Owner guide

How to open a gym: what you need to consider before opening

How to open a gym: what you need to consider before opening
Written by COSMIN Published on 2020-10-12 13 minutes read

Fitness is one of the industries with the greatest potential, despite the difficulties that clubs have gone through during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, many gyms close their doors before they hit the one-year mark.

The process of opening a club does not stop when you have chosen the location, purchased the equipment and hired the trainers. It is extremely important to have a well-defined plan for how you will manage your new gym, in addition to logistical operations.

You probably already know what fitness equipment and accessories you want to have in your gym. Therefore, in this article, I will review the main management aspects you should be aware of when starting such a business.

Your team

No matter how hands-on you plan to be with your business, you'll need a competent team that knows exactly what to do. Of course, here I am not only referring to the trainers and instructors but also to the other departments that keep the club open – the reception team, the sales representatives and the club manager. All these positions are essential, even if at first you don't think you need that many employees.

However, if your plan is to grow your club and turn it into a successful business, I recommend getting your entire team in place right from the start. Each person needs to know what their responsibilities are so they can help you turn your gym into a true brand.

The front desk staff

This team is essential because it represents the first impression and the first direct contact with members and potential customers. That's why you need pleasant, smiling people with an innate sense of organization. People in this department should be able to answer any question and help members with anything.

Also, the reception staff must understand very well the services and retail products your club sells, and have the technical knowledge to solve management issues.

The sales team

Even if your sales team consists of only one person in the beginning, it is important to have an employee dedicated exclusively to this aspect.

This person deals with visitors and those who are interested in becoming members. If you have online "become a member" forms, the sales rep needs to contact everyone who fills out that form to make them an offer.

To ensure that your sales team or person has all the necessary tools for their work, I recommend investing in a sales CRM. CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management and is a software solution for managing customers and potential customers. For gyms, this solution can be part of a larger platform for managing the entire gym, members, memberships, and leads.

The sales team can start working several weeks before the actual opening of the club. For example, if you implement an online payment system for memberships, those interested in your gym can create their own member account and buy memberships online. In addition, the sales team can set up pre-sale campaigns so that you already have active members on the day the club opens.

The club manager

No matter how big your gym is and how much you want to be involved in the day-to-day management, you need someone to handle every operational detail. This is usually the club manager, who is also your representative in the club.

The club manager oversees all operational aspects and coordinates the trainers, instructors and reception desk team. The club manager also manages the schedule of group fitness classes and that of your trainers.

For this job, you need a highly organized person who has worked in a gym and knows what this kind of business entails. The club manager is your right hand and replacement whenever you are not in the club. That's why they need to be trusted to make many decisions for your business.

Financial aspects

Since you will be selling at least gym memberships, if not additional services and retail products, you need to know exactly what legal procedures you must follow.

First of all, any sale requires the issuance of a tax receipt and invoices. That means you definitely need at least a cash register and a program to sell services and products, but also one to help you issue invoices. At the same time, the reception desk staff must be familiar with such procedures to avoid legal problems.

Surely, you use the services of an accounting firm to help you manage the financial aspects of the company. As such, it is important that your employees, especially those at the front desk, familiarize themselves with all aspects of primary accounting and work as closely as possible with the firm that handles the club's accounting.

Another essential aspect that many club owners overlook is the daily closing procedure. Creating an accurate procedure for the day close is necessary because this operation is critical for accounting. If it is not done correctly, you will have many headaches. So, create a document with each step that needs to be taken and make sure that every employee at the front desk receives a copy of the document and fully understands what they need to do.

How will your club work operationally?

From the start, you need to decide how your new fitness club will work: how members enter the gym, what kind of services you offer, etc. It is also important to set up the reception desk, including the necessary equipment and software. Finally, you need to consider your business's online presence and what kind of online services you will offer to members.

The check-in flow or how members will enter the room

One of the most important aspects you should determine ahead of time is how members will enter the club, precisely the check-in operation.

Of course, for each person who comes to the gym, you must check if they have an active membership that allows them access to the club. Although you will have a small number of members in the beginning, enabling you to check them with the help of simple lists, it is essential to implement an automatic check-in system early so all members get used to it from the first day.

That means activating membership cards that are scanned at the reception desk to automatically identify the member in the database.

How do you organize the reception desk?

