Six Factors That Need To Be Considered When Looking For The Best Location For A New Independent Gym

Whether you have just heard our name in passing or attended our workshops and webinars in the past, hopefully you are aware of the extent we value market research. Given our strong links with both data-driven gyms and companies within the fitness industry, it is safe to say we believe that information is king. 

And that doesn’t just mean operational data once a business is set up.

The location of a new independent gym is one of the most important decisions as an aspiring gym owner will make during the setup process. Too often in the past, we have seen potential owners rush into the first property they view, eager to get started and believing that enthusiasm and ingenuity can save the day.

It can do a lot of heavy lifting, of course. But why set a bad foot forward?

So if you are looking into setting up a new independent gym or fitness facility, then you have stumbled across the right checklist. 

Because today our theme is location, location, location. 

Because unlike many aspects of setting up a new gym, location is one that a gym owner really needs to get right first time. While there are do-overs, they are often very expensive. 

So here is a list, taken from our talks with independent gym owners up and down the UK and Ireland, what they wish they had done, what they will do in the future and what they recommend to others when asked. 

1. Population and Location

What should a new gym owner should be looking for when it comes to demogrphics

There are many things that a new gym owner can change and influence when setting up a new facility.

But unless you have friends in very high places, the population of the area probably isn’t one of them. 

Population represents a unique challenge and also significant opportunity. Certain fitness facilities do incredibly well in certain areas, while others suffer for a lack of interested individuals. 

An MMA facility in a tiny village might not be a big draw with the local ‘In Bloom’ organisation, but in a studenty or central area it could be regularly packed out.

Every area has a variety of threads running through it. Places of work, places of study, transport links as well as existing clubs and community structures. 

While some may be fairly balanced or even ‘normal’, other areas will be easily identified by a demographic or feature that defines the area. Here are a few archetypes that come to mind in our experience, these are some of the easiest to identify and appeal toward complete with their strengths and weaknesses to a new gym or fitness club owner.

Commuter Belt / Suburbia / Dormitory Towns

The pros to these areas include relative prosperity and normally a much more firmly rooted population than in cities. A common downside we have seen is that a lot of workers will favour Gyms within the city that the dormitory town services.

This dynamic of being split between two areas has, however, been diminished by the work from home revolution in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

An increased number of workers that work from home now means that they not only have more time to go to gyms and fitness facilities, but have started to go to them within the area they live and not the area they work. This is a key difference that has resulted in a significant uptick in members for non-city clubs. 

University / College 'Student Areas'

We’ve all heard somewhere be described as a ‘studenty area’, especially since with the ever-rising number of young people going off to university and college.

While the usually dense population, significant free time and active nature of a student population are huge positives, these areas are also highly transitory, with many students only going to university for three year terms and putting down no significant routes. The explosion in dedicated student housing has compounded this trend.

The other thing to consider about a student population is the highly seasonal nature of their attendance in an area. 

Town and City Centres

Normally highly competitive and expensive to set up within these areas, but always providing a vast influx of people relative to the surroundings. Certain types of Gym will not be viable here, while other, more niche clubs will flourish in a way that they wouldn’t in more out of the way places.

Every area, whether it falls into an archetype or not, will have its quirks and foibles. 

Thankfully, our good friend the internet has made researching an area easier than ever. From forums and social media to simply using google maps, it has never been easier to get an understanding of an area before you decide to visit it. 

With that being said, most prospective gym owners in our experience are looking to set up in an area well known to them. While this has considerable and obvious advantages, do not be afraid to throw the net out slightly wider than usual. Sometimes taking the road less travelled really does make all the difference. 

So once you’ve determined who you want to attract, now you need to work out where they live, and more importantly, where they are willing to drive to. 

Unless it is in a town centre, city centre or business park, the assumption should be that people are not willing to drive more than 20 minutes. Again, this can be highly regional even in the UK and Ireland, with roads, infrastructure, public transport and other interesting locations at the destination of a prospective gym.

As such, ease of accessibility should be the top priority for the demographic you have in mind. 

2. What Type Of Buildings Should Prospective Gym Owners Be Looking For?

Though the Covid-19 feels very far behind us in some regards, the effect that it had on the property market is still being felt and that aftershock continues to influence the rental market as well.

With many businesses shifting location or shutting down entirely, the state and stock of buildings available to rent or lease is significantly different to how it was in early 2020.

It should probably go without saying that the most natural fit for a new property is a site that used to host a gym or fitness club.

While these come with several built in advantages, such as a pre-existing reputation within the local area and facilities that proved suitable for a gym in the past, there also might be some drawbacks.

Reputation is a double-edged sword and if the business that used to operate out of the facility wasn’t well-loved, the association with the building may not be pleasant.

In terms of research, it might be worth looking into why the gym or fitness facility that was there previously shut down. Study the mistakes of the past to avoid repeating them.

As such, we would encourage those looking to set up a new, independent gym not to limit their search to these locations.

Over the years, we have seen plenty of unorthodox venues transform from other areas of the economy into successful gyms and fitness clubs. Whether it is a former supermarket, restaurant or part of a school, with enough effort put into the conversion, we have seen prosperous gyms setup in all sorts of former venues. 

