Opening any small business is an exciting, yet somewhat scary experience. The truth is that nearly half of small businesses in the United States will close within five years of opening. That statistic isn’t meant to alarm you, but rather to emphasize how critical planning and teamwork are to building a foundation for success that will keep your business growing for as long as you want!
The team at Jackrabbit Class, and Frank Shalein, CEO of 3rd Level Consulting, have been privileged to work with thousands of gymnastics gym owners. We’ve seen how committed the most successful owners have been when gathering information needed to make thoughtful decisions.
The strongest foundation for a successful gymnastics gym begins well before you open your doors. As a gym owner, you have numerous decisions to make. We’ve put together this guide that dives into the critical aspects of starting a children’s gym to guide you along the way:
- Clarify your vision
- Handle the legal aspect
- Understand the financial opportunity in your market
- Finance your business
- Obtain facilities and equipment
- Build your team
- Establish an ideal work/life balance
- Create and execute your marketing strategy
- Keep students and parents happy
- Establish a gym operation plan
- Hold on to your vision
Here are 11 business-building steps to take to grow your children’s gym.
1. Clarify your vision
You probably didn’t decide to open a children’s gym out of the blue. Something is driving you – perhaps whatever drove you into gymnastics. You also probably have ideas of what kind of life you’re looking for as a business owner. What is your why?
The first step for any new business owner is to clarify their vision of what their business will do and who it will serve, as well as what they want their role in the business to be. To help you determine your vision, explore topics such as:
- Your differentiator: identify what unique niche or need your gym will fulfill. The answer to this will come from your own passions and skills, plus what your local market needs or wants, even if it doesn’t know it yet.
- Your business model: determine your plan to reach and stay in the “profit zone.” If you come up with a hyper-niche market, you need to assess what sort of business model will work for this specific target market.
We’ll help you with what questions to ask yourself, what to research about your area and demographics, and guide you through some variables in different business models to consider. The goal is for you to have a clear vision about what kind of gym you’re opening, for whom, and what its basic model for making money is first.
2. Handle the legal aspect
There’s no getting around it. Setting up and running a business means you now have a variety of legal aspects that must be addressed. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What’s the legal structure of the business? Aside from determining your business model, you need to decide on the legal structure of your business because how you set up your business has a great impact on all legal aspects.
- Are there licensing and zoning issues to consider? The answers can affect where you locate your gym, what licenses you’ll need to operate it, and whether any of your staff require certain professional licenses or certifications.
- What kind of insurance do you need? You will need more types of coverage than you think to protect yourself, your business, and your team, as well as meet local legal requirements.
- What intellectual property do you need to protect? This includes your gym name and logo if you have one in mind already.
- Who should be on your board of advisors? No one runs a successful gymnastics gym alone. You’ll want to have the right team of professional advisors to guide you through these legal aspects and more.
While the legal conversations and to-do list is not always the most exciting part of owning and operating a gym, it’s certainly one of the most important!
3. Understand the financial opportunity in your market
During the vision stage, you researched your local market to understand a bit about the opportunity and challenges it offers. It’s important to understand these variables of your gym so you can price accordingly.
If you’re unsure where to start, seek professional assistance in developing your marketing share. You’ll be ready for conversations with landlords, investors, or bankers who will ask how you got your numbers.
Want to learn more about how other gyms in the industry are pricing their classes, how often they discount, and how much they are raising prices over the last 3 years? Download a free copy of the 2022 Industry Benchmark Report for insight to consider when opening your gym!
4. Finance your business
Financial mismanagement is one of the main reasons new businesses don’t succeed. Mastering the finances of your gym is essential. When you designated a close group of peers and advisors, you likely selected people with a combination of financial and industry expertise. If not, consider this your warning to reconsider and share your advisory network accordingly!
Even with a board of advisors in place, it’s important you understand your own finances, financial needs, and financial expectations. That is a responsibility you can’t outsource. Things to consider as a new gym owner include:
- How to create start-up and operating budgets.
