Though households across the country may be feeling the pinch, now is the time to consider opening a gym in the UK as people continue to prioritise fitness. Fitness became an important part of many people’s lives during lockdown, and as restrictions eased, gym memberships picked up. In 2022, the UK’s health and fitness market grew by 25.2%, so if you’ve got industry experience and are keen to start your own fitness business, there’s a healthy client base to tap into.
If you’d like tips on how to start a gym business, we’ll highlight all the key points to consider when you’re bringing your fitness enterprise to life. From the rules and regulations to the practicalities of setting up your premises, we’ll walk you through the process and help you navigate the early stages of setting up your gym.
How the gym became the heavyweight of the fitness industry
The COVID-19 lockdown hit Britain’s gyms hard, so it may have come as a surprise to the industry, just how well the sector is recovering. Being stuck at home during the pandemic not only gave gym goers a renewed appreciation of the gym but also encouraged those who had previously had no interest in fitness to spend time focusing on their health and wellness. As the country lifted its restrictions, gyms became a hive of activity.
Gyms are an attractive prospect to those who wish to enhance their fitness levels and push their physical limits. They offer equipment that few could house at home, and many feel a sense of camaraderie with other gym goers. What’s more, personal instructors can provide members with a safe and effective routine to follow to meet their own goals, offering the motivation that solo workouts often lack.
What are the benefits of opening a gym in the UK?
If you’re interested in starting a gym business, there’s a good chance you have professional experience within the industry or are an avid fan of personal fitness. Choose to start a gym, and you can channel your enthusiasm for health and use it to carve your niche in the fitness sector.
Though you have the passion, does the industry have the potential? The answer is currently a resounding yes, and you’ll be pleased to hear there are many benefits of opening your own gym:
- It’s a growth market – If you can get the location, equipment, staffing, and marketing right, there is the potential for a successful business.
- The sky’s the limit – If you get the formula of your gym right, you can expand your first establishment and set up further gyms, locally or in new locations.
- You can create the gym of your dreams – Being in control of all the decisions, you can curate a range of equipment and a skillset among your staff that reflects your idea of the perfect gym.
- You can change people’s lives – The gym can be a transformative part of a person’s health and fitness journey, and you and your team can enjoy being part of that journey.
What are the different types of gyms?
If you’re opening a gym in the UK, think about the type of gym you’d like to run – and there are more options than you think.
The broadest category to consider first is whether your gym will be commercial or private. A commercial gym is open to anyone happy to pay for membership. In contrast, a private gym is usually set in a smaller premise, may specialise in a specific fitness area, and hosts a smaller membership of clients, often offering them a more exclusive and bespoke service.
There are further types of gyms that you can explore to see which fit with your personal goals. Try to consider which gym niche needs to be filled in your locality:
- Personal training – Gyms with a strong focus on one-on-one personal training sessions have broad appeal.
- Fitness classes – A variety of fitness classes can be a real draw for customers, and many gyms also have a packed schedule to pull in high numbers alongside the use of standard gym equipment.
- 24-hour gyms – Offering standard equipment but with the benefit of round-the-clock access.
- Powerlifting gyms – Where the equipment and staff allow members to focus on their strength training.
- Boutique gyms – Which specialise in a particular area of fitness, such as yoga, martial arts, or high-performance sports.
Understanding the rules and regulations
When you’re opening a gym, there are several regulatory hoops you need to jump through. However, you’ll be pleased to know that gym owners aren’t “up to their necks” in strict regulations. Indeed, to date, there is no national industry regulator who monitors the safety of fitness establishments. Instead, when you set up your gym, you’ll need to curate a safe environment for your staff and members as per the guidelines set out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). For a more industry-specific approach, you can use the code for standards set out on the UK Active website to help you formulate rigorous safety procedures in your gym, pertaining to the type of equipment used within these spaces.
As the business owner and someone likely to put in a lot of hours on the gym floor, you must hold a minimum Level 2 qualification as a fitness instructor.
There are further regulations you may need to follow for your premises, including:
- Complying with Regulation (EC) No. 852/2004 of the hygiene of foodstuffs and the Food Hygiene Regulations 2006, if you prepare or sell food. Get in touch with your local authority’s environmental health department for support.
