How to start a fitness business

Editorial Team

9 min read

The wellness market, including everything from resorts and spas to fitness, is worth more than $1.5 trillion dollars worldwide, according to corporate consultants McKinsey.

As wellness becomes increasingly popular, people are actively seeking new ways to work out from boutique gyms and fitness-on-demand models. With it being one of the most profitable small businesses to start in 2023, now is an ideal time to consider starting a fitness studio.

Choose your niche

The first step in opening a fitness business is to pick your niche. The fitness world is expansive, with many options to choose from. Would you like to open a neighborhood gym or a yoga studio? Do you love kickboxing or Muay Thai or Pilates?

There’s room to do all of these things well. The more specific you can get, the easier the process can be. It’s also easier to plan and fundraise when you have a specific vision to rally supporters around.

To kickstart your concept ideation, here are a few types of fitness business to consider:

  • Gyms: Gyms typically provide a range of cardiovascular and strength training equipment. These may also offer group fitness classes, personal trainer services, and complementary services such as massage or tanning.
  • Franchises: Fitness franchises such as SoulCycle, Orangetheory, or CrossFit operate on an established model and cater to a devoted audience that wants a standardized experience.
  • Online fitness business: Launched to popularity during the pandemic, online fitness businesses offer the convenience of at-home workouts and come with lower overhead, since there’s no need to invest in a large facility.

Perform market research

After you pick your niche, spend time on market research. This phase of opening a gym focuses on your audience and your competition to identify a sweet spot in the market that is just right for your idea.

Let’s break this down a bit further. Elements to research include:

  • Target audience: This is who your gym is for. For example, is this a gym for women versus a family-oriented gym?
  • Competitor analysis: This refers to the other options available in the marketplace. If your ideal customer Googled gyms in your community, what else would show up? What are those businesses like?
  • Location: This is the place where you want to open your business. If you are opening an online gym, then the audience is virtual.

All of these market research elements will go into your business plan. As a reminder, a business plan is a document that outlines your business, your audience, and key financial information.

Here’s a concrete example: You’re creating a virtual women’s-only gym that offers a mix of Pilates, yoga, and barre classes. Your overhead costs are low since there is no physical facility, so you’ll need funding for web hosting, teachers, and advertising.

Make your business official

Once you have a business plan and firm idea, you’ll want to make your business official. This way, you can approach financiers as an established business with a brand identity and clear vision.

Start by giving your business a name and legal structure. In some areas, you’ll need to obtain a business license before you can officially open. You’ll also need to register your business with the state. That means filling out some paperwork, paying a fee, and making sure you’ve met any other state-specific requirements.

Don’t forget to purchase a domain name for your business. And be sure to get on social media, and grab business handles that reflect your domain name.

Determine finances

One of the biggest factors in opening a gym is money. Many business owners put some of their own money or equity into the business and obtain financing to cover the rest of the expenses. You won’t know how much money you need to borrow until you understand the total cost of opening a gym. Start with these known expenses and add in others that are relevant to the type of fitness business you’re planning to open:

  • Location: Where will you open your gym? Are you looking to buy or rent? How much space do you need for your concept?
  • Pricing structures: Will you sell a monthly membership or operate on the class model? How many members or class participants do you need to be profitable?
  • Marketing budget: What is your marketing plan and budget? How much money will you need to advertise your new fitness business, so you can become profitable?

How much does it cost to open a gym?

Given how many types of fitness businesses there are, it’s difficult to estimate finances. That’s why it helps to walk through the financial considerations outlined above. Those are designed to help you clarify your needs, so you can estimate accordingly.

Still, some business owners want a financial range to understand where their business fits in the scheme of things. For a physical gym, startup costs can run from as low as $50,000 to as high as $1 million, depending on factors such as size, location, range of services, and target audience.

