The 5 Biggest Mistakes you Make as a Gym Owner

By Dan Kleckner, Special FBA Contributor

Owning your own business is hard. You will make your fair share of mistakes, just like I have, and learning from these mistakes is imperative for your business to grow. There is also significant value in learning from successful industry mentors to avoid some of those hard lessons.

I have been lucky to have great mentors throughout my fitness business journey that have helped me expedite the learning process and avoid making some big mistakes that would have setback my business. Below I outline the 5 biggest mistakes I see my gym owner mentees make so you can avoid making them yourselves. Please feel free to reach out with any questions or if I can be of any help.

Trying to appeal to every potential client

I see this problem a lot – gym owners marketing to every type of client out there. The fitness market is very crowded, so you need to find a way to stand out by marketing to a specific client demographic. For instance, we primarily market our semi-private training model to individuals over the age of 40 that are in the top 40% local income bracket.

Offering undervalued and unpredictable membership models

A lot of gyms still use punch cards or package-style memberships where they offer 5, 10 or 20 sessions for a set cost. These memberships are usually undervalued because they are steeply discounted, and there is no predictability when the member might renew their membership if they do at all. Similar issues can occur when you offer only month-to-month contracts. While some gyms do experience success with only month-to-month memberships, my gyms saw retention numbers drop quite a bit with this model.

I am a big believer in 12-month membership agreements. While we still offer month-to-month memberships, they cost 25% more than our 12-month memberships which has resulted in almost all our members choosing the year option. Not only is our retention better with the 12-month membership, but it also allows us to project our future revenue.

Following the model most other gyms use

To stand out in the market, you need to offer something different, so I generally do the exact opposite of what the mainstream fitness franchises are doing. For instance, over the last several years, most new franchises that have opened have focused on large group class training. If you choose to follow this model for your gym business, you will most likely get lost in the shuffle with these other gyms and/or get into a price war where you’ll have to drop your prices to compete.

Neither of these are good situations for business. I’ve taken the opposite route for my gyms, focusing on the semi-private training model. And, since the beginning of the pandemic, we have dropped all our group classes. The semi-private model allows us to focus on and specialize in individual solutions for members and as a result, we can charge higher prices for this more premium service.

Keeping employees that don’t fit your culture

Most of us at one point have that one employee who may be a great trainer but for the most part is self-focused and does not fit in with the rest of your team or organization’s culture. Since hiring can be tough, we tend to keep that employee for far too long and it ends up having a negative long-term effect on the business. I

recently went through this situation and ended up parting ways with one of our longest tenured trainers who was just not a good culture fit. It’s been amazing to see the positive impact this move has had on our team morale and culture.

Trying to do everything yourself

As owners, we often feel like we need to do everything ourselves because, after all, our business is our baby. I have learned over time that if my staff can do something 80% as well as I can do it, it’s time to delegate that task. This both empowers your staff and frees up more time for you to focus on the bigger impact items that drive business growth.

As an owner, it’s still good to have your thumbprint on everything, but many of the smaller tasks can be delegated. Additionally, don’t be afraid to outsource certain workstreams. We outsource our Facebook advertising and website maintenance and content production. Again, we collaborate with these companies to have our thumbprint on materials but having them to do the work, frees up more time for us to focus on the business.

More from this Author

Dan is the owner of Kutting Edge Fitness in Kirkland, Washington and Kinetic Fitness in Butte, Montana – two start-up training gyms. He has worked in the health and fitness field for 15 years and holds a BS in Applied Health Science from Montana Tech University, where he was also a collegiate athlete.

Dan is a Certified Exercise Physiologist through the American College of Sports Medicine and a level 2 Titleist Performance Institute Golf Fitness Professional. He has been mentored by some of the top golf fitness and fitness business professionals in the country including Thomas Plummer, Rick Mayo, Frank Nash and Jason Glass. He now mentors several start-up gym owners himself. Dan is a well-respected speaker in the greater Northwest and is considered an expert on the business of start-up gyms, improving strength/power for golf and other rotational sports, and small group training.

Leave a Comment