- If you plan to play copyrighted music in your gym, you must secure the right type of license. For music used on the gym floor or in fitness classes you will need an exercise-to-music license, while for general background music, you will need a background music license. Both can be purchased from Phonographic Performance Limited. Furthermore, if you plan to fit televisions on the gym walls, make sure you have a TV license for the premises.
- If you employ staff, you’ll need to hold at least £5 million in employers’ liability cover.
- Computerised records of your member’s details need to be protected as do images captured on CCTV. Register as a data user with the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Setting up a gym checklist – what are the first steps?
Starting a gym business may feel overwhelming, but our checklist will take you through all the key early stages.
- Create a business plan – Consider your business plan as the blueprint to guide all future decisions you make as you set up your business. In addition to covering all the standard steps a new business must take – such as registering with HMRC as a self-employed business, it will also help you think about the nuts and bolts of the business in general.
- Piecing together your plan will give you a clear vision and encourage you to choose your niche and identify a unique selling point, research your competitors and target market, and ensure you plan financially for each step. New to creating a business plan? You can use the template provided by the Prince’s Trust. Take time over your business plan because – if you need investors or a loan to help fund your new gym, they’ll want to peruse this plan to ensure you’re taking feasible steps to launch the enterprise
- Choose a location – The location of any business is important, but with a gym, you should prioritise it. Members take the gym’s location very seriously, with few willing to travel more than four miles and a high number citing a poor location as the reason they left a gym. You’ll therefore, need to focus on a location with a high housing density within a four-mile radius.
- Think about the type of gym you’re offering and whether it will work in your chosen location. If you’re planning to open a private gym, position yourself closer to trendy neighbourhoods with a higher percentage of young professionals. A commercial gym may work well in areas popular with families, where 24-hour options and off-peak memberships could work well by catering to working and stay-at-home parents.
- Choose the premises – When opening a gym business, your gym premises need sufficient space and even the potential for expansion if you’re starting out conservatively. It’s recommended that you seek 10-15 square metres of floor space per member per session. In addition to this area for working out on equipment, you will need space to accommodate locker rooms and shower units, toilets, a reception and waiting area, and you may like a café area and an office space for your admin. Think about parking and consider how you’ll facilitate your disability access.
- Branding, marketing, and sales – You’re offering an aspirational service and want to encourage members to your gym to better their lives. This takes careful branding and marketing. Set up your website and socials as early on in the process as possible, offering early bird membership deals and allowing potential members to watch the gym progress as you set it up. Listen to your followers as they may give you valuable feedback regarding the equipment they want from a gym and the type of fitness classes they like to attend. If you’re great at fitness but not so adept at branding and marketing, consider hiring an expert to give your new business the best chance
- The gym market is competitive – You need to get your branding and marketing just right. You’ll want to promote what a friendly, professional, and inclusive establishment you are, but you also need to tell the story of your gym, explaining what type of activities can be performed there and what the general vibe of the place is. A great digital marketing campaign can achieve this. Then, to keep your membership numbers up in an industry well-known for its peaks and troughs of new members, you need someone on your team who is strong in sales.
- Protecting your business – In addition to following all the rules and regulations, the savvy new gym owner will take out comprehensive insurance coverage to protect their finances, staff, and members. You’ll learn more about this shortly, but don’t be afraid to take out a policy early in the gym opening process to protect assets such as your premises and its contents.
How much will it cost, and what should I charge?
The cost of opening a gym in the UK can seem a little eye-watering. Understanding that you might need to inject up to £100,000 to set up an average-sized commercial gym gives you a good idea of the early outlays.
The cost of purchasing or renting your premises will account for a generous proportion of your initial outlay and ongoing costs, with mortgage or rental payments. You’ll also need to factor in the costs of remodelling the space to make it work as a gym. For example, you may need to knock down walls and alter the plumbing to accommodate showers and toilet facilities.
Another one of the key outlays that make up this large initial investment is the acquisition of gym equipment. The type of equipment you buy must accurately reflect the style of gym you’re opening, and it’s prudent not to buy pieces that won’t really be used. If you plan to run a standard gym, you’ll almost certainly want to include:
- Weight machines and benches
- Press machines
- Free weights such as kettlebells and barbells
- Exercise bikes
- Cross trainers
- Stair climbers
- Rowing machine
- Balance trainers
Think about your gym’s target market. Will your members want to be doing a lot of cardio or strength training? Are you targeting an older clientele who need low-impact and easy-to-use machines?
