This post might not be filled with all the wonderful experiences that come with opening and running a fitness business (in fact it’s quite the opposite), but it’s filled with experiences I’m sure are shared by many other gym owners.
Would knowing any of this prior to opening a gym have changed my path? Doubtful. It would take a lot more than this to shake me from pursuing my passion, but it is an insight into the less glamorous aspects of owning a gym.
This is Your Entire Life
When you first open your gym, you are signing up for a 24/7 gig that pays you nothing. In fact, for the first few months, it will likely continue to take cash out of your pocket.
That’s right, the first months (and sometimes years) of owning your own business requires all of your time, money and life.
The idea that you will open a gym and within a month or two will have hundreds of members is a fantasy (for most). Sure, there are examples of gyms opening on day one with a few hundred members, but this is usually the result of having a strong brand, a savvy business mindset and thousands of dollars spent on marketing; not something the budding entrepreneur can usually afford.
For most of us, we are the coach, the admin, the marketer, the social media person and the cleaner. Running a fitness business takes up every waking second you have and if you’re not careful will lead to burn-out.
But, it’s not always that way. By implementing systems and processes, using software to automate hundreds of tasks and slowly bringing on staff to take over areas of your business, you can get to the good life.
You can get the life you were expecting when you first dreamt of owning a gym, but don’t expect to get there quickly.
Cleaning Hair Out of the Drain
If I were to list out the less glamorous tasks of running a fitness business, cleaning hair out the shower drain probably tops the list.
I dreaded the moments a member would come to me and say “Hey, the shower drain is blocked.”
I vividly remember finishing coaching classes, donning my rubber gloves and whatever I could find that closely resembled a hazmat suit and going to investigate what horrors lay in the u-bend.
Shower drains are the worst. A few months’ accumulation of hair, shower gel, skin and whatever else drains off the human body gathers, wrapped around plugs and piping.
The smell is nauseating enough, but when funk-ridden chunks of hair whip up and slap your face as you tear them from the piping, it can leave you questioning this gym ownership thing.
Filthy drains aside, there was always something gratifying in seeing the floors scrubbed clean and the equipment sparkling. Whether I did it first thing in the morning or last thing at night, it allowed me to put a tick in the “win” column.
Being a member of a gym is very different than being the owner. As the owner, managing your relationships becomes a game of chess.
We want to be everyone’s friend, but when it comes to failed payments, canceling memberships, members changing gyms and various disagreements, things can start to feel very personal.
We have lost some great friends over the years. Disagreements between members or between members and staff, unfortunately, require you to take charge of the situation. This often results in you needing to pick a side. I’ve fired members and staff members for the good of the business. These were people who were close friends, and this often meant the loss of those friendships.
However, some of my best friends are members and coaches at my gym. I will forever be grateful they walked through my doors. The people we get to meet on a daily basis truly are remarkable. Without being a gym owner, I don’t think I would have met such great individuals.
Everyone Thinks It’s Easy
If I had a penny for every time I heard the words, “just a coach,” I’d have a lot of pennies.
“You must have a really flexible work schedule as you’re just a coach.”
“I wish I could open a gym so I can train when I want and just be a coach.”
Nothing feels more disrespectful than when someone thinks you have an easy life because “you’re just a coach.”
I get it, they don’t see all the hats the gym owner wears. They don’t see your 4:00 AM alarm and your 11:00 PM bedtime. They don’t see your lost weekends to event planning, programming and responding to emails.
This is a huge testament to the hard-working, thoughtful, driven gym owners out there. We put up with a lot, but how many people who are not “just a coach” can say they get to work on their passion each and every day?
Emotional Investment in Chalk Use
This one is mostly specific to the affiliate gym space, but it is a real pain point from my experience. Of all the things I thought I would lose sleep over when running a fitness business, the overuse and abuse of chalk was not one of them.
Chalk is for the hands and a tiny amount at that. I’ve watched in agonizing astonishment as people chalk barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, chests and collarbones. I’ve even seen people chalk the soles of their shoes!
Of all the affiliate gym chalk infractions, nothing grinds my gears more than the chalky Hollywood clap, spraying a white mist into the air which slowly settles over all the nearby equipment and floor. As I watched the chalky dust settle I would let out a heavy sigh knowing it’s back to the cleaning kit once the last class is over.
Our Payoff is Impact
As gym owners, the real payoff is creating impact and building community. We have the opportunity to change lives, period.
As with most jobs out there, there are many things that make being a gym owner extremely challenging. I would be lying if I said that I’ve never thought about throwing in the towel. That being said, over the last 10+ years of owning two gyms, the good times far outweigh the bad, and the experience has been one I would never wish to replace. Whether you are an experienced gym owner or in the planning phase, I hope these stories help in some way or even make you laugh. Good luck out there, and thanks for all you do.