How to open your own gym

Many fitness professionals and personal trainers envisage one day opening their own gym, or maybe even a chain. All the big chains started somewhere and probably at some point a practitioner weighed up the various pros and cons of launching a business themselves.

What qualifications do I need when opening a gym?

The first step to becoming a fitness trainer is the Level 2 Certificate in Fitness Instructing, to be followed by the Level 3 Certificate in Personal Training. These can be completed in the gym, perhaps as part of an NVQ to allow you to learn on the job, or from home.

As well as learning about anatomy, nutrition, safe exercising and the other nuts and bolts of maintaining a body, you may also wish to take additional courses that can teach you more about the business side of running a gym. If you’re planning to open up additional classes, such as boot camps, boxercise, and indoor cycling, then consider taking courses in these areas to boost your REPs points and bring in more customers down the line.

Costs

The cost of a running machine could be as much as £12,000, perhaps higher; and a standard gym might have 15 or 20 of them. Now throw in rowing machines, exercise bikes, dumbbells, lifting machines, and you could be looking at hundreds of thousands of pounds of machinery, at least. You’ll need to be wise with your money and possibly shop second hand/refurbished, but still obtain machines that are safe. Some sites sell refurbished machines at far lower prices, so these may be worth investigating.

There’s also the décor of the gym itself; you need at least two sets of changing rooms, but might also want sauna/steam rooms, and perhaps a swimming pool. Gyms are typically laid out in a logical fashion, with related machines placed alongside each other in large, open-plan rooms. Any building where you’ll need to carry out extensive development, such as knocking down walls, probably isn’t worth it.

Should I rent or buy when starting up a gym?

Choosing the actual building itself is not easy, and there are pros and cons for both leasing and owning a building. Either way, you need to carry out an extensive amount of research into the area. Most personal trainers start working as part of a gym chain and then move out to start their own business if and when they believe the time is right, so this is a good time to complete some on-the-job research. Visit other gyms, seek advice on what other owners looked for, and don’t jump in on the wrong building on a lease that may punish you if you break the contract early.

If you feel you need to buy a property, save and build up a deposit as well as your credit rating, until you’re confident you’ll be able to get a commercial mortgage, and make sure your accounts are up to date. You’ll probably need a deposit of at least 25%.

An online search will reveal that there are a large number of gym-suitable premises available up and down the country for rent or sale, which need little or no work, on a leasehold or freehold basis. Many are sold as going concerns, meaning that you would take over ownership but not need to necessarily change the layout. Some may come with planning permission to extend the premises. Also, be aware that some sales are for the franchise only and not ownership of the premises themselves.

When taking over a gym, make sure you find out all the crucial details, such as the number of members, the current fee structure, typical utility bills, offers that have worked before, and so on.

Some of the considerations when looking at premises should include:

  • Parking
  • Café/seating area
  • Foyer area
  • Office space for HR, private consultations, admin work
  • Locker room
  • Complementary businesses – once you’re established you may sublet to nutritionists, physiotherapists, specific trainers (eg sports), yoga teachers, and others
  • Could you ever add space to the gym if it becomes popular? Would you ever want to add a swimming pool or area for specific sports?
  • Will you appeal to a specific niche of customer, or will it be a more general membership?
  • How will you market yourself?

The position of the building should also be considered. Would you like a city centre location or out-of-town? Is the access acceptable for the elderly or disabled? Think carefully about these issues when making your decision.

Rules and Regulations when starting up a gym

The overarching legislation that oversees the leisure industry, and indeed many others, is the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. It places a duty on all employers “to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work” of all their employees. The act is overseen by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). You also need to be aware of the Adventure Activities Licensing Regulations 2004, and The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.

Boiled down to a few lines, all employees must have adequate training, and an appropriate number of first aiders on-site related to the number of clients. Fitness instructors should join The Register of Exercise Professionals (which offers assistance with insurance – see below) as it proves that they have the requisite National Occupational Standards. Equipment must be regularly inspected and well-maintained. Also, don’t forget that if you’re preparing and serving food on-site you’ll also need to comply with Food Hygiene Regulations.

Types of insurance

When your clients complete their fitness questionnaire when they register, a waiver should be attached that obliges clients to recognise the risks of using a gym, and that the personal trainer/gym assistant/company will not be held responsible in the event of injury.

For the company, a number of different business insurance policies will apply, such as:

  • Public Liability Insurance: This covers legal costs and compensation payments claimed by a third party, such as a member of the public for an injury they suffer – in a gym environment.
  • Employer’s Liability: Cover for any staff who injure themselves in a way caused by work or the workplace, such as tripping over a weight or rope.
  • Buildings/contents insurance: You will not need buildings insurance if you do not own the premises, but contents insurance is essential for your equipment. This could protect damage to, or theft of, weights and machines, laptops, and other equipment.
  • Cyber insurance: To protect against cyber-hackers accessing clients’ files, bank details etc. Many gyms have electronic passes and cards that record data on clients’ attendance as well.

How do I Find Employees?

A small gym might need 2-3 employees, with various levels of qualifications, although this somewhat depends on the budget. Successful gyms tend to have instructors with a range of skills and approaches, so it is sometimes beneficial to have a blend of genders, ages, experiences and specialisms. All employees should have their Level 2 qualification or at least be training for it.

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