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Opening a gym | The ultimate checklist for success

Lachlan Ross

December 15, 2021

Thinking about opening a gym but need some help getting started? You’re in the right place. Starting a fitness business is a mammoth undertaking and it can feel overwhelming. To help you approach it systematically, here’s a comprehensive checklist with all the steps to opening a successful gym. Read through the detail for things to consider when opening a gym. Best of luck!

Checklist for steps to opening a gym

  1. Get your ducks in a row – business planning, research & finances
  2. Choose the perfect location
  3. Apply for licenses, permits and insurance
  4. Establish your gym brand
  5. Develop your product and service offering
  6. Create your gym marketing plan
  7. Select your vendors and start buying
  8. Get your team in place
  9. Get ready for the opening a new gym madness!

1. Get your ducks in a row – business planning, research & finances

More and more people recognize the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, driving constant growth in the fitness industry. Congratulations on taking the plunge to join this burgeoning sector. Opening a gym is an exciting yet stressful time. Being well prepared can make it a much smoother (even enjoyable!) experience. You’ll be investing a lot of time and money, so it’s worth spending time planning to give your gym the best chance of success.

Make sure owning a gym is right for you

First things first…are you cut out for this? Take our quiz to see if you’ve got the right skills and personality traits.
  1. Are you a people person?
  2. Do you handle stress well?
  3. Can you multi-task?
  4. Are you creative?
  5. Are you a good delegator (and not a control freak)?
  6. Do you have good financial management skills?
  7. Do you have fitness industry experience?
  8. Are you a good planner?
  9. Can you solve problems on your feet?
  10. Are you obsessed with helping people reach their fitness goals?
If you answered yes to most of these questions, it looks like you’re a good fit for running and opening a gym. And you can always hire people to fill in the skills gaps when recruiting your team.

Brainstorm gym concepts

Now’s the time to cultivate your vision. Do you want a traditional gym with workout spaces, fitness classes and personal training? Or a more boutique fitness studio incorporating yoga, dance or pilates? Many gyms supplement their core membership offering with income from value-added products like juice bars, merchandise, tanning salons, massage or childcare. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Choose a well-defined theme and focus on building a personalized member experience. Ask yourself:
  1. What will make your gym unique?
  2. How will you be better than the competition?
  3. Who are your target customers?
  4. Are you offering something people in the area want?
  5. What kind of services will you offer?
  6. What kind of atmosphere are you looking to create?

Do market research

Understanding the market is critical when deciding if your gym concept is right. Try these research strategies:
  1. Do a Google search to see who the competition is and check their Google reviews to see what customers think of them
  2. Use Google’s free keyword planner to check the demand for specific gym styles in different areas
  3. Visit gyms in the area (and try a class or two) to check out the competition. Talk to people and ask them what’s missing in the neighborhood

How much does it cost to start a gym?

The cost of starting a gym can vary widely depending on various factors such as location, size, equipment, and amenities. On average, however, you can expect to invest anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 or even more to start a small to medium-sized gym. This budget typically includes expenses like leasing or purchasing a suitable space, purchasing fitness equipment, obtaining necessary permits and licenses, hiring staff, marketing, and initial operational costs. High-end gyms or those in prime locations may require a substantially larger initial investment. To get a more accurate estimate, it's essential to create a detailed business plan and conduct market research to understand the specific costs associated with your gym's unique concept and target audience. Additionally, seeking advice from industry experts and financial advisors can help you determine a more precise budget for your gym startup.

Write a business plan

A gym business plan is your road map. It helps you envision every aspect of your business and make sure you’ve considered everything. It describes your proposed gym concept, details the market and showcases expected financials. It’s both the most challenging and important part of opening a gym.

Get funding

Now that you’ve chosen a concept and have a business plan that charts the road to success, it’s time to face facts - opening a gym is not cheap. You might be lucky enough to have the necessary funds, but if not, there are plenty of gym funding options available.
Opening a salon

2. Choose the perfect location

Your gym’s location is critical to its success. It drives passing traffic and determines the demographics of your potential customers. Thoroughly research different areas to check there’s a match with your gym concept.

