You love CrossFit. You love it so much you want to do it every day. What if you owned and operated a gym? Then you could do CrossFit every day for sure. And you could even teach other people how awesome it is. Yep, that’s it — you’re going to open a gym.

This is the thought process a lot of people go through. And it’s not exclusive to CrossFit. You might be in love with martial arts, yoga, or kettlebells, and think that having your own studio means you can exercise all day long and get paid for it.

But there’s a harsh reality about owning a gym. Having been the Program Director at CrossFit Los Angeles for seven years, I can say this from personal experience. It’s not so easy to get clients. Everything is more expensive than you imagined it would be. And you’re teaching so many classes, you don’t even have time for your own workouts anymore.

Are You Interested in Working in Sales?

Tom Gannon is a co-owner of CrossFit Ireland and is also a business coach. His first question for you would be, “How do you feel about working a commission-only sales job?” “What?” you’re thinking. “I’m coaching at a gym.” But you’re not really. You’re selling memberships to your gym, and you only get paid when you sell memberships. You’re actually a salesman more than a coach — or at least you should be.

But “if you build it, they will come,” right? Not so fast. Here’s what Tom had to say in his article, I Want to Open a CrossFit, You Say — But, Do You Really?:

If you cannot acquire clients it does not matter how exceptional the service is.
I get that some people are not comfortable with sales. Some people view sales as a dirty word and consider it sleazy. Some people even believe that if they are exceptional at what they do they will succeed regardless. Maybe they will, and the attitude of never-ending improvement is one we live by here at my facility. However, if you cannot influence someone to use your service or product, then you will be left with an emotionally and financially draining hobby.

Here are a few more things Tom recommends you think through before starting a gym:

First steps to setting up a business

Signing a Lease

If, after watching that video and thinking things through, you still want to open your gym, then the next thing to do is find the perfect location. Jeremy Striffler is a real estate consultant and market analyst. He also is an avid CrossFitter. After seeing aspiring gym owners repeatedly make the same mistakes, he wrote 5 Essential Questions to Ask Before You Sign a Gym Lease.

The five questions are:

  1. How much should I pay in rent?
  2. How long should my lease be for?
  3. In what condition should I accept the space?
  4. What repairs am I responsible for?
  5. Do I have to pay a common area maintenance fee?

Have you asked yourself all these questions? Do you even know what all of them mean? Most people don’t unless they’ve learned the hard way, so don’t feel bad. For detailed answers to all these questions, read Jeremy’s article.

Buying Equipment

Now you’ve got a gym space, but what do you put in it? When most of us fantasize about opening a gym, there’s a lot of brand-new, state-of-the-art equipment involved.Medicine balls and kettlebells of every size. Squat racks and pull-up rigs that line entire walls. If you’re going to do it, you’ve got to do it right…right?

Well, not so fast. Given that you have few to no clients when you first start, you don’t need enough equipment for an NFL team. You just need some essentials, and they don’t have to be the fanciest ones either. In his article How NOT to Start a Gym Business, gym ownerDavid Cross discussed all the things he and his business partners did wrong. Here are his thoughts on equipment:

Eleiko, EliteFTS, Perform Better, and like are fantastic. Quality, style, robustness, and everything you could want from equipment manufacturers. This comes at a huge price though. While they undoubtedly would look majestic in your new setup, would your clients notice or even care? Will they give you a return on your investment? Yes, they will last a lifetime, but let’s face it, a solid Power Cage, custom built by your local metal works, to your specifications or an equally solid cage imported from China will do exactly the same, with the exact same life span but for a fraction of the cost.

The truth is, starting small is better. Both when it comes to your gym space and your gym equipment. What good is a giant location that’s mostly empty? That’s just a strange experience for your first clients — it makes it feel like you’re not busy.

And the same with equipment. Why have a ton of unused, expensive equipment. Start small on space and gear, and build up as your clients’ needs build up.

Setting and Managing Your Class Schedule

Now, you’ve got your space and you’ve got your equipment. Time to set and manage your class schedule. Now is when you decide how many classes, what time the classes are at, and if people reserve classes in advance. Changing any or all of these things once you’re up and running can get sticky, so it’s important you think through the options ahead of time.

CrossFit Ireland co-owner Tom Gannon walked us through the upsides and downsides of class reservation systems in this video:

When creating your schedule, don’t fall victim to the trap of offering too many classes. Just like too much space and too much equipment, it leaves people feeling like no one comes to your gym, because everything is always mostly empty.

PRO-TIP: IF YOU’RE TEACHING ALL THOSE CLASSES, YOU’RE JUST GOING TO END UP A SLAVE TO YOUR OWN BUSINESS. FOR MORE ON THAT, READ THE E-MYTH REVISITED — ESSENTIAL READING FOR ANY ENTREPRENEUR.

Your Own Continuing Education

So, you’ve got a space, equipment, a class schedule, and the knowledge that you are the salesman responsible for bringing in clients. That’s everything, right? It just rolls on its own from here?

Wrong again. This business stuff is constant work. Now your job is to keep your new clients and keep them happy. One of the ways to do that is to keep yourself educated. Your job now is half salesman and half student. Sell your product and keep learning everything you can so that you are the best coach you can be.

Time to read books, attend seminars, and earn certifications. Time to try new sports. And read some more books. And watch some more DVDs. Oh, and make sure they’re not all about fitness and technique — you’ve got to learn business skills, Internet skills, and communication skills, too.

Here’s a list of articles we recommend to get you started:

For more articles like this every day, visit Breaking Muscle.

Photo 1 by Gregor Attribution-NonCommercial License.

Photo 2 courtesy of CrossFit Impulse.