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    Gym Startup Guide: How To Open a Gym

    <p>Gym Startup Guide: How To Open a Gym</p>

    “To build a brand from scratch on your own is tough – but a great challenge and hugely rewarding.”  

    David Fairlamb, owner of David Fairlamb Fitness

    Launching a new business can be a daunting task. Particularly when, with a gym or fitness space, there are so many moving parts, not to mention initial expenses. 

    Our team spends a lot of time visiting entrepreneurs who have bitten the bullet and are realising their dream of building their own gym. From boutique luxury spaces and large warehouses to specialist gyms and small independents working from a home conversion – everyone finds challenges along the way.

    Finding your place

    Data shows that there are nearly 20,000 gyms in the UK alone and nearly 30% of those are within the larger cities of Manchester, Essex and London (which takes up the lion’s share with 20%), so it’s important that you kick off with a bang.

    Confidence and self belief will get you quite far but it is with careful planning and a smart strategy that you’ll see results. With so many things to consider it’s always helpful to have a robust business plan.

    When examining founders of the top 50 largest gyms in the UK, it’s inspiring to witness the resilience and dedication driving these pioneers.

    From Gary and Diane Heavin’s tailored approach to women’s fitness at Curves International to David Lloyd’s seamless integration of leisure and sports, each founder brings a unique perspective shaped by their background. 

    Similarly, Peter Roberts’ commitment to accessibility with Pure Gym highlights the importance of addressing diverse needs. Moreover, John Foley’s innovative vision at Peloton created a groundbreaking change by disrupting traditional models. 

    The importance of experience

    There are other factors too, such as passion and commitment, not to mention the importance of specialist gyms. We spoke to Samad Zamir founder of Boxfit Coaching who attributes his own success to a deep-rooted connection to boxing, stating that on-the-ground expertise and knowledge is paramount in creating a space where people feel a part of the family. He says:

    “Whereas I agree that careful planning and adaptation is crucial, if you go to a specialist gym you want to know that its owners have the same love for the sport as you do. Put another way, would you rather go to a small independently owned restaurant where the owner is excited about cooking and food, or would you rather go to a large chain eatery where the owner is simply a business expert?” 

    So with all that being said, how do you start a gym? Using help and insights from experts in the field, we have put together this guide to help people who are looking to take the leap and make their mark on the world of fitness with their own gym. It includes everything you might have already considered; staff recruitment, equipment and insurance – to links on further guides on how to tackle the areas that tend to elude many founders; social media, talking to the media, and that all important launch.

    Gym Startup Guide: How to Start a Gym

    Research and planning

    In 2023, it was reported that the UK fitness industry experienced a significant downturn in 2021, with a notable decrease of 614 establishments, representing a 17% drop in trading businesses.

    However, there’s a silver lining to this setback. The results showed that the industry rebounded with unprecedented growth in 2023, adding a remarkable 660 companies compared to the peak of 2020.

    This surge marked a growth percentage of 22%, the highest recorded in the industry since 2011, signalling a positive turnaround and renewed optimism for the future. 

    So what do you need to do to ensure that your space comes out on top? The answer lies in kicking off your business plan by researching your target audience and understanding your market. We spoke to Marnie Swindells, winner of BBC’s The Apprentice 2023 and founder of Bronx London who firmly believes that community is key: 

    “Gym’s are as much about people as they are the service that you sell. It’s vital that your gym is filled with like-minded people who can find commonalities beyond sport, that’s the root that is needed to allow a community to blossom.” Marnie Swindells.

    Analyse your market

    Including market analysis and research in your plan is essential for understanding the competitive environment and developing a better strategy. It is likely you’ll already have a general idea of the market you are wanting to attract but it’s important to do your research rather than just go with your gut. Here are some key considerations: 

    Demographics: Identify the age, gender, income level, and geographic location of your target market. For example, you may target young professionals in urban areas or older adults looking for senior-friendly programmes.

    Psychographics: Make sure you research the characteristics and traits such as values, desires, goals, interests, and lifestyle choices of your potential customers. This could include factors such as health goals, experience, preferences for group classes or personal training, and attitudes towards wellness.

    Conducting a SWOT analysis: This can help assess your internal strengths and weaknesses, as well as external opportunities and threats. Examples can include: 

    Strengths: This could include a prime location, state-of-the-art facilities and equipment, experienced staff, unique offerings, strong brand reputation, and loyal customer base.

    Weaknesses: These may include limited financial resources, lack of brand recognition, high competition in the local market, inadequate marketing strategy, or staffing challenges.

    Opportunities: Can you expand your offering to suit emerging trends or an untapped market segment? Perhaps there is the opportunity to partner with local organisations or health professionals, or utilise your social media skills. By identifying these you will be able to see how you can gain a competitive advantage. 

    Threats: This is a big one! One of the biggest threats to gyms at the moment is the economic downturn. A recent report by Sport England has shown that 2 in 5 (40%) people said the cost of living increase was having a ‘negative impact’ on their ability to be active. Alongside this, people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, those living in the most deprived places, and people with a disability and/or long-term health condition are the those most likely to miss out. This presents a real challenge for the fitness industry.

    Other threats can include changing trends and consumer preferences, intense competition from established gyms or online platforms, changes to rules and regulations or unforeseen events such as the pandemic.

    Competitors: Research the competition in your area to understand their strengths, weaknesses, pricing strategies and marketing efforts. Identify opportunities for differentiation by offering unique services or targeting underserved segments of the market. 

    Seek support

    When you take time to look you’ll see there is often suitable support available. This is beneficial when you feel like you are doing it on your own. Christina Richardson, an entrepreneur and founder of weare3Sixty, a coaching community for startup leaders, knows how isolating starting out on your own can be: 

    “The idea that entrepreneurs are all bravado and ‘killing it’ has been much hyped in the media which isn’t helpful for the mental health of founders. It not only leaves people feeling isolated in their challenges, they might also look around and feel frustration that their venture is taking so long to ‘take off’.

    “Naturally this can leave people feeling isolated and eight of out ten founders have said they do often feel lonely with 68% feeling like an imposter. Therefore having support is vital.”

    Although assistance will differ depending on your circumstances, here are just a few places where you can make a start:

    • Explore government initiatives and grants aimed at helping businesses in the fitness industry. For instance, Sport England offers funding opportunities and guidance tailored to fitness. Additionally, local councils may provide backing through development programmes or grants for small Independents.
    • Have a look out for local business support networks and chambers of commerce, which offer valuable resources, networking opportunities, and tailored advice. These organisations can provide guidance on navigating regulations, accessing funding, and developing business plans.
    • Joining industry associations such as the UK Active can open the doors to  information you might need to get started. This includes industry insights and best practices. These associations often offer assistance through training programs and events.

    Legal and administrative considerations

    When establishing a gym in the UK, it’s essential to address various legal and administrative considerations to ensure compliance with regulations and mitigate potential risks. Here are key aspects to consider:

    • Choose a suitable business structure that aligns with your goals, liability concerns, and tax obligations. Consulting with a legal advisor or accountant can help you select the most appropriate structure for your facility.
      • Obtain the necessary licences and permits to operate your gym legally. This may include a licence from your local council, health and safety permits, and possibly planning permissions depending on the property’s usage. Additionally, if you plan to offer specific services such as personal training or physiotherapy, you may need additional certifications or approvals from relevant regulatory bodies.
    • Insurance: You can find our comprehensive gym insurance guide here.

    How much will it cost to open a gym?

    Financial planning is essential to ensure viability and sustainability. We had a chat with award winning fitness trainer David Fairlamb, owner of David Fairlamb Fitness, popular for its beach boot camps on Tynemouth beach in Newcastle: 

    “You need to consider everything from brand, overheads, rent, business rates and marketing to your website, equipment, insurances and staff (if needed). On top of that there are costs that you don’t initially think of such as an accountant, first aid, new courses, heating and lighting to mention a few! Doing your homework is an absolute necessity.” 

    “My advice is to be smart in your purchases, build your reputation and client base first, allowing space to gradually grow your business. I’ve seen too many people who go too big too early – be patient”.

    And in making sure you are cautious, here’s another great tip from Marnie; “Never underestimate the costs of opening a gym. I have constantly been surprised by added extras that I hadn’t initially considered. A great way around this is to always have a contingency, perhaps around 10%. So if you think something is realistically going to

     cost £1000, allow for £1100 then you are always safe.”

    Funding options:

    Securing adequate funding is crucial for launching and operating your company successfully. Funding options may include:

    • Personal savings or investments
    • Bank loans or lines of credit
    • Small business grants or government funding programmes
    • Investment from partners or private investors
    • Crowdfunding campaigns
    • Equipment financing or leasing

    It’s essential to explore multiple funding sources and carefully evaluate their terms, interest rates, and repayment schedules to choose the most suitable option for your financial situation and needs.

