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FINDING A FACILITY: 6 BIGGEST SURPRISES ABOUT OWNING A GYM - PART ONE

Posted by Jeff Dawson on


 

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Finding a facility doesn’t necessarily fall under “owning a training facility,” but it is definitely important to know about if you’re looking at opening your own gym. In order to own a training facility, you need to find a spot. 

A few key points to focus on:

  • Cities have different zoning plans and different rules and regulations
  • All potential sites have landlords, with some landlords owning local small businesses, others live in different cities, and some are larger corporations
  • The more centrally located you are, the larger the population density, the higher the rent is

For us, we searched for over a year to find the “right” spot.

Being in an industrially-zoned building is where we thought it was at. I was a coach at a local crossfit “box” for five years located in an industrial building. Other crossfit “boxes” I visited in the province and country were all located in industrial-type buildings. Having that warehouse feel with high ceilings, echoing walls, rough/raw look, added to the training atmosphere.

In Kingston, a “gym” falls under commercial zoning. “OK. Cool.” is what I thought.

Not-so-cool is what it turned out to be.

After searching many websites I came to realize… “Holy s#!t commercial properties are expensive!” Even properties that were not centrally located were pricey. GULP!!! How am I going to do this? My wife and I checked out a few locations. Some were nice. Some were not so nice. They all had one thing in common… Rent was high!

 

The first candidate

We found one place that was a little north of the city center. Great warehouse feel, adequate space to start. The only disadvantage was it was split into two rooms and at different levels. We came up with some design ideas where we could make it work.

In the end, it came down to believing it would be difficult to supervise two different rooms at the same time. Okay… Location #1 scratched.

 

A close second

We came across a reasonably priced location near a major intersection. It was THE perfect location (at the time)!

Ceilings weren’t as high as we would like but location, rent, visibility, proximity to public transportation, and ease of access was great! It was a 12,000 square foot place. 

Of course we didn’t (and still don’t) need that much space.

Negotiations started with the landlord. It turned out the landlord wasn’t local and never lived in Kingston. He was some very rich guy that lived in Montreal. 

Strike one.

We preferred to deal with and support local entrepreneurs. Negotiations started. We talked him down a little in regards to the rent per square foot and got him to install a wall so we could occupy 3,000 square feet. He agreed but had a caveat: He wanted to lease out the remaining of the building to a reputable business before signing our agreement. 

I thought, “Isn’t some rent better than no rent?”

Strike two.

Right then and there I didn’t want to deal with that person anymore, but my heart was set for the reasons mentioned earlier. I kept it in the back of my mind and continued the search.

There were several other places we checked out and several rejections.

 

Finding our way

Eventually, a friend of ours was interested in joining us in opening up a gym.

We thought it would be great!

She came on board and helped with the search of a venue. She elicited the help of an amazing commercial real estate agent who showed us both commercial and industrial properties.

This is when we came across our current facility.

Great high ceilings, a lot of space, free parking, good traffic flow, and decent visibility. Unfortunately it was an industrial zoned property.

Are you kidding me?

The moment we set foot in the empty warehouse I could envision what Mercury Strength and Conditioning would look like. 

I got defeated again.

Our real estate agent began to work her magic. She found a loophole in some wording with the zoning. After some bantering back and forth with the city we received a letter from the city planner who allowed us to use the venue for our purpose. BOOM!!!

Mercury Strength and Conditioning was born!

It’s been over two years now and we are steadily growing. Unfortunately it didn’t work out with the friend on the business side of things. However, we are still friends to this day.

 

Quick lessons

Here is what we got out of this experience:

  • Being constantly rejected allowed us to learn what we needed to do to finally be accepted
  • There were many times where I thought that the constant rejections were a sign and should throw in the towel, but my wife was always positive and kept my spirits high

Here is what we would recommend:

  • Find yourself a good commercial real estate agent who is able to read the fine print and possibly find any loopholes
  • Be sure you know your city’s zoning rules and regulations
  • Be patient and don’t settle for the first thing you find;There is usually something better
  • Stay local – Do some research on the landlords of the respective sites you are looking at; If they are local, there is a better chance to have direct contact with them, thereby having issues corrected in a timely fashion
  • Find a spot that you can grow into – With my five-year experience at a local crossfit “box”, the owner made a hole in the wall in order to have a larger space, moved locations to a larger space, and has made a hole in the wall at his current location for more space; The only con I’ve found starting in a larger spot is that rent is high when you don’t have the members, but as the years have gone by we have grown into the space and rent is no longer an issue.

 

What to expect in part two: Payroll and taxes, marketing, apparel, slow growth, and being taken advantage of!

 

About the author

Jeff Dawson is an advanced care paramedic in Kingston. Along with his wife Lindsey, he owns and operates Mercury Strength and Conditioning. He competed nationally in crossfit for five years prior to dedicated himself to powerlifting in 2012. He organizes meets and currently coaches a number of powerlifters. Although his numbers aren't mind blowing, he continues to train hard and make gains. He squast 480lbs, benches 370lbs, and deadlifts 565lbs all at a bodyweight of two plates (225lbs).

           


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