Memberships, in all sizes and types of facilities, continue to rise each year and today represent more than 50 million across the US. Personalized exercise prescription has long been the number one ancillary revenue source for health clubs. In specialized and fully engaged facilities, the personal training department can account for as much as 30% of the business' operating income. Considering this growth and potential revenue, it's no wonder why fitness professionals are gaining the confidence to venture out on their own.

            Whether starting from scratch or renovating an existing "four walls," the studio setting presents a simpler, yet unique, set of needs. Traditionally, studios are smaller in overall size, typically fewer than 10,000 square feet, and have far fewer program areas than do larger club models. Therefore, studio owners must be certain that each space, each amenity and each piece of equipment is necessary. There are several key variables considered critical to the success of this type of facility, including strict control of overhead and operational expenses. The initial design of the space is the first hurdle to overcome.


Know Your Market

            Choose colors and fixtures that achieve your overall vision and the level of energy your studio should have. If your facility is in a high-end location, you will need higher end build-out, or at least a close alternative. Visit local businesses, and get a feel for the atmosphere that they provide. Ask your builder for a per-square-foot price and alternatives for reaching a similar level on a smaller budget.


Poll Local Trainers

            It is important to gain a sense of the expectations from local trainers for your facility. They will likely express more concern with the business arrangement, equipment and the usable facility space, but they may have insight as to what their existing clients would prefer and expect.


Plan a General Staff Room

            Designate a room where trainers can slip in for a bite to eat or a quick phone call to verify appointments. This type of space translates from the traditional club and can be invaluable for trainer satisfaction. Even though general memberships may not apply, professionalism should remain a top priority.


Include Small Counseling Rooms

Also, remember to include a couple of counseling rooms for trainers and wellness coaches to use for one-on-one discussions.

            Unlike the traditional club model that is organized, decorated and equipped primarily for the experience of the member, the fitness studio takes a slightly different approach. In such a specialized, one-on-one environment, the trainer is the key component. Members and clients are affected a little more indirectly. For this reason, space functionality is critical to attracting and retaining good trainers, and as a result, retaining consistent and satisfied clients.


Entry Area

            While still an important piece of the pie, everything requires efficiency and purpose due to the smaller overall footprint. Maintain a small seating area for waiting clients, but consider omitting any significant retail. Appropriate nutritional supplements may be displayed, but with little likelihood of dedicated service staff, as there should not be a significant area to manage. Studio trainers are usually contracted and handle their own appointments so an extensive reception isn't needed.


Locker Rooms

            Relative to the number of trainers the studio expects to employ and the average number of sessions per hour, large changing areas are unnecessary. Keep them small, aesthetically pleasing and clean. Some studios provide even smaller individually private changing rooms. Amenities are a nice touch, but be weary of their impact on expenses. Remember that in the studio model, the client's satisfaction is centered more on the trainer and session quality.


The Fitness Floor

            Keep it simple and wide open! Functional training methods, as well as integrated athletic movements, demand open areas. Likewise, experienced trainers thrive on space and open areas where they can be creative and use a variety of techniques. Consider lining the perimeter with your various pieces and leaving the middle of the room open and free of any permanent obstacles.



            Again, as a model of efficiency, equipment within the studio should be strategically selected to satisfy the needs of the trainer versus the member and does not require significant space.


Cable Units

            Cable-driven lines (like the popular Free Motion line or the new Human Sport from Star Trac) are highly functional and provide a variety of exercise options per piece. Forget about the big cable towers. Instead, use the smaller versions that have pivoting arms in both the vertical and horizontal planes. Consider dual stacks for multiple client use, especially for tandem sessions.



            Some studios may have a membership option for clients, but the greater percentage maintains strict one-on-one or small group sessions. Cardio in the studio facility is typically used for warm-up, interval use and cool down purposes. Therefore, consider a smaller collection of pieces, with treadmills being your more versatile piece.


Miscellaneous Functional Pieces

            BOSU and medicine balls, JC Bands, foam roles, Swiss balls, Kettlebells and Reebok Coreboards are just a few of the most important pieces a studio owner can provide.

            The fitness or personal training studio can be an exciting and rewarding endeavor if well thought out and realistically planned. However, the important planning component of the studio is not merely the aesthetic value of what the client and trainer sees. The business model of the studio is very different and relies heavily on the satisfaction of the trainer, with variables such as location, compensation (monthly rent, fee sharing or a mix of both), equipment, etc. Regardless, the facility must still posses a unique identity that mirrors both owner intent and user expectation. Above all, keep a firm sense of what your vision is for the facility. By appreciating that the studio is different and requires a different set of design criteria, you will be better prepared for both the joys and challenges of facility ownership.

            David Atkinson is the Executive Director of Cooper Ventures and the VP of Cooper Aerobic Enterprises, Inc. For more information on his commercial club and worksite wellness consulting services, visit


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