8 things to do before buying a gym (+ mistakes to avoid)

Vicki Morillo
11 min read
Some additional information in one line

Are you thinking of buying a gym? It's a smart move. Instead of starting from scratch, you get a ready-made gym where people already come to work out. Purchasing an existing gym means you avoid the challenges of setting up a new one. But finding the right gym and making it yours can be challenging.

Before you start, knowing what you're getting into is good. Our guide will help you understand the basics of how to buy a gym. We'll talk about things to do before buying a gym and mistakes to avoid and, by the end, you'll have a clearer understanding of what to consider and how to approach the process of acquiring a gym.

Things to do before buying a gym


1. Self-assessment

Take a moment to reflect on your motivations and aspirations. Why do you want to own a gym? What impact do you hope to make in your community? Visit several gyms in different locations. Feel the ambiance, observe the clientele, and imagine yourself in the owner's shoes. Does it excite you? Does it align with your personal and professional goals? Trust your instincts; they often provide insights that raw data cannot.

2. Market research

Step into your potential customer's shoes. Visit various fitness centers in your desired area during different times of the day. Notice the crowd during peak hours, the types of full classes, and the popular amenities. Talk to members and trainers. Understand their likes, dislikes, and what they feel might be missing in the current market. This hands-on approach will give you a real-world understanding of the market dynamics and help you carve a niche for your gym.

3. Due diligence

Don't just rely on paperwork and figures when considering a particular gym for purchase. Spend a day or even a week there. Engage with the staff, participate in classes, and use the facilities. Understand the reasons behind the sale. Is it a strategic move, or are there underlying issues? Engage in open conversations with the current owner. Their insights and experiences can provide invaluable lessons and help you make an informed decision.

4. Financial considerations

Money matters can't be taken lightly. Beyond the initial purchase price, understand the operational costs, including utilities, staff salaries, maintenance, and marketing. Visit local equipment suppliers and get quotes. If you are considering a franchise, understand the ongoing fees and what they cover. It's wise to consult with a financial advisor who can provide a clear picture of the investment and potential returns.

5. Location

The right location can make or break your gym. Beyond the usual metrics of foot traffic and accessibility, consider the neighborhood's vibe. Is it vibrant and energetic, or calm and serene? Depending on your gym's concept, one might be more suitable than the other. Walk around the area, visit neighboring businesses, and chat with locals. Their feedback can offer a fresh perspective on the suitability of the location.

6. Legal and regulatory

Navigating the legal landscape can be daunting. Beyond the necessary permits and licenses, understand the local health and safety regulations. Regularly consult with a legal expert to ensure compliance. Insurance is another critical aspect. Beyond the basics, consider coverage for potential injuries, equipment damage, and reputation management.

7. Staffing

Your staff will be the face of your gym. Beyond qualifications and experience, gauge their fitness, passion, and interpersonal skills. A warm smile, genuine encouragement, and a friendly demeanor can turn occasional visitors into loyal members. Regularly invest in their training and well-being. A motivated and happy team will always go the extra mile for your business.

8. Consultation

While it's essential to trust your instincts, seeking expert advice can provide clarity. Whether it's a business consultant, a seasoned gym owner, or a community leader, their experiences and insights can guide you through the complexities of gym ownership and set you on the path to success.

How to find gyms for sale?

If you're looking to buy a gym, there are several ways to find available options. Here are some ways to find gyms for sale:

Online platforms: You can start your search by browsing online platforms specializing in business listings, such as BizBuySell and LoopNet.

Franchise opportunities: Buying into a gym franchise is less risky than building a gym from the ground up. As a franchise owner, you’ll benefit from a proven business model, brand recognition, existing customer base, vendor network, and robust franchisee support system. Some popular gym franchises include Gold's Gym, Anytime Fitness, and Planet Fitness.

Specialty lenders: If you plan to buy a CrossFit affiliate, functional fitness facility, or similar micro gym, consider a specialty lender with clear ties to the fitness and gym industry. For example, Equipment Finance’s founders were coaches and athletes, so they have personal knowledge of the obstacles you’ll face when seeking capital to buy a gym.

Gym brokerages: Companies like We Sell Gyms specialize in buying, selling, and leasing fitness-related businesses. They can help you find the right opportunity to achieve your goals.

What are the common mistakes to avoid when purchasing a gym?

Every business venture has challenges, and buying a gym is no exception. While the journey is filled with opportunities, some pitfalls can derail your success. Knowing these 5 common mistakes can help you navigate your path more confidently.

  1. Overlooking hidden costs

The price tag on a gym might seem straightforward, but there are often costs lurking beneath the surface. Maintenance expenses can creep up, especially if equipment wears out or the facility needs unexpected repairs. Licensing and permits can come with their fees—always budget for these unforeseen expenses to avoid financial strain.

  1. Failing to assess local competition

While the fitness industry is booming, it's highly competitive and crowded. Before settling on a location or buying an existing gym, closely examine the local competition. How many other gyms are in the vicinity? What services do they offer? Ignoring the competition can lead to challenges in attracting and retaining members.

  1. Neglecting marketing and branding

Even with the best facilities and services, a gym can only work if people know about it. Relying solely on word of mouth or hoping customers will walk in can be risky. Investing time and resources into effective marketing and branding is essential to build a strong customer base.

  1. Underestimating the importance of trained staff

Your staff is the face of your gym. Each team member plays a role in the member experience, from personal trainers to receptionists. Hiring in haste or skimping on training can lead to subpar service, affecting your gym's reputation.

  1. Not having a clear business plan

Venturing into gym ownership without a clear business plan is like setting sail without a compass. A well-thought-out plan outlines your business goals, financial projections, marketing strategies, and growth opportunities. It serves as a roadmap, guiding your decisions and helping you stay on track.

