How to start a gym

If you’re a fitness professional or personal trainer and you fancy running your own gym, it’s important to understand exactly what’s involved, how much it’s going to cost you and how you’ll finance it. Read this guide to find out everything you need to know.

What are the steps to opening a gym?

Opening a gym requires a lot of work, but the steps below can help get you started:

1. Check you have the right qualifications and skills

2. Research licensing

3. Find the right premises

4. Consider insurance

5. Acquire gym equipment

6. Hire staff

7. Market your gym

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1. Check you have the right qualifications and skills

To run your own gym, you’ll need to have good people skills and be prepared to work long hours. Remember that most gym users will have jobs of their own which means they’ll often want to work out in the early morning or evening. 

You’ll also need a minimum of a Level 2 qualification as a fitness instructor which you can complete in-person or online. You and any employees should have adequate safety training and you’ll need an appropriate number of first aiders on site too. 

2. Research licensing

Make sure you understand what licensing you’ll require. This will depend on the range of activities you plan to offer. 

For example:

  • If you plan to sell or prepare food on the premises, you’ll need to register with your local authority environmental health department
  • If you want to show live television programmes, you’ll need television licence from TV Licensing.
  • If you want to play music during gym sessions, you’ll need to buy music licence for your premises. You’ll then be legally licensed to play music for your customers through the radio or other digital devices.

You’ll also need to pay a data protection fee if you are processing personal information from your customers. 

3. Find the right premises

Finding the right premises can take a lot of time and research. You’ll need to think carefully about the location and consider whether each premises you view has sufficient parking, office space and room for showers and changing facilities. Also think about whether you want to buy or lease the property.

Some properties are sold as going concerns which means that you can simply take over the gym ownership and you won’t need to make many changes to the layout. Some might also come with planning permission to extend the premises. 

You will also need to double check whether the sale is for the franchise only, or whether you’ll have ownership of the actual premises. 

4. Consider insurance 

There are a number of business insurance policies you’ll need to take out when running a gym. These include:

  • Public liability insurance: This covers you in the event a member of the public is injured or their property is damaged while they’re using your gym. It can cover your legal costs and any compensation you might be required to pay.
  • Employer’s liability insurance: This is a requirement if you have employees as it covers you in the event a member of staff is injured in the workplace or as a result of the work they carry out for you.
  • Buildings and contents insurance: You won’t need buildings insurance if you don’t own the premises, but contents insurance will ensure all your gym equipment is protected against damage and theft. 
  • Cyber insurance: This will protect against cyber hackers accessing clients’ files and bank details. 

5. Acquire gym equipment

Consider exactly what gym equipment you need – whether that’s treadmills, exercise bikes, cross trainers or weight sets – and how you’ll acquire them. You might prefer to buy the equipment outright if you’ve got the cash available, or you might prefer to lease them. Both have their pros and cons so consider what works best for you.

6. Hire staff

If you have a small gym, you might only need two or three members of staff. But larger gyms are likely to need a lot more and tend to have instructors with a range of skills and approaches. Make sure you check their qualifications carefully before hiring and, depending on their role, consider holding test classes or personal training sessions as part of the interview process.

7. Market your gym 

Finally, you’ll need to build a website and market your gym in the right way. Consider online marketing, advertising in local newspapers or directories, and using flyers and posters. Also be sure to set up social media profiles to help get the word out. 

How much does it cost to open a gym?

The costs of opening a gym will depend on a range of factors, including the size of the premises and its location, whether you’re planning to launch a budget gym or a premium one, how much equipment you need and how many members of staff you require. You’ll need to factor in both one-off and ongoing costs when doing your calculations.

One-off costs

One-off costs you’re likely to incur to get your gym up and running include:

  • Initial deposit for commercial space 
  • Building renovations and decorating work
  • Gym equipment (if buying, this could cost around €35,000 to €40,000 for 200 members)
  • Licences and permits
  • Signage
  • Employee uniforms
  • Building a website
  • Computer networks and POS systems so you can take payments 

One-off costs could come to between €75,000 and €100,000, if not more.

Ongoing costs

On top of this, you’ll also need to brace yourself for a range of ongoing costs to keep your gym running smoothly. These include:

  • Staff wages
  • Taxes
  • Insurance
  • Lease or mortgage payments
  • Utility bills
  • Maintenance and repairs
  • Cleaning supplies
  • Marketing costs
  • Training
  • Basic gym supplies
  • Accountancy costs 
  • Gym equipment (if leasing, this could cost around €2,000 to €2,500 a month)

You could be looking at ongoing costs of around €20,000 or more each month.

How to finance opening a gym

If you need to borrow funds to help you get set up, here are some of the options to consider:

Asset finance

If you need funding to help you acquire gym equipment, such as treadmills and cross trainers, asset finance is worth looking into. You can usually choose between hire purchase and leasing. 

Hire purchase means you affectively hire the equipment from the lender and pay for it in monthly instalments over time. Once you’ve made the last monthly payment, you’ll own the equipment.

With leasing, you rent the equipment from a finance provider and then pay a regular fixed fee over a set term, with interest added. At the end of the term you might be able to pay a lump sum to buy the equipment, continue to lease it or cancel the agreement. 

Business loan

A business loan is a popular way for businesses to borrow money. The funds are paid to you as a lump sum and you can then use them however you require. You repay the amount borrowed in monthly instalments over a set term, with interest added. 

Unsecured business loans are offered by mainstream banks and let you borrow without the need to secure the loan against any business assets. Secured business loans, on the other hand, let you borrow a larger sum of money but you’ll need to use an asset such as property or equipment as security. That means if you’re unable to repay the loan, the lender can sell the assets to recoup the cost of the loan. 

You might also qualify for a startup loan which is designed to help new businesses launch and grow.

Franchise finance

Rather than starting your own gym from scratch, you could consider buying a franchise instead. To do this, you’ll need to pay a franchising fee to a larger company and you then open the gym in a new location in that franchise’s name. 

If you choose to go down this route, you might want to apply for franchise finance. Many high street banks have specialist franchise teams that can help you. However, they will often only fund between 50% and 70% of your total set up costs, so you might need to find further funding to help you with additional costs.

Common mistakes when opening a gym

When opening a gym, you’ll often face a number of challenges and it’s common to make a few mistakes along the way. Below is a list of some of the mistakes to watch out for:

  • Starting up without a client base: It’s important to have a list of clients who have agreed to join your gym before you open your doors, as you’ll need to start generating revenue straightway. 
  • Not investing in high-quality equipment. Good-quality equipment might cost you more initially, but gym equipment takes a lot of abuse and if yours isn’t up to it, it will cost you more in the long run when you have to replace it. Buying used equipment means you’ll sacrifice the full manufacturer’s warranty and up-to-date technology. 
  • Forgetting about training and accreditation. It’s vital that you and your staff have proper training and accreditation to help your customers meet their goals. Without it, your business could lose all credibility. 
  • Forgoing gym management software. You need your gym to operate efficiently and smoothly and that means ensuring you have the necessary software to deal with membership renewals, billing schedules and other administrative tasks. 

Get started with Swoop

If you’re unsure how to get funding for your new gym business, the team of experts at Swoop will be happy to talk through your options and help you find the best solution. Get started today

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Written by

Rachel Wait

Rachel has been writing about finance and consumer affairs for over a decade, helping people to get to grips with their finances and cut through the jargon. She's written for a range of websites and national newspapers including MoneySuperMarket, Money to the Masses, Forbes UK, and Mail on Sunday. Rachel has covered almost every financial topic, from car insurance and credit cards, to business bank accounts and mortgages.

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