How to start & run a gym business

black woman in gym image by Susan Rae Tannenbaum from

Starting and running a successful gym is hard, yet rewarding work and requires more than a mere passion for fitness. While personal training or group instructor certifications can help, running a gym requires business sense, a friendly disposition and excellent social skills.

You will be required to satisfy the needs of members, supervise employees, maintain equipment and handle payroll and accounting. First, however, you'll need to start a gym that can compete with others in the area.

Determine whether to operate independently or purchase a franchise such as a Gold's Gym or 24-Hour Fitness. Advantages to a franchise include business management training, a successful business model, reputation, familiarity and advertising. However, purchasing a franchise can be costly. As of March 2010, Gold's Gym, for example, requires at least £520,000 in net worth, £195,000 in liquid assets and previous management experience supervising at least 15 employees. A small, independent gym can keep costs down and won't require management experience, but you will be required to demonstrate financial health and a sound business plan, which will be presented to potential financiers.

Conduct market research to verify demand and consider amenities to set your gym apart, such as type of equipment, square footage, instructors, classes, membership fees, day care and more. Take note of suggestions and find ways to implement them into your business model. Visit online fitness forums and poll potential members for feedback.

Establish your niche and identify how to satisfy your target audience. If opening a women's-only facility, determine what equipment and programs best suit your demographic, such as self-defence courses, water aerobics or cardio-kick-boxing. If appealing to outdoor enthusiasts, implement an outdoor volleyball court or an obstacle course. Create a business plan detailing the type of equipment and amenities you will offer with anticipated costs for insurance, payroll and advertising, employee requirements, membership fees, and when you intend to break even.

Register your business and secure a location. Look for a high-visibility location, preferably attached to a mall or shopping centre, unless you intend to offer outdoor amenities, in which case you may need a standalone facility.

Purchase liability insurance and write waivers. Contact your current insurance provider, who should be able to connect you with a reputable business liability insurance representative. Consult with an attorney when drawing up contracts and waivers.

Purchase or lease equipment and hire a qualified staff to man the day care and reception desks, train individuals and teach classes.

Invest in health club management software to keep track of payroll and membership dues, check in members, keep an attendance summary, track rental equipment, schedule clients and classes, track sales and report other key data.

Work the floor daily, visiting with members for insight on ways to improve your gym. Address all major concerns and keep your clients up to date on changes you will implement.