Are you considering owning your own gym? First of all, that’s freakin’ exciting (though we may be a bit biased on this subject…) No doubt you’ve been debating the pros and cons, considering the ups and downs, calculating the risks and rewards.

How successful will you be? What hurdles will you face? What kind of owner will you be: ultra laid back and friendly (but perpetually on the brink of closure) like Peter La Fleur, owner of Average Joe’s Gym in the 2004 classic Dodgeball? Or ruthless, commanding, maniacal (yet wildly successful) like Peter’s nemesis, Globo Gym owner White Goodman?

The truth is, you’ll probably sit somewhere in between. If your passion for fitness and desire to help others led you down this path, then you’re starting out strong. Throw in a solid business plan, flexibility and resilience, and realistic expectations of what’s to come, and you’ll be able to dodge, duck, dip, dive and… dodge your way to success.

Don’t worry, the following advice isn’t taken from Dodgeball (but you should watch it anyway to get in the mood). We’ve put together a detailed pros and cons list for you, PLUS a few tips to ensure you have the best chance of success with running your own gym.

Let’s dodge and dive in!  🤾‍♀️

A supportive gym management partner

Choosing the right gym management software is an important decision for any gym owner. Select a supportive partner with an all-in-one solution. And you’ll be better equipped to succeed in owning a gym business.

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The pros and cons of owning a gym

Owning your own gym can have countless positives, so this isn’t a complete list, but it paints a compelling picture for running your own gym. Just to keep that realism in check, we’ve also listed some challenges to be aware of.

#1 Pursue your passion for fitness  

Whether you’re currently working in fitness and sports as a personal trainer, gym employee, sports coach, etc, OR a committed gym junkie who considers the gym a second home, becoming a gym owner will scratch that itch for a life filled with health and fitness.

By owning your own gym you can shape the fitness journeys of others and connect with like-minded people. What a rewarding way to immerse yourself in a world you love while making a living too! It can also encourage you to improve your own health if you’ve been lax in that area.

When you own your own business, it can be all-encompassing, slurping up your energy and time. This is more of a risk when you are first starting out, when your budget may be smaller and you’re ironing out all the creases in operations.

Without a careful approach and clear boundaries your schedule is likely to be unpredictable. Setting aside time for self-care is essential, and utilising the best technology can make this possible. More on this in the tips later on.

#2 Make money as a gym owner

There are no guarantees here, of course. There are a lot of factors that will influence how successful your gym is and how much you can earn as a gym owner.

However, the potential for profitability is strong, with the market size of the gyms and fitness centres industry in New Zealand valued at $379.7m in 2023 (measured by revenue). An increasing interest in health and fitness, often helped along by social media, is helping to provide this potential that you can harness!

Owning a gym often involves a high initial investment to get your business up and running. You’ll need to cover the cost of things like commercial gym equipment, renting/buying a space, insurance, and more.

Plus there’s plenty of competition out there, from the independent Average Joe’s to the Globo Gym-style chains. You need a strong business model and a way to stand out from the crowd to be profitable

#3 Build a strong fitness community

Fitness issues aside, loneliness is a huge issue these days, despite the constant connections that the internet provides. A study by Loneliness NZ  found that 3.4% of the population aged 15+ felt lonely most/all of the time in the last four weeks (before the study).

Loneliness is defined as ‘a subjective unpleasant or distressing feeling of a lack of connection to other people, along with a desire for more, or more satisfying, social relationships’.

The gym is the perfect place to bring people together and build those social connections while also improving their overall wellbeing. When you build a strong sense of community, and create an inclusive, welcoming space, you’ll attract loyal members who stick around for longer. And you’ll find it easier to encourage members to spread the word, harnessing the power of word-of-mouth marketing to attract new members through referrals.

This particular challenge isn’t exclusive to gyms, but it can be problematic and make creating a strong community more difficult. While many gym owners wait some time to take on a team of staff, eventually if you want to grow you’ll need to hire gym staff – but attracting and keeping staff can be an uphill battle.

When you own a gym with a high staff turnover rate, you’ll need to hire new staff more often, which can be expensive. And you’ll need to keep investing in training for new staff. Plus, you may be faced with staff shortages that impact member experience.

“Undoubtedly businesses in the consumer-facing space have and continue to face difficulties in many aspects of people and culture.

The gym industry isn’t an easy one when it comes to this – median sector pay reflects that while there are really attractive senior roles available, the majority are more junior entry-level posts.”

Sophie Lawler, CEO of Total Fitness

You’ll need the right approach to hiring and retaining staff. Creating a strong team and culture can help you overcome staffing challenges.

A happy female trainer is standing in a gym with tablet in her hands.

