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Progressions Of A Fitness Business Owner: Phase 1

By Vince Gabriele

Vince Gabriele


The minute I decided to start a career in the fitness industry I knew I wanted to own a gym.

This was very clear to me.

I remember often times sitting in my economics classes in college thinking about where I would put the 3 jammers in my gym… 12 years later there are no jammers in my gym and I wish I was paying much more attention to my economics professor in college.

Opening a gym right out of college wasn’t really an option for me. It would’ve been a very big mistake if I did though.

Having absolutely no experience about how to train people and barely scraping by in college to earn a degree in business, I simply was not ready to own a gym.

Many young kids come out of college wanting to own their own gyms. This is a big mistake.

One of the most important times in the career of an aspiring gym owner, especially young kids just out of college, are the years they spend grinding. 

By grinding I mean internships, training 50+ sessions per week, watching every training DVD known to man, attending a seminar every weekend, calling and visiting other coaches to learn from, etc.

In addition to the above, selecting an employer at this point in a young trainer’s career is very important. They will most likely start out in a big box gym and become a glorified sales person. This is ok.

Its important for them to learn a little bit about selling but they’re main focus on choosing a place to from is one that will have the best possible mentors.

A mentor is one of the most important things a young trainer can have. They can even have multiple mentors. I advise young trainers to develop a personal relationship with each of their mentors and share with them they’re goals and vision.

Along my way up the ladder I had several mentors. I contribute much of the success I have today to the lessons I learned from them about training and business.

The biggest takeaway I can give to a young trainer right now is to work for someone else.

Do not put pressure on yourself to learn insurance, marketing and website design either. There is a time and place for all of this.

Your main focus right now is to learn.

Learn as much as possible about your craft. Become the absolute best trainer you can be, develop relationships with your clients, get them results, and slowly start to develop your training philosophy.

This step should not be skipped. Strive to put in 10,000 hours of purposeful work and you will be in a great position to succeed in the next step. This step will take anywhere from 3-10 years.

Phase 2: The Decision

When I sat in Mike Boyle’s office in Boston University 8 years ago and asked him how I would know when I was ready to open my own place, he told me “you’re never ready”.

The decision to open your own facility is an exciting time.

At first, the only thing you will want to focus on is what kind of facility your going to get, what flooring will you put down, how many racks will you need, and whether you really need a pair of the 106lb Kettlebells.

This is the rookie in us and I was the same way.

This is where your learning starts to shift. Before, you were attending seminars and reading books on training, now you are an entrepreneur and you must educate yourself on how to run a successful business.

This is where you need to find several mentors that have experience running their own business. They do not have to be in your field, especially in the beginning, and asking for help on where to start is essential.

I will not go into every step on what it takes to get started but I will tell you that having a reputation in your area and a client base before you open is key.

I moved from California to NJ with aspirations to open my own gym. I had not lived in NJ since High School and needed to re-plant myself in the area.

For a full year I split time between writing a business plan, developing my systems manual, training clients in my parents basement, training kids on fields, developing relationships with every possible school and team, going to business mentorships, and continuing to become a better trainer.

This was one of the most important years for my business. It allowed me time to prepare myself to be an entrepreneur but at the same time I was developing a reputation and a client base that would provide revenue immediately after I eventually opened my own gym.

If I had moved to NJ and opened right away this would have been a mistake. I would of given myself overhead before any roots were set. This puts you in a catch up type phase and will make it harder for you to make it in the early years.

In fact, I worked so hard in that year and developed so many relationships that I had over 300 people attend my grand opening. A huge number for a one man show.

 Once you make the decision to go on your own consider taking the following steps:

  1. Realize that you have decided to become a business man. Your learning and education must reflect this. Educating yourself about leadership, team building, marketing, numbers and systems are things you MUST be learning about.
  2. Write a business plan. There are easy to follow programs for this.
  3. Develop a training manual. If you have aspirations of hiring employees in the future you must have systems for what you do. This is a very big time commitment but will be very worthwhile in the future. Be sure to make changes as you grow.
  4. Work hard to develop strong relationships in the area you aspire to open.
  5. Continue to train clients and make sure that they will be going with you once you open your facility.
  6. Have business mentors. Find people that know about business and ask for their help. Take them to lunch and pick their brains about how you can be a better business person.
  7. Attend fitness business mentorships. I attended several of these and they helped tremendously. This is one of the reasons why we now have our own Mentorship; because I got so much out of them when I was starting up.
  8. Do not spend a ton of time worrying and focusing on your equipment. This is a huge rookie mistake and I am very guilty of this.  You will need only the basics when you open up. Bars, racks, kettlebells, dumbbells, med balls, and bands. Everything else can come later. Spend your time learning how to become a better business person rather than spending hours upon hours deciding where you are going to put your racks.

Phase 3: Your first Hire

fitness business

Once you open your doors, you must book yourself solid.

If you are having trouble filling your time to train people than this is an issue.

You need to be generating enough interest and revenue that there is a buzz in the community about this new great place that just opened.

