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Getting started, the ‘healthy’ way

With the Indian fitness industry poised for exponential growth, bodyLIFE continues to give glimpses to owners, investors, managers, trainers and service providers alike, on what it takes to make it a successful business...

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Are you planning to start a gym business or health studio? Here is what you need to know...

We live in a “body beautiful”, youth-oriented culture. People today are becoming increasingly aware of the need to lead a healthy life, which in turn has resulted in a burgeoning of fitness clubs, gyms, etc.

When you run a gym, a health club or a martial arts studio, you do the best you can and with an entrepreneurial spirit. However, that does not guarantee that people will flock to you, or consider you the second coming of Steve Jobs! But who said it is impossible?

Currently only about 0.4% of India’s population holds a gym membership, marking the truly remarkable potential for growth within this industry.


Over a period of time, the fitness and wellness industry has witnessed a lot of investors, entrepreneurs and fitness enthusiasts opening gyms, health clubs and wellness centres. Sparing a few big players, there still remains a lot of ground to be covered.

The Indian fitness industry has undergone a drastic evolution: from the traditional akhadas to full-fledged multi-choice fitness centres that offer Spinning classes, Power Yoga, Zumba, Pilates and much more. New gyms are popping up round every corner of the country to cater to the growing demand from health-conscious India.

Though many gyms start with great pomp most, if not all, struggle to make profits, manage the business and fetch good returns. If you are an investor or a fitness enthusiast planning to open your own gym, here are some thumb rules to help you run a successful business:

Your niche

One of the most important aspects of running any business is to have a clear vision of what you want that business to be like. Ask yourself these questions:
•  What do you want to be known for in the fitness and wellness industry?
•  What kind of clients do you desire?
•  What level of service do you want to provide?

Next, define your business: is it a personal training studio, or fitness & wellness club, or an aerobics class, or a yoga centre? Once you gain clarity of vision, you must be willing to develop a plan.

Far too often people fail to put together a workable plan. In a sector dominated by big players, identify a unique selling point (USP). Create something very different from the standard model.

Targeting a niche market is a much better idea;  not only will your start-up costs be lower, you can also focus your marketing efforts on a specific group of people, and there will be fewer competitors. Detailed market research will help you determine whether or not there is a demand in the region.

Good location

Location plays a pivotal role when it comes to setting up a gym. Remember the astute saying in marketing, “If everyone is your market, then no one is your market”. So, before signing the dotted line, make sure you do a good survey of the location of your to-be gym.

Who is your target audience? What area would you like to select: a residential suburb or the neighbourhood of corporate offices? Is it accessible? A lot of gyms are opening up in shopping malls. Even though it has the potential of attracting good footfalls, you won’t really see good conversion.

If your gym is located in a commercial area, it would be a good idea to make your gym run 24x7 since this will attract a lot of working population. It will also be convenient for them to finish their 8-hour shifts and then hit the gym.

Chances are that there already is a bunch of fitness centres that exists and offers the same services that you do. It is therefore to your advantage if you can stand out from the rest by offering your clients newer and better gym equipment and facilities.

While it doesn’t necessarily need to be brand new, the equipment must be in perfect working order. Used exercise equipment can be purchased at a reduced rate from other gym owners who are upgrading or going out of business. (Be sure to use the equipment yourself before settling on a purchase price).

But make sure the warranty of the used equipment has not expired. Also ensure you have signed an annual maintenance contract (AMC) for regular inspection of the machines, locate problem areas and shoot down trouble before a breakdown can occur. AMCs ensure quality output of the machines: do not forget to renew the contracts in time.

Facilities & hygiene

What you offer will totally depend on the location you choose and the demographics of your target audience. A survey of who your target audience is and what they need, will help you choose the facilities you can, and should, offer.

Gyms can be dangerous places, which makes insurance essential. Consulting a specialist insurer is a good idea because you may need a non-standard insurance policy for the gym. Before signing off on a policy, make sure you’re aware of exactly what is covered and what is not.

Health and safety involves a number of concerns depending on what services you provide. Upkeep of the gym and the machinery is important: poorly maintained equipment can fail and cause injury. People can slip on dirty and smooth floors, so you will need to install carpets or non-slip mats.