Do your research

  1. Who are your customers? Older people wanting gentle exercise classes to stay fit? People wanting to lose weight? Bodybuilders? Families?
  2. Who are the competitors? Joining a bustling gym precinct can be good, or adding a gym where there are no others can work too
  3. What else is in the area and how can you capitalize on the surroundings?
  4. Is there public transport, good road access and plenty of parking?
  5. How busy is the area? Are other businesses well patronized?
  6. Are there population growth figures available from the local municipality?

Lease or buy premises

Once you’ve decided on your location, you’ll need to decide whether to lease or buy.
  1. Inspect lots of options to learn about pricing and availability
  2. Consider outdoor spaces of the premises as well – more people prefer exercising outside since the pandemic
  3. A busy location in a prosperous suburb will cost more, but the returns can be significant. Consider the passing traffic, and install bright signage to grab their attention and boost sales
  4. Negotiate hard so you get the best deal
  5. Before you sign anything, seek financial and legal advice
  6. Just remember, if the lease or sale price looks too good to be true, it probably is

3. Apply for licenses, permits and insurance

You’ll need to research thoroughly what licenses and permits are required in your area to open a gym. Check federal, state and local government requirements as laws differ. It also depends on your offering – if you’re going to serve food and offer childcare, you’ll need extra permits and licenses. You don’t need a professional fitness qualification or accreditation to open a gym, but it can help boost your credibility and help access funding. Some applications take a long time, so get started well ahead of your planned opening day. Here’s a list to prompt your research:
  • Licenses: business, food service, music
  • Permits: signage permits
  • Insurances: public liability, property, workers compensation

4. Establish your gym brand

Gym branding goes far deeper than choosing a name and designing a logo. It’s about carefully curating an image for your gym that differentiates you from your competition and connects with your customers. Good branding gets you noticed, builds loyalty and increases sales.

Document your unique brand position

With your vision, mission and target audience in mind, clearly define what it is that you’ll do better than anyone else. Think about the personality you want for your retail store and how you want people to feel about it.

Choose a gym name

Naming your new fitness center can be tricky. Do some brainstorming or get help from a branding agency if you have the budget. Ideally, choose something that has a connection with your gym concept, is easy to spell and say, and stands out from the competition. Make sure the website url is available and that you don’t use an existing trademark. Pick something that will stand the test of time.

Develop your visual identity

It’s time to get creative and design your logo, fonts and color scheme. Depending on your budget, choose a low-cost option through sites like Fiverr, or seek support from a brand design agency.

Design the interior and exterior

How your gym looks has a huge effect on how people feel about visiting it. People want to be inspired to work out and your gym must ooze energy. Natural light and high ceilings make spaces inviting and the color scheme should match your branding. Consider using digital signage to inspire your customers to achieve their fitness goals with constantly changing motivational quotes, exercise tips and leaderboards. Work with engineers, architects and interior designers to design the interior and exterior of your gym. You’ll need to submit drawings to your local authority for approval.
Opening a gym

Install signs so people know you’ll be opening soon

As soon as you can, put up exterior signage. Digital gym signage works best because the eye-catching graphics and animations grab the attention of passers-by. You can update your messaging remotely in minutes and display a countdown to opening day to build excitement for your launch.
Opening a gym

5. Develop your product and service offering

Now that you’ve nailed your brand, you can move on to creating your menu – that is, all the products and services that customers can buy.

Put together your offering

You’ll have a basic idea of the services you want to offer, now is the time to work through the detail. It needs to be tightly woven with your gym theme. Think through memberships, classes and additional products like protein powder, massages and branded hoodies.

Design your menu

A gym needs a menu just like a restaurant does – people can’t buy things if they don’t know it exists. You’ll need to consider color, fonts and how you’ll communicate your offering to your clients. Technology like digital signage makes printed menu boards a thing of the past. Gyms that use digital signage report their daily sales increased by 30%. Anyone in the business can easily create digital menu boards using drag and drop signage templates.