If your gym is boutique, what equipment does your niche require? If you’re focusing on yoga and Pilates, you may not need the machines mentioned above and instead focus on light pieces such as resistance bands and exercise balls. If you’re offering martial arts or boxing, you must purchase punch bags and a training ring.
When planning your inventory, a good rule of thumb is to purchase enough pieces to cater for 15% of your membership total per hourly session. For example, if you were starting with 100 members, you would buy 15 pieces of equipment. You should budget around £1000 per piece when making your early expenditure estimates. Purchasing outright isn’t your only option as you can also explore:
- Purchasing on finance – Some suppliers will allow you to pay off your equipment over time. This will allow you to purchase higher-quality equipment or more equipment than your capital currently allows.
- Second-hand gym equipment – This is a feasible option if you can source high-quality pieces. You need to be careful that they are in good working order, but with diligent research and a professional assessment, these can be a cost-effective addition to your inventory.
- Renting – You should be able to rent most of the common pieces of equipment. Please note this will represent the more expensive route to stocking your gym over time but offer an affordable way to stock your gym in the first year of trading.
- Franchising – If you choose to take on a franchise gym, you may be able to secure better equipment than you could otherwise afford. Your franchise may also make it easier to stock your gym with the most popular equipment models as fitness trends change.
An important financial investment is your staff. Great staff will shape the success of your gym, and you should hire a team that provides the skillset that achieves your gym’s goals. One way to achieve this when starting a gym business, without hiring contracted staff, is to welcome freelance fitness instructors to your gym.
With all these outlays, carefully price your membership and classes, basing these figures upon the local average household income, competitor’s prices (monthly memberships average out at around £40 across the country), and your own outgoings.
You’ll need to decide what type of pricing strategy to pursue. The most common options for membership plans are:
- Single day
You also have the option to offer gym-only membership or gym and class membership, where they pay a higher rate but get to attend a pre-arranged number of classes per week or month. Some gyms offer discounted membership for off-peak attendance (usually between the hours of 9-5).
Protecting your new gym business with the right insurance
Starting a gym business is a financial risk, even when you plan things out meticulously. Taking out insurance allows you to mitigate some of the most common risks associated with running a gym. In addition to the employers’ liability previously discussed, to keep all aspects of your business safe, you might like to consider the following types of cover:
Public liability – To protect you should a member of the public become hurt or their personal property damaged while at your gym. Make sure any freelancers working for you also hold their own public liability.
The gym can be a dangerous environment, so this is a cover you want to think carefully about. If a gym member hurts themselves while working out on your equipment, they could claim you. Likewise, a claim could be made if a delivery worker slipped in the reception area, for example. Don’t forget, though you may have no legal obligation to take out this type of cover, if a member of the public seeks compensation, the cost of defending the claim and any remuneration you are deemed liable to pay will fall on your shoulders as the gym owner.
Professional negligence – A useful form of coverage that differs from public liability because it deals with claims made regarding advice given by you or a staff member. This is relevant to a gym where personal trainers devise personalised exercise routines for clients and give instructions on how to use the equipment. If a client hurts themselves and can attribute the injury to the advice given through your gym, you could be found negligent.
Business and equipment cover – To keep the likes of your computers and other IT equipment safe and to cover damage, theft, or loss of gym equipment. Even if you don’t own your equipment, you’ll still be liable for any costs incurred should something happen to them. Being such a pivotal part of your business, make sure you can repair or replace your items in a timely manner, ensuring that members don’t seek another gym if their favourite cross-trainer or treadmill is out of action.
Buildings cover – To protect the bricks and mortar of your business. Not only is your gym building at the theoretical risk of burst pipes, fire, or storm damage, but this high-octane environment can also leave your interior walls and glass partitions at risk of damage as the gym equipment is moved around.
Personal accident cover – A great idea for key members of staff who keep the gym ticking over. If you’re the only personal trainer on the team and you end up injured and unable to work, this could represent a significant financial impact on the business. Personal accident insurance can cover both accidents within the gym and outside of work.
With your love for the industry coupled with a nation looking for a professional, friendly local gym that can nurture their fitness and health, the time is right to follow your dreams of opening a gym in the UK. Build healthier lives and a healthy business account by following our tips for a successful new fitness venture. Get in touch with our team today to see how we can support your gym business venture.