- Standard and unique options for raising capital for start-up (to avoid financing through credit) and when you need some extra capital down the line.
- What kind of monthly financial statements do you need and how to read them.
- How to handle challenges and tips for managing your cash flow.
- What business metrics you should analyze to indicate the financial health of your gym.
Your gymnastics gym must be financially sound to stay in business. It’s important to set some expectations for the first couple of years of operation, plan when you should break even and when you should start realizing a profit. From here, you can identify and determine opportunities to expand!
5. Obtain facilities and equipment
You need to have a solid vision for your gym to start working out location and equipment logistics. The size of the facility you open sets a minimum boundary on your recurring costs and an upper boundary on your gym’s main source of revenue – providing classes and training. The location of your facility is likely critical to its ability to attract and keep students.
When looking at facilities, you should consider:
- what size facility you need to realize your vision,
- how to assess the pros and cons of different locations, and
- how facility size impacts your financial projections.
The cost of your equipment is driven in part by the size of your facility. However, there are other equipment cost variables to consider, such as quality and longevity, and whether having some unique equipment gives your gymnastics gym a competitive advantage over others in your area.
With an idea of what size gymnastics program you can host in your facility, it’s time to build a team to help you make this dream become reality.
6. Build your team
You’re going to need a team of reliable staff. Even family members who plan to work at your gym are considered staff. When it comes to youth activities, the quality of your gymnastics program and reputation depends primarily on the quality of your staff. Not to mention, payroll is typically a business’s largest monthly expense even above facility costs.
When building a team, you should think about the following:
- What kind of staff do you need on your team?
- What roles can you outsource or possibly contract?
- What should you address with your attorney with regard to hiring, firing, benefits, and management of employees?
- What should be included in employee contracts and policy documents for your gym?
- How do you plan to recruit and retain your staff?
- What kind of internal training programs do you need?
- How do you plan to build a company culture to support your vision of operational excellence and customer happiness?
- How can you empower your staff to be ambassadors of your gym?
Having a well-rounded team is one of the best investments you can make in your gym. Curious what the market rate is running for coaches and office staff? (—> Check out the 2022 Industry Ben
chmark Report to see what other gyms are paying their staff!)
7. Establish an ideal work/life balance
Maintaining a healthy work/life balance is a must for any business owner. If running a gym takes all your time and focus, it negatively impacts both your work and your personal life. Maintaining a strong work/life balance doesn’t always happen naturally – you need to plan for it by:
- Distinguishing between the high-value tasks that benefit most from your attention and those tasks that can be delegated or automated.
- Learning how to trust your team.
- Knowing the difference between bad stress and good stress so you can relieve and eliminate as much bad stress as possible.
- Leveraging your positive stress into positive results.
You have four energy categories (mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual) that need recovery time from hard work, just like the body, to achieve peak performance. If you don’t manage your work/life balance in a way that keeps you motivated and engaged in your gym, you’ll undermine every other aspect of operating a successful business.
8. Create and execute your marketing strategy
Your gym may be state-of-the-art. You may have the most talented, empathetic instructors, coaches, and trainers to be found. That may not be as exciting as you’d hoped if the right prospective families don’t know about your gym. Having a marketing strategy in place is essential to attracting the right customers and setting yourself apart in the marketplace.
The great news for you as a small, local business owner is that the opportunities to promote your gym to new students have never been easier. The challenge is that there are so many tactics, both digital and print, that it can feel overwhelming to know which ones to use when, which are must-dos, and which don’t make sense for your gym right away.
It’s important to have a well-rounded strategy that includes word-of-mouth, social media presence, advertisement in online and print publications, and gym reviews. It’s also important to build your Google account to optimize your local search results to assist parents when looking for a local gym for their child.
If you build it, they will come – right?
9. Keep students and parents happy
Student lifetime value measures how long a student stays at your gym and how they generate revenue for your business. Put simply, the longer a student and family stay at your gymnastics gym, the more valuable they become and the greater ROI they provide your business.
