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Saving a Sinking Ship, Part 2: Sprucing Up Your Studio’s Aesthetics

Second in a series on how to rescue your drowning personal training business.

Operating a business can be challenging. Success demands innovation and creativity, and business owners must learn to develop strategies that will separate their business from all the others. What will customers appreciate about one personal training studio versus another? You can distinguish your venue in multiple ways—unique equipment, greater square footage and desirable amenities are just a few. However, while these accommodations alone may be effective, they don’t guarantee success and they can be quite costly. In this article, I will share a strategy to help give your studio a step up on the competition.

In my last article, I described my initial assessment of Jacked Up Fitness, our test business case study for this series. I evaluated several areas that required improvement. One of the first things I noticed was that the studio was dark and cluttered and visually off-putting. The colors were drab, and the lighting was dim and cast a distasteful hue. The music was loud and oppressive, and the sound quality was very poor. Finally, there was too much signage, with much of it sending the wrong message.

Too often, gym owners spend large amounts of time at their business and become blind to common flaws and deterrents. An attractive appearance is one of the greatest assets a studio can have; if appearance is ignored, even a business full of passion can be forced to close its doors for good.

Color Palette, Lighting and Music

For creating an ambiance, the three greatest factors are color palette (paint), music and lighting. Often, these are the first things that potential customers notice when they enter a space. It is essential that these components send the right message.

Color Palette

The owners of Jacked Up Fitness have chosen to use grey and dark blue—colors that don’t work well with the facility’s already dim lighting. Dark colors and shadowy lighting might be appropriate for a studio that wants a rough, urban feel, but the owners of Jacked Up Fitness aspire to draw a slightly older clientele who may be looking for something less edgy.

When you’re choosing paint, several questions should be foremost in your mind:

  • What energy are you trying to create? Are you wanting to have a relaxing vibe, a passionate ambiance or an energizing environment?
  • Does your current color palette reflect your vision and your desired clientele?

Always match your color choice with the mood you’d like to create. Relaxing colors are often associated with earth tones, like browns, greens, tans and rustics. Passion and energy can be created through bold colors, such as red, black and yellow. Keep your geographic location in mind as well. Climates that are hot most of the year will benefit from colors that portray a message of coolness, such as blues and greens; colder climates may benefit from colors that are brighter and warmer.

Perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of choosing paint is its luster or sheen. My personal favorite is “eggshell.” Eggshell offers a light gloss appearance, and scuffs and marks can be washed away fairly easily. In contrast, many studio owners choose a “flat” paint because of its low cost. Unfortunately, flat paint cannot be washed, and over time it will leave a studio looking dirty.

My recommendation for Jacked Up Fitness was to use eggshell paint. While it costs a bit more, it gives a high-quality appearance. The studio will look clean longer, which will save money on maintenance and on potential future repainting.

I also suggested a color palette of rustic orange and earth tones. These colors were a good match for the studio’s wood features and hardwood entrance. They also promote a warm, inviting feel.


Music can really help set the tone in your studio. A good system will distribute the music evenly throughout the space. To accomplish well-balanced sound, utilize corner space or ceiling areas. Be sure that all wiring is covered and mounted neatly and safely. Having the sound come from one central point shows a lack of perception of the value of music in the workout experience; a jukebox simply doesn’t have the same ability to evoke emotion that a quality sound system does.

When choosing music, keep your customer base and desired ambiance in mind. Many customers are put off by aggressive music, while music that’s too soft can be de-motivating. Consider playing Top 40 hits, which offer current music in a variety of styles. Another strategy that works well is to have “themed” music hours. An example would be to play hits from the 1970s and 1980s every day from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM. Be creative with your music choices; doing so will make this an extra amenity your studio offers. Since Jacked Up Fitness is interested in a clientele aged 50 and above, I recommended upbeat adult contemporary music.


Lighting features can include accents such as hardwood, bamboo or chrome. It’s easy to find affordable lighting fixtures that can add character and value to your studio.

Decluttering and Organizing

Once the colors have been chosen, a clean-up and de-cluttering are in order. Cleanliness is vital to increasing the studio’s perceived value. Conversely, a cluttered, unclean studio will deter potential customers. However, simply having a clean floor and uncluttered desk space is not enough.


At Jacked Up Fitness, signs are posted in several areas of the studio. The signs remind clients to re-rack their equipment, avoid dropping weights and wipe down surfaces after use. The restroom has a sign reminding employees to wash their hands before returning to work. There is nothing wrong with these messages; the error is in the way they’re presented.

Just like the owners at Jacked Up Fitness, many studio owners display this information on plain sheets of paper taped to the wall. Over time, the paper droops, tears, gets dirty—and looks terrible. Laminating the pages or placing them in plastic holders, with the adhesive tape out of sight on the back, gives a professional appearance and makes them last much longer. Equally important, the message should have a positive tone, with words like “Please” and “Thank you.” Also, avoid putting the message in all capital letters, which give readers the impression that they’re being yelled at.


After displaying your messages in a classy manner, look for even more ways to remove clutter. A common mistake is to have excessive marketing materials at the front desk. While this is well intentioned, it confuses customers and often looks tacky. Reduce the amount of marketing material to one or two items. Make sure the color and imaging are consistent among the pieces. This will limit confusion and keep your studio looking top-notch.

Understand that to the customer, clutter equals dirt. Invest in racks, wall mounts and bins to organize any extra supplies. Each piece of equipment should have a home. Train your staff on how to replace and re-rack the items. Not only will these practices create a cleaner, safer appearance, but they will save you money: equipment will last longer and continue to look good over time.

Final Touches

Sometimes the details can mean the difference between a sale and a walk-out. In addition to my earlier recommendations, I encouraged Jacked Up’s owners to add specialties to increase perceived value. Specialties are additions that are unique to your studio—such as foliage, or uncommon lighting features in the restrooms.

Lastly, I encouraged Jacked Up Fitness to increase brand awareness throughout by adding logos and displaying anything that shows staff expertise. An entrance area was the best place to accomplish both. We added a logo behind the front desk, since this was the first thing a potential customer sees when walking in the front door. Brand awareness can prove useful for spreading the word about your business. We also displayed certifications, photos of successful clients, testimonials and similar items—all clearly in the customer’s line of sight. This “display” area will serve as an immediate source of value for the current and potential customer.

Appearance speaks volumes. If you’re going to charge a decent amount of money for your services, then everything needs to convey that same level of value—or higher.

Now that Jacked Up Fitness has the appearance of a high-end studio, it’s time to look deeper—into its infrastructure. In Part 3 of our series, we will examine the studio’s budgets: where money is being lost and where it can be made.

See part 3 in this series here.

Troy Fontana

Troy Fontana is a 13-year veteran of the Fitness Industry. He is CEO of Freedom Fitness Unlimited and founder of Business for Fitness Professionals, an organization designed to educate, inspire and serve the fitness community. Troy is the author of A Climb to the Top and Time Freedom ÔÇô Money Freedom. In 2010, Troy was recognized as a Top 3 "finalist" for IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year Award.

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