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3 Tips for Finding a New Space for Your Gym

Posted Feb 25 2013 7:59am
Today's guest post comes from the Vice-President and Business Director of Cressey Performance, Pete Dupuis.

Since opening during the summer of 2007, Cressey Performance has called three different pieces of property “home”. In just over five years of operation, we have seen our facility footprint expand from just over 2,000 square feet…to a 6,600 square foot unit, which eventually became a 7,600 square foot space…to our current place of business, a strength & conditioning playground that measures to just a shade over 15,000 square feet.

As the Business Director at CP, I have had the (mostly enjoyable) responsibility of identifying potential new property, envisioning its potential, and ultimately executing on our visions. This past summer I had the pleasure of attacking the project of a full-on facility relocation for the second time since CP opened its doors.

Since our Grand Opening in late August, the dust has settled, and in the blink of an eye, we find ourselves six months in to our new lease. We have survived another “busiest baseball off-season” in the history of our business, and I now have the time to reflect on this big step that we chose to take in doubling our space and expanding our staff by two full-time employees.

So, we’ve built three gyms; what did I learn? With a little reflection, I came to three quick conclusions as it relates to finding the right piece of real estate for your business in the fitness industry. 

1. Commercial space that meets your needs is not hard to find.

Seeing as how our economy hasn’t exactly flourished since we began this whole entrepreneurial adventure back in 2007, one lesson we’ve learned time and time again is that property is readily available and not hard to find. As a matter of fact, back in early 2008 when I began to entertain the idea of moving out of our first facility to find greener pastures, I simply kept my eyes open during my drive home.

Within the first three miles of my daily commute from Hudson back to the Boston area, I found three separate street-front signs advertising commercial real estate ranging from 1,000 square feet of available space, on up to as much as 30,000. Most importantly, these weren’t makeshift signs thrown up to catch attention the moment the space became available; these were permanent slots on the address boards that rarely changed. This told me that space was sitting vacant long enough for property owners to pay for signage rather than simply throwing a listing up on loop.net. This also told us that we had leverage before we even walked through the door.

Don’t assume that your hunt for property needs to start on the internet. Drive around. Open your eyes to the signs and buildings you mindlessly pass every single day. There’s a lot more available out there than you’d ever imagine.

2. Your landlord is not your most important contact once the lease is signed.

I ultimately ended up pulling into the parking lot at 577 Main Street in Hudson on an April afternoon in 2008, and was unexpectedly greeted by the Property Manager for the building. This gentleman, Bill, was more than happy to walk me through a vacant unit that was in line with the size and dimensions we were seeking for our next space. Without an appointment of any sort, I stumbled upon an opportunity to tour what ultimately proved to be our home from 2008-2012. What I didn’t realize at the time was that my great customer service experience with Bill on day one would actually prove to be an indicator of what I could expect moving forward.

When upwards of 150 people make their way through your gym on a daily basis, things break. Assuming you pay your rent on time, fixes and modifications are made when you request assistance through the previously agreed upon chain of command, as outlined in your lease terms. However, things get done faster when you’re friendly with the Property Manager. Let’s be honest: shooting Bill a quick text is a lot easier than emailing or calling the building owner, who then forwards the message to his Operations Manager, who then pages Bill to come to their office to discuss the fact that the guys up at CP are complaining that their air conditioner is too loud again.

I have come to the conclusion that, in many ways, Bill is, in fact, the most powerful man at 577 Main Street. More importantly, he is friendly with our clients, actively seeks out conversation with our staff, and truly cares about every square inch of the property on which our building sits. When two feet of snow falls on a Saturday evening in February, Bill spends his entire Sunday plowing. When the ceiling springs a leak in our athlete lounge at 5:30pm on a Friday evening, Bill is in his car and back to our space with a smile on his face. Bill simply gets things done, and you don’t have to ask twice.

If you want to eliminate a lot of headaches and frustration over the lifetime of your lease, I would strongly recommend that you ask to meet the person responsible for maintaining it before you ever sign on the dotted line. Trust me: you do not want to be dealing with Oscar the Grouch every time a light blows out or you need to request that a duplicate key be made for a new staff member. Make it your priority to find your own Bill the Property Manager in addition to simply identifying your dream space. You wont regret it.

3. Patience is a virtue.

During our first four years of operation at 577 Main Street in Hudson, business grew at a rate with which we were very pleased. Our clients regularly filled the parking lot, spent their fair share of money at the on-site café, and generally created a level of foot traffic that caught our landlord’s eye. It was for this reason that he spent the better part of the past two years trying to convince us that we needed to make the jump into “this great unit at the back of the building.” 

While we were happy to humor him by walking through the space and having some extremely preliminary discussions regarding costs associated with such a move back in 2010, the feedback we provided could essentially be summed up in one quick sentence: “It is simply too much space for us.” Not surprisingly, walking away from a discussion like that isn’t made easily when the second largest unit in the building has been sitting vacant for months or even years. Our landlord made it clear that concessions could be made. Offers including a month or more of free rent, considerably reduced dollar-per-square foot figures, and more were extended our way.

Fortunately, since the day we started our business, we have agreed that having more space simply because we can isn’t justification for an expansion. We could have been offered the 15,000 square foot unit for the same monthly figure we were paying for 7,600, but the reality is that we wouldn’t have been in a position to generate the foot-traffic necessary for us to A) create an optimal training environment, B) fund the expansion of our staff to meet the needs of supervising such a spread-out facility, and C) create an image of perceived “busyness” necessary to inspire confidence in those who enter our space inquiring about our services (perceived success is important).

Fast-forward to the spring of 2012, and suddenly the timing felt right.

Well, wouldn’t you know it: not only was the space still available, but it was suddenly even more affordable than before. After approaching our landlord to discuss, we ultimately found ourselves with an entire summer of access to the space free-of-charge to prepare for a busy fall opening, access to the building’s loading-dock-height truck for any and all moving needs, unlimited dumpster space for trash removal during the transition, and an anticipated clientele for the fall and winter that actually justified an expansion to double our space.

The ultimate take away from our experience was that you don’t need to rush to expand your business. Aggressive growth strategies for strength and conditioning facilities are likely to lead to half-empty units with full-size rent invoices in the years to follow. As it turns out, CP is not of the “if you build it, they will come” mentality. Sometimes, slow and steady wins the race.

Considering starting or expanding your current fitness business?  Check out The Fitness Business Blueprint , a product I collaborated on with Mike Robertson and Pat Rigsby. It discusses all the mistakes we made when opening our fitness businesses, as well as the common mistakes Pat sees in the businesses for which he consults. Mike and I complement Pat's business teachings with training-specific information like assessment and program design. For more information, click here .


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