How to Open a Profitable, Scalable Gym

A rubber-coated hex dumbbell sits on a black rubber mat in a microgym.

The top reason most owners tell us they open gyms?

“I wanted to make this my career, and I couldn’t make enough coaching for someone else.”

The top reason most owners close their gyms?

“I loved the people and the community and the coaching—but I couldn’t figure out ‘the business side.'”

(Maybe they blame marketing or competition or other people, but it’s always “the business stuff.” You get it.)
In the previous article in this series, I gave you a few ways to make a great living as a fitness coach without opening a gym. In this post, I’m going to tell you how to bootstrap an open, get your first clients, get your next clients and scale up.
This isn’t just my opinion; it’s the proven method we’ve used with dozens of gym owners before they started.

Step 1: Build an Audience

It seems funny to say that you should get people’s attention before you decide what your service will be, but that’s really the best advice I can give you.
When I started Catalyst, I had an audience: my clients at the studio where I worked and local readers of online news sources. I also knew a ton of local teen athletes I’d met through my current clients. I simply went to track meets or hockey games, helped my trainees warm up and met their friends. So when I opened the first Catalyst (an appointment-only PT studio), I started with over 40 clients.
John Franklin ran bootcamps in local parks to build his audience before opening his gyms. He just posted on local event boards online. People showed up, signed a waiver and paid. When he reached enough people to sustain a space, he opened a small one.
And we did it before Facebook!
On Two-Brain Radio, you can hear Jonathan Goodman tell you how to build an audience before you launch an online coaching business (link to show coming Dec. 19).

Step 2: Build Your Service

Ask, “What are the common goals that my best clients share?”
This step is really avoiding the temptation to buy the space and equipment you want—for now. Focus on what your clients actually need to get to their goals instead of building CrossFit Wonderland.
What you’ll probably realize is that you can get people pretty fit on a budget of $2,000 or less.
Slowly accumulate equipment and build what you can. Many, many gyms built their pull-up racks themselves back in 2008, and I still have homemade plyo boxes in use after 10 years. If you catch yourself reading about bar spin or the different types of roll-out flooring at startup, you’re probably missing the mark.

Step 3: Build Your Space

Find a small space. You need:

  • A friendly neighbor who understands what you plan to do.
  • Somewhere people can pee and change in peace.
  • A small office with a door that closes.
  • Enough room to train four to six people at one time.
  • A short lease (because you’ll grow out of it).

The temptation you’ll have to resist at this stage is “going big” to accommodate the huge crowds of people who are sure to bust down your doors on opening day. But if you can start with a small space, you’ll avoid all kinds of massive problems later.
Gym owners who open with a huge space feel panicked, and they try to fill the space at any cost. So they run class times instead of appointments, then they offer discounts to get people in the door, then they take anyone who will sign a waiver. You won’t have to dig yourself out of those holes if you start with what you need and plan to grow.

Step 4: Build Your Client List

Set up your booking calendar and payment method.
Tell your clients they can get into your “Founder’s Club” if they sign up before opening day.
Launch a grand opening. Tell your clients to bring their friends. Commence Affinity Marketing. (Get our free 76-page guide here.)
Turn each client into two, then four. Partner them up. Don’t try to get 10 new people; try to get Mary and Alice, and then try to get John and Frank.

Step 5: Build Your Team

Begin replacing yourself in lower-value roles. Hire a cleaner.

Step 6: Build Your Business

Forgive yourself. For the next few months, your fitness will suffer. Your sleep will suffer. You’ll drink too much coffee and eat too little fruit.
But that’s a small price to pay for freedom later. And with our help, you can get out of Founder Phase really fast.

Need More Info? Read These Articles!

How to Start a Gym
Starting a Gym: Location, Space and Equipment
Scaling up From Scratch
Marketing Your New Gym
Adding Staff (the Value Ladder)
Do You Need a Partner?
And if you want more than information—if you want real helpbook a call with our team here.

Other Articles in This Series

How to Coach Forever
How to Make a Living as a Personal Trainer
How to Start and Online Training Business, With Jonathan Goodman
Turning Pro


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.