Screen Shot 2020-02-14 at 9.44.14 AM

There comes a point in the career of many personal trainers when the idea of opening a personal training studio or gym seems like the only next logical career step. Many trainers would say they’ve been frustrated by working for someone else for too long; especially when the trainer does “all the work,” and the gym owner just sits back and makes the money. Why not just cut out the middleman and own the studio and make all the money?

It’s a tempting proposition.

However, opening and running a successful facility is no easy task. The reality is that most trainers would be wise to reconsider this career move.

Here are five reasons you should not open your own facility, followed by the only reason you should.
You should not open a facility if:
  1. You do not have a schedule filled with long-term clients.
  2. You get all your clients from the gym and do not generate your own referrals or new business.
  3. You do not have a head for business and just want to train people.
  4. You avoid conflict at all costs.
  5. You think you’ll get rich quickly because you’re making “all the money.” Let’s look at each reason in more detail.
1. You don’t have a schedule filled with long-term clients. Many big box gym trainers will have a busy schedule, but often they are training short-term clients new to the gym that need instruction on how to use the equipment, etc. If a trainer doesn’t have the bulk of their schedule filled with long-term, consistent clients who will follow the trainer anywhere, it’s probably not the best idea to open a studio.

It may take weeks or months to start generating new business at a new location. The notion of “build it and they will come” is best left to movies about baseball. Surviving the early stages of gym start-up and growth is critically tied to the amount of existing, loyal customers a trainer has before they open their facility.

2. You get all your clients from the gym and don’t generate your own referrals or new business. If a trainer is used to getting all their clients from the high-volume walk-in traffic of a commercial gym, chances are good they will be in for a shock after opening their own studio. A new business can find it extremely challenging to find customers. There is a lack of name recognition, a specter of competition from established gyms, and the simple fact that potential customers aren’t used to seeing the new business in the area.

As mentioned above, it can take months to find as many new customers that frequent a big box gym on a weekly basis. A trainer should be sure to be skilled at generating new business before opening a studio or will unfortunately suffer the consequences.

3. You don’t have a head for business and just want to train people. Surprise! The new gym owner doesn’t simply get to keep “all the money” and focus just on training clients. They have to be good at marketing (see reasons 1 and 2). They have to be familiar with contracts and leases and insurance and accounting. And if they aren’t quite adept at handling these things themselves, they’ll need to pay attorneys, accountants, and other professionals to handle them. Say goodbye to “all the money.”

Any aspiring business owner should know going in that they are likely going to spend far more time on business than they will on training. If a trainer “just wants to train people,” they should leave the headaches of facility ownership to someone else.

4. You avoid conflict at all costs. Landlords, difficult customers, employees and contractors… all will come with a need to resolve conflict at some point. An owner of any business will need to be able to recognize potential conflicts before they arise and handle issues quickly and professionally when they inevitably come up. If an owner is afraid to have tough conversations with staff and customers, they are setting themselves up for failure.

Every business should have a mission statement and a written set of core values. These should dictate every decision made in the business. If a client or staff member is not following these values, a conversation must be had. An owner cannot be afraid of losing any single customer or trainer. If nothing is said, the culture of the company will suffer, and the stress on the owner will multiply as they continue to go against what they say are their core values.

5. You think you’ll get rich quickly because you’re making “all the money.” Many aspiring gym owners assume they are going to get rich quickly once they get the gym owner out of the way. The truth is it takes time to build a business, and significant money to start a facility. Many trainers think, “If I open my own facility, I’ll double my money!”

Let’s look at a common scenario. Take a trainer who is working at a gym. He has a client who is paying $100/session. The trainer’s split is $50/session. At 120 sessions/month, the trainer makes $6,000 and the gym takes $6,000.

Well, now that they are self-employed (or start an LLC or incorporate), they have to pay taxes as both the employee and as the employer! The owner-trainer also assumes all the costs associated with running a facility -- rent, utilities, insurance, payroll of any additional staff, and important professional services like accounting, bookkeeping, and legal.

This owner-trainer scenario doesn’t even consider start-up costs of a lease, permits, build-out of the space, improvements, equipment purchases, and building maintenance. It’s not unheard of for new gyms, even small-scale spaces, to cost tens of thousands of dollars just to open, requiring the owner to either drain their savings, and/or go into considerable debt.

Suddenly the new owner-trainer realizes they need more clients and/or more staff to cover all these new costs… and they still aren’t bringing home a comparable paycheck to when they were working for somebody else!

The simple fact is, starting, owning and running a gym is not easy. The ONLY reason for a trainer to open their own studio is if they can make more money than not opening their own studio.

This is not impossible, but it takes the proper planning and set-up to pull off successfully. Prepare to spend more time learning and performing business-related tasks and possibly less time actually training clients or be able to pay someone else to handle those tasks.

This isn’t meant to be discouraging. Gym ownership can be both financially and emotionally fulfilling. But it will take planning, time and nurturing.

Never forget that there is a price to pay for making “all the money.”

Chad Landers has been a personal trainer in Los Angeles for more than 26 years and has owned his gym, Push Private Fitness, for 17 years. Chad has a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. A Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association, Chad was awarded their 2018 NSCA Personal Trainer of the Year.