How to open a gym franchise (12 step guide)

Vicki Morillo
11 min read
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For those who love health and fitness, owning a gym franchise can be an exciting chance to turn passion into profit. By joining hands with a well-known fitness brand, you benefit from using their proven business methods, popular name, and know-how.

However, the journey is about more than just picking a brand name and setting up shop. It's about understanding the fitness market, weighing the potential ups and downs, and making smart financial decisions. Opening a gym franchise is a big step, filled with challenges and opportunities. And while it's an exciting venture, it's essential to understand the full picture.

One of the standout benefits of opening a fitness franchise is the support you get. While entrepreneurs are known for their drive and innovation, something is reassuring about having a team of experts to guide you. Franchisors offer training, resources, and continuous help, ensuring you're ready for the everyday tasks of running a gym. This guidance is crucial, especially when dealing with the ever-changing fitness world, from new workout trends to important safety rules.

Opening a gym from scratch might sound appealing, but the journey of opening a franchise comes with its own set of advantages. It's a unique mix of doing things your way and having a strong support system. Ultimately, it's about letting your love for fitness shine through, backed by a brand already making its mark in the industry. This combination can lead to a successful and rewarding business venture. 

Let's explore the steps to opening a gym franchise, weigh the pros and cons of ownership, and highlight essential things you must know before starting this venture.

12 steps to opening a gym franchise

1. Research the market


Understanding the fitness market and its landscape is crucial before making any commitments. Start by identifying your target demographics. Are you catering to seasoned athletes, weekend warriors, or those just starting their fitness journey? This decision will influence many aspects of your business, from location to equipment. A thorough analysis of the competition in your desired area is also vital. Determine the market saturation, identify the strengths and weaknesses of existing gyms, and find opportunities where your franchise can stand out.

2. Choose the right franchise

Selecting the right fitness franchise is akin to laying the foundation for your business. Begin by investigating the array of gym franchises available. Each will have its unique selling points, ethos, and operational style. Align these with your personal and business goals. Key factors to consider include the franchise's reputation, the support it offers franchisees, and the associated fees. Remember, this decision will shape your business's identity, so ensure the franchise resonates with your vision and values.

3. Secure financing

Embarking on a gym franchise venture requires a clear financial plan. First and foremost, determine the initial investment needed for your chosen franchise. This will encompass a range of costs, from the franchise fee to potential renovations and equipment purchases. Once you have a ballpark figure, explore your financing avenues. Whether you're considering bank loans, seeking out investors, or tapping into personal savings, it's essential to have a diversified financial strategy. This ensures you have the necessary funds to start and provides a safety net for the initial months of operation when profits might be lean.

4. Attend franchise discovery days

Franchise Discovery Days are your window into the inner workings of your chosen franchise. These events, often organized by franchisors, provide prospective franchisees with a comprehensive understanding of the business model, ethos, and support mechanisms. It's an opportunity to meet face-to-face with franchisors, ask pressing questions, and gauge if the franchise's operations align with your expectations. Make the most of these sessions by preparing a list of questions in advance and actively engaging with the presented material. This step is invaluable in ensuring you're making an informed decision about your investment.

5. Review the franchise agreement

This is one of the most critical steps in the process. The franchise agreement is the legal document that outlines the franchisor's and franchisee's rights and responsibilities. It covers everything from fees, territory rights, training, and support, to the duration of the franchise and the terms of renewal or termination.

Understand all terms and conditions -  it's essential to be clear on every agreement aspect. This will dictate your relationship with the franchisor and set the parameters for your business operations.

Consider hiring a lawyer with franchise experience - given the legal complexities and the long-term commitment involved, it's wise to have an expert review the agreement. They can highlight potential red flags, ensure favorable terms, and guide you through negotiations.

6. Find the ideal location

The success of a gym often hinges on its location. It's not just about being in a busy area but accessible to your target demographic.

Consider factors like foot traffic, accessibility, and proximity to competitors -  a location with high visibility, easy parking, and distance from direct competitors can appeal more to potential members.

Secure a lease or purchase property - once you've identified the perfect spot, move quickly to finalize the terms. Whether leasing or buying, ensure the agreement is favorable and potential expansion or changes are flexible.

7. Undergo franchise training

Franchisors usually provide thorough training to ensure their franchisees are well-prepared for success. This training typically includes an overview of the business model, daily operations, marketing strategies, and proprietary software or systems

Attending the training sessions the franchisor provides is highly recommended, as they offer valuable insights and best practices to save time and money in the long run.

Learning about the business model and operations is important to ensure a smooth launch of your gym. Embrace the learning process and seek clarification on any areas of uncertainty to enhance your knowledge.

8. Hire and train staff

Your staff will be the face of your gym, interacting with members daily and shaping their overall experience. Ensuring you have a competent, friendly, and well-trained team is paramount.

Recruit qualified trainers and personnel. Depending on the type of gym franchise, you might need certified personal trainers, group class instructors, or specialized coaches. Ensure they have the necessary qualifications and align with your gym's ethos and culture.

Provide training as per the franchise's guidelines. While your staff might have experience, they must understand your franchise's protocols, systems, and values. This ensures consistency across the brand and helps deliver a standardized experience to members.

9. Set up the gym


Now comes the exciting part – turning a space into a buzzing fitness hub.

Buy the necessary equipment. Depending on your franchise, this may include weightlifting machines, cardio equipment, yoga mats, and resistance bands. Ensure that the equipment is high quality and meets the franchisor's standards.

