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Whether you operate a full-scale gym, offer yoga classes in your studio, or provide one-on-one personal training, you need a strong marketing strategy if you want to start and grow a successful fitness center business. Fitness centers represent a $31 billion industry in the U.S. – the single largest fitness market in the world, where more than 36,000 gyms serve more than 57 million gym members. And, with industry growth expected to accelerate toward 2022 as more baby boomers purchase memberships, now is a prime time to start a fitness center or work toward renewal and growth of existing facilities. The outlook is good, but you’ll need a healthy marketing strategy to be successful in this ultra-competitive industry.
Considering a fitness center startup? Thinking about renewing a stagnant gym (after all, who doesn’t want to know how to increase gym membership)? The following information will put you on the right track.
Start by determining what type of fitness center you want to own. The type of gym you choose will have a direct impact on your startup and operational costs. Examples include:
Full gyms with swimming pools
Mid-sized gyms with or without pools
Self-serve fitness centers
Dance and exercise centers
Cross training classes
Couch to 5K coaching
Sports performance training centers
As stated, your startup and operational costs will vary depending on which type of fitness center you start.
Chron Small Business offers a range of $10,000 to $50,000 to start a gym, for example, while CNN Money states the cost to start an Anytime Fitness franchise ranges between $46,299 and $321,899. Starting a Gold’s Gym could require an investment range of $2.2 million to $5 million or more.
Profitable Venture presents a comprehensive overview of fitness center startup costs , and states it could take $1.5 million to start a mid-sized gym with a swimming pool, and $250,000 to $500,000 to start a small scale gym without a pool.
64% of members say they choose their health and fitness center based on its location
If you don’t need equipment and a facility, your expenses could be considerably less. One site states a personal trainer can expect to spend around $23,000 , but if you’re offering training sessions in-home or at an existing gym you might only need a Facebook page and a business card to get started.
Ultimately, you won’t know your startup costs until you do your research, and the best way to do that is to develop a business plan.
Your fitness center business plan will help you identify what type of gym you’ll start, what your costs will be, what your operational costs will be, and a marketing strategy outline.
Like your startup and operational costs, how much money your gym makes depends on what type of fitness center you own. Your business acumen also plays a major role: you need to be able to run a top-notch facility and sell gym memberships at a clip that exceeds your expenses. Your business plan will help you project expenses, revenues, and net income.
That said, Indeed.com pegs the annual salary for gym owners at between $54,742 and $101,267, with an average of $79,217; while Salary.com says personal trainers make anywhere from $27,300 to $79,217, with a median salary of $55,158.
The largest gyms make millions, while others make nothing – they fail, in large part due to an inability to market their fitness centers.
Large gyms$100,000 to $1 million+
Great branding is a powerful way to visually symbolize what your fitness center stands for, who your members are, and what benefits you deliver. Use branding to pump up your marketing efforts and go the distance to establish your gym as the premier place to get strong, healthy and fit.
Your brand identity helps you connect with your target audience. It differentiates you from the competition by representing your unique selling points – the benefits you’re best positioned to offer your customers.
A great brand establishes solidarity with its customers, so they identify with you and include your gym in their worlds. That’s a powerful way to foster long-term relationships.
1 in 5 Americans pay for a gym membership, and the average member visits their gym 100 times per year (or about twice per week).
Different fitness center members seek different experiences: some want accessibility to workout equipment, some crave a social atmosphere, others want leagues and tournaments, while still others are interested in personalized services and results. You need to decide which of these you’re the best at providing.
To identify your branded image, you have to consider how you're different from your competitors. What do you offer that they don't (or that they don't promote)? Perhaps you have an Olympic-size pool, more aerobic machines or free weights, or guaranteed accessibility ("Never wait for a treadmill!").
Maybe you offer tournaments, leagues, classes, personal training, a spa, or another major advantage over the competition.
Are you the "Gym for Weightlifters," "Fitness Center for All Family Members," or the "Instructional Gym"? Don't hide it - promote it!
To help you define what type of fitness center you are, consider the features and benefits you offer your members. Understand the distinction between the two. For example, having more elliptical machines is a feature - guaranteeing that members will never have to wait to get on one is a benefit.
List your features and benefits, and pick the most important that also differentiate you from the competition. Develop a short phrase that captures this concept. In the elliptical machine scenario, this word might be "freedom" or "accessibility."
You also must consider your members' motivations. Why would they want to choose your gym instead of a competitor’s?
