Where To Build Your Gym

My second gym was a CrossFit gym. I built it in an industrial park, because #hardcore. It looked nothing light my bright, open personal training gym, which had tiled showers and sparkling windows. In fact, I remember by CrossFit landlord staring at my chalkboard wall and asking:

“Don’t you want it to look NICE?!”

I said, “Hell no!” and laughed. Of course, the joke was on me: over the next few years, I had a hard time getting people to drive across town to do puke-inducing workouts in a dusty garage. (You know, now that I say it out loud…)

Meanwhile, downtown in my airy second-floor personal training space, my clients were begging for CrossFit! And I, stubbornly stupidly, told them to “drive up to the Industrial Park if you want CrossFit.”

Most new affiliate owners are smarter than that. We work with dozens of future gym owners to help them avoid the crazy expensive mistakes we all made; open profitable; and kickstart their dream career. If you’re about to open, here’s a podcast I think you’ll LOVE (and I know will make you money).

Entrepreneurs go through four phases in their journey: Founder Phase, Farmer Phase, Tinker Phase, and Thief. If you’re not sure which phase you’re in, take the test here.

Then, whether you’re considering your first lease; an expansion; purchasing a building; adding a second location; or moving house, follow these guidelines:

Founder Phase priorities:

  1. Convenience is more important than exposure. Choose a location that close to your ideal clients’ homes or workplaces. If it’s closer to their work, you’ll need showers. If it’s closer to their home, you might not.
    Don’t be swayed by proximity to a highway. “But 30,000 cars drive by every day!!!” Exposure might get you the first half-dozen clients, but won’t be measurably more valuable in the long run.
    If you have two buildings in mind, and they’re priced the same with the same space and lease terms, and one is on a major highway? Sure. Go for it. But don’t choose your location based on drive-by exposure at the expense of convenience. Ask yourself: What’s actually better for my clients AFTER they join?
    People quit gyms to join closer gyms. But no one quits a gym because of signage.
  2. High-value clients are more important than volume. When you’re starting out, aim to make a good income on 30 clients or fewer. That probably means you’re not going to run big groups, but do more 1:1 and very small group training. Here’s a podcast episode to help you get your mind around it, and here’s a blog post that will help too.
    When you’re starting, you’re going to be doing a lot of coaching yourself. You’re mostly going to be coaching 1-3 people at a time. You can do that coaching for over $100+ per hour, or for under $12 per hour by trying to sell group memberships on day one.
  3. Short-term leases are more important than buildouts. You ARE going to grow–unless you “go for broke” and try to get too big, too soon. This is probably the #1 affiliate killer: great intentions, great bets, but too big, too soon.
    It’s better to borrow the money for one shower in your first location than to sign a 5-year deal and get the shower for free. Because you’re GOING to be successful. Bet on yourself, and don’t tie yourself down yet.
  4. Build a plan that makes you profitable right away. I paid myself four days after opening, because I had to. Even if you’re single, independently wealthy, and “don’t need the money”, you need to plan for profit or you’ll never get there. You can book a free call with our team here.

Farmer Phase Priorities:

Your business becomes a destination business. NOW people will go out of their way (a little) to get to you, because they trust you. Trust has wheels. So you can look a bit broader, and add up to ten minutes’ travel time for your seed clients. Don’t worry about the fringe clients who will leave soon anyway.
You need split space to diversify revenue streams. In Farmer Phase, you’ll need to make a career for others. That means adding personal training and/or group training and/or nutrition. You’ll need an interior wall somewhere. You need to be able to run two things at once.
You need an office. You can’t build a business between interruptions, or while you’re thinking about empty bars being dropped. You need a door that closes. You need to give prospective new members some privacy, and have intimate conversations with your current clients.
You don’t need 10,000 square feet to do this. You need well-trained coaches, flexible programming and equipment that moves. You don’t need ten GHDs and 30 rowers or the space required to store them. If you have dust anywhere, you’re throwing away money on space you don’t need. You also don’t need to pay rent for “social space” for your clients. They’ll be friends whether you have couches or not.

Tinker Phase Priorities:

You need to own a building. If you’re the sole tenant in your building, you can start there…but a building with another anchor tenant is better. The first building I purchased housed only my gym. Given a gym owner’s penchant for paying themselves last, it might not be wise to be your own landlord. Having other tenants means the mortgage gets covered even when the gym has a bad month. But even if you’re the sole tenant, it’s still better to pay a mortgage than to pay rent.
Your staff needs a private “offstage” space. If you’re not going to be in the gym, you need to contain the mess. You also need to give staff a place to take off their stage face and relax, because they’re going to be around all day.
You probably need to find a second space. When you do, remember that your second location starts over at the Founder Phase, and follow those directions.

Every gym is different. But every landlord is the same: they want to rent all of their space on a 20-year contract that increases in value every year. You’re not in business to make them rich; you’re in business to succeed. Take small bites, start on the right foot, and grow to be the best, instead of trying to dig yourself out of a huge, echoing grave.

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