The reception area should be located at the entrance to the venue, before the changing rooms or training area. Thus, the front desk team will be able to strictly monitor every person entering the gym.

It is important that the flow of members is well thought out and that the receptionists can easily see each person entering the venue, to avoid unpleasant situations where people without a membership sneak into the gym unseen.

What retail products do you sell at the reception desk?

The most obvious thing you will sell at the front desk is the gym membership. But in addition to that, it would be a good idea to include some types of products in the offer, like various brands of water and sports drinks, protein bars and other similar products, which your members would enjoy.

Selling products is a simple way to add additional revenue to your business without much investment. You have already installed the fiscal equipment for the sale of memberships. The only aspect you need to set up is managing the retail stock, which can be very simple with the right software.

What equipment do you need at the reception desk?

Investing in equipment doesn't just stop at exercise machines and accessories when opening a gym. The reception desk needs several special equipment to optimize the activity and shorten the waiting times for the members.

First, you will need at least a computer to manage all aspects of the fitness club and management software. Depending on its features, the latter will help you manage not only members and memberships but also sales, product inventory, invoicing, group fitness classes, PT sessions and more.

It is very important to choose the software that suits the needs of your fitness club rather than investing in a solution that will make day-to-day management difficult.

You'll also need scanners for member cards, product barcodes, and a printer to print invoices and membership contracts.

An essential piece of equipment for your gym is definitely the cash register. And here, you have several options depending on the volume of sales and the software with which it is integrated.

What is an access control system, and when you need it

An access control system involves two components: the hardware for access control and the software that manages the access and operation of the equipment in real-time.

An access control system must be integrated with the software platform because, in this way, the member's access is validated in real-time. In addition, the software allows member access by checking the database to see if the member has an active membership. This eliminates human error and simplifies member access.

Considering the restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 epidemic, these systems have become essential for any type of gym, regardless of size.

The benefits of an access control system are multiple, from effectively avoiding fraud and strict control over people who have access to the gym to streamlining members' check-in and reducing direct contact with reception staff.

An access control system involves an initial investment, after which it brings daily benefits. For example, automating the access will reduce the number of employees at the reception desk and thus save a considerable amount.

With an access control system, you can also set up distinct areas in the location, where members have access only with a certain type of membership, such as access to the swimming pool or SPA area. Also, these systems allow you to extend the club's operating hours, even make it non-stop, since the presence of an employee at the reception desk is not required.

What types of memberships do you sell?

Gym memberships are the most important product you will sell in the club. That's why you need to give it due attention. But, of course, offering just one month's membership is not enough. Still, it's also not advisable to have dozens of membership types, which will end up confusing potential customers.

Set up several types of memberships, for various periods, with multiple types of access and services included. Not all members will come to the gym at the same time, and not all members will want access to all services. That's why it's important to give them options based on their needs so that they select the right membership type and don't look for better offers from the competition.

What services do you offer to members – personal training and group classes

To ensure your new gym stands out in an increasingly competitive market, you need to offer distinct services in addition to access to fitness equipment. That can mean a strong personal training program or great group training classes that will pique the interest of fitness enthusiasts.

You will probably be tempted to postpone these decisions until after the gym opens, for a time when it becomes better known. This moment, however, may be delayed, if your gym is no different from the rest of the businesses of its kind in the city.

That's why setting up at least a few group fitness classes as early as the first week after opening is advisable. Implement a booking system either online or by phone, which will help you closely monitor the number of members interested in this service. Thus, you will be able to change the classes according to their preferences and schedule based on the time when most members visit the gym.

Hire at least two or three certified personal trainers to provide dedicated member services. This type of service is very popular among those who want to achieve their goals at the gym. However, it is also a premium service with a higher price.

Even though trainers won't have many clients at first, they can spend time with members at the gym, give them advice on how to train, and thus convince them to purchase personal training packages.

Online member services

One of the easiest ways to make your fitness club stand out is by offering members online services. However, investing in club digitization is not just about automatic check-in or automatic gym management. It also allows members to control their own activity at the gym.

Online member services can take many forms, from online bookings for aerobics and cycling classes to buying memberships online to your own membership app or online membership account. All these services aim to simplify the activity at the reception desk, but also to improve member engagement.