#4 Enjoy the spiciness of variety

If the thought of repeating the same work routine, day in, day out, ala Groundhog Day doesn’t thrill you, then the diverse and varied tasks of a gym owner may be for you.

Especially in the beginning, you’ll likely need to wear many hats in the business: greeter, marketer, trainer, cleaner, leader, researcher, salesperson, website wrangler. Every day will be different and you’ll get to interact with people from all walks of life.

Attend industry events and conferences to network and gather ideas. Host events at your own gym to build your community. Walk the gym floor to meet your people. All of these practices will improve your business and strengthen your skills.

The vast majority of gyms and fitness clubs experience seasonal fluctuations in membership numbers and attendance – a type of spiciness you won’t find so appealing sometimes.

This unpredictability can impact revenue, staff motivation, member engagement, cancellation rates, and your overall profitability.

#5 Call the shots

Maybe you thirst for ultimate power (mwah ha ha!) or get all tingly when you can control how things are done. Or maybe you just like the thought of the following benefits of being the owner:

  • You’ll be your own boss – highly empowering!
  • You’ll be in control of operational decisions like staffing, programming and scheduling.
  • You’ll be able to adapt to trends, member preferences and fitness industry shifts in a way you may not be able to in a bigger business.
  • You’ll get to help people and make them happier.
  • You’ll have a more flexible lifestyle with the right team and technology in place.
  • You’ll have unlimited earnings potential – if your business is successful and profitable, you’ll have the opportunity to earn more.
  • You’ll get to choose who you work with and build a winning team for your gym.

Sure, you’re the boss, the head honcho, taking care of business, but that means you’re ultimately responsible for everything, including liability risks, which are high in a gym environment. There’s the potential for accidents, injuries, and legal liabilities. You’ll need to deal with legal issues that arise, which can be stressful.

To avoid risks, you’ll need to keep on top of health and safety. And minimise risks to protect your members and your business interests.

You’ll also need the right gym insurance. This will make sure you’re covered in the case of an accident, theft, or damage to your club.

Senior in gym boxing

Owning a gym: Tips for success

The above list only covers some of the major pros and cons you’ll face as a gym owner. Who knows what other successes and potholes you might encounter on your journey? That’s the exciting (and sometimes scary) part!

To help make your experience as successful as possible, we’ve compiled some practical tips for you to consider.

Tip 1: Pre-sales are important

A pre-sale is where you sell memberships ahead of your club opening so that come opening day you’ll have people working out (and paying) as though you’re already established and off to a great start.

A pre-sale campaign is all about getting potential new members excited about your new gym. It’ll help you build a strong reputation right away.

“Get that awareness as early as you can with a teaser. You have to paint the picture and build the excitement… So, I’d tend to focus on the value of it and build up excitement and anticipation.”

Will Cheeld, Senior Growth & Accounts Manager, Xplor Gym

Focus on building excitement and anticipation for your new fitness club. Consider whether you should provide a discount or joining offer. An offer can increase pre-sales. Yet, it can impact your bottom line and the perceived value of a membership.

“The challenge with not discounting at the front end is that generally with a pre-sale, they’re signing up for something they can’t access for 3 or so months. So, you’ve got to create a call to action to that member to get them to sign up now. And a discount is an easy way to do that. You could limit the amount at one rate and them move to the next rate.”

Dave Alstead, Commercial Director, Xplor Gym

Tip 2: Diversify revenue streams for financial stability

There are many different ways you can bring in income for your gym business. Memberships are usually the primary source of revenue for gyms and fitness clubs, yet there are certain times of the year when members are more likely to leave.

To reduce financial risks caused by slow times of the year, look to diversify the ways you bring in revenue. For example:

  • Offer personal training services
  • Provide casual access to group fitness classes/your gym
  • Sell retail items
  • Rent out extra rooms
  • Host paid for fitness events

And that way you’ll supplement membership fees with extra offerings. Improving financial stability and member satisfaction too!

Tip 3: Embrace automation

When you own a gym, embracing gym automation has the power to transform the way you work, helping you grow, increase profitability, and improve work/life balance.

The earlier you start with automation the bigger the benefits you’ll see. And the good news is that automation is not complicated!

Here are some ideas to help you make the most of technology to simplify how you run your gym:

  • Make it easy and convenient for members to join with a straightforward online joining experience. No need for prospects to visit or call and complete paperwork to sign up.
  • Supplement gym inductions for new members with a digital new member onboarding journey. One that’s automatically tailored to each individual member.
  • Use gym booking tools to create digital timetables. And take member bookings for classes and other activities via your website and app.
  • Support unmanned and 24/7 opening with the right access control tech and software integrations. Allowing you to cater to member demands for round the clock access, without the need to have staff present to check members in at all hours.