How do you do due diligence when buying a gym business?

Due diligence is the comprehensive appraisal of a business, especially before acquiring it, to establish its assets and liabilities and evaluate its commercial potential. It's a critical process that safeguards potential buyers from unforeseen liabilities and pitfalls.

When conducting due diligence for a gym business, examine its financial records. Analyzing profit and loss statements, balance sheets, and cash flow statements will provide insights into its financial health. Membership data, including numbers, retention rates, and contract specifics, will help gauge the gym's market position.

The physical assets of the gym, such as equipment, should be inspected for condition and potential replacement needs. The terms of the gym's premises, whether leased or owned, can have operational implications, so it's essential to review lease agreements or property documents. Employee contracts should be assessed to understand terms, salaries, and potential disputes.

Identifying any outstanding debts, loans, or legal issues the gym might face is crucial. Operational legality is another focal point; ensure the gym possesses all required licenses and permits. The gym's reputation, which can be gauged through online reviews and testimonials, offers insights into member satisfaction.

Contracts with suppliers should be scrutinized for hidden costs or unfavorable terms. If the gym boasts intellectual property, such as branded workouts, ensure these rights are included in the sale. Lastly, a clear understanding of the local competitive landscape will indicate the gym's standing in the market and potential areas for growth or improvement.

What are the financing options available for buying a gym business?

Securing the right financing is crucial when buying a gym business. Here are some of the primary financing options available:

Traditional bank loans: Many banks offer business loans tailored explicitly for acquisitions. They typically require a detailed business plan, financial projections, and collateral.

SBA loans: The Small Business Administration (SBA) in the U.S. provides loan guarantees to banks, making it easier for small businesses to secure loans. The SBA 7(a) loan program is popular for business acquisitions.

Seller financing: In some cases, the seller might offer to finance a portion of the sale price. This means you'll repay the seller in installments, often with interest, over an agreed period.

Private investors or venture capitalists: If you can demonstrate the potential for significant growth and returns, private investors or venture capital firms might be interested in financing your acquisition.

Personal savings: Using your savings can be the simplest way to finance the purchase, eliminating the need for interest payments or sharing equity.

Home equity loans: If your home has significant equity, consider taking out a home equity loan or line of credit to finance the gym purchase.

Partnerships: Consider collaborating with a partner or a group of investors to make the acquisition more feasible. By pooling resources, the process can be handled more efficiently. 

Crowdfunding: Platforms like Kickstarter or GoFundMe allow businesses to raise small amounts of money from many people. This method, though, is more unconventional for gym acquisitions and might be better suited for specific projects or expansions within the gym.

What are some tips for success after buying your gym?

The real work begins once you've made the investment and the keys are in your hand. Owning a gym is a continuous journey of adaptation, innovation, and engagement. Here are some actionable tips to ensure your gym thrives and stands out in a competitive market.

Engage with the community

Building strong ties with the local community can be a game-changer. Host events, workshops, or health fairs to create a sense of belonging. Collaborate with local businesses for cross-promotions or sponsor local sports events. A gym seen as an active member of the community often garners more loyalty and trust.

Offer unique classes or services

Diversify your offerings to cater to a broader audience. It could be a new fitness trend, a unique class blending different workout styles, or services like nutrition counseling. Keeping things fresh and exciting can attract new members and retain existing ones.

Regularly update equipment and facilities

A gym with outdated equipment or worn-out facilities can be a turn-off for members. Regularly assess the condition of your equipment and make replacements or upgrades as needed. Keeping the gym clean, hygienic, and in top shape is crucial for member satisfaction.

Implement feedback mechanisms for members

Your members are your best critics. Implement feedback systems, suggestion boxes, online surveys, or face-to-face discussions. Listening to their needs, concerns, and suggestions can provide valuable insights into areas of improvement.

What is the process for transferring gym memberships and contracts when buying a gym business?

Transferring memberships and contracts is a delicate process that requires careful planning to ensure continuity and maintain member trust. Here's a step-by-step approach for transferring gym memberships and contracts when buying a gym business:

  1. Review existing contracts: Begin by understanding the terms of current membership agreements. Are there any clauses that address ownership changes or transferability?
  2. Legal consultation: Engage a lawyer to guide you through the legalities of transferring contracts. They can help draft any necessary transfer agreements or amendments to existing contracts.
  3. Communication with members: Before the sale is finalized, inform members about the change in ownership. Address any concerns and reassure them about the continuity of services, pricing, and other relevant details.
  4. Data transfer: Ensure a secure transfer of member data, including personal details, payment information, and membership history. Adhere to data protection regulations to safeguard member privacy.
  5. Addressing cancellations: Some members might choose to cancel their memberships due to the change in ownership. Have a process to handle these cancellations gracefully, ensuring all contract terms are met.
  6. Onboarding new members: If you plan to introduce new membership models or pricing, have a system to onboard new members seamlessly.
  7. Staff training: Ensure the staff is well-informed about the transfer process and can effectively address member queries or concerns.
  8. Feedback mechanism: Implement a feedback system to gather member insights during the transition. This can help you identify and address any potential issues promptly.
  9. Renewals and upgrades: For members nearing the end of their contracts, offer incentives or promotions to encourage renewals. This can help retain members and foster loyalty during the transition.
  10. Documentation: Keep detailed records of all transferred contracts, amendments, and communications with members. This can be invaluable for future reference or in case of disputes.

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Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about how to buy a gym

Is it more cost-effective to buy an existing gym or start from scratch?

How long does it typically take to see a profit after purchasing a gym?

What are the ongoing operational costs of running a gym?

How can I differentiate my gym from competitors in the area?

Is it advisable to partner with fitness influencers or celebrities?