From Good Gym to Great: The Hedgehog

A closeup image of a hedgehog on orange leaves in fall.

Every gym owner wants to own a great gym.

Great gyms:

  • Get their clients the results they want.
  • Create a “third place” their clients love to visit.
  • Create careers for their staff.
  • Pay their owners more than they’d make working for someone else.

After working with over 2,000 gym owners worldwide, we’ve learned that a gym can be great with 30 members or 3,000, with five staff members or 15, in a dingy warehouse or in a pristine storefront location.

Every gym is a little different. But every great gym has at least three things in common.

In this series, I’m going to break down three commonalities shared by great gyms. You can have a good gym without understanding these three concepts, but you can’t have a great one.

(These concepts are all broken down in greater detail by Jim Collins in his masterwork, “Good to Great.”)

First: Great Gyms Know Their Niche

Collins refers to this as “the hedgehog concept.”

Gyms that focus on a very specific niche are more likely to become great.

  • They can charge more per client (average revenue per member, or ARM).
  • They get clients results faster than anyone else (they can be the best in their town at serving people in their niche).
  • They keep clients longer (length of engagement, or LEG).
  • They have less competition
  • They care deeply about their specialty.

Here’s how to figure out your niche:

Grab a blank sheet of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle.

On the left side of the line, write the names of the clients who pay you the most money every month. Shoot for your Top 10.

On the right side of the line, write the names of the clients who make you most excited to train. Again, shoot for your Top 10—but even your Top 5 will do.

Now circle the names that appear on both sides of the line.

Flip the paper over.

Write the names you circled at the top.

What do these people have in common?

Do they bring their spouses to the gym? Are they young? Old? Do they have kids? What do they earn per year? Are they all professionals? Do they work shifts?

Write down every commonality you can find. Treat it like a game: Make the longest list of things they have in common in five minutes.

You’ve just defined your niche. Focus on that.

Own Your Niche: An Example

Here’s niche domination in my town: A local phys.-ed. teacher makes an extra $40,000 per summer training hockey players out of his garage.

This works because:

  • He’s passionate about training hockey players.
  • He’s the best trainer for hockey players in town.
  • The best local hockey players come to his garage.
  • The other hockey players follow the best.
  • The hockey players love hanging out with each other.
  • He can charge more for his training because of all of the above.

He’s also great because of some things he doesn’t do:

  • He doesn’t sell “open access” memberships to his garage.
  • He doesn’t train the parents for fat loss.
  • He doesn’t prioritize number of clients over high-ARM clients.
  • He doesn’t even train baseball players.

His business is great because he knows his niche—the small subset of clients he can train better than anyone else. He’s a classic hedgehog.

In the next posts in this series, I’ll share two other strategies that will take your gym from good to great.


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.