3 mistakes gym owners make and how to fix them

by Ryan Wagner

There are easier businesses to succeed in than the fitness industry. In fact, according to Martin Rooney’s research, 80% of gyms go out of business in their first five years and 16 out of 17 are out of business in 8 years! These are not encouraging statistics. As you can imagine, there are a lot of mistakes gym owners make in their businesses.

I’ve been to a lot of small gyms. Kettlebell gyms, Olympic lifting gyms, big box, small box – all sorts of places. It’s worth noting that some are doing well. They have found a nice little niche and are making money.

So, if you’re thinking about opening a gym or if you’re struggling with your own business, I’d like to provide some of my insight with this post. Why? Because there are plenty of clients out there. And as fitness professionals we need all hands on deck to fight the obesity epidemic. The more gyms that are open the better. And the more gyms out there that are both open and making money, the greater the chances are that the owner and the staff will be happy. Happy staff equates to well trained clients.

That being said, there are (3) big problems I see over and over again:

Mistake #1: Too much time training and not enough time spent building new business

I’ve learned that a lot of gym owners are being baptized in small business with their gym. In other words, they haven’t had any experience in running a business prior to opening their gym. And that makes learning the ropes a little like drinking from a fire hydrant.

Simply put, owners should not be spending all their time training. If you’re spending all your time on the floor then you are all but guaranteeing you won’t attract new members. Sure, your well trained clients may refer one or two of their friends, but how far does that network really go?

Instead, owners need to be marketing:

  1. Making videos for YouTube
  2. Organizing events
  3. Asking for referrals
  4. Posting (lots) of social media photos

The short list above is mandatory in my opinion. All gym owners need to be pulling these levers.

So why aren’t more owners thinking this way? Many times, it’s because the owner just doesn’t understand marketing, or doesn’t care to. They fail to realize that everyone – you, me, your neighbor, regardless of your profession – we are all in sales. We brand ourselves and promote our own image, regardless of what we do for a living.

Remember, you can spend 10 hours a day in your gym keeping the doors open and training, but if you’re not attracting new members, you’re really just working 60 hours a week hoping new customers will find you.

Mistake #2: Assuming everyone is just as motivated with your brand of fitness as you are

For instance, have you ever said something like this to one of your members? “What do you mean you don’t want to achieve a full depth squat with minimal lumbar rounding!?”

A lot of us fitness geeks are all about proper spinal alignment during squat patterns, but the average person? Ya, not so much. They just want to squat and be able to put more weight on the bar. And so this is the second of three very common mistakes gym owners make.

mistakes gym owners make and how you can fix them

So as a gym owner, you need to realize this. Here’s an example:

Let’s say that you think TRX is the best answer to a fitness problem. Don’t build a gym around TRX so much as build a gym around what the TRX audience is usually going for – weight loss.

So build your group training around TRX, but market towards the weight loss crowd. It’s a much easier sell than proprioception and stability. And from the clients’ perspective, they just want to achieve their goals. If you can’t help them with this problem, then you’re failing, regardless of what your preferred brand of fitness may be.

Mistake #3: Building a gym for trainers, not ‘normal’ people

This is one of the biggest mistakes gym owners make.

At the Perform Better seminar in Denver this past May, Alywn Cosgrove made a good point, one that had the whole room of 200 trainers laughing.

“You people are not normal! You love it when you’re sore from a workout!”

And it’s true. Even as I write this I’m coming off of some quad soreness that I’m secretly proud of from my front squats earlier in the week. But does the average person want to be sore? No. They do not.

Similarly, trainers who start gyms all too often build a gym that they would fantasize about. Here’s an example of why this could be a problem. Say you’re a powerlifter. You love competing in the big (3) lifts. So you set out to build a gym with squat racks and bands and chains and all that good stuff. But the problem is that there just aren’t that many aspiring powerlifters out there. Certainly not enough to fill a gym that’s actually going to be successful.

However, there are a TON of people out there looking to lose 20 pounds. Is powerlifting going to help them? I doubt it. And that’s assuming they have the mental fortitude to make it through multiple tough workouts in a week.

Your turn

Did you discover some new tactics that you’re not currently doing? Do you feel like you can now solve some of the common mistakes gym owners make? New marketing techniques, perhaps? Good. The intention of this post was to provide a nudge in a new direction. If you own a gym and your growth has been flat-lined for months (or years) then hopefully you can take some of this advice to heart.

And if you’re thinking of starting a gym then I hope I provided a sobering reminder that not all gyms succeed. Building a gym is no guarantee that once you open your doors members will flood in from all walks of life chanting your slogan at the top of their lungs.

That being said, the more gyms the better. It’s one of those few businesses where you can be on the front lines of changing people’s’ lives. And remember, the best gym is the one you want to keep going back to.

Did I miss something? Sound off in the comments below.

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