A real-world example: ABC Fitness Connection

John and Tammy Wright started their business, ABC Fitness Connection, as a part-time side hustle. They bought weights and other portable equipment and set up a mobile business, providing personal training to clients in their homes or at their offices. This model kept initial expenses low—they didn’t have to rent a space or hire staff to start getting their business off the ground.

After John lost his full-time job, the couple decided to go all-in on the business and become full-time entrepreneurs. Through a client, they found space to rent in a medical office, which allowed them to set up a physical location. 

Today, they’re also able to run free workshops for women, called the Power Women Initiative, thanks to connections in the community that enable them to get meeting spaces donated and recruit speakers who volunteer their time.

What do you need to equip a fitness business?

Alongside opening a gym startup costs, fitness equipment is something you’ll need right off the bat. Use this list as a starting guide. Tailor it as needed to your specific type of fitness business.

Things to buy include:

  • Free weights
  • Weight machines
  • Floor mats
  • Yoga mats and props
  • Cardiovascular machines such as treadmills, ellipticals, and spin cycles
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Paper towel dispensers and paper towels
  • Towels
  • Water dispenser
  • Front desk equipment
  • Beverages and snacks, like protein bars

Buying and maintaining equipment can be costly. Clover Rapid Deposit can help keep cash flowing to cover big purchases. And, Clover Capital could be just the ticket to help with larger purchases.

Setting up operations

Operations include all the little things that help your business run, from business systems to payment processing to hiring and training employees.

As a first step, consider which roles you need. Are you teaching all the classes and running operations? You’ll probably need to hire a cleaning service.

If you have a small studio, you can probably get by without an admin. Otherwise, you’ll probably want front-desk staff and a gym manager.

Once you brainstorm the right roles, briefly outline desired skills or qualifications. This way, you can post a job description and hire the person with the right skills.

Even if you’ve hired a dedicated specialist, such as a personal trainer or kickboxing coach, you’ll still want to train employees in your business systems. One, you’ll know things are done your way. Two, your customers will benefit from a consistent experience in every class.

Next, set up guest memberships and invoicing or recurring payment solutions. This way, you can accept members from day one, bill them, and bring in the revenue you need to run your business. You may also want to set up an appointment scheduler for classes, personal training sessions, and workshops.

Open your fitness business

Leave yourself plenty of time to hire and onboard employees. When all operational systems are in place, you can officially open your fitness business. Use your marketing plan and the following advice to drive members to your new fitness business..

Marketing and branding

Marketing and branding differentiate your fitness studio from others in the same city.

Branding basics to cover before you open include name, logo, and color scheme. When you decide on branding assets early in the process, you can incorporate branding into your gym’s design. This creates a consistent visual experience and a community for your clients.

Marketing refers to all the ways you let people know about your classes and services, including:

While there are many marketing techniques you could try, it may be a better investment of time and money initially to consider your target audience and the channels that would best serve your message to that demographic.

Are you going to put out social media content every day, or take the long tail approach and rely on SEO optimized content for your website or blog? Are you going to throw a big open house and invite the neighborhood, or put up flyers in local businesses?

Commit to a few techniques, try them, and evaluate. You can always adopt another technique down the road.

READ: How to write a marketing plan

Customer retention

Members are so important for gyms because they bring in regular income. Once you have gym regulars attending classes, you’ll naturally want to keep them. Be sure to check out this list of customer retention strategies and five apps to help you connect with members to help you retain your regulars and build a strong member base.

READ: Help improve customer retention with these 6 tips

Pump up your payments and business management solutions

Use this guide to get organized and stay motivated as you build the fitness empire you’ve dreamed of. Whether your ambitions are a local yoga shop or multi-unit gym franchise, Clover can help you learn more about starting a small business.

Contact a Clover Business Consultant today to see how our POS systems for gyms and fitness centers can help you get your business in tip-top shape.

This information is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal, financial, or tax advice. Readers should contact their attorneys, financial advisors, or tax professionals to obtain advice with respect to any particular matter.

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