6 January 2022

Building and maintaining a profitable fitness business

Thom Plummer


The father of small group personal training
"Every decision made should have the goal of selling the business in five years, keeping in mind that focusing on present skillsets and success is dangerous."
You’re an awesome coach… the best in your area!

You’ve got loyal customers, some going back for more than 10-years.

“Jay’s Gym” has a fantastic reputation, and everyone knows you “go and see Jay” if you want to get fit.

You provide a great service and your members love you.  You know everything about them… their birthdays; their spouse’s names; the name of their kids; the name of their pet dog/cat/llama; the exercises they hate; and the ones that get them pumped.

You’re the trainer that brings results. It says so right there in the business name, right?

But you’re constrained. You are only one person, and can only work so many hours a week.

You're trying to build a business but, at the moment, you’re just a “good personal trainer, who has premises”.

How do you transition?

So, you don’t just want to be A.N.Other trainer.  You’re not looking to just scrape a living.  You’re looking to make something of your business.  You want to build a business that you can grow.

There is a vast industry of business coaches, whose entire existence is centred around helping you grow your business.  There is no easy crib-sheet.  There are, however, some simple starting points.

Don't beat yourself up!

Perhaps one of the first steps is to not give yourself a hard time!  Just because you are a fantastic coach, it doesn’t mean that running a training gym will come naturally to you – just as being a great cook, doesn’t mean you’d necessarily make a great restaurateur.

How many people have said to you “oh, wow! It must be amazing to run your own business!”? I’d levy at least a handful or more.  At first, running your own business can be very exciting.  You are in control of your own destiny.  Or so you thought…

The reality is that, when you start your first business, you simply don’t know just how much you don’t know.  They say “ignorance is bliss” and, to some extent that is true. However, the taxman sadly doesn’t subscribe that that theory! You’re now dealing with VAT; PAYE; pensions; corporation tax; capital gains tax; and a wealth of other taxes you’d never even heard of.  You’ve got six different types of insurance in place.  You’re trying to figure out the working time directives (whatever they are this week).  The council is wanting to re-evaluate the tax band your premises sit in.  You’ve personal guaranteed a loan for a truck load of snazzy equipment (that got scuffed-up in the first week).  And all you did was move your client base from training at the end of your garden to a unit up-the-road! Where the hell did all of that money go?!

The truth is that everyone goes through this pain and sharp period of “enlightenment”. Read any autobiography by any successful entrepreneur, and you will see that success did not come right off-the-bat.  There was a long, hard slog prior to their eventual “overnight success”.  But you chose to do this is in the fickle, race-to-the-bottom world of the fitness industry… you like a challenge, don’t you!

Educate yourself and don't be alone!

Owning your own business can be a very lonely thing.  You may be surrounded by kind, well-meaning people, but only another small business owner actually knows what you are experiencing, and how god damn tired you are all of the time!

There will be times when you seem totally on your own.  But, regardless of where the buck stops, there are people who are willing and able to help you. No problem is ever insurmountable – seek out the glimmer-of-light in even the darkest of your dark moments.

SGPT Infinity and Alchemy are two such places that you can find gym owners, like you, learning & successfully growing their small group training businesses. Powered by Quoox, SGPT Infinity provides a comprehensive solution for training gym owners seeking to take their businesses from good to great.

Build for the future

For your business to succeed and to grow, you need to build with your eye on the future.  Too many people build with their eye on the past.

For example, the blacksmith apprentice who opens his own forge founded upon the same principals and equipment that his mentor installed 30-years previous.  Time moves on, and so does every industry.  Why would you establish a team training operation, when that aspect of the industry is on it’s last legs?

In the last couple of years, COVID-19 accelerated change within the industry.  Out of necessity there is now a greater focus on the needs of the individual and smaller groups.  This is a trend that was already in play.  Furthermore, a more rapid move to live-stream and on-demand training.  Not necessarily as a replacement to in-person, but as a supplement.

Your members want and demand more from their memberships in 2022.  The modern training gym is about the whole holistic, well-being experience, and well beyond the 120-odd minutes that member spends at your facility every week.

Have a plan

Every training gym, regardless of whether you have intention of selling, should have a 5-year plan.

The plan keeps you focused, and helps avoid you getting stuck in the rut of clinging onto your present skill sets and successes.

As part of SGPT Infinity, our qualified, experienced business advisors work with you to help you establish your plan.  Your dedicated account manager, and weekly/monthly review meetings ensure that you stick to it.

Our planning process is broken down into stages - the 5-year plan; the 1-year plan; and the 90-day plan.

We work with you, as an extension of your business and with common goals, to help you achieve your aims for your fitness business.

Build systems and processes that scale

For your business to grow, it is essential that you implement systems and processes that scale.

Having knowledge about your members in your head is great, but it does not scale.  You are never going to be able to grow “Jay’s Gym” if only Jay knows what is going on.

Systematising your data and processes does not mean sacrificing customer service.  In fact, done right, your systems should strengthen your customer service and your entire product – giving your members an even better experience, and keeping them renewing.  Member loyalty quickly evaporates when the gym down the road offers the same for a chunk less change.