6. Create your gym marketing plan

Your gym marketing plan details your target audience and how you’ll reach them. It helps you be more organized and successful with your marketing strategies. Set a budget and plan for:
  • Advertising: online, social media and newspaper advertising
  • Promotions: schedule specials, referral deals and loyalty discounts. Partner with local businesses to develop cross-promotions. Offer a limited number of founding memberships to get things started
  • Events: schedule the grand opening event, kids exercise mornings and super challenges
Make sure you take advantage of the power of digital marketing.
  • Website: A fitness website that shows your location, services, opening hours and reviews at a minimum is essential. A whopping 97% of customers search online to find local businesses. There are DIY options for website building, or you can outsource
  • Social media: Customers expect to communicate with you via social media and it’s a great way to reach more customers. Target the platforms your customers use, and if you’re not sure, set up Instagram and Facebook at a minimum. Images and videos work best for engagement. Ask your customers to follow your page to access exclusive updates and discounts. Before and after shots will provide much-needed inspiration and recognition for reaching personal targets and foster a sense of community. Give away free merchandise then encourage people to share the snaps on their own channels for a (practically) free influencer program
  • Reviews: a massive 91% of people read online reviews before choosing a local business. Set up your accounts on Google My Business, TripAdvisor and Yelp so that you can keep track and respond to reviews

7. Select your vendors and start buying

You’ll need a lot of equipment to transform your empty space into a bustling gym. A dumbbell set, training benches, exercise bikes, rowing machines, office equipment…the list goes on. Not to mention cleaners, security, and whatever else your gym needs. You’ll need to choose all your vendors carefully. Interview them as if you were hiring a staff member and generate some healthy competition for your custom. Be especially particular choosing your equipment supplier – your reputation will live or die on the quality of your gear. You’ll need to decide whether to buy or lease your equipment. Leasing enables you to keep refreshing your equipment and can include maintenance. It can end up more expensive in the long run, so run some numbers and get advice if you need it. It’s worth exploring and investing in gym technology. Innovative solutions like gym management software and digital signage have transformed gym businesses for the better. They streamline operations, enhance the customer experience and boost profits.

8. Get your team in place

Successful gyms need to find and keep the best staff. Attitude is the most important factor. Your front desk staff and personal trainers must connect to the gym's culture and be passionate about fitness. Being reliable, punctual and great team players is also critical.

Advertise and hire staff

Advertise everywhere. Digital channels like job websites and social media platforms will give you a big pool of applicants but don’t forget to use offline techniques. Job ads on your exterior digital signage could find great candidates who would value the chance to work locally.

Train your team

Gym members rely on the expertise of staff for safety, motivation and coaching. They’ll need to be capable of managing minor injuries and accidents, and CPR training is mandatory in some jurisdictions. Invest in their education to give your customers the best experience possible. You’ll also need to make sure they know the ropes for cleaning, payments and customer service. Plan a training session at the gym to bring their learning to life. You can demonstrate your expected behaviors and use your digital signage to deliver engaging training that enhances culture.

9. Open your gym!

After months (or years!) of planning, the time for opening a gym of your own is finally here.

Have a soft launch

A trial run with friends and family is a great way to give your staff some practice and iron out any kinks before opening to the public.

Have the grand opening

With a successful soft launch behind you, your team knows the drill and your venue looks impeccable. It’s time for the grand opening. Promote your opening day heavily on your window signage and social media channels. Offer discounts and specials and offer prominent local influencers free membership in return for some love on their social media channels.

Good luck with everything

Opening a gym isn’t easy, but it’s hugely gratifying. You get to be your own boss and become an essential part of the community. Follow these steps to establish a thriving business, provide for your family and establish a career that allows you to help people live happier, healthier lives.
Lachlan Ross

Written by Lachlan Ross

Marketing Manager at Mandoe

I’m a SAAS-focused marketer with 10+ years of experience who likes to think I’ve got a way with words - thanks for stopping by and checking out this blog.

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