7 Tips for Expanding Your Passion Into A Thriving Gymnastics Business
Recently I have been doing a lot of consulting with a few individuals looking to start their own gyms. Their questions range from “What’s a good name?” to “how much start up money will I need?” My gym, Atlantic Gymnastics Training Centers is in its 20th year. It seems like just yesterday I was standing in loan office of the bank 100% sure they were going to turn me down. But at least I knew where to start. My friend John (who had just opened up his own club) and I would talk on the phone 2 and sometimes 3 times a day. Just helping each other out with the current crisis. We joked that we only worked 1/2 days. We worked a 12 hour day so technically we were correct. It seems like just this morning that I was the one to plow and shovel and I was the one coming in to clean the bathrooms. Wait, that was this morning.
20 years ago I had a passion for gymnastics. A passion that is still there today. I had out grown the club I was working at. I had a good solid team level 5- Elite. I had some great ideas for recreational and preschool classes. How do I turn that passion into a profitable business? When we opened we had 80 team kids and about 150 kids in other programs. Today we have 80 Team kids. 800 Rec and Pre school kids at our Portsmouth facility and another 60 team kids and 500 kids at our Dover facility. I am happy to say that now I see MANY of my original customers at the gyms with THEIR children.
The first question to ask yourself when you are opening up a gym:
- Are you starting a BUSINESS or buying a JOB? (what will be there when you retire from gymnastics?)
So: how do YOU turn your passion into not only a solo career but also a thriving business?
Think laterally when you build on your existing skills and passion
Is there a problem or disconnect in your community where you can fill the void? When I first opened up I saw that there was some places to find good gymnastics instruction, some places that had good customer service, and some places that had good quality team programs. I could not see why these couldn’t be combined under one roof. It was going to be hard, but we knew it was possible.
Don’t be put off by initial hurdles – work hard to find the right partners
I came up with the ideas, we talked them out at staff meetings, usually me, one of my coaches and my wife. We tried things out. Whether it was a preschool lesson plan, a marketing idea, or a competition plan for the Level 10’s and elites. Some worked and some didn’t. I learned a TON from other coaches and club owners who have been down the road before (see Reinventing the Wheel) We had some partners initially but our goal was to buy them out in 2 years. I’ve never worked with a partner in a business before, only with other coaches and teachers. I learned to listen, I learned to compromise and I that I was not always right. I was smart enough to keep some pretty good notes as we found our path. So I wasn’t going to stumble down the same dead end.
If you don’t know: ask!
Ask loads of questions, take help – there’s always someone you can call. I ask a lot of questions! Wherever I go, I try and meet someone new. At USAG National Congress I met loads of club owners who were very enthusiastic about helping me. Pointing out some important things I may be forgetting. The most important thing I learned- “You’re only as good as your staff. Build a good team there.”I wish I could remember who told me that. I still have it written down on a paper above my desk at home. (If it was you, I thank you.)
Work on your brand’s appeal
We took the ATLANTIC name and built a world around it: We wanted Atlantic Gymnastics Training Center to be THE place to do gymnastics on the seacoast. Not A place to do gymnastics. We created a history and a feeling that being at ATLANTIC made you part of something special. We got involved in the community and with the arts. We kept our name out there. We created a tag line, “Building Campions for Everyday Life”. We wanted people to know that no matter what sport you went into, gymnastics was the place to start. We trained soccer teams, hockey teams, skiers and snow boarders. AND- we made each one feel important.
Be prepared to make sacrifices – and put in a lot of hours
I never kept track of the amount of hours I worked in the beginning. It would have only depressed me. I know the feeling that I had when I had just finished cleaning the gym at the end of the night after a 12-14 hour day, looking back as I turned off the lights and thinking, “wow, this is mine.” I still get that feeling.
There will of course be long hours, and seemingly endless weekends of competitions only to have to get to the gym extra early Monday to meet the guy to fix the heater.
Don’t expect any sympathy from ANYONE who owns a business. It’s just part of the job.
Approach other businesses with a point of difference
When you are introducing yourself to other businesses in your area, let them know what makes you different from other gymnastics clubs. Why should they get to know you. Why they should see if cross marketing with you is a good idea.
Be a pioneer
When I opened up in 1994 there were a lot of clubs that were operating and had been in business a long time. We were going to do some things different. Our goal was to be the new standard for gymnastics instruction and customer service. I charged the most and delivered the most.
Just my thoughts. Have something you want to add? Share it with Gym Momentum!