If you follow my articles regularly, you’ll know that I often write about owning a gym. I try to give practical information for people who either currently own a gym/business or are considering opening one. In this article, I’d like to share some of the best and worst parts of owning a gym. Understand that every business owner's and every gym owner’s situation will be different and that this is just from my perspective. But from talking to many other business owners and gym owners, I feel like there is plenty of commonality. So without further ado, check out the three best and three worst things about owning a gym.
The Worst Parts
1. Gym Abuse
When most people step into a million dollar house or sit inside a million dollar car, they typically treat it very special. They take extra special care not to scratch, dent, or spill anything. The price tag brings with it a sense of duty to keep it looking and performing pristinely. The exact opposite happens when people step into a million dollar gym. Weight stacks get completely rearranged, bands are left hanging everywhere, and more chalk than any human could ever possibly need is dumped out or thrown around the gym in an attempt to copy Lebron James. Granted, while gyms are for people to work out and don’t have to be kept as nice as a million dollar car, it can begin to feel a bit like ground hog day when you spend the same time putting away the same things (bands and cable attachments) and cleaning the same messes up (water bottles everywhere). We are lucky at NBS that we have really great members and a great staff that work hard to keep it clean, but nonetheless, gyms get crazy messy.
Another issue is broken equipment. While there is some relative wear and tear that you expect to have to handle and budget for (replacing cables), no one likes to come in to see something totally busted to hell from misuse. When something is busted, it has to be replaced. When that money comes from savings that were set aside for another purpose (like new toys for the gym) or from the owners’ personal income, no one is happy those funds have to be tapped into. Nevertheless, stuff breaks. If you buy quality equipment from the get go (from elitefts.com) you’ll be much happier than if you have to buy the second time around to replace the stuff that broke.
2. Your Old Numbers Don’t Mean Shit
Once you go from lifter to business owner, the numbers you pay attention to tend to shift a bit. That’s not to say that your own personal lifting isn’t still important once you own a gym but your P&L, Balance Sheet, and Cash Flow Statement become the new measure of success in place of your squat, bench, and deadlift. When the financial success of your business is vital to putting food on your table, your employee’s tables, and servicing your customer's needs, you’ll sacrifice what is necessary to make that happen. My workouts have to fit around my work, not the other way around. Unfortunately, this means training early, training late, starting late, or finishing early, and still finding ways to get it in the best you can. Someone asked me in an interview if I found a correlation between my own personal lifting success and the success of my business and my answer was, “yes, a negative correlation.”
Something we don’t have to deal with much but something most gyms have to do is collect past due fees. We use an autopay system for our membership dues and if someone’s payment doesn’t go through, we simply send them an email and/or call them requesting that they resolve the matter. Ninety percent of the time this goes smoothly, but when it doesn’t, it’s a pain in the ass. Some folks don’t understand contracts or the fact that you still have to pay on a contract even if you haven’t used the facility (I wonder how many folks have tried this with their car loan or home mortgage). Chasing down people who owe you money is not much fun.
Along with that topic, the worst part about owning a gym when it comes to money is trying to separate out the worthless 20 dollar bills that get mixed into my swimming pool filled with 100 dollars that I like to swim in daily. In all seriousness, while most people don’t see it that way, there have been a handful of instances in which customers, employees, and friends have acted in a way that was disrespectful off of false monetary assumptions. I remember Dave Tate saying that as soon as you open a business people automatically assume that you make $250,000 a year. I find this kind of funny, because the only people that know how much any small business owner actually makes (not a public company where this information is open) are the business owner, his/her spouse, and the CPA. A company that does 5 million in revenue but has 5.2 million in expenses can have an owner who doesn’t make a dime.
Similarly, I always find it funny when someone believes that wanting to make money or actually making money as a business owner makes them greedy. This usually comes from someone who wouldn’t work a second of unpaid overtime and complains about not having money, yet wants to look down on someone who invested their life savings, took a giant risk, worked countless unpaid hours, and after years of hard work finally receives a return on their investment. This is what many small business owners do. I like to compare it to the average gym bro making a comment that they could do what a world class powerlifter could do if they took steroids. It shows so much ignorance and disrespect that you can’t help but laugh and get back to work.
3. Burning the Midnight Oil
I’m writing this article at 8 PM on Thursday night and started work at 7 AM. Monday I worked from 6 AM to 9 PM, Tuesday from 7 AM to 8:30 PM, and Wednesday from 6 AM to 10 PM. Throughout different phases of business you will have to work different amounts on different things, so it’s not that you will always work crazy hours. But if you want to be successful, most people are going to be required to put in some serious work. During the survival stage of business and now in the growth stage, I have found myself having to really get after it to capitalize on the opportunities that present themselves. It takes it’s toll mentally, physically, emotionally, and socially, but like stated above, it’s a necessity.
Being the owner, you are technically responsible for everything that happens at your facility. From payroll, to customer satisfaction, to marketing, you are either required to take on the task head on or delegate it to someone else. During the survival stage of business you are probably going to be responsible for these tasks yourself and during the growth phase you are more than likely going to be delegating them to other people. Either way, you will have to put in the time to ensure the stuff that needs to get done is getting done in a timely manner, the way you expect it to be done. Whether it’s helping a member with their account as you’re walking out the door or disrupting your workout to help a staff member with a question they have, your time is going to be stretched thin.
The Best Parts
As much time as I spend at the gym, I’m spending it with my family. The community that exists at NBS Fitness is amazing and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Having that type of atmosphere to come to work to on a daily basis makes it all worth it. The great thing about a gym like ours over a commercial gym is that you get to build lasting relationships with some great people. I have clients that I’ve been training since my very first day as a trainer, members that have been at the facility since day one and are still here five years later, and employees that have been patient and committed to our company for several years and been extremely helpful in its growth.
Even outside of the gym, our members still hang out together. We do regular community events in which our members get together outside of the gym for some fun. Our annual Christmas party dirty Santa game is probably the most hysterical event in the history of Christmas parties as people continually try to out do each other for the most insane gift. I’ve developed some amazing memories with the family at my facility and I know there will be even more to come. That makes all the stuff that isn’t much fun worth it.
2. Badass Equipment
At an old gym I used to work at, I remember trying to negotiate for more power racks and less smith machines during a period in which they were getting new equipment. At the time they had two smith machines and one power rack. The struggle was real. Owning the gym means you get to choose the equipment. Want power racks and specialty bars? You got it! Want a monolift? Done! Bands, chains, strongman equipment, dumbbells up to 150’s, Olympic bars and bumpers, your favorite isolation machines — you can have it all.
Having this type of equipment has not only given me everything I need to succeed but it has also allowed my members and clients to succeed as well. It has helped us attract and develop the best lifters in the area. We all get to show up to train every day and have access to the absolute top of the line equipment available from elitefts.
One of the best parts of having this type of equipment is watching the faces of people who have been lifting in commercial gyms their whole lives when they come in for a tour and see what a real gym looks like. A funny story: an equipment salesman came into our gym one day to see if we were interested in anything but when he saw the monolift, he ask asked what it was. That changed the conversation to me showing him all our equipment and explaining what all it did and eventually selling him a membership. It pays to have the best equipment from the best company.
3. Passion Investment
Every job has its ups and downs and its own grind, but the best part of owning a gym is that you get to invest in your passion. Now to be real, it’s a huge investment. It requires a lot of money, a lot of time, a lot of work, and a lot of learning — but that investment is a lot easier to make when it’s something you’re passionate about. I will give a little warning that not every investment has a return (plenty of gyms close) and you can get “passion fatigue” really easily when you’re surrounded by it all day every day. It’s a little easier to deal with the ups and downs and a little easier to be willing to grind daily when you’re passionate about what you do.
It is also cool to see how my passion has morphed over the years. I remember when I first opened the gym, I hated doing the accounting work. Now, I’m all about accounting. I love comparing ratios and understanding different trends. Like I said above, those are my new PR's. I have seen my passion for training and fitness morph into a passion for running a training and fitness business. Following my passion has allowed me to take on new challenges and enjoy the constant learning struggle that is growing a business.
Over five years of running a gym, I’ve learned a lot and look forward to learning more in the future. This article was meant to give a truthful perspective into some of the good and bad aspects that come with the territory. Hopefully, you’ve taken something of quality away from it and realize that, good or bad, owning a gym is a hell of a job.