Finding the right gym location

Isaac Buchanan
May 1, 2024
8 Min Read
Gym Opening
This article offers expert advice on choosing the perfect location for a new gym, covering key factors like demographics and competition.
Gym Locations


The journey to launching a successful gym begins with the pivotal decision of selecting the right location. From my experience, unless your gym has a draw that attracts individuals from vast distances—a rarity in the fitness world—the convenience of your location will play a crucial role in its success. The ideal spot is one that allows members to easily incorporate their fitness routine into their daily lives and has the least barriers to getting access to it e.g. short travel time and easy access.

Embarking on the search for the perfect site involves a series of pre-planning steps, grounded in a solid understanding of your business model, space requirements, and the membership base needed to thrive. Before you set out to explore potential locations, it's essential to lay the groundwork before continuing:

Once you have this understanding you can start to take a look at the following steps needed to find the perfect location:

  • Identifying Your Ideal Customer: Who are they, how old, income profile, career, lifestyle and more.
  • Competitive Analysis: What does the local fitness landscape look like, is it saturated or is there space for your offering?
  • Demographic Alignment: Does the area's demographic profile resonate with your target audience?
  • Financial Forecasting: Have you accounted for all potential costs, including those for marketing, to ensure you can make a profit in this location and that the locals support your financial goals?
  • Demand Estimation: Is there a sufficient demand in the area to support your gym's offerings?

Navigating these considerations sets the stage for a location decision that aligns with your gym's vision and market potential, laying a solid foundation for your business's growth and success.

Identifying your target customer

Understanding the DNA of your ideal member is the cornerstone of locating your gym. Imagine discovering an attractive site—ideal in size, cost, and bustling with activity in a vibrant area. Yet, it's crucial to pause and observe: are the individuals around your prospective gym reflecting the characteristics of your target demographic? The most bustling areas might not always brim with your prospective members. The true value of a location lies in its appeal to your specific audience, not just any passerby.

To construct a clear picture of your ideal member, consider these essential attributes:

  • Age Range: What is the typical age bracket of your members going to be?
  • Gender Preferences: Is your gym catering to a specific gender, or aiming for a balanced mix?
  • Affiliated Interests: What other brands or lifestyle choices resonate with your target demographic?
  • Income Level: What is the average income range of your potential members, can they afford the services you're selling?
  • Occupational Background: Are they professionals, students, or perhaps retirees?
  • Lifestyle Choices: Are they fitness enthusiasts, casual exercisers, or seeking a lifestyle change?
  • Fitness Goals: Are they aiming for weight loss, muscle building, endurance training, or general wellness?
  • Availability: Do they prefer working out at specific times due to work or family commitments?

In this article, let's consider the archetype of a modern 24-hour gym—equipped with cutting-edge machinery, enveloped in cool, atmospheric lighting, and boasting an edgy yet premium ambience at an accessible price point, all housed within a cosy, modest space.

This setting might attract young professionals seeking flexibility around their hectic schedules, value-seekers who appreciate a premium experience without the steep price, or fitness aficionados drawn to the latest in workout technology. Our target customer might look like:

  • Age Range: 18-35
  • Gender: All genders
  • Affiliated Interests/Brands: Gym Shark, LuLu Lemon, Nike
  • Income Level: £40,000+
  • Occupational Background: Working professionals
  • Lifestyle Choices: Fitness enthusiasts
  • Availability: Limited due to career choices and social commitments

Understanding these nuances about your ideal member not only guides your location choice but also shapes your gym's marketing, services, and overall atmosphere, ensuring that once the doors open, you're not just welcoming any customers, but the likeminded ones who can help boost the community experience of your gym.

Evaluating the Competitive Landscape

A thorough analysis of your gym's competitive environment is crucial for carving out your niche in the local fitness market. This involves more than a cursory glance at nearby gyms; it requires a deep dive into their operations, offerings, and clientele through a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) framework. Understanding the competitive dynamics can reveal gaps in the market you can exploit and potential challenges you may face.

Identifying Key Competitors: Start by mapping out all the fitness facilities within your intended area. Pay attention not only to their size and offerings but also to their branding and market positioning.

SWOT Analysis:

  • Strengths: What services, equipment, or amenities do these gyms excel in? Is there a particular aspect of their operation, such as customer service or membership pricing, that stands out?
  • Weaknesses: Look for areas where these gyms fall short. This could be outdated equipment, limited class options, or poor facility maintenance.
  • Opportunities: Identify potential areas for differentiation. This could be an untapped market segment, emerging fitness trends they are yet to adopt, or additional services you can offer.
  • Threats: Be aware of any upcoming expansions, renovations, or new entrants that could intensify competition.

Understanding Customer Overlap: Assess whether these gyms are vying for the same clientele as yours. A high-volume, budget-friendly 24-hour gym might share a significant portion of its customer base with another similar facility, regardless of minor differences in their market positioning. Conversely, a boutique studio catering to niche fitness disciplines like Pilates or barre might attract a distinct demographic. Proximity to such a gym could be advantageous, drawing in clients seeking diverse or specialised fitness experiences.

Estimating Competitor Membership: Gauging the membership size of your competitors can provide insights into the local market's capacity. Consider factors like the physical size of the gym, the number and size of classes they offer, and their parking facilities as proxies for their membership volumes. This estimation helps in understanding the market saturation and potential demand for your gym.