Mobile app for members

One of the most popular online member services is the mobile app. People spend a lot of time on their mobile phones and have become accustomed to managing every aspect of their lives with an app. So why wouldn't they do the same with their gym activity?

By providing access to a dedicated mobile app, you'll increase member trust and loyalty and reduce the workload of employees because they won't have to deal with every aspect of member activity. Thus, with a mobile app, members can make their own class reservations, renew their membership, stay up to date with all the news from the club and find out any information they need about the club, from opening hours to class schedules or personal trainers. This is without them having to call the reception desk or form queues there.

Online account for members

An alternative to the mobile application or even an addition to this service is an online member account or dedicated portal accessed from the club's website. It may have similar functionality to the app. Still, it may offer members more information and digital services, such as access to a library of video workouts or even live-streamed group fitness classes.

With the help of this portal, those interested in the club's services can register online and purchase memberships with online payment. This aspect is essential for pre-sales campaigns and any type of campaign to attract new members that you will want to run later.

Online sale of memberships and services

Online sales are no longer something special. On the contrary, more and more consumers are used to purchasing products and services online and paying for them with a bank card. So why shouldn't your gym offer this option? In addition, online payments for memberships make the renewal process much simpler and thus increase the chances that the member will renew their membership.

Also, online registration is much more attractive to those interested in your club's services since they can do the entire process online and not wait at the reception desk to find out about your membership offer.

At the same time, the campaigns and special offers you run will be much more successful since the targeted person only has to access a link to buy the membership or service on offer. Conversely, if that person has to walk all the way to the club to take advantage of that offer, the chances of conversion drop drastically.

Online class bookings

Even if you don't have many group classes on your schedule at first, that doesn't mean you don't need a booking system. The member must be assured they have a guaranteed place in the class when they come to the club. Otherwise, they won't be interested in this service and maybe even your club in general if they can't get access.

That's why you must implement a booking system from the start so that members get used to the rules and follow them.

Online bookings have the added benefit of allowing members to reserve their place and cancel their bookings whenever they wish without calling the reception desk. This system helps increase class attendance, with this service being the most popular reason members renew their gym membership.

What your gym website should contain

Once you've worked out all the operational details, you need to make sure those interested in your new gym have easy access to all the information they need.

Although social media channels such as Facebook or Instagram are handy tools for keeping in touch with members and potential customers, it is important that your business also has its own website with all the relevant details for the public.

A gym website doesn't have to be a complicated project with countless distinct pages and investments to match. Even a single page can provide all the details about your business that members need.

In general, creating a website is outsourced to agencies that deal specifically with this. First, however, you need to make sure that the new site contains the essentials info for your gym:

  • Contact details - address and phone number for your front desk
  • Hours of operation
  • The team - some information about your team, especially instructors and trainers, to convince potential clients of their qualifications
  • Class schedule – even if you post it on Facebook, that post can easily get lost among so much content; a dedicated schedule area will be much handier for members, especially if you offer the option of online booking.
  • Membership price list - don't force a potential customer to come to the gym to find out this information, as there is a very good chance they won't, and you lose a member.
  • Promotion page for the mobile app – it must contain the download links from the Store and details about how the member can log in and what features the app has.
  • Photo gallery – as many photos as possible from the club so that potential customers can easily get an idea of the atmosphere and the services you offer
  • Personal training details – personal training services are very important to any club, so it is important to highlight them and explain what they really entail and what their benefits are
  • Link to the online member account – the club's website is where the member accesses their online account, so make sure the website highlights this feature with big buttons and promotional banners.
  • Link to new member registration process – Anyone can quickly register and purchase a membership with an online member account and online payments. This valuable service should be promoted as comprehensively as possible throughout the club's website.

The club's website is an extension of the front desk and a 24/7 sales agent. That's why it's essential to ensure your site is doing its job and is optimized correctly. Optimization is a one-time effort, but the benefits are endless.

A fitness club is not the easiest business to launch and manage. Still, having the right strategy will bring you many rewards, including financial ones. Although it might seem like a considerable effort, this does not mean you cannot turn your business into a success story. You just need to take care of a few aspects before opening the doors of your new club.


Cosmin has the unique ability to provide not only the best solution for his clients but also to help them make the most of the tools they have. He spends his time in gyms and fitness centers, not only training but also observing and researching every operational aspect of this business.

Fitness Business Romania
Fitness Business Romania

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