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Opening a Fitness Center; 7 Steps to Making Your Passion for Fitness an Entrepreneurial Reality

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Opening a Fitness Center; 7 Steps to Making Your Passion for Fitness an Entrepreneurial Reality

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: March 23, 2010 Updated: February 15, 2011

The fitness industry continues to be a lucrative market opportunity for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Despite a crippling recession, the *IHRSA (the fitness industry's global association) forecasts that U.S. health club memberships will reach 50 million by 2010 - a staggering 25% growth rate over today's numbers. Many factors play a part in fueling the success of this largely recession-proof industry - not the least of which is the growing trend among the 80 million plus baby boomers who are willing to part with their money to stay fit and healthy. In addition, existing gym members remain reluctant to give up their health club memberships choosing to save money instead on big ticket items such as vacations - reaffirming the fact that "buying" fitness is no longer perceived as a luxury item but a fundamental part
of our everyday lives. If you are interested in starting a fitness business and serving this growing market - Here are some pointers that can help you take the first steps towards owning your own fitness center.

1. Do your Market Research

Before you talk to your bank manager you will need the foundations of a business plan, and much of this will come from the information you derive and conclude from your market research. Factors to consider include:

  • Deciding on a Target Market - There are many options to consider when determining your target market. For example, you may decide to target a broad audience by offering a variety of disciplines from weight training, to cardiac work-outs and group classes. Or you may want to focus on a particular niche such as women-only gyms or discipline-specific fitness centers such as a pilates or yoga-based facility. To help you determine how you can capitalize on an underserved or potential market, step back and look at what the competition is doing and take the time to analyze local demographics. The government offers free access to a variety of consumer demographic data through the Business.gov Business Data and Statistics portal.

  • Location, Location, Location - Finding the right facility at the right price is critical to your success. If your customers can't find you, park easily, or assemble en masse at your chosen facility, then you simply will not be able to cater to your chosen market. Given that rent is likely to be your biggest business expense plan on spending most of your planning hours getting it right - first time. 


Read "Tips for Choosing a Business Location" and make sure you are aware of the ins and outs of commercial leases, including how to negotiate the best deal for your business.

2. Staffing your Fitness Center

After rent, staff costs are the second largest expense involved in operating a fitness center. Many larger established fitness center chains hire their own fitness instructors and trainers, but for a start-up you can achieve greater flexibility and lower costs if you hire instructors on an independent contractor basis. This can reduce the regulatory and financial burdens that come with having employees on the books - including payroll taxes, employee benefits and insurance

Do note that there are very specific taxation and regulatory requirements involved with hiring independent contractors. Read more about these in this Hiring independent Contactors Guide from Business.gov. Also read - "*Working with Independent Contractors: Understanding Tax Requirements".

3. To Hire or Buy Fitness Equipment?

Fitness equipment is not only expensive it is a continually evolving technology. So how do you balance expenses while offering the latest and greatest equipment to your clients? Much of it will depend on your current and future budget. To understand more about the lease versus buy debate for commercial fitness equipment read "*Fitness Equipment Leasing: Sorting out the Details".

4. Write a Business Plan

Once you have a picture of how you intend to formulate your start-up business strategy - write it down. Writing a business plan will not only keep your business on the right path it will stand you in good stead should you need start-up financing. *Bplans.com offers some useful industry-specific business plan templates for starting a fitness center - you can view and download these *here.

5. Understand your Financing Options

If you don't qualify for traditional bank loans, you might want to look to a government-backed loan. The Small Business Administration (SBA) provides a guaranty to banks and lenders for money lent to small businesses, rather than lending the businesses money directly. There are many different types of loans, including the SBA Express Loan that offers small businesses the chance to get an SBA-backed loan of up to $350,000 to start-up or expand. The "express"
piece refers to the fact that your loan can be turned around in 36 hours.

Read more about SBA loans here and  even search for a business loan that fits your need using this Small Business Loans and Grants Tool.


6. Take Care of the Critical Start-Up Steps

Don't forget the legal and regulatory side of starting a business.

Read "10 Steps to Starting a Business" to ensure you have checked off everything from business incorporation to registering your business name.


7. Business Insurance

Before you open your doors for business, look into purchasing some form of business insurance to protect yourself against workplace injuries and accidents. Read "Small Business Insurance - Part 1: What Type of Insurance Do I Need?" and "Part 2: Finding and Buying the Right Policy" for tips on making the right decision.

Additional Resources

The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) offers a wealth of information for fitness center owners including resources on *Health and Fitness Management, *Sales and Marketing, *Human Resources, and more.


*Note: Hyperlink directs reader to non-government site.


Message Edited by CaronBeesley on 12-03-2009 07:59 AM

About the Author:

Caron Beesley


Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley


Thanks for the Great tips. I have used it and I have results - happy clients. he is popular artist and his story about his sports and fitness lif is in this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtPO7s3hjY8
Really insightful Caron. Starting a fitness center of my own may be a long way off, but it's definitely good to be aware of all the various things to get planned correctly from the start.
Caron, you make some great points and suggestions. The reality is if you want to be successful when setting up a studio you need to be thinking about so much more than just the classes you'll run and the fun it will be! There's all the matter of everything you've said as well as how you're going to get people to know about you and make sure the dream turns into a big success!
The forecasted annualised real growth rate for the Physiotherapy Services industry is 4.4% for five years to 2014/15 compared an annualised real growth rate of just 3.7% for GDP over the same period so yes, opening a fitness Centger makes your Passion for Fitness an Entrepreneurial Reality.
There is one thing that I would say about location. There is a fitness location that I drive by on my way home from work. The previous owners were not doings as well as the current owners. Sometimes the location is right, but something else is going on that blocks business success. In this instance, once the new owners came in and took over the fitness center, it is now booming. Same location, they just made some changes to the fitness center. Fitness Signs Custom Design
Thanks for the great info. I'd love to open a fitness club, just don't know where to start from. It is a difficult decision but eventually I will have to make it.
Great Post! Starting a gym has many twists and turns. I can help out in the equipment area. ---This post was edited to remove a commercial link. Read our discussion policies for more Community best practices.
Great Post! Starting a gym has many twists and turns. I can help out in the equipment area. ---This post was edited to remove a commercial link. Read our discussion policies for more Community best practices.
This is a great post and you are right, even in this recession the fitness industry is still booming.  It is one of the most lucrative industries still.  People would rather cut back on anything other than health and wellness.  I truly believe it's important too because you only live once so you must respect and take care of your body.  Obesity is a huge downfall in our society today.  Kids are becoming obese at younger ages every year.  So starting any kind of fitness or exercise business would be a top pick in this recession and you have done a fine job of laying out some guidelines for people to follow.
Thanks for the Great tips. Starting a Fitness center is one of my goals in life, but right now I am starting off with a fitness website .At least I can help people without the big start up costs of actually owning a gym. But great steps that you listed.Message Edited by NicoleD on 01-05-2010 03:54 PM


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