Tricks of the Trade
The journey I took to open my own facility was long and happened in small steps. I was working in a big gym in Washington, D.C., when I decided it was time to step out on my own. My landlord was also a client, and when I told her what my intentions were, she suggested moving out of my studio and into a one-bedroom apartment in the same building. I turned the living room into the workout space and used the bedroom as my living space. I financed the move through what little savings I had, $2,000, plus a $1,500 loan from my parents. I purchased a high-quality used treadmill, an inexpensive bench and a half cage with assorted free weights, 45-pound dumbbells, a bunch of bands and tubing, and an exercise ball. This was all I could afford, but it got the job done.
I stayed in that apartment for 6 months and then moved into a three-bedroom house, converting two of the bedrooms and part of the living room into the workout space. I also purchased a lightweight, commercial elliptical, a cable crossover and a leg press.
Since then, 17 years have passed, and I now have a much larger facility in Northwest Washington, D.C., where we see over 100 clients a week. And it all started from $2,000 in savings and a $1,500 loan.
Owner, Fit 4 Life DC LLC
I was working in high tech and teaching group exercise on the side when I got my personal trainer certification. I knew I wanted to make a career change, but I wanted to be sure I liked it before I made the big move. I got a job at a local gym and worked 1 night a week for 6–8 months before I was willing to give up my full-time job. During this time, I was saving money to finance my new business. I had two young children at home and wanted to build my business as my children grew.
I started my business as an in-home personal trainer, working 2 days per week. Soon after, I began teaching an exercise class and offering personal training at a small gym, and I did in-home personal training on my own. I was paid as an employee to teach the class, but for the personal training revenue, I did a revenue split with the gym owner. This way, when I made money, he made money. At the time, he and I were the only trainers. I started to do my weight loss clinics at the gym and again did a revenue split (70% me, 30% gym). I did my own marketing and brought people who were not members into the gym. Some became members or enrolled their children in the gym's swim program. I did a lot of networking, and the gym benefited from my marketing efforts. It was a win-win situation.
I purchased some of my own equipment, which I financed on my credit card. Eventually, I wanted my own space. I opened my 1,500-square-foot studio in the same town as the gym. I negotiated with the landlord to pay the security deposit in three payments along with my first 3 months' rent. I purchased the flooring and additional equipment with my credit card and paid it back over 12 months. About the time that I opened the studio, I got a contract with the town to teach the senior fitness classes at my studio. This was a big boost at the time as it covered almost 50% of my rent.
I have self-funded my business from day one. My business was profitable day one in my studio because I had already built the business and made a name for myself in my area. I also used creative negotiations to help with the big expenses. Most businesses are willing to negotiate with you once they know and trust you.
Staying in communication with my business partners, staying on top of my payments and staying involved in my local communities helped me greatly in financing my business.
Owner, Fitting Fitness In®
I was working for First Fitness based in Chicago. At the time, it was probably the nation's largest in-home personal training company. I ran their St. Louis market for 2 years. In the latter half of 1996 the owner, Gregory Florez, told me that he was closing our location. I offered to work off the remaining unused sessions if he left me with the business (office furniture, phone lines and the relationship with an in-home equipment retailer). I then partnered with Ellie Zografakis, who was a registered dietitian. Our concept was to blend a functional style of personal training with nutrition coaching centered on behavior change.
Our major initial expenses were rebranding, developing a logo, forming a legal partnership and registering with the state. We had an initial investment of about $10,000. We bartered for our office space with the fitness equipment retailer. When they sold a piece of equipment over a certain dollar amount, we went out to the purchaser's home and demonstrated the equipment for free. Probably three of 10 consultations resulted in the equipment buyer also purchasing a package of personal training sessions or nutrition coaching. Slowly, over the course of the next 2 years, we expanded to six personal trainers and continued to operate in our bartered basement space. Our goal was to save enough money to entice a bank to help us open our first club. We grew one client relationship at a time.
In 2000, 3 years after conception, we were able to open our first club with a decent down payment and our first bank loan. Today, we have expanded into a different location with about 17,000 square feet, and we offer a wide array of fitness services and sports performance conditioning.
Dale and Ellie Huff
Performance and Athletic
St. Louis, Missouri
Many years ago, my first career was as a buyer for a chain of department and specialty stores in Hawaii, where I lived near my father. He became critically ill with cancer. I resigned my job, which required me to travel extensively, and moved my father and myself to Florida so that he could receive great medical care. In 1992 I became a personal trainer and Pilates instructor, which allowed me to work part-time, set my own hours and take care of my father. In 1997 he passed away, and I was faced with wondering what I would do for the rest of my life.Later that same year, I opened Suncoast Pilates. I financed the studio with my 401(k) account from the years I was a retail buyer, which, in hindsight, was not the best idea.
However, the studio has grown and I have made my living and provided a living for our instructors for the past 20 years. I originally chose an inexpensive location. Three years later, I moved to my present location. I used "oops" paint from a store and kept the carpeting installed by the landlord. Each year I have carefully purchased an additional piece of equipment until I now have a fully equipped, state-of-the-art Pilates studio.
Owner, Suncoast Pilates
Palm Harbor, Florida
I knew I wanted to work full-time in fitness. To get started, I trained part-time in the evenings after my day job as a cartographer. After about a year and a half, I'd built up enough evening clients to make the switch to full-time personal training. I was supported by my then-wife's income while I built up my hours in the other parts of the day, mostly by being visible in the club and working floor hours during the day, which I hadn't done before. Due to word-of-mouth comments by members and simply conducting myself professionally in a large multipurpose club—where, unfortunately, many trainers often don't act professionally—I was blown away by how quickly I started getting interest from people.
Within a year or two, my earnings were greater than the income I had made as a cartographer—all without spending a dime on marketing. Being in a busy club with a high number of members gave me the opportunity to have many conversations when I had to sell myself as a trainer, and that was invaluable experience. The timing was fortunate, since 3 years after turning full-time, I was single again and on my own financially. However, I'd built up enough clients to maintain my standard of living. Having no overhead helped, and I also shifted to doing more in-home training (with its higher pay), as people had begun to hear about me from media hits I'd gotten and from a fitness column I wrote for the local newspaper.
Two-Time Personal Trainer of the
Year (IDEA and ACE)
Owner, Aion Fitness