by Matt Meinrod
Three years ago I came within days of owning my own gym. The gym I was working at was going out of business and the owner came to me with an opportunity to buy it from him for pennies on the dollar. It sounded like such a great business move and what meathead hasn’t always envisioned owning a gym? I used to think how fun it would be to make it a hardcore place, with loud music pumping through the speakers, good lighting and mirrors, all of the best equipment with heavy dumbbells, and reasonable membership dues; basically a gym utopia that was unlike any of the box gyms out there today. Well, I never signed the paperwork and not a day goes by that I don’t say, “That was the smartest business move I ever made.”
Gyms are nothing but money pits. If you think you can open up a gym that’s affordable as a place like Gold’s, Powerhouse, or 24-Hour Fitness, you are out of your mind. Although in theory it sounds good to open up a hardcore place, what you are really doing is setting up a very high end boutique gym. And what boutique store have you ever been to that can operate without jacking up the prices on things? Do you really want to compete against the gym version of Walmart? Good luck with that.
Gyms are essentially like boats: “Break Out Another Thousand.” There is a ton of overhead just to make the place operational. You’ll need a couple of front desk people to rotate shifts; a manager, who if you are lucky will double as your salesperson, accountant, and custodian; you’ve got your lease, electricity, membership software (credit card swipers and other account software), insurance, internet, you probably financed some or all of the actual gym equipment, and then all the miscellaneous stuff like toilet paper and repairs. And don’t forget about the real big one: Advertising. Because your cool and hardcore gym doesn’t mean much if nobody has ever heard of it or doesn’t know where it’s located.
Anyone who says they just want to do this as a hobby will soon find it to be a business. You can’t be an engineer by day and a gym owner by night. Problems will arise even if you staff the day-to-day operations. People love to complain about things. It doesn’t matter if you have a $7.99 monthly membership rate; somebody will say it should be $4.99. It’s the nature of the beast. There will always be a headache or pain in your ass.
A 17-year-old will smash his hand on the rack getting buried by a 315lb squat he never should have attempted. His mother will call your establishment unsafe, while you calmly remind her she signed a personal liability consent release form, and there you are, hanging in the balance waiting to see if this woman will file a lawsuit against you. People are nutcases, and although the odds are slim, your hobby will inevitably turn into something that resembles a normal job.
You want more reasons the perfect gym utopia is impossible? If you don’t want douche bags as members, how will you keep them out? Better yet, how do you even identify a douche bag? There are a few undercover douche bags at my gym. They look like women’s physique competitors and bodybuilders, but if you’re unlucky enough to get stuck talking to them, you’ll quickly find yourself in a 15 minute conversation with no escape plan in sight, destroying your pump and otherwise ruining your workout. But on the outside they look the part and would probably pass your initial screening on gaining access to your gym.
So let’s say that you don’t mind breaking even or even losing a little money just to have your dream gym. And let’s pretend that you’ve figured out a way for members to only be hot chicks, muscular dudes, and if you aren’t either of those yet, you’re trying your hardest to get there. And let’s just say you live in a town that could actually generate enough members to make it popular and not get gobbled up by LA Fitness. Let’s say all of that – while everyone else is enjoying the fruits of your labor, it will be a below minimum wage effort on your part; a utopia for everyone – except for the guy who had the balls and the ambition to make it all happen. I’d say you were better off buying a boat, but to each their own. If possible lawsuits, 80 hour work weeks, debt, and headache is your thing, just to say you own a hardcore gym, more power to you. I’d rather train at somebody else’s gym and piss all over their toilet seats instead of my own.