Looking to build a gym of your own? Here’s answers to common questions we’re asked:
It is much harder to DIY gyms in most areas than it once was. It’s harder to get creative with operations and everything else. What we did (country’s first non-profit bouldering gym with crowdfunding expansions) is not really possible in our area any more. Have realistic expectations, but PUSH them. Let “no” make you try harder if you believe in this.
- People are always worried about insurance cost. Insurance is not the #1 issue you have to deal with in your budget. Rent and personnel will be your big costs. Insurance cost is related to how much money the gym grosses. When you start out, it’s nothing. When you get bigger, it gets to be more, but it’s doable as it grows with your growth.
- The #1 thing that stops a gym from coming into an area is good real estate. There are only so many buildings that exist to work for gyms. Building to suit is ridiculously expensive.
- Yes, we did our growth with the help of crowdfunding. It’s awesome. It builds community spirit, it’s a friendly loan that’s not going to bankrupt you if you fail, but: it takes work and it takes people who believe in you because of your past successes for it to work.
Will going non-profit help me make this gym happen? Yes and no. You can’t get loans, but you can get goodwill of the community. 501c7s (which is what we were) are NOT non-profits that people can write off. You basically just don’t pay income taxes and some other benefits like having volunteers work at your gym. It doesn’t make or break the success of the gym. Honestly, if we knew what we know now, we probably would have gone for-profit instead of non-profit. We just didn’t want anything out of the gyms we were running, but as we got bigger, now we do. You may, too.
We can help you develop your gym, BUT: it’s going to cost you. We have all kinds of tools that managing and growing and building gyms have helped us develop. We learned the hard way with research and trial and error. We love people who do that, too. BUT, if you want a step up, we’re here to help you. We can consult on your budget, wall design, operations, and more. We’re also interested in partnering/affiliate/franchising if you want a gym in your area and can fundraise but don’t want the headache of starting it up and operating it.
We love helping others realize their dreams – whether it’s friendly advice or being business partners, but we get contacted so often we’re unable to spend a lot of time with people at the beginning of their exploration. This is what we like to call your “homework.” If you do this and you still thing this is a good idea, then we’re psyched to talk to you. Please send this to us when you reach out so we know where you are at. This will give us the best chance at giving you good advice, and you’ll see a bit into what it takes to build a gym. If you’ve got the fire to get through this, you’re in a good spot to make it go. J
1. Determine climbing gym zoning in your area.
a. What is it? If there is none (very likely), what areas will the permitting office allow you to put a gym in?
b. What may need a conditional use permit and how receptive is the city to doing that?
2. Determine price of real estate in potential locations. Note that real estate agents are TERRIBLE at estimating ceiling height, so you may have to get an agent and view some buildings for viability and pricing estimates. Is that NNN or gross? (Learn these terms)
3. Research your demographics:
a. who lives in your area?
b. Who visits?
c. How old are they, what do they like doing?
d. How many people are there in the first place?
e. What compatible businesses exist that indicate that the area is “ready” for a climbing gym (if the area is not, don’t stress that yet. That’s just something you’ll need to work on, too)
4. What is your desired gym size? (We think that, at least with our experience with bouldering gyms, 1000 square feet maxes out with 100 members, 4000 sq ft maxes out with 800 members – and that’s with an open floor plan. 8000 sq ft probably maxes at 1600 – but we don’t have experience to back that up yet.)
5. What is your gym’s business model?
a. 24/7? Co op? Non-profit? Traditional?
i. All of these come with benefits and draw backs. Here’s our take on it: 24/7 is a major liability. Insurance hates it, and people take advantage of it. Non-profit is a great community builder but if you want to move on, you can’t take it with you or sell it or profit from it. You are also limited with regard to taking out bank loans. Co-op models can be very complicated or very simple. Things to think about long term.
c. Training friendly?
d. Yoga, fitness studios, etc?