“Where Should I Set Up My Next Gym?”
If you are a long time reader of our articles, you will know how much we value market research before undertaking a significant business decision…
…And we are also going to go out on a limb and call starting a new gym or fitness club ‘a significant business decision’.
And so, if you are ready to set up a new independent gym or fitness club, then it is time to hit the research. In this article, we will be focusing on, to borrow the title of a popular show, location location location. Unlike many aspects of setting up a new gym or fitness club, location is one that a gym owner cannot easily change once it has been established. (Though, of course, it is not impossible).
As such, we’ve put together the following checklist of criteria that you should keep in mind when looking for a location for your new gym. And just for good measure, we’ve loaded it up with tips from our 25 years within the fitness industry and our very own plans to expand our ‘The Fit Club’ franchise of gyms.
Consider a location based on your customer’s demographic
The kind of customers you’re going after will massively determine your location, or can even be a chicken and egg scenario, shaping what your gym becomes.
If you already have an idea of what you want your gym or fitness club to be, then your location is effectively chosen for you.
An MMA fitness club is probably not going to do well in a village of 100 people in the middle of Yorkshire with an elderly trending demographic.
Every area has a character, and one that can be understood with just a little research. Some, of course, are characterised by a fairly even balance, giving you access to lots of demographics in a single area. Others will be heavily skewed, for example, here are a few locations that come to mind in our experience, complete with their strengths and weaknesses to a new gym or fitness club owner.
While the usually dense population, significant free time and active nature of a student population are huge positives, these areas are also highly transitory, with many students only going to university for three year terms and putting down no significant routes.
The explosion in dedicated student housing has compounded this trend. They can feel like a great place to target active gym goers, but you’re also going to massively cut your retention as your members may be active, but eventually they will have to leave for reasons out of their control, no matter how many benefits you offer.
Otherwise known as suburbia, the pros to these areas include relative prosperity and normally a much more firmly rooted population than in cities.
A common downside we have seen is that a lot of workers will favour Gyms within the city that the dormitory town allows an easy commute to. This dynamic of being split between two areas has, however, been diminished by the work from home revolution in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, so you might find more workers are spending more time, and money, on the services in their local area.
Town and City Centres
Normally highly competitive and expensive to set up within these areas, but always providing a vast influx of people relative to the surroundings. Certain types of Gym will not be viable here, while other, more niche clubs will flourish in a way that they wouldn’t in more out of the way places.
We’ve seen a lot of gym owners who instinctively try to set up shop in these populated areas. After all, more people, more customers.
But that thinking can come back to bite many-an-aspiring gym owner down the line, when high maintenance costs put you on a business treadmill to always keep your club filled to max capacity.
Sometimes looking for a quieter area and providing a unique club experience can be far more profitable in the long run, as your club can easily become a discount one size fits all gym when upkeep costs become a major driving factor.
Every area, even if it falls into an archetype, will have its quirks and foibles. Don’t make business decisions based on stereotypes and assumptions.
Thankfully, the internet has made researching an area easier than ever. From forums and social media to simply using google maps, it has never been easier to grasp an area. With that being said, most prospective gym owners in our experience are looking to set up in an area well known to them. While this has considerable and obvious advantages, do not be afraid to throw the net out slightly wider than usual.
Sometimes taking the road less travelled really does make all the difference.
So once you’ve determined who you want to attract, now you need to work out where they live, and more importantly, where they are willing to drive to.
Unless it is in a town centre, city centre or business park, the assumption should be that people are not willing to drive more than 20 minutes.
Again, this will vary depending on roads, infrastructure, public transport and other interesting locations at the destination of a prospective gym. As such, ease of accessibility should be the top priority for the demographic you have in mind.
Look at the type of buildings available
The Covid-19 pandemic shook up nearly every market, and the business rental market is no different. Many businesses either shifted location or shut down entirely. This means that the pool of rentals post-2021 is significantly different.
The safest bet, predictably, will be a site that used to host a gym or fitness club. These come with several built in advantages, such as a pre-existing reputation within the local area and facilities that proved suitable for a gym in the past.