Tip 4: Master branding and marketing

Strong gym branding can unlock success for your business. Create a consistent and considered experience to entice and delight members and you’ll be on track to attracting more members who are loyal fans of your gym.

Your brand will influence your gym marketing. Build a comprehensive strategy and plan and pack it with campaigns running across the channels where your audience will pay attention.

As part of your marketing mix, embrace email marketing. 83% of consumers prefer email when hearing from businesses. And that makes this channel ideal for gym owners.

Gym software like Xplor Gym includes email marketing tools. Use these within your software to send targeted automated and one-off campaigns. And even use the tools to target members at risk of cancelling soon with re-engagement campaigns.

The Ultimate Guide to email marketing for gyms and fitness clubs

Tip 5: Retention matters

The importance of member retention for gyms cannot be underestimated. When you own a gym, if you can keep members coming back for longer, you’ll see consistent and reliable income. And that helps you become more profitable.

You’ll reduce the reliance on signing up high volumes of new members. And that’ll save money and time. It can be 5-25 times as expensive to attract a new member vs keeping an existing one.

Make sure you’re tracking length of stay and length of membership. Length of stay is the time between when a member joins and their last visit to your club. Length of membership is the time between when a member joins and their membership being cancelled.

Measure the difference between length of stay and length of membership. The difference is the time you have to re-engage members and get them back to visiting regularly.

Tip 6: Keep learning, innovating and adapting!

The fitness industry is fast-paced and gymgoer demands are continuously evolving. So, to remain competitive, it’s vital to keep on top of fitness industry trends, emerging technologies, and consumer preferences.

Embrace innovation and tech. Invest in professional development for you and your team. Regularly seek and act on gym member feedback. So, you’re best positioned to continuously develop, improve, and grow your gym business.

“For me (emerging tech) is about utility and productivity. That’s what I’m most excited to see. I hate laborious tasks, I hate admin, and I hate process. And the thought that something can shortcut some of those to speed up productivity to focus on really important things…

It’s really something that’s there to help you, there to support and I think we’ll see the use cases and utility really start to rapidly improve.”

Jim Hingston, Digital Product Director, The Gym Group

Tip 7: Find ways to grow

A fun aspect of running your own gym business is coming up with exciting ideas to grow and expand into new areas. This can help you meet gymgoer demands while boosting your income and strengthening your position.

Examples of opportunities for growth include:

  • Adding new programming and classes to your offering. For example, many gyms are now becoming HYROX affiliates with specialist training programmes.
  • Providing new, different, and superior equipment to appeal to new demographic groups and re-ignite fitness routines for existing members.
  • Introduce new membership packages to appeal to different needs. That might mean lower cost options, low commitment options, or upgraded packages with more perks.
  • Add digital training options to cater to gymgoer demands for tech that they can use in and out of the gym.
  • Expand to take on a bigger space so you can accommodate more members. And even open in new locations to reach more people.

Tip 8: Surround yourself with support

Owning your own business can be daunting. You need to have access to a supportive network that’s there to guide you, share learnings and experiences, and cheer you on.

If there is a fitness professional or gym owner you admire, don’t be afraid to ask them to mentor you. Maybe not the competitors up the road, but someone not in direct competition may be happy to share some advice or be willing to chat about the challenges and how they’ve overcome them.

For business support, you could invest in something like a Small Business New Zealand membership, which can include support, advice, training, tools and videos, discounts and free listings.

Plus, choose an all-in-one gym management software partner like Xplor Gym for proactive support. Your life becomes easier with managed billing, integrated access control, and more.

A locally-based support team is on hand to help you (and even your members). This team acts as an extension of your team and are passionate about helping you succeed.

The wrap up….

Like any business venture, there are pros and cons and risks and rewards involved when running a gym. The benefits can include:

  • Pursuing your fitness passion
  • Earning a good living
  • Building a fitness community
  • A career with variety
  • Being the boss

BUT you need to watch out for challenges such as:

  • Imbalances in your work and regular life
  • Initial and ongoing investment required
  • Stiff competition
  • Staffing challenges
  • Seasonal peaks and troughs

There are lots of ways to have the best shot at success and to improve your profitability including:

  • Pre-sales
  • Diversification
  • Automation
  • Branding and marketing
  • Retention
  • Innovation
  • Growth

Now it’s time for you to watch Dodgeball and then get started on the path to becoming a superstar gym owner. Ride those highs and navigate the lows and you can make owning a gym business fun, rewarding, and profitable!

The right gym management software partner will help set you up for success as a gym owner. A partner like Xplor Gym. Get in touch to chat with our team and see what we can do for you.

Article by Xplor Gym

First published: 23 April 2024

Last updated: 23 April 2024