start a gym or fitness center

Like exercise itself, running a gym or fitness center requires physical, mental, and emotional stamina.

There’s no question that entrepreneurship in this competitive industry can be daunting. It might even seem downright impossible at times. But, for those that tough it out, put in the work, and embrace the grind, starting and running a fitness center can be both personally and professionally fulfilling—and it can be a profitable venture as well.

If you’re thinking of becoming a gym owner, there really isn’t a bad time to do so. Whether it’s the motivation of swimsuit season looming, or the determination of New Year’s resolutions, getting in shape never goes out of style, and therefore, you’ll always have potential customers.

Still, your gym needs to stand out from the competition to keep existing members interested and new ones coming in. Properly run, your fitness center can be lucrative year-round. Few industries possess the baked-in, annual resurgence of gyms, so you can almost always strike while the iron (pumping) is hot.

Whether you choose to build your gym from the ground up, or buy an existing fitness center and make it your own, there are key things you’ll need to do in order to be successful. It’s not enough to simply fill your gym with the newest equipment. You need to consider who will likely patronize your fitness center to determine how to best target and serve those people.

Consider the following success factors and discover how you can align your business strategies with a target demographic.

Success factors

According to Forbes, the U.S. fitness industry is valued at more than $30 billion, and it’s set to grow 3 to 4 percent over the next decade. Thanks to this steady expansion rate, there is plenty of room for new business owners. But what sets a good gym apart from a great gym?

Factors that will influence the success of your gym include:

Choosing the right location

People want a gym that’s easily accessible. Committing to exercise is hard, and distance just might be the excuse some people need to prolong a sedentary lifestyle. Gym proximity is a key success factor, and choosing a conveniently-located fitness center can help make a regular exercise routine less intimidating, especially for newcomers.

Consider this when deciding where to break ground, or when shopping for existing facilities for sale. If a gym is for sale in a more suburban or remote area, make sure that its past history shows that it is well trafficked.

Buying equipment and scheduling classes

Anyone who has been in the industry long enough (or who has visited enough gyms) knows that not all fitness centers are the same. Even a franchise gym can be unique based on the owner and staff putting their own stamp on it. Remember that what you offer sets you apart and defines your business.

In fact, one study found that boutique fitness centers have a significant competitive edge in today’s fitness renaissance.

As you look to differentiate yourself from your competitors, think about these questions:

  • Do you have free weights?
  • Will you offer yoga or other group classes?
  • Is there enough equipment to accommodate everyone?
  • Can you staff your facility with enough trainers to give your members the level of personalized attention they require?

These are just some of the factors that can set your gym apart from the competition. Consider what “type” of gym you want to operate, and outfit your facility accordingly.

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Setting standards for customer service

Let’s be honest: Going to the gym can be intimidating.

The vast majority of your clientele will walk through your door with uncertainty, and it’s your job to make nervous visitors feel welcome. A clean facility, a welcoming environment, and a reliable support staff can all boost client satisfaction and help your gym stand out among the competition.

Most loyal gym-goers (you know the ones—always posting on social media about their great workout or their awesome “gym family”) remain so because they feel at home.

Identifying your target market demographic

Your gym is nothing without its members. The people who choose to pay a monthly membership fee are the lifeblood of your fitness center. By getting to know your target market demographic, you’ll be better able to recognize what your clientele values and cater to their sensibilities. As a prospective gym owner, identifying your target demographic should be a top priority.

Will your fitness center target casual gym-goers or the bodybuilding community? Can you expect a large contingency of young clients, or will your patrons be mostly middle-aged professionals? These are the questions to ask yourself. And once you answer them, then let your target demographic guide your marketing and branding efforts.

A study from the Physical Activity Council found that millennials are the most active generation overall and baby boomers are the least active. This should come as no big surprise, considering young people’s reputation for health trends, activity, and healthy eating. If your location calls for it, consider catering to a younger generation. This might mean tailoring fitness classes to that demographic, or revamping your interior style for a trendy look, and exploring alternative communication methods like a mobile app.

But, don’t put all your eggs in the millennial basket—they might not be the golden goose for your particular location. Consider local census data to help identify which age group lives in the area. If, for example, you plan to operate in the suburbs, you might be better off targeting professionals, homemakers, and families. This could include offering in-gym childcare.

No matter who your demographic includes, one fact remains: people want to feel comfortable when they go to the gym and to feel satisfied that what is being offered is worth the price of admission (aka membership). This means that the secret to running a gym is really no big secret—run the gym that you and your own friends and family would want to visit.

Are you fit to run a fitness center? If, after considering the above points, your enterprising spirit remains pumped up, there’s a good chance you have what it takes to own a gym.

AvatarBruce Hakutizwi

Bruce is the U.S. and International Business Manager for Dynamis Ltd., the parent company of, one of the largest online global marketplaces for buying and selling small-to-medium-size businesses. He is focused on helping small businesses succeed and regularly writes about entrepreneurship and small business management.