    Facility setup and equipment

    When establishing a gym in the UK, careful attention to facility setup and equipment selection is crucial to creating a welcoming and functional environment for your members. Here’s just a few key considerations:

    Facility design and layout:

    The design and layout plays a significant role in shaping the member experience and operational efficiency. Consider factors such as:

    • Space allocation for different workout areas (e.g, cardio zone, strength training area, functional training space, stretching area).
    • Footflow to minimise congestion and create a seamless transition between workout zones.
    • Adequate ventilation, lighting, and temperature control to ensure comfort during workouts.
    • Accessibility features to accommodate individuals with disabilities and promote inclusivity.
    • Aesthetic elements such as branding, signage, and interior design to reflect your gym’s identity and create a motivating, yet welcoming, atmosphere.

    Equipment selection and suppliers:

    Choose high-quality equipment that meets diverse needs and aligns with your fitness offerings. Consider the following when selecting equipment:

    • Variety: Offer a diverse range of equipment to cater to different goals and preferences, including cardio machines, strength equipment, free weights and accessories.
    • Durability and reliability: Invest in equipment from reputable suppliers known for producing durable and reliable products that withstand heavy use.
    • Space efficiency: Opt for space-saving and multifunctional equipment to maximise floor space without compromising on functionality.
    • Budget considerations: Balance quality and affordability to stay within your budget, while still ensuring value and durability.

    Safety and maintenance considerations:

    Prioritise the safety and well-being of your members by implementing safety protocols and maintenance practices. This includes:

    • Regular equipment inspections and maintenance to ensure proper functioning and safety compliance.
    • Adequate spacing between equipment to prevent accidents and allow for safe movement.
    • Clear signage and instructions for using equipment correctly and safely.
    • Training on emergency procedures and first aid.
    • Regular cleaning and sanitisation of equipment and facilities to maintain hygiene standards and prevent the spread of germs.


    Finding the right employees who reflect your values is essential for your success, as Marnie Swindells explains:

    When choosing your team and coaches, pick the ones whose character is most aligned and whose values you share – everything else can be developed and figured out but you can’t teach heart.” 

    As well as being a cultural fit there are other important factors: 

    • Look for individuals with relevant qualifications (e.g. fitness certifications, personal coaching qualifications) and experience in the industry.
    • Seek candidates who are friendly, approachable, and adept at engaging with clients to provide assistance and support.
    • Prioritise candidates who demonstrate a genuine passion for health and fitness, as they are more likely to connect with people and inspire them to achieve their goals.

    Providing comprehensive training is also essential and includes anything from inductions to customer service training as well as continuous professional development, which will not only help give your gym’s offering a boost but also show your team that they are valued

    Operations and management

    Once you’ve explored how to open a gym. How do you then ensure that  efficient operations and effective management remain at the forefront? Establishing a daily operations checklist can help ensure consistency. Consider including the following tasks:

    • Set protocols for opening and closing the gym, including facility checks, equipment inspections, and security measures.
    • Create daily schedules for front desk staff, trainers, and cleaners to ensure adequate coverage during peak hours.
    • Implement a routine maintenance schedule for gym equipment, including cleaning, servicing, and repairs as needed to prevent downtime and ensure member safety.
    • Assign cleaning tasks to staff or external cleaning services to maintain high standards of cleanliness and hygiene throughout, including equipment, changing rooms, and common areas.
    • Monitor inventory levels of items such as towels, cleaning supplies, and toiletries, and replenish stock as needed to avoid shortages.
    • Encourage engagement with visitors, greet them warmly, and offer assistance or guidance as needed to enhance their experience and foster a sense of community.


    Feedback and improvement processes:

    These are essential for refining your operations and meeting evolving member needs. Processes include:

    • Regularly collecting suggestions from members through surveys or forms to gather insights into their satisfaction levels, preferences, and suggestions for improvement.
    • Encouraging feedback on operational processes, customer interactions, and suggestions for enhancements to streamline operations and enhance the member experience.
    • Conducting regular performance reviews evaluate performance, provide constructive comments, and identify opportunities for development and growth.
    • Analysing feedback and data collected from members and staff to identify trends, areas for improvement, and opportunities for innovation.

    With so much to consider (and we haven’t even included marketing and membership (more on those at a later date), it’s easy to see why starting your own gym can be such a hefty task. It’s important that you seek sufficient help and support to break into the world of fitness. 

    As Marnie Swindells puts it: “The hardest challenge for me is to share the burden. I always think it’s quicker if I do it myself or perhaps no one will be able to do it the way that I would want it done, but that consumes a person and ultimately stifles growth. I haven’t yet overcome this hurdle but I’m working on it – I’m still trying to master the art of delegation”.

    Whether it’s your own friends and family, business support networks, funders or just a new community that is looking for a place to go, the help is out there if you are willing to ask for it, good luck!