3. Visibility

This might sound silly at first. A gym is a big building right? How could someone not see it? 

I have been to gyms up and down Europe and I’ve seen them tucked away in some odd locations. A Gym in a central location might not be worth much if it is so tucked away that you have to pay someone to stand outside with a board. 

Because surely it is what on the inside that counts?

Not always, there is a reason we tell people to not judge books by their cover, and that is because they do. Constantly.

A story we’ve heard repeated a hundred times from as many gym owners is the following. ‘They got inside our gym and they said they had no idea it was this good’. Sometimes it is even worse and the visitor said: ‘they had no idea this was here’. 

More often than not, these gyms are hidden away on cheap industrial estates, down country roads, or only have a slither of a facade facing the street. 

While we fully understand the temptation to secure a bargain on an industrial complex or in a village barely anyone even knows exists, for most gym owners it is a false economy. Out of sight is, unfortunately, out of mind. The amount that will need to be spent on promotion and advertising to get people aware that your gym or fitness club exists, let alone get them into it, will be sky high. 

And even once the prospective customers to your new gym are aware, what is going to draw them far off of their beaten track? The unfortunate truth is that unless the area has an extreme level of car-reliance or fantastic public transport infrastructure, it will be hard to draw people away from the main streets. 

This is why certain chains, that shall go unnamed here, are always positioned in highly visible areas with large glass windows letting you see everything inside. It is a statement and it is a tactic that works. 

So while you may find that a more visible premise will be more expensive than an out-of-the-way industrial estate, the benefits it brings could end up defining your gym business venture. 

4. Assets In The Area

Building off of the last point regarding visibility, another thing to consider about the area is what could be useful for a prospective new gym. 

What is going to bring people to the area. If we take two of our examples from the previous section, the industrial estate and the city centre. One of these areas gets a lot of foot-traffic anyway. Foot-traffic from shops, from cinemas, from restaurants, from workplaces. If the place is interesting enough, there may even be tourists or backpackers.

None of these businesses exist in a vacuum, and the research that a prospective gym owner is doing here might be the first step towards lucrative partnerships.

One thing we have always preached is to try and understand the people who will be passing through an area regularly. When would they use a gym, if one was in the building that you are thinking about setting up shop in?

Before or after work? Within a few days of going to a restaurant or a cinema? Are there sports shops or clubs that might attract fitness minded individuals to the area? Approaching the location from this standpoint can reveal hidden value and challenges for a prospective gym location. 

5. Understand The Competition And The Potential For Collaboration

Now that we have an idea of our theoretical area and what else might draw our potential customers to it, it is time to understand if  any of these are ripe for collaborations.

As we stated in the section on visibility, a new gym requires a lot of promotion even if it is in a location that used to house a fitness club or gym.

The location itself can and should play a part in the opening. How easy will it be to spread a message. If the area is relatively rural, think about where the message will need to be communicated in order to be effective. If it is central and urban, look at the most effective local partners within the area. These partnerships could be vital to spreading the message about your new gym or fitness club.

Think about what businesses would make for natural partners, both in the short term and the long term and think about the message that is going to resonate in the area. It is about setting your new gym apart from others in the area and whatever came before it. 

On the other hand, it is also important to think of a location in terms of competition. While this could be (and probably will be) an article all by itself, we will briefly mention it across this point and our final one. Prospective gym owners should consider if an area is already serviced with gyms and fitness clubs and what their gym will do to distinguish itself from the pack.

6. What Is Your Gym Or Fitness Clubs Unique Selling Point (USP)?

As we implied in the first section, if you want to set up a new gym, it must provide something that the location does not have. In very rare instances, that might just be fitness facility capacity where there previously was none.

But in many cases, a gym will be competing with other fitness facilities in the area.  Whether that means providing a certain type of class or environment, certain pieces of equipment or infrastructure that are hard to come by, or capitalising on a pivotal, desirable or underutilised location, the purpose and USP of the new gym should be fully considered. 

This brings us full circle, back to our initial points regarding market research.

Look at what other gyms are doing in the areas that look promising. Look at the services they provide and the services they don’t. Look at what seems popular. It can be hard to understand when a need isn’t being met, but those that can will go on to build very successful fitness facilities. 

Some things to look out for might include whether there is a lack of gyms with a significant amount of parking? Or maybe there are no gyms that offer competition level body-building equipment? Does the area lack an octagon or boxing ring? 

It may sound like a form of one-upmanship and that is because it is. 

These are the sort of questions and thoughts that the prospective customers of your gym will be asking themselves every day, and as prospective gym owners and managers, it is our job to be intune with those needs.

As anyone who has started a gym knows, it is no small feat. But it is made infinitely harder if little or no research is done ahead of time. This won’t be the last time we talk about location or market research, so if you’ve enjoyed the article, stick around or join our facebook group. We have plenty more workshops, articles and other events in the works.

We’re bringing together the expertise of hundreds of gyms from across the UK and Europe, to help gym owners grow their business.

Copyright © Gym Owners Forum 2024, Design By Unturned Stone Creative

Tell Us A Bit More About How We Can Help You Overcome Some Obstacles You're Facing In Your Gym...