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How To Open Your Own Gym (Part 2)


In Part 1 of this series we discussed the different types of facilities one can open, the differences between a franchise and an independent club and funding options. In this next installment we’ll delve into the world of finding a property, floor planning and commercial fitness equipment purchasing.

Location, Location, Location! 

Deciding where to open your fitness facility may be the most important factor for determining your success or failure. According to IHRSA's Guide to the Health Club Industry for Lenders & Investors, “the trading area for clubs in competitive markets extends no more than 10 to 12 minutes travel time from the club, which translates into no more than five miles from the club site.”  Lack of convenience and lack of close proximity are frequent reasons for members to quit a gym.

This is why demographics and feasibility studies are so important in the planning stages. Be sure to identify your target area (population, size of the area, and commute time) before committing to a location. It’s also important to be aware of projected growth in your target area so your existing location can accommodate more members in the future.

You also have to be cognizant of anchor tenants (other businesses in the vicinity), visibility, and traffic counts as these can all drive business to or away from your facility. Try to surround your business with others that support your vision and welcome your target population. Setting up shop behind the chemical plant and dive bar may not be the best way to drive traffic into your family fitness center.

Parking is often overlooked when selecting a property. According to architect Hervey Lavoie of the Ohlson Lavoie Corporation in Denver, you should plan on one parking space for every 12 to 15 members in a suburban club. (This accounts for the impact of public transportation and multiple passengers per car.)

Key Takeaways:

  1. Make sure the site you select is in close proximity to your target population and convenient for them to access.
  2. Do your homework and be certain that the area demographics will support your business plan.
  3. Don’t overlook who you’re opening up next to and whether there is enough parking.

Life Fitness Treadmills in a Health Club

The Art of Floor Planning and Equipment Layout

Creating a welcoming and non-intimidating environment inside your facility is just as important as where you decide to open. There are many effective design schemes out there but ensuring that your space is created with a purpose and follows the overall functions of the club should be top priority.

A gym should be inviting and create energy. This can be done with smart lighting, the effective use of color and a sensible layout. A typical fitness floor plan can attempt to weave the following into a seamless flow:

  • Reception
  • Offices
  • Locker rooms / changing rooms / restrooms
  • Main fitness floor
  • Studios (personal training, group cycling, group exercise, etc.)
  • Utility room
  • Storage
  • Staff facilities (break room, restrooms, etc.)

Each area of the gym should flow into the next ensuring that your members have convenient and easy paths of travel throughout the building. Equipment should always be placed according to recommended spacing as well as reflect accessibility guidelines to provide equal access to all members.

The strategic placement of your equipment on the main fitness floor should also be dictated by function, member demographics, and facility programming. Depending on your facility’s goals, there are several different approaches to creating an effective fitness floor.  

Creating a variety of specific fitness spaces (e.g. free weight space, cardio space, strength circuit, etc.) is one approach. This option creates clean sight lines and can assist in minimizing intimidation of new or potential members. For example, by creating distance between advanced training spaces and areas that are geared more towards a general health seeker or someone new to fitness, a semiprivate training environment can be achieved. You may have members with little to no interest in utilizing free weights. So why should they have to walk through a row of power racks to access the treadmill?

Keep in mind that some exercisers don't want to be on public display during their workouts. So rows of new cardio equipment don't necessarily need to be placed in high-traffic areas. Make sure you give members the option of privacy.

A second layout concept is to provide spaces that offer current fitness trends. You can achieve this, for example, by creating small group training areas directly on the main fitness floor to support your facility’s programming and to help keep exercisers engaged. Regardless of the layout approach, the design should always seek to enhance members’ fitness experience to the fullest.

Key Takeaways:

  1. Ensure that your facility is welcoming and not intimidating.
  2. Maintain a bright and open design.
  3. Ensure that each area of the gym can easily be accessed by all members.
  4. Equipment should be strategically and purposefully placed to meet the needs of your members.

Equipment Purchasing: Buy Nice or Buy Twice

Deciding what type of equipment to utilize in your gym can be confusing. Most manufactures offer several different lines of equipment and within each line, there are typically different models, entertainment options, colors, upgrades, etc. Partnering with a local sales representative can be an invaluable tool in sorting through a manufacturer’s catalog, gaining in-depth knowledge about the features and benefits of each product, and ensuring that the right products for your facility and members are being selected. 

While it may be tempting to utilize lighter duty products to minimize cost and maximize profits, what you’ll undoubtedly eventually see with this purchase is a shorter product lifespan, multiple service calls and a nonexistent trade allowance. The tempting low price tag ultimately costs more in the long run, so be sure that the product line and model you select meets the demands of your facility and members.

Next, be sure that the equipment you select caters to your target populations. Unless you’re opening the doors to a very specific type of facility (e.g. powerlifting space, kickboxing gym, Pilates studio, etc.) be sure to offer something for everyone. For example, if you’re opening a family friendly facility, make sure that you’re offering youth specific equipment and other training modalities that are safe and effective for smaller/younger members to train on as well as larger training stations for your adults and active aging populations. 

Finally, while it’s nice to offer cutting edge fitness trends that are exciting and new, exercisers still have plenty of interest in staples that never go out of style. Check out the list of the Top 20 Fitness Trends for 2017 put out by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). The majority of the "trends" on the annual list don't fade away. Be sure to address some of these items from the ACSM list when deciding on equipment, layout and staff.

  • Body weight training
  • High-intensity interval training (HIIT)
  • Educated and experienced fitness professionals
  • Strength training
  • Group training
  • Personal training
  • Functional fitness
  • Group personal training
  • Circuit training

Key Takeaways:

  1. Consult with industry experts on which equipment will provide the best solution for your needs.
  2. Budget appropriately so you can spend the extra money on high quality equipment.
  3. Offer equipment that your target population(s) want and need.
  4. The majority of what you offer should be tried and true fitness activities, which are still on trend. Producing results never goes out of style.

Read Part 1


fitness equipment
Facility Layout
Equipment Purchase
Gym Owners
Gym Opening


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