Jacuzzis and sauna rooms have their own cleanliness needs, which may involve the use of chemicals. Setting up of access control provides a balance between security needs and freedom of movement for authorized personnel, rather than risking usage by unauthorized personnel.

Once a month you can shut your gym/club for a day for maintenance of machines, as well as cleaning of lockers, spa, changing room, etc. Such practices bring customer satisfaction.

Effective marketing

Any business has two prime functions: innovation and marketing. Consider this, you have a fully equipped gym, with the latest technology and best services, set up in the hottest of locations, BUT people still don’t know about it! Your gym is not going to call out for clients on its own. Hence, you need a proper marketing plan in hand. Here are a few things that can be done to attract the eyeballs of your prospective clients:

  • Putting up a huge sign board at your gym that will be clearly visible to all no matter how congested the place is.
  • Social media marketing.
  • Handing out flyers, brochures, etc.
  • Providing free trial sessions.
  • Enter a corporate tie-up with a well-established firm.

The best thing to jump-start your gym operation is to invite people to work out in your gym for free, or maybe at a really mind-boggling discount. This is a common business practice these days and is called giving the customers a free trial as part of their early-bird offers.

You will find it helpful to offer special packages, promos, freebies and even fitness business cards, so people will be interested to exercise in your gym. Giving your clients big discounts for referring other gym buffs, for example, can help in boosting the number of clients that will patronize your fitness and wellness business.

Client bonanza

Nothing gets the Indian costumer more excited than “offers”: the mere mention of the word will attract more clients and increase the footfall at your club drastically. But make sure you do a thorough analysis to ensure you can cater to your clients’ needs while ensuring good returns before announcing any offers or discounts.

In some ways the gym business is more or less seasonal. You have your loyal year-round customer base, but experience seasonal spikes in revenue, such as in the post-Christmas rush or during annual vacations. These help you keep your revenue up, but during ‘slumps’ it can be useful to offer additional services to boost revenue.
Some possibilities are as follows:

  • Selling products: protein supplements or gym gear
  • Running an event/ contest to offer freebies to winners
  • Free Boot Camp sessions

Many gyms partner with third parties to provide additional expert services. These include personal training, sports massage and hairdressing. Offering these services can really increase your gym’s ability to build a sizeable customer base.

Also, pre-launch or early bird offers are a great way to pull customers towards your doorstep, thus giving them a chance to know what you have to offer. Exciting offers and terribly enticing discounts, coupled with free gifts here and there, will do you great help in kick-starting your new business.

For example, one can introduce offers that go like “Enroll before 26 January, 2015, for an annual gym membership and get 6 months’ membership free”. Or inaugural offers like “Get 60% off on registering for gym-PT-Pilate package within the first 5 days of the opening of our gym”.

Professionalism pays

A client signing up at your gym is reliant and dependent on your expertise. No matter what their fitness goal is, he/she has no clue how to achieve it. It can be a regular housewife wanting to lose a few kilos, or a college student planning on to become the next Hugh Jackman. It is your responsibility to make sure you help them in their workouts.

More importantly, it is your duty to ensure that they do not end up with an injury. It will only lead to customer dissatisfaction, or even a law suit. In a nutshell, it will not be good for business.

Apart from the usual crowd, one must also make special provisions for the differently-abled population. Trainers must be specially trained in handling such prospects. Hire fitness counselors who are better equipped to handle and programme exercises for clients with medical conditions like heart ailments, diabetes, back problems, or those dealing with the spine, shoulder, elbow or knee.

Hire help desk managers, membership coordinators and customer service executives, since they become the voice and face of your brand. The bottom line is: always hire professional trainers, fitness counselors or nutritionist; verify their credentials and pay them a decent salary or commission. This will help you build a robust team and instill trust in your customers’ minds.

– Vaishali Matavkar

Gym software

The writer is Chief Operating Officer of Mumbai-based FitnessForce, India’s leading club management software based on the SAAS model. It boasts of business oriented features like sales, marketing, billing and membership management, lead management, access control and many more.
(www.fitnessforce.com)


 

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