You can’t expect your staff to have the same knowledge of your members as you.  If they did, chances are they’d be starting up their own gyms.  However, by systematising your data, it can be shared with your staff – and they then use that to provide the same level of excellent service that you do.

In line with the 5-year plan, tracking your business performance is key. KPI spreadsheets and whiteboards have gone the way of the dinosaurs. Now-a-days your business system should be giving you all of the information that you need to manage and monitor your business performance in a proactive manner.

Powered by Quoox GMS, SGPT Infinity has been designed from the ground up as a comprehensive business solution for the modern training gym. We will help you take your business and member engagement to the next level, and beyond.  From member attraction; nurturing; on-boarding; retention; and delivery, we have all of the bases covered. What’s more, our KPIs & Metrics ensure that your finger remains on-the-pulse of your business at all times, without falling foul to data entry issues in clunky spreadsheets. Learn more

If you are relying on a stack of plug-ins and bolt-ons to make your business system vaguely useful, or have Excel spreadsheets that your 'business guru' has given you coming out-of-your-ears, then it’s time for a rethink. If your business advisor has struggled to keep up-with-the-times, how can you expect them to support your business growth in this dynamic & cut-throat industry?

Reflect on your brand

Confucius says that 90% of gyms are named after either their owner/founder or their location.  Our example, “Jay’s Gym” being case-in-point.  “Hunstanton Fitness” being another.

Putting your name on the sign shows a pride in your offering.  You are inextricably linked to your brand.  You know you’re the best and, by hell, you’re going to shout about it.  That is a good thing.  You have integrity.

But, how do you scale?  You’re telling everyone that “Jay” is the best trainer and, consequently, it’s “Jay” they want when they come to their session.  You’re not Vidal Sassoon.  Similarly, what happens when you venture outside of Hunstanton into the big wide world, maybe even as far as King’s Lynn?  Does Hunstanton Fitness (Los Angeles) work?

So, herein lies a conundrum. Is your brand holding you back?  Can a subtle pivot or re-brand open up new opportunities for you?  The trick comes in striking the balance between perceived approach-ability and service versus a local, back-street gym.  In any event, your absolute focus needs to be on the quality of service that you provide to your members, not how much of a polish your ego is receiving.

Don't be afraid to walk away

Sometimes, walking away from your efforts can be one of the hardest things to do.  But, we only get one shot at life.  Happiness and quality of life are one of the most important things.

We’re not all natural business owners.  If it were that easy, everyone would doing it, and we’d all be millionaires.

The cliché definition of stupidity is “to keep doing the same thing, and to expect a different results”.  If something isn’t working, chances are it won’t work.  Try something new.  Pivot.

An extension of this is the more tricky “it worked last time, so it’ll work again/keep working”. The fitness industry is one that does not stand still.  It has evolved over time, and there are several marked significant fractures in it’s timeline. COVID-19 created one such fracture.  Sadly some very decent individuals were forced to close their facilities, as they stubbornly denied the need for change.

There is value in the old adage that it is “better to own 50% of something, rather than 100% of nothing”.  Consider sharing your burden, and complimenting your own skills by partnering with someone who fills your weaknesses.

Finally, don’t be afraid to walk away.  If you are starting to sink, seek help.  It is human nature to automatically throw good money after bad, but you can just get in deeper-and-deeper.  Whilst it is hard to do whilst in-the-throws, try to reflect on your position from an objective, business stance.  Why are you failing?  Can you control it?  Can you fix it?  What will change the situation, and how likely is that to occur?  Will taking that loan magically solve all ills?

There is no shame in beating a strategic retreat, and to once again rise like a Phoenix on a different day – than have your ashes placed in the urn.

Never become complacent

When you get your success, enjoy it.  You’ve worked hard, and deserve it.  But do not become complacent, or arrogant.

Some of the biggest successes in the industry, such as F-45; CrossFit; Gold’s Gym, have all been equally marred by their own challenges.

Keep your eye on the emerging trends (N.B., trends, not “fads”). The Metaverse and so-called Web-3 are an interesting concepts, but they are little more than a gimmick at this time - little more than swinging a dumbbell around, instructed by a Nintendo Wii, but with the added jeopardy of wearing goggles!

Listen to your members. Very often they will know what’s coming before you do, as they’re the ones that are getting excited by the shiny new things they’re hearing about.

The training gym pony in 2022+ needs to have more than just the one trick.  If you are planning on just ploughing-on doing the same old stuff day-in, day-out for the next 5+ years, then you’re best going and picking yourself a prime plot in the local business cemetery.

If you operate your gym as a business, there is no reason that you shouldn’t achieve prolonged profitability for years to come.

Next steps

SGPT Infinity and our business advice team will help you systematise your business - enabling you to get on top of many of the onerous aspects of running a successful training gym or fitness studio, whilst being a part of our strong community.


Other articles for small group training gym owners...

Written by Chris Windram.


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