However you needn’t be limited by this. We have seen plenty of unorthodox venues transform from other areas of the economy into successful gyms and fitness clubs. Whether it is a former supermarket, restaurant or part of a school, with enough effort put into the conversion, we have seen prosperous gyms setup in all sorts of former venues.
Don’t limit your imagination based on what’s available, but as always, be realistic in your budgeting about how much it’ll cost to convert that abandoned shoe store into a Kickboxing Gym.
BE SEEN! Don’t hide your Gym or Fitness Club away
This might sound silly at first. Surely it is what on the inside that counts?
Alas, there is a reason we tell people to not judge books by their cover, and that is because they do, CONSTANTLY!
A story we’ve heard repeated a hundred times from as many gym owners is the following:
‘They got inside our gym and they said they had no idea it was this good’.
Sometimes it is even worse and the visitor said:
‘They had no idea this was here’.
More often than not, these gyms are hidden away on cheap industrial estates, down country roads, or only have a slither of a facade facing the street.
While we fully understand the temptation to secure a bargain on an industrial complex or in a village barely anyone even knows exists, for most gym owners it is a false economy. Out of sight is, unfortunately, out of mind. The amount that will need to be spent on promotion and advertising to get people aware that your gym or fitness club exists, let alone get them into it, will be sky high.
And even once the prospective customers to your new gym are aware, what is going to draw them far off of their beaten track? The unfortunate truth is that unless the area has an extreme level of car-reliance or fantastic public transport infrastructure, it will be hard to draw people away from the main streets. This is why certain chains, that shall go unnamed here, are always positioned in highly visible areas with large glass windows letting you see everything inside.
It is a tactic that works, and while you may find the premise will be more expensive than an out-of-the-way industrial estate, the benefits it brings can be measurable and powerful. A chalkboard out the front of your gym can get more eyes than a few hundred pounds of Facebook ads may ever do.
Take stock of what else is close to your Gym or Fitness Club
This is really a continuation of the last point, with a more specific focus.
Once you have an idea of the area, take a deep look at what is there.
Imagine you are a prospective customer, what would draw you to the gym?
Maybe there is a cinema along the street? Maybe it is next to a city’s business sector. Start to understand how people would weave your new gym or fitness club into their lifestyle.
Collaboration & Competition
Now you have an idea of the area and what else might draw your potential customers to it, work out if any of these are ripe for collaborations.
A new gym requires a lot of promotion (which we have loads of helpful e-books on), and local partners are the ideal way to spread the good word about your new gym or fitness club. Think about what businesses would make for natural partners, both in the short term and the long term.
In turn, think about the competition that could arise in the future:
Don’t just look to see if an area is already overpopulated with gyms and fitness clubs, but also whether there are empty units or locations that could one day be turned into competition.
What is your Gym or Fitness Clubs Unique Selling Point (USP)?
As we hinted at in the point on demographics, if you are setting up a gym or fitness club, you want it to do something better than any other gym in the area. Whether that is a certain type of equipment or training, a type of class (the aforementioned MMA in Yorkshire), or the infrastructure, location or facilities that the Gym has, it should be planned in advance.
Once again, market research comes into play. Look at the prospective competition in the area you’ve selected.
Are there no gyms with a significant amount of parking?
Are there no gyms that offer competition level body-building equipment?
Does nowhere have an Octagon?
It may sound like one upmanship and that is because it is. These are the sort of questions that the prospective customers your gym will be vying for will be asking themselves. Make sure your gym has enough of a USP that the answer frequently goes in your favour.
Now, maybe it’s time to get back on Google maps…
To close off this article, we think it is important to reiterate what we said at the beginning.
Setting up a gym or fitness club is no small feat, but more importantly it is a task that rewards thorough market research beforehand.
We hope this article can serve as a checklist of criteria to look for when scouting for a location for your new gym or fitness club.
And if you are looking to start a gym or fitness club…
…And need help with running your business…
Then it might be time to drop us a line!
Ashbourne Membership Management has been working with partners in the fitness industry for over 25 years and we’ve been with gyms and fitness clubs at every stage of the journey, including setup.
So if you are interested in having your membership management locked in place before your doors even open, come and book a gym consultation today. We can show you round our system and give you tips for how to grow your club and collect your payments.
All our sales team own gyms or work within the industry, so a quick chat is well worth your time!