Install security systems. Safety is essential. Invest in good security systems such as surveillance cameras and access control mechanisms to safeguard your members and assets.

Design the interior according to the franchisor's standards. The layout, decor, and atmosphere are crucial factors in attracting and retaining members. Follow the franchisor's guidelines, and add unique personal touches to make your gym stand out.

10. Launch marketing and promotion

With everything in place, it's time to create a buzz and attract members.

One way to do this is by using marketing strategies that the franchisor recommends. They have likely tested various campaigns and know what works best for the brand. By taking advantage of their expertise, you can get a head start.

Another effective approach is to offer local promotions and introductory deals. For instance, you could offer special discounts for the first 100 members, discounted annual memberships, or free trial sessions to entice potential members.

You can also build relationships with nearby businesses through partnerships and collaboration. By teaming up with local cafes, health stores, or other relevant businesses, you can promote each other and expand your reach within the community.

11. Host a grand opening

It's time to celebrate your hard work and introduce your gym to the community! Consider organizing an event that offers tours and free trial sessions, allowing potential members to experience the facilities, meet trainers, and get a feel for the gym's atmosphere. You could also offer special sign-up deals to encourage on-the-spot registrations, with exclusive offers for those who sign up during the grand opening. Additionally, it's a great idea to engage with the community by inviting local influencers, press, and community leaders to help amplify your reach and establish your gym as a key player in the local fitness scene.

12. Maintain ongoing communication with the franchisor

Once your gym is up and running, it's essential to maintain a strong relationship with the franchisor. This ensures you're always in the loop and can leverage the collective knowledge and resources of the franchise network.

Attending regular meetings or webinars is vital. Franchisors organize periodic sessions to update their members, share best practices, and address concerns. These sessions are priceless for staying up-to-date and ensuring your gym meets the brand's evolving standards.

Keeping track of changes in operations or marketing strategies is necessary. The fitness industry constantly evolves, and what worked last year may be less effective today. By staying in sync with the franchisor, you can quickly adapt to changes and stay ahead of your competitors.

Feel free to seek support when needed. The franchisor can assist you if you're facing operational challenges, require marketing advice, or want to expand your business. Reach out and utilize their expertise to achieve your goals.

What are the pros and cons of opening a gym franchise?

Here's a breakdown of the pros and cons of opening a gym franchise:

Pros of opening a gym franchise:

  • Established brand recognition: With a franchise, you're buying into an already recognized brand, which can help attract members more quickly than starting from scratch.
  • Proven business model: Franchises come with tried-and-tested business models, reducing the risk of operational mistakes that independent startups might face.
  • Training and support: Most franchisors offer comprehensive training and ongoing marketing, operations, and technology support.
  • Easier financing: Banks and financial institutions often view franchises as lower-risk, making it easier to secure loans or financing.
  • Bulk purchasing power: Being part of a franchise network can provide access to bulk purchasing deals for equipment, software, and other necessities, leading to cost savings.
  • Marketing azassistance: Franchisors usually provide marketing materials, strategies, and sometimes even national advertising campaigns that benefit all franchisees.

Cons of opening a gym franchise:

  • Initial and ongoing costs: Franchises often come with significant upfront fees, with continuing royalties and marketing fees to consider.
  • Less autonomy: While you own the business, you're bound by the franchisor's rules and guidelines, which can limit your creative and operational freedom.
  • Contractual obligations: Franchise agreements can be long-term, locking you into a relationship with the franchisor for many years.
  • Reputation dependency: If the franchise brand faces a scandal or negative publicity, it can impact your location, even if the issue didn't originate there.
  • Exit challenges: Selling your franchise or exiting the business can be more complicated due to franchisor approval processes and potential buyer restrictions.
  • Profit sharing: Some franchisors require a percentage of your profits and regular royalty fees.

What are the things you must know before opening a gym franchise?

Here are the things you must know before opening a gym franchise:

Local regulations and licensing: Different regions may have specific health, safety, and business regulations for gyms. Ensure you're familiar with local requirements and obtain the necessary licenses.

Insurance needs: Gyms require various insurance policies, from general liability to equipment and even professional liability for trainers. Understand the coverage you'll need to protect your investment.

Trends in fitness: The fitness industry is ever-evolving. Stay updated with the latest trends, from virtual workouts to new training methodologies, to ensure your gym remains relevant.

Member retention strategies: Acquiring new members is essential, but retaining them is equally crucial. Learn strategies to keep members engaged, from loyalty programs to regular feedback sessions.

Maintenance and upkeep: Gyms require regular maintenance, from equipment servicing to facility cleanliness—plan for these recurring tasks and costs.

Diversity in offerings: Consider offering diverse classes or training programs to cater to a broader audience. This could include specialized classes for seniors, kids, or specific fitness goals.

Community engagement: Building a community within your gym can foster loyalty and word-of-mouth referrals. Explore ways to create a sense of belonging among members.

Sustainability practices: More consumers are valuing businesses that prioritize sustainability. Consider eco-friendly practices, from equipment choices to facility operations.

Digital presence: In today's digital age, having a strong online presence, from social media to a user-friendly website, is crucial for attracting and engaging members.

Feedback mechanisms: Implement systems to gather feedback from members regularly. This can help in continuous improvement and addressing any concerns promptly.

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Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about opening a gym franchise

How much does it typically cost to open a gym franchise?

What are the ongoing fees associated with a gym franchise?

How long does it usually take to break even or start profiting when opening a gym franchise?

What kind of support can I expect from the franchisor when opening a gym franchise?