Starting a Gym: The Way to Avoid Going Under in Year 1

The prow of a sinking ship pokes out above a blue ocean.

Many small fitness businesses die quickly—but maybe that’s going to change.

Small-business failure rates are well documented. Fitness business failure rates are less well documented, but industry groups such as the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) have stated that 81 percent of studios go under in Year 1.

With the pandemic behind us in many parts of the world, I have to think those rates will improve in the next years.

Here’s why.

A head shot of writer Mike Warkentin and the column name "Pressing It Out."

Back when I opened a gym in 2010, I had very limited business experience. I created a business plan of sorts before opening, but I realize now that it had many, many holes. My plan, in one line:

Achieve profitability by coaching every single class and grow by being a great trainer in a large city with only one similar facility.

That bad plan actually worked, but only for a short while. As you can imagine, I was soon overworked and competing facilities appeared. Suddenly, we needed to build a team and figure out how to run a real business. That took a long time.

Despite a host of errors, we were surviving. Thriving would take help, and we eventually started working with Two-Brain Business. Things improved quickly because I got advice from people who had already solved my problems and had data-backed tactics to share. As you can imagine, I wish that stuff was around in 2010—but it wasn’t.

In 2022, the info prospective gym owners need can be found very easily—I was reminded of that as I read through “Start a Gym” several times earlier this year. It’s Chris Cooper’s sixth book, and you can get it on Amazon.

After every chapter, I said one of two things:

1. “I sure messed that up in 2010.”
2. “I wish I had known that 12 years ago.”

The Resources You Need to Start a Gym

“Start a Gym” is 107 pages long, and you can read it in a few hours. It’s not meant to cover every aspect of gym ownership—just the 10 things that are most important at start-up. For example, it tells you how to choose a location, what equipment to buy, how to set prices and how to find clients. (“Gym Owners Handbook” covers the finer points of gym ownership after startup.)

Had “Start a Gym” been available in 2010, I would be wealthy right now, as would many, many of my peers in the industry. More gyms would have survived the last 12 years, more owners would have gotten home to dinner with their kids, and more trainers would have great careers in stable, profitable businesses.

You don’t even have to evaluate Cooper’s exact advice to agree with me. All you have to do is recall that in 2010 you couldn’t find much advice at all. Many people opened gyms on a wing and a prayer alone. Twelve years later, any information is better than nothing.

That fact aside, the advice in “Start a Gym” isn’t opinion. It comes from data collected from a huge number of gyms around the world.

For example, we now know the No. 1 issue with leases. It isn’t about money. It’s about noise levels.

We also know it’s a huge mistake to set your prices by checking out what competitors are charging. (I made this six-figure error.) Gym owners can use Two-Brain’s tested, data-backed model for setting prices now.

All this means fitness entrepreneurs have a chance to improve small-business failure rates. Some gyms will still fail—through poor management, bad luck or some combination of both. But others that might have failed will survive because they dodged the kill shots that took down so many entrepreneurs before them.

If you’re going to become a fitness entrepreneur, you’d be unwise to ignore the wealth of info produced by business owners who came before you.

Business-Saving Resources

If you do nothing else, get the huge collection of resources on Two-Brain’s Free Tools page.

To go further, buy “Start a Gym”—it’s $10 on Kindle. (Secret: You can get all the resources referenced in the book here.)

Another step: Buy the self-guided “Start a Gym” course.

And if you want to give your business the best chance to succeed, work with a Two-Brain mentor right from Day 1.

Whatever you do, do something. In 2022, you’ll only be among the studio owners who fail if you don’t take action and learn.


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.