Once you've identified your differences, strengths, clientele, benefits and motivators, wrap them all together into a singular branded image that expresses who you are, what you do, and how you do it.
Determining what your brand is all about is only part of the equation. Now, you need to use graphic design to transform your fitness center’s identity into a visual influencer.
Create a logo your audience will recognize and understand at a glance. Create a style guide that dictates your brand colors, fonts, and other design guidelines and how they can and cannot be used. Ensure all your marketing materials follow your style guide. Over time, you’ll be able to establish strong brand recognition through design.
You need marketing tools to promote your fitness center, but don’t think of them as expenses: rather, consider your marketing an investment toward profits.
Business cards are perfect for networking, but they’re also great fitness center marketing tools because they can be placed anywhere your audience will find them. Print business cards that feature membership trials and discounts alongside your benefits. Show off your branding with ultra business card printing: triple-thick business cards that have an attractive stripe of edge color.
Place posters in strategic areas your audience frequents. Use posters inside your gym to inform members about new programs they might be interested in. Remind restaurant patrons how they can keep their waistlines slim – or get them there.
Like posters, flyers can be placed on bulletin boards and anywhere else your target audience frequents. See if you can work out a deal with your local grocery or health food store to stuff flyers in customers’ bags.
A rather unique, yet extremely effective approach to fitness center marketing is to print booklets or guides about specific health goals - weight loss, muscle building, athletic prowess, yoga, etc. Not only will your booklet add value and establish trust and credibility, it will demonstrate that members can expect real results when they join your gym.
Postcards make it easy to reach your target audience with direct-mail gym marketing campaigns, whether you’re seeking new members or promoting a new feature to your existing membership base. You can print triple-thick, edge-colored ultra postcards to command attention at the mailbox.
Fitness centers are not retail businesses by trade, but that doesn't mean you can't upsell. Find suppliers that sell athletic equipment and apparel, especially those that can be used at your gym. You can also sell self-branded apparel (think Gold's Gym T-shirts) for double the sales.
Your brochure should include images, features, and benefits of your gym so it's easy to see why you're the No. 1 choice.
Everyone loves (and uses) free calendars. Include special events, tournaments, and motivational images each month to keep your members engaged. Brand your gym on every page.
Showing that you appreciate your members - and that you truly want to help them achieve their goals - is easy to do with greeting cards. Don't over-pitch, just express that your members are important and wish them health and prosperity
If you sell products, make sure a branded sticker is affixed to each. You can also print branded motivational stickers your members can place anywhere they’d like: on their lockers, on their cars, at work, etc.
A formal approach to staying connected with your clients. Highlight new health tips and tricks, athletic techniques, print tournament news, write about your members in an exciting and engaging way to earn a loyal readership.
Print large vinyl banners and place them outside your fitness center to advertise gym membership drives, upcoming tournaments and leagues, and special events. You can also place banners near high-traffic intersections and in areas your audience will see them.
Refrigerator magnets can help your members stick to their weight loss or maintenance goals, promote your events and membership benefits, and simultaneously brand your fitness center.
Other materials you should consider producing include a website, email blasts, social media pages, door hangers, and a corporate identity package (complete with letterhead, envelopes, brochure, flyer, business card, and pocket folder).
Your message is as important as your branding and design, as well as the mediums they’re printed on. Compelling copywriting will help you promote your fitness center benefits, create desire, and influence membership.
The 40/40/20 rule of direct marketing | What makes for successful copywriting?
The quality of your mailing list
The perceived value of your offer
Everything else (word choice, design, printing quality, timing, etc.)
You should speak your members’ language, understand their motivations, and deliver an offer they can’t refuse. Make it time-limited to yield quick results, and include a coupon code or other means of tracking response rates. Articulate your offer clearly and put it in front of the right people, and you’ll enjoy success from your gym advertising campaigns.
Your headline should be big and bold, and contrast with your design to command attention. It should play on emotions, solve problems, suggest benefits, and deliver your offer, when possible.
Create desire with a strong benefit statement, or a bulleted list of benefits your gym members can expect. Differentiate yourself from the competition here.
Create desire with a strong benefit statement, or a bulleted list of benefits your gym members can expect. Differentiate yourself from the competition here.
Membership discounts, free limited-time memberships, and reduced class or entry fees are all examples of offers your target audience might respond to.
A call to action tells your members exactly what they need to do next to take you up on your offer. Be very specific and provide several ways to respond (call a phone number, visit a website, visit your fitness center, etc.).
