Expert Advice on Opening Your Own Studio

by Alyse Mason Brill on Apr 23, 2015

Many fitness professionals dream of designing a studio that reflects their unique perspective and approach to health and fitness—a place where they can grow their business, their brand and their client base (and, of course, their paycheck!) on their own terms.

There’s a huge appeal to running your own space, especially if you’ve been working long enough to imagine how you might design a space specifically suited to your clients’ needs and your vision.

If you find yourself frequently thinking about becoming an entrepreneur with your own facility, consider these pieces of advice from fitness pros and their advisers who have been through the process.

Question #1: What are your motivations?

When you imagine life as a studio owner, what comes to mind?

Are you feeling that you’ve learned what you can in your current position and are ready for a new challenge? Do you imagine developing a place where you have creative control and can deliver even more value to clients? Are you excited to try your hand at the other aspects of running a business, such as operations, accounting, maintenance, hiring and marketing?

There’s no quick fix to building a sustainable business, and it’s a lot of hard work—though of course the work is fulfilling. Knowing why you want to move into ownership will help you stick with your venture through the challenges you’ll encounter along the way.

Question #2: Will your clients follow you to your new space?

Opening a new facility is an exciting, and potentially nerve-wracking, experience. Knowing before you open that you have people to walk through your door is key to making your studio a success. The “build it and they will come” mentality isn’t a reality for most entrepreneurs. “By the time you open your studio, you have to have a brand that is enough of a draw to get people there,” says Shannon Colavecchio, owner of Badass Fitness in Tallahassee, Florida.

To guarantee a successful start, begin building your following immediately. That means connecting with clients during and after training sessions and group classes. It means differentiating yourself from colleagues so your clients are likely to follow you when you move locations. It means putting yourself out there in the broader community by speaking at events, offering corporate services or volunteering your time at relevant organizations.

Question #3: What kind of space will work best for your clients?

As you scout locations, make sure the area and the space fit your brand and your clientele. When moving her business from her home to a studio space, Yvette Salva, creator of Yvette Salva Fitness in Spotswood, New Jersey, strove to keep the private, intimate feeling intact: “I could have made more money by cramming the studio full of five trainers at the same time, but that was never my model, and I wanted to stay true to that.”

Dana Katz, founder and coach at UltraU in Portland, Oregon, found the same was true of her studio. Her clientele “wouldn’t go to a gym,” she says, so when she converted the studio behind her house into space to train clients, the intimate size and location were a bonus. “I have to be careful in my marketing,” she says, “because it’s my home address, but other than that it’s worked out great.”

Question #4: Do you want partners?

Whether to bring a partner into your venture or not is a huge decision.

Before making up your mind, consider various angles: What will the potential partner bring to the table? Does he have significant financial resources to contribute? Does she have a big local audience that will become your client base? Would this person’s skills complement yours? Personal trainer and group exercise instructor Shane Barnard founded Studio360 in Oakland, California, with three partners. Before they decided to open the studio together, all four of them had “a clear discussion about what everyone’s vision [was], to see if there [would] be a harmonious relationship.” They also evaluated each others’ strengths and weaknesses to ensure that “each partner [was bringing] something to the table that [would] benefit the collective.”

If you do work with one or more partners, sign a partnership agreement before doing anything else.

For more information, please see "10 Questions to Ask Before Opening a Studio" in the online IDEA Library or in the April 2015 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

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About the Author

Alyse Mason Brill

Alyse Mason Brill IDEA Author/Presenter