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Volume XII, Number 142


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Part Two: Tips and Considerations (#6 – 10) before Opening a Fitness Studio or Gym

This article is the second in a three part series on tips and considerations before opening a fitness studio or gym.  For the first article (Tips 1-5, please click here.   Without further ado, here are tips 6 – 10:

6. Location, location, location.  In my experience, poor location choice is the #1 mistake that people make when opening a fitness studio.  “Right” location consists of not only a great geographic location (i.e. high foot traffic, lots of public transportation and/or parking, ancillary businesses like Lululemon, but also the right cost per square foot.  The perfect geographic location is no longer perfect if the price per square foot is too high – especially in the first few months of operations.  Conversely, going a bit off the beaten path to secure a much cheaper cost per square foot is also crippling to a business.  You may have lower rent, but you will also have lower membership.  Working with a broker that is knowledgeable about fitness studios in the targeted area is highly recommended.  Remember, the broker is paid by the landlord, so this is virtually a free service for a prospective studio or gym owner.   

7. Negotiate (do not just sign) your lease.  You have found the perfect location at a rent that works for your business model – GREAT.  The next step is the landlord (or their attorney) sending you its form Lease Agreement.  I have personally come across Lease Agreements for studios and gyms ranging from 6 pages all the way to 60 pages.  In sum, the form that is presented to you is going to be extremely one-sided in favor of the landlord and will likely need to be negotiated in a few key areas.  Some (but not all) of these key areas:

1.            Term: What is the initial term of the lease?
2.            Renewal: What are your renewal options?  
3.            Rent Increases: Will the renewal terms be subject to rent increases?
4.            Condition of Space: What condition will the space be delivered in?
5.            Repairs: Who is responsible for repairs?
6.            Pass Through Expenses/Taxes: Who is responsible for these additional costs?
7.            Breach/Cure: If you breach the lease, do you get notice and time to fix?
8.            Use Provisions: Can you legally operate a gym in the space?  
9.            Noise: How are noise issues and remediation options addressed in the lease?
10.          Personal Guaranty: Will the landlord require a personal guaranty?

Be sure to work with a competent attorney well-versed in leasing when reviewing and negotiating your lease.

8. Price your membership options in a way that sets your studio apart.  Get away from the mindset that you should be priced similarly with other studios in the area.  If you price like your geographic competitors (i.e. other studios charge $40-60/monthly and you price at $50/month), you are bound to get lost in the shuffle. Consumers, especially millennials, crave deals and new (disruptive) gym/studio membership pricing.  A great example of the changing dynamic of studio pricing can be seen through the business model of ClassPass, which has an easy to use app for your smartphone (more on ClassPass in Tip #10 below).  Millennials love variety and ClassPass caters to the segment of the population.  Another example is My Time Fitness in Chicago, which charges members a very low monthly fee and additional charges per daily use.  Be sure to brainstorm membership models that reward fitness and encourage members to participate in the studio or fitness community at your location.

9. Get the right kind of insurance.  Some types of insurance will be required to operate your business, while others are of the optional variety.   The hard part is determining what kinds and how much insurance to carry.  Some general categories of insurance to consider are the following: 

1.            Property Insurance
2.            General Liability Insurance
3.            Crime Coverage
4.            Hired & Non-Owned Automobile
5.            Umbrella Liability Insurance
6.            Directors & Officers Liability
7.            Accident & Health Insurance
8.            Employment-related/Workers Compensation

Be sure to work with an insurance agent that is knowledgeable about the proper insurance required for the type of studio or facility you are operating.  Ask a potential insurance agent for a list of previous gym or studio clients that they have worked with, and be sure to call 1 or 2 of these clients to confirm they actually know the insurance agent and like working with him or her. 

10. Run your business….like a business.  When starting a studio or a gym, it is completely natural to worry about whether or not people will actually show up and pay for a membership.  These feelings of worry often lead owners (especially first time gym and studio owners) to second guess the cost/value analysis of their membership pricing.  Owners tend to be scared of an empty gym and the message it sends to the paying members and general public, and consequently owners give away free 2 week or 1 month memberships to get people in the door.  While this is somewhat acceptable in the first month or two of operations as part of your opening marketing strategy, continuing to give away free memberships is not a sustainable business model.  Once people get something for free for an extended period of time, they often cannot bring themselves to pay for it when the free period ends.  Further, paying members will eventually leave the gym because non-paying members are taking up all of the spots in a group fitness class or on the treadmills.  Fitness Formula Clubs (FFC) in Chicago charges $20 for a daily pass; other gyms charge as much as $40/day.  People often balk at the cost to use the gym for just one day, since the monthly membership fee is generally $60-90/month.  However, when you are confident in your brand and pricing, there is no need to give things away.  To become confident in your pricing, be sure to conduct market research (i.e. talk to potential members about pricing and options).  

An alternative and relatively new option for gym owners to consider is joining the ClassPass network (previously mentioned in Tip #8 above), which will increase your daily visit numbers while still being compensated for those visits.  For $79 - $99 a month (paid to ClassPass), ClassPass members get unlimited classes to dozens of studios in the ClassPass network. While ClassPass members can take as many classes per month as they would like, they can only visit the same studio up to 3 times per month. This allows potential new members to explore your gym or studio (while paying ClassPass), and if they like what they see, they may ultimately end their ClassPass membership and join your studio or gym directly.  If they do not end up joining your gym or studio, you will still receive a portion of the monthly membership proceeds from ClassPass.

© Horwood Marcus & Berk Chartered 2022. All Rights Reserved.National Law Review, Volume V, Number 211

About this Author

Aaron D. Werner, Horwood Marcus Berk Law Firm,  Acquisition Attorney, Chicago, IL

AARON WERNER provides strategic, business-oriented advice to high-growth companies and investors as they navigate legal and business challenges.  Aaron's strong base of market knowledge on deal terms and strategies for navigating difficult situations comes from a decade representing clients in their most critical moments, including mergers, acquisitions, joint ventures and venture capital financing transactions. 

Aaron typically serves as outside general counsel to emerging companies in the technology, healthcare, media and entertainment, and...