Leveraging Competitive Insights: Use this analysis to update your gym's strategic plan, from pricing and marketing to service offerings and facility design. By thoroughly understanding your competitors, you can position your gym to not only coexist but thrive in the competitive landscape, attracting members who seek what only you can offer.

Analysing Area Demographics for Your Gym

Understanding the demographics of your target location is a pivotal step in ensuring your gym aligns with the needs and preferences of the local population. Having defined your ideal customer profile, the next step is to quantify the presence of this demographic within your chosen area.

Collect Demographic Data

To gather this vital information, consider these resources:

  1. Census Data: Many cities provide access to detailed census data through official websites or local government offices. This treasure trove of information often includes age, gender, income levels, and even lifestyle indicators—key insights for assessing the presence of your target demographic.
  2. Market Research Firms: These organisations specialise in gathering and analysing demographic data. For a fee, they can provide in-depth reports tailored to your specific needs, offering a nuanced view of potential gym members in your area.
  3. Local Business Associations: Joining a local business association can provide access to shared market studies and insights. These organizations often conduct their research or pool resources from member businesses, offering a collective understanding of the local market.
Scope the area physically

Beyond digital data, physically exploring your chosen area can offer invaluable insights:

  • Foot Traffic Analysis: Spend time in different parts of the area at various times of the day and week to gauge foot traffic. Observe the demographics of passersby to see if they align with your target customer profile.
  • Complementary Brands: Identify and visit other businesses that your target demographic frequents. The presence of certain brands or services can signal a concentration of your ideal customers.
  • Area Appearance: Is there a high vacancy rate of commercial units or is the area run down? These are all signs that the area may be struggling as a business hot spot and give you cause for concern.
Speak with other Local Businesses

Dialogue with neighbouring businesses can provide a ground-level view of the area's demographic landscape:

  • Business Performance: Inquire about the general business performance and customer demographics. Are there trends in consumer behaviour, peak times, or seasonal fluctuations?
  • Community Engagement: Understand how these businesses engage with the community. Successful community events or partnerships might offer opportunities for your gym to gain visibility and integrate into the local fabric.

How far are your potential members willing to travel to reach your gym? This question is crucial in understanding the size of your catchment, convenience is a top priority for gym-goers. In my experience, up to 80% of gym members in large cities prefer a facility within a 1-mile (1.6 km) radius, ideally accessible by a short walk. In contrast, in smaller towns or less dense areas, customers might be willing to undertake up to a 10-minute drive, especially if your gym offers ample and accessible parking. 

Evaluating Potential Demand for Your Gym

Having meticulously gathered data on your chosen location, you're now poised to conduct a crucial assessment of potential demand. This final analysis isn't about making a binary decision to proceed or halt but rather gauging the level of enthusiasm potential members might have towards your gym from day one. Will your opening be met with eager queues, or will you need to strategically hustle for every sign-up?

Countries typically have a metric known as the Membership Penetration Rate, which reflects the proportion of the population holding gym memberships or similar. This rate is instrumental in calculating expected demand using the following parameters:

Definitions for Demand Analysis:
  • Total Catchment Population: The entire population within your target area.
  • Unsuitable Population: Individuals who do not align with your gym's ideal member profile due to factors like age, income, or lifestyle. This group might include those too young to join a gym, among others.
  • Membership Penetration Rate (%): The fraction of the general population that holds gym memberships, indicating the potential market size.
  • Sum of Competitor Member Counts: The combined membership numbers of all competing gyms within your target area.
Demand Calculation Formula:

Demand =(Total Catchment Population − Unsuitable Population) × Membership Penetration Rate % − Sum of Competitor Member Counts

Example results would be:

  • Total Catchment Population: 55,000
  • Unsuitable Population: 23,252
  • Membership Penetration Rate (%): 22%
  • Sum of Competitor Member Counts: 6,250

Demand = (55,000 - 23,252) x 22% - 6,250 = 734 (We have surplus demand!)

Interpreting the Results:

A positive result suggests untapped demand, signifying a promising opportunity for a well-positioned gym. Conversely, a negative outcome might indicate a saturated market. However, this shouldn't deter you outright. A saturated market doesn't automatically mean satisfaction among gym-goers with existing offerings. There could still be a substantial segment dissatisfied with current options and yearning for something better—something your gym could potentially fulfil.

This analysis serves as a litmus test for your business model's viability in the chosen location. It's a call to rigorously evaluate how your gym differentiates itself and whether it can introduce a compelling alternative to what's currently available. Remember, even in a crowded market, quality, innovation, and superior service can carve out a niche for your new gym.

A final important note on the leasing costs:

The strategic positioning of your gym plays a pivotal role in drawing in new members, with the visibility of your location being a key factor. Locations with high visibility often come with steeper leasing costs but provide the advantage of increased exposure. This exposure is critical in attracting passersby and can significantly impact your gym's initial and ongoing member recruitment efforts.

It's crucial to weigh the cost implications of leasing in high-visibility areas against the potential savings in marketing expenditure. A prime, easily accessible location might negate the need for extensive digital marketing campaigns, which can be both costly and uncertain in reaching your intended audience. The current landscape of digital marketing demands considerable investment, potentially ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 annually, with no assured success in targeting the right demographic.

When deliberating over your leasing budget, consider the potential benefits of allocating additional funds towards securing a more prominent location. Could the extra investment in a prime spot with heavy foot traffic offset the need for substantial marketing spend? This strategic decision could enhance your gym's visibility and organic member acquisition, providing a more efficient use of resources and a stronger start for your business in a competitive market.

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