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Distribution is a critical aspect for any business marketing campaign, including fitness centers. Here are some tips for strategic fitness center marketing distribution.
Direct-mail is one of the best ways to reach targeted audiences by membership and demographics. You can leverage direct-mail marketing to promote your fitness center to new members, to bring past members back, or to influence existing members to try new programs, services, and membership levels.
Repetition is key. Instead of a one-off postcard, commit to a multi-month campaign that reinforces your benefits over and over.
Send a brochure that introduces your fitness center. Offer a personal tour to show potential members around your facility. Add value by including a panel with tips for specific fitness goals.
Send a flyer or newsletter that highlights recent news about your fitness center. Include photos (with permission) of your members enjoying the amenities. A "Meet the Staff" section, complete with photos and qualifications, can lend trust and confidence.
Send a booklet that covers all the services you offer and tips and tricks for specific goals. One page, for example, might be about weight loss and how members can use your gym as a weight loss tool. Another page might be about basketball tips, and include information about entering your basketball leagues or tournaments. Include your program and class schedule.
Send a calendar with images of members in action, complete with special tournament dates, discounts, etc. Don't forget to brand on every month!
Send a direct-mail postcard inviting potential members to tour your facility. Include a special time-limited discount to anyone who takes a tour.
Send a follow-up greeting card to everyone who took a tour but did not sign up immediately. Include a voucher or gift coupon to express your appreciation, and offer to personally answer any questions potential members might have.
You can deploy advertisements online, in local and online fitness publications, on the radio, television, on billboards, and local blogs. Write a health column for your local newspaper, or guest posts for local health blogs.
You can also take your ads "street side" by placing flyers and posters on community bulletin boards, and university, office, and industrial social hot spots. Door hangers can be placed in targeted neighborhoods, and window clings can be hung at partner locations. Use sales letters or a corporate identity kit to develop membership partnerships with the largest employers in your area.
Word of mouth is the most powerful advertiser, so make sure friends, family, and colleagues know what you do and are prepared to spread the word for you. You should consider handing out stickers and business cards to everyone you know to help with distribution.
Deploying your marketing materials isn’t enough to maximize your return on investment. Use the three T’s of marketing to make your gym advertising more effective.
Test: Test different variations of your fitness center campaigns on small market segments, then mass distribute the version that performs best.
Track: Track your response rates to identify which marketing tools perform well, who responds to them, and whether they ultimately become members.
Tweak: Analyze your results and tweak future campaigns to take advantage of what you’ve learned.
Creative marketing generates buzz, delivers value to your clientele and increases profits for you. Try these creative fitness center marketing ideas and resources to boost your business this year:
Connect current members with potential members by hosting public tournaments, leagues, classes, and other events on and off site. Some gyms charge different fees based on membership status. You can also host free one-day events, or even all-nighters for children to generate family interest.
Consider partnering with complementary and non-competing businesses to host a citywide triathlon or other event. Set up booths and hand out branded items such as SIGG bottles to everyone who enters or watches. Other ideas include volleyball tournaments, softball tournaments, basketball tournaments, yoga days, and anything else relevant to your target audience.
We've already discussed placing posters and flyers where your target audience is likely to see them. Seek out creative marketing opportunities whenever you can - the less distraction you have from competitors and the more unique your approach, the more likely your message is to be remembered. Stickers are perfect beacons, because you can stick them in creative places. How about placing stickers on waiting room magazines in doctors' offices: "Want to come here less often? Join Health Gym!"
Identify the largest employers in your area, and work with them to provide free or discounted memberships to all their employees. They get to offer a perk for their staff, and you get more members with minimal effort.
Encourage businesses, organizations, and peers to create teams that compete in a three-month weight loss challenge. Give out prizes to the top teams, hold seminars with helpful tips throughout the competition, and showcase how your gym can help them achieve their goals. You might offer a free temporary membership to all non-members who are on a team. Some will join when the competition is over.
Full-service printing, direct mailing and mailing list generation.
Helpful guides, forms and sample marketing plans for small businesses. The SBA also supports Small Business Development Centers throughout the United States.
The Service Corps of Retired Executives provides free advice in the form of online information and business counseling. Simply contact one of SCORE's volunteer members for business mentoring.
Resources and information for fitness professionals.
Government resources and links.
A global trade association for the health and fitness industry.
Many local communities and states also have fitness center associations and organizations. Run a quick Google search for your local, state, and regional fitness center associations and organizations for additional resources.
Fitness company logos featured in this article are the properties of their respective businesses, and are used here for editorial purposes only. They are: