gym is a financial commitment because people can easily spend $1000+ a year for membership at your gym, without even a customized workout program or personal training.

Pro Tip: Ask for reviews on Google Business, Yelp, and Facebook. Doing this is one of the best ways to bring in new customers without spending money on a marketing budget. 

You can also keep track of your member’s gym progress. If one of your members makes astronomical progress and drops 100 lbs over a year, ask them for before/after pictures and display them on your social media accounts. Doing this can give you massive influence over the fitness market in your area, as you’ll become known as the gym that gets results.

NOTE: I have written a complete guide on how you can get more testimonials using email automation. It is a step-by-step guide showing you how to get more testimonials. And of course, with our StudioGrowth gym management software, you can do this with a single click!

7) Run Facebook And Instagram Ads

Facebook and Instagram ads are the most effective way to get new customers for a gym. However, they can be highly expensive.

If the gym is in a bad location, and your promotions are failing, Instagram ads are not a magic pill that will automatically make you successful.

However, allocating a budget such as $1000/month on ads can significantly boost your membership over a few months. It can also increase your exposure to new influencers and people who can spread the word.

Placing Instagram and Facebook ads is easy. All you have to do is sign up for Facebook Business Manager, which is a platform that allows you to develop and publish advertisements on both Facebook and Instagram. They let you narrow your audience down to people interested in fitness in your area, as well as their age/education/gender/income level and more.

Pro-tip: Run video promotions to get the attention of social media users. Make sure you have subtitles under your videos because most videos auto-play without sound. 

Because of these ads, many potential clients will start following your gym on social media. Once they watch your stories and follow your timeline posts, they become progressively interested until they make the final decision to sign up. 

8) Print Old-Fashioned Flyers

The last marketing strategy, once you’ve established a digital presence, is to go old-school and start printing ads and handing them out to people or mailing them. Print marketing is cheap, and it’s possible to print thousands of flyers for only a few hundred dollars.

Local business owners who complain that flyers don’t work anymore, have not run a campaign at scale. Distributing 100 flyers is not the ideal way to test the success of the channel. Go for a few 1000 flyers to determine if this campaign is successful for your gym.

Once you have those flyers, you can distribute them to people in your vicinity by leaving them in their mailboxes. It should only take you a day or two to cover a few miles’ radius around your gym, and this can get you a dozen new members within the week.

Pro Tip: Distribute your promotional flyers to nearby businesses. If your gym is in a commercial area such as an office building, mall, or shopping plaza, you should go to nearby shops and leave flyers for their customers. Offer the same in return to spread the word and form partnerships.

Conclusion

That concludes our guide on how to start your gym. We hope you found it helpful and that you’ll use it to establish a successful gym endeavor.

If you are a new gym owner or in the process of opening a gym, do check out StudioGrowth, our gym management software. We built this software to help with all the admin tasks, but the key focus is on offering you tools to set-up and grow your gym using innovative marketing and branding techniques. 

Some of the modules we provide are online payments, sell class-packs and memberships, branded public pages for your online presence, loyalty and referral modules, discounts, and much more! 

To recap, here are the six primary steps in opening your gym:

✔ Licensing
✔ Financing
✔ Space
✔ Equipment
✔ Staff
✔ Marketing

I write abouT establishing and Growing your boutique Fitness/Wellness Business. I promise no spam, i hate spam.

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About the author


Naz Ahm is the founder of StudioGrowth and has spent a decade growing start-ups and venture-backed companies. He writes about sales, marketing, and growth, especially in the fitness and wellness industry.

Naz has an MBA from IESE Business School and started his journey in the wellness industry when he set-up an on-demand wellness business. Naz currently resides in London, U.K.