If you do not create this you are not ready to make a hire.

Once you are making a little money, filling up your time slots and find yourself working a ton of sessions, it is time.

My best advice on hiring your first trainer is to hire them for their people skills more than their training skills.

They can always get more education in the X’s and O’s  but many times it is hard to make someone be more emotionally intelligent.  This means they have awareness of their own actions and an awareness of the actions of the people around them.

This is a people focused business and your new hire needs to reflect that.

I put a ton of weight into a resume where they played a college sport. This normally means they know how to work hard, be a team player and demonstrate discipline.

In fact, I would probably choose a college athlete without an exercise science degree over a non-athlete with an exercise science degree.

I say this for several reason but I know from personal experience that the non exercise science majors will be a better choice in the long run, depending if your doing your job as a business owner and mentor to them.

Remember, personal training and strength and conditioning is not rocket science.

The only thing you need is passion, a huge drive to learn and excellent people skills.

Your first hire must be at the right time and be someone that will buy into your vision and systems.

Phase 4:  Growth

Growth will not come to your business without the right people on the bus.

You cannot do it alone and it is those that think they can that usually do not succeed in operating a fitness business.

Here are 5 things you absolutely MUST have control of if you want your fitness business to grow.

        1. Systems

It seems like people are catching on to this but I still see many businesses that lack sound systems. A business can run without systems when it is small but as you grow and hire more people they are absolutely essential.

Reading the book the E-Myth is simply a staple and it is better if you treat your business like it is big in the beginning so that when your gym grows, the systems are in place.

Systems note: Even if you have systems in place when you start, as you grow those systems will be strained, they may not work as well so be ready for that and make changes to your systems as needed. This is ok and it is part of growth.

        2. Build An Excellent Team


There is one big reason why our gym is very successful and that is the team we have in place.

Our team consists of dedicated professionals who take their job very seriously and strive to improve everyday.

Growth will be achieved with the people on the bus but only if they are in the right seats.

Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your team is essential to helping them have success in their career.

An excellent team is developed over time. All of them do not need to be all stars when you bring them in but it your role as the business owner to turn them into allstars.

You can accomplish this by training them yourself or if you are really smart, your culture is so strong that your other team members do it for you. This is success, this is growth.

        3. Know your Numbers

This could be the biggest mistake I see in fitness businesses these days. I know this because I have made this same mistake myself.

If you are a small gym and are showing signs of growth and you do not have a grasp on what your numbers are, you are swimming in VERY dangerous water.

Here is what usually happens.

We start a business, we do almost everything ourselves, pay ourselves next to nothing, start to make money and generate cash.

We see this and then start to hire employees.

All of a sudden, payroll becomes the biggest expense. We start paying ourselves more money, we are not working in the business that much anymore, and profitability goes down.

If we do not have a grasp on the profit and loss statement and know exactly what is coming in and what is going out then we are in a heap of trouble.

I cannot stress this enough to young fitness business owners. YOU MUST KNOW YOUR NUMBERS.

This is as simple as it gets: Get with your accountant and hire a bookkeeper,  evaluate your profit and loss statements each month and be sure your gym is making money each month.

Ask your bookkeeper and accountant to educate you on your numbers, this is not always the most fun but you have made the decision to become a business person and knowing the numbers of your business is one of the most important things to help you grow.

        4. Turn yourself into a leader

As you grow your job is now to make everyone around you better.

Very few leaders are born and if you understand the growth mindset, the belief that you can improve at anything, you can turn yourself into a better leader.

When you go to educate yourself this is where your main focus needs to be.

Read books on leadership, model yourself after other great leaders you know and respect, ask questions to other leaders in and out of your industry.

Your role has shifted , make others better and please do not fear that if you make them too good they will leave.

This is not the thought process of a successful person. People will leave. You must believe in yourself that you can do it again and again.

Do one thing everyday that helps to make your team members better.

Please do not forget this too, the better you make yourself, the better the people around you will be. 

        5. Be a master at building relationships

Relationships are the key to business. If you are good at building relationships your business will grow. Guaranteed.

As a business owner of a growing business you must build sound relationships with your team, clients, professionals in your field and influential people in your community.

The biggest tip I can provide for building relationships is to genuinely care for other people.

When you put the focus on other people you will build solid relationships.

  • Ask more questions about peoples family
  • Smile
  • Ask for advice
  • Tell people you are proud of them
  • Write handwritten cards
  • Follow up and follow through
  • 2 ears and one mouth
  • Laser focus on who you are talking to
  • Do not take things personally

Do all these things and you will develop great relationships with all the people in your life and you will have a business built on character that will always be strong. If you want to bulletproof your business,  get excellent at building relationships.


Vince Gabriele is the owner of Gabriele Fitness & Performance in Berkeley Heights NJ. Vince and his team work with hundreds of middle and high school athletes and have quickly become one best training facilities on the east coast.

For more information about Gabriele Fitness and their upcoming business development mentorship on October 26-27th please visit:

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