gym ownership

Gym Ownership - Part 1 (Why, Influences, & Planning)

Why Open a Gym

The gym business is one of the most crowded industries in the country. Big commercial gyms, smaller micro-gyms, sport-specific gyms, pilates, spin, orange theory, the list goes on. Why go into it?

Strength and conditioning is something I do, every single day. I love training, and I love learning more about periodization, programming, and coaching. I’ve been involved in throwing weights around since I was 13, and much of my life is based around it. At this point, it might as well be in my DNA.

Gym ownership made sense - I’ve been training other for about ten years. I understand what right looks like. I also was fortunate work in three different business’s/organizations where training was the focal point, and saw examples to emulate and examples to steer clear of. This doesn’t mean I have the answer-key to the gym world, but I’m confident in my experiences and learning that we’re going down the right track.

Lastly, I wanted to make my own way in some form or fashion. Build a culture based on sound methodologies for all types. No trends or flavors of the week - focus on good programming and sound implementation to get athletes #strongerfasterbetterlookingnaked.

Financially, gym ownership is a big gamble. Lots of competition, high startup costs, and a fairly low return on investment. Microsoft isn’t going to offer me a million-dollar buyout.

So why do it? Ownership and community. Build your path, work hard, and see if it floats.

Planning and Influences

My family and I made the decision to come back to Charleston and start Line of Departure Athlete about a year before we actually made the move. I’m fortunate to have several friends who have forayed into this competitive industry, and have succeeded. I started by asking them several thousand A shout out to a few of the major players:

The owner of Mountain Tactical Institute, Rob Shaul (my former boss) taught me an incredible amount on coaching, programming, and life in general. I’m proud to employ many of his methodologies and to have the confidence in my own programming abilities to adapt programming to the needs of the athletes here in Charleston, SC. I’m also incredibly thankful to the athletes I had the pleasure of coaching in Jackson, WY… wildly impressive mountain-sport individuals who gave me an appreciation for the pursuits of climbing, mountain guiding, skiing, big game hunting, amongst many others. 

My close friend and brother-from-another-mother (BFAM) Brooks Woodfin, owner of Gym 22 in Jackson, WY endured all of my questions and showed me every number and blueprint behind the business curtain that I asked for. This kind of transparency is rare and I am grateful. Brooks has built a fantastic business for himself and for the well-being of his coaches. He’s also developed a fantastic culture at his gym where all shapes, sizes, and ages come in and get after it, day after day. 

Another BFAM, Ian Bowers, was likely my greatest sounding board on all aspects of the business and continues to be to this day. Ian and Hosea Sandstrom opened the first Crossfit gym (Lowcountry Crossfit) in the Charleston area in 2008, well before there was a micro-gym on every corner and in every shopping center. They hired me to coach while I was in college prior to the military, where I got my first experience coaching. The Lowcountry Crossfit community was incredibly close, and many of my closest friendships started there. Many of the athletes who train with us today are friends from the original gym, ten years later. 

Lastly, but most importantly, my wife has provided an incredible amount of understanding and support (both emotional and financial) as I planned to make my own way. Becky was pregnant when we made the decision to move and start the business - likely the worst time to try an entrepreneurial venture. She’s never wavered in her support and I am so grateful to her. 

The planning process was the same as any other business. I built a business plan, determined my budget, and revised as needed. The business plan can be onerous, and feels silly at times when predicting financials that are for the most part, made up or based on other business’s.

Regardless, it provided a structure and blueprint on the direction of the business that I certainly needed.

I met with representatives from the various Small Business associations, and generally didn’t walk away with much. The advice was too broad.

Fortunately, I found a gym-business mentorship service, Two Brain Business, which was incredibly helpful. They provided help on developing the systems and procedures that are truly needed for any business. Too often I got the feeling that many small business owners were winging it. The help from Two Brain was specific enough to this industry to give me confidence that it wouldn’t all fall apart if I stepped away for a day.

I saved up enough for the start-up costs plus six months of operating costs (about $30k in total). I was also advised to take out a loan. Despite my initial misgivings, I took out a loan of $20k, of which I only accepted $5k. This was a smart move, and I’m thankful I went through the process. It provided some extra cushioning for my personal financials as well as the business.

To be continued…