Starting a Gym Business

Getting and staying in shape is becoming a priority among more and more people, but the challenge lies in making time for it. That’s something aspiring gym owners need to consider before entering the glamorous world of profiting from other people’s desire to sweat. It isn’t enough to build a gym and hope that clients would come. You must find ways to help people overcome excuses that keep them from getting fit.

Address these concerns, and you’re on your way to success, according to Joana Piñon, co-owner of 360 Fitness Club, a circuit training and fitness facility with branches in Makati City and Pasig City. In 2010, Piñon and her college classmates put up 360 as an alternative to the traditional gear-heavy gym setup. Piñon stresses that in this business, a spirit of friendly accommodation and honest practicality are key factors to success. Here are other important issues a would be gym owner should consider, according to Piñon.

FINANCING: For a modest setup—called a “boutique gym”—expect to shell out around P3 million to P5 million. You’ll need a bigger amount if you’re eyeing a large warehouse-sized operation on the scale of big franchises. Approximately 25 percent your funds will be used for buying equipment, while another quarter will go to staffing needs and developing services you intend to offer. The rest of the money should see you through about three months of operation.

EQUIPMENT: A gym like 360, which focuses on circuit-training exercises, makes use of lighter equipment like weights, suspension trainers and medicine balls. Gyms that specialize in high-intensity strengthening exercises usually go for heavy machinery. Whatever you choose, quality should come first, though that doesn’t necessarily mean branded gear, Piñon advises. “There’s not much difference between branded and unbranded when it comes to medicine balls, for example. But there are some unbranded items that break easily,” says Piñon.

PERSONNEL: You’ll need a receptionist and a few other people to take charge of sales and administrative tasks. You also have to hire some trainers and coaches: they’re there not just to watch over customers, but to help you tailor effective programs for them. 360 Fitness has about five coaches, and Piñon says they only select graduates in fitness science and physical education. It’s not manpower that determines the quality of your gym, but the quality of service you offer, she stresses.

SPACE: For a non-traditional gym like 360, a minimum of 220 sq m is required. A more traditional setup that makes use of a lot of exercise machines can start at 1,000 sq m. “There’s no golden ratio,” Piñon observes. “It really depends on the type of programs you’ll be offering.

Once you’ve pinpointed your target market, your gym needs to be prepared to handle the influx of clients, especially during peak hours. “We have a very lean team,” shares Joana Piñon, co-owner of 360 Fitness Club. Because her business is a low-tech, modest establishment, the risk of mechanical failure is slim to none. Coaches provide guidance more than anything else, and Piñon insists that the gym’s space and design is more important than an army of staff. The busiest hours at 360’s Makati and Ortigas branches are from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

You might have the sharpest-looking gym with the best equipment available, but none of that matters if it’s inconvenient or difficult to get there. You’re also not helping yourself if your income depends on the good ol’ membership system. Location, flexibility, and value for money are highly prized, especially when you want to reward people for choosing your gym over others.

LOCATION. Ideally, the trip to your gym should be easily incorporated into your clients’ daily routines. In the case of 360, Piñon and her partners chose locations in the heart of commercial-residential areas like Makati and Ortigas. “People usually prefer to go to gyms near their homes or places of work,” says Piñon. A good location that sees a lot of traffic is infinitely more valuable and smarter in the long run than getting a good price per square foot.

FLEXIBLE PACKAGES. Furthermore, the most successful gyms don’t limit their business model to just membership packages. Flexible packages allow people the option to buy into your gym without demanding long-term commitment, especially for those with more transient lifestyles.

ALTERNATIVE ACTIVITIES. You can also add a lot of value to your gym by providing other services, such as classes for power yoga, hip-hop exercise, kickboxing and pole-dancing. “The fitness industry is really growing and really changing. There are a lot of nontraditional ways of exercising that are out there now,” Piñon shares.

EXPRESS GYMS. One popular trend in the United States is express gyms, which comprises “40 percent of all gyms” in that side of the world, Piñon notes. These nontraditional setups “serve the gaps that traditional gyms don’t serve,” like people who have erratic or flexible schedules. Such clients have difficulty staying put in one place or committing more than 30 minutes to an hour to working out.

“They want something faster but at the same time effective. 360’s main training program is circuit training, which combines cardio and strengthening exercises in or around 30 minutes,” she shares. That amounts to a brief but intense workout program that produces results when practiced with clockwork frequency. In short, clients get what they want, using the time they have to spare.

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