Bigger Isn’t Better (and It Might Be Way Worse)

Bigger Isn't Better - illuminated small door next to large darkened door

By Kenny Markwardt, Certified Two-Brain Fitness Business Mentor

As a gym owner, you might daydream about an enormous, shiny facility—a place with room for multiple classes of 20 or more at a time, turf, lockers and a ball pit.

I’m here to tell you that might be more of a nightmare than a dream. The dream is actually quite the opposite.  

Running a giant place like that is a herculean task. It comes with a monumental amount of overhead and risk. And the reality is that you’re going to have a big, empty space much of the time. Worse, the payoff is probably not going to be as big as you think it will be. Huge spaces are very expensive to rent or buy, fill and maintain.

On the flip side, by maximizing a smaller facility, you’ll have less overhead and more risk tolerance. And you’ll always have an exciting, energy-filled place people are attracted to.  

Most importantly, you can fit more members than you think in a smaller space. And you can generate more revenue than you think, too.

For example, our gym is housed in less than 4,000 square feet. That space supports roughly 250 members, three full-time coaches, group classes, kids programs, personal training and nutrition.

Though it’s tempting to want to go bigger, here are the reasons why I so strongly believe in staying in a smaller facility:

Versatility—In a smaller space, you can easily manage the inevitable ebb and flow of business ownership as you go from startup to thriving enterprise. You’ll grow in the good times and easily manage the bad times along the way. Our space is large enough to allow us to generate a great income and support a staff of professional coaches, yet it’s small enough that we would survive a mass exodus or another pandemic. When COVID hit, I realized I could still be remarkably profitable by retaining a third of our clients and making a few adjustments. Luckily, we didn’t have to, but it was a huge relief to run the numbers and know we were going to be OK.

Energy—Have you ever been to an empty restaurant or nightclub? It’s terrible. You feel as if something is wrong and wonder where everyone else is. With a big space, there will be many times when only a few people are training. Just like an empty restaurant, your gym will feel hollow. Worse, you’re paying rent for space you aren’t using much. People are attracted to the energy of other people. Full classes create a fun, buzzing environment that people want to be in. And a gym that’s always full will generate great revenue per square foot.

Profit/Overhead—This one might seem obvious but I’m not so sure it is. Most people recognize that their rent or mortgage payments will be larger in a bigger space, but other costs aren’t always so obvious. A bigger space will be more expensive to heat and cool, clean, build out, and fill with gear. All that stuff adds up fast. 

Reality—Let’s be honest: Most of us want the big, shiny facility to stoke our own egos. We want to own one of those juggernaut places everyone knows about. We seem to think that if we build such a place, people from far and wide will come check out how awesome we are. Fortunately for microgym owners, that’s just not the case. People come to you for coaching, community and accountability. If they’re coming to you for a shiny, expansive space, you’re going to lose to the globo gym down the street—a place that’s easy to keep clean because two-thirds of the members never actually work out.


Small Spaces and Huge Profits


I know you can make a six-figure income in a 4,000-square-foot facility—or a smaller space—so it seems shortsighted to go any bigger. And it’s definitely a bad idea to get a big space without a precise plan to maximize every square inch and generate a profit that will justify that space (a mentor can help you determine exactly how much space you need).

So if you’re looking for your first or next place, don’t think big. Think about maximizing a small space and being versatile.

Read more: “What Do Gyms Really Need? Space and Equipment”

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