In order to keep students returning year after year, it’s important to include key components of an amazing customer experience that instills gym loyalty in students and families and builds a sense of community among all your families by:
- Laying out a formal vision and plan for inspiring customer delight.
- Defining how your gym will provide an exceptional experience for students and families.
- Making it easy for students and families to register for classes, pay fees, and stay connected with your gym.
- Designing processes to address concerns, complaints, and unhappy parents as needed.
- Transforming happy students and families into gym ambassadors and referral sources that keep your prospective student pipeline full.
- Training and holding staff accountable for doing their part to execute your vision and customer delight plan.
Providing a high-quality gym facility and program are requirements to operate a financially stable gym. If you want a gym that’s thriving with both financial and personal rewards, using top-notch customer service to turn customers into a tight-knit community is the strongest advertising you could ask for.
10. Establish a gym operation plan
Gym operations will become your day-to-day focus but you can’t manage daily operations without putting a plan together. Here’s how you can get started:
- Set up phone and internet systems
- Set up and integrate class management software
- Write operational policies and manuals on everything from gym safety and equipment maintenance to canceled class and absent student policies
There are all sorts of detailed decisions you have to make as a gym owner and document the information so you and your staff can act consistently as a team. Establishing an operational plan also requires you to identify key functions and tasks and then delegate them to staff or automate them through your class management software. Key functions include things such as:
- Scheduling classes and staff
- Managing class, family, and student information
- Collecting fees and paying monthly bills
- Facility and equipment management
- Product inventory and sales
- Recordkeeping and reporting
Having operational manuals to outline policies, processes, and requirements is something you’ll be glad you took the time to create. Having clear systems in place will let everyone on your team know exactly what needs to be done so your gym can be successful, even when you aren’t physically in the building!
11. Hold on to your vision
As important as day-to-day operations are, you never want to lose sight of the vision for your gym. After all, it’s the owner’s responsibility to guide the gym and its people towards that vision. To ensure that your vision stays in focus, remember to:
- Detail some of the tools and tips for staying on top of your gym’s finances and operations to ensure financial stability and opportunities for growth.
- Identify new opportunities to grow your gym through ongoing analysis of your gym, your market, and the industry.
- Ensure your gym is positioned for each phase of growth and how to assess when your gym may be ready to take a leap into the next phase.
Each gym owner has different dreams for their business. Perhaps you have visions of expanding your gymnastics gym into a multi-site location. Perhaps your vision is to develop an instructional system you can market and license to other gyms and coaches. Or maybe you want one, thriving gym where you can eventually transition into a more hands-off owner to enjoy its financial rewards.
Whatever your vision is, you need to proactively pursue growth by staying on top of what’s happening at your gym today and understanding how to take the next steps for the future.
Starting a new children’s gym is hard work
It takes considerable work to start any small business. Tremendous effort is required even before your gym opens its doors. Yet, we see how committed and motivated gym owners are to providing their students with a healthy, fun environment, which makes the business side of owning a gym completely worth it when you’re living your passion.
Here at Jackrabbit, we know it’s important to understand the industry in order to make sure your gym can stand out. That’s why we’ve compiled data over the last 3 years from over 4,000 youth activity centers to show the trends that are leaving and the trends that are on the rise in the 2022 Industry Benchmark Report. This report serves as a great resource for gym owners – new and old – so you can analyze how you measure up and find opportunities for growth!
ABOUT CO-AUTHOR FRANK SAHLEIN
Frank Sahlein is the CEO of 3rd Level Consulting, former co-owner of the Wings Center (Idaho USA), and developer of the SmartEDGE Resources online business management platform. A former gymnast and coach, Frank now travels globally to work with both child activity center associations and individual clients. The 3rd Level Consulting team provides an array of professional business services, including Membership subscriptions, business start-up or expansion planning, valuations, buy/sell services, training events, and more.