gym space

Finding Gym Space Part II: A Tale of Three Locations in Three Years

When starting a new gym, you don't always get it right on the first try. Here's a cautionary tale about one gym's adventures in finding gym space!

Emily Beers
January 11, 2024
TL;DR
When starting a new gym, you don't always get it right on the first try. Here's a cautionary tale about one gym's adventures in finding gym space!

This month on the PushPress blog, we’re helping gym owners with finding gym space. As a team of gym owners ourselves, we get it. Having a plan and it going the way we expected can sometimes be two completely different things.

Today, we’re talking to Emily Beers, Instructor and Content Creator for Madlab Business in Vancouver, BC. To say that she and her team learned the hard way about finding gym space is an understatement.

Finding gym space
Third time’s the charm: Madlab School of Fitness in Vancouver, BC. (Photo credit: Madlab School of Fitness)

It started back in 2005. Gym owner Craig Patterson opened CrossFit Vancouver, the first CrossFit affiliate in Canada. As Beers recalls, “We didn’t know what we were getting into.”

The First Location.

CrossFit Vancouver opened in what seemed like a decent spot. Beers describes finding the gym space as “an affordable location in the unaffordable city of East Vancouver.”

Without having done any research on the facility of the location demographics, some unexpected surprises were around the corner. First, the gym was near a busy Skytrain station near Chinatown. Beers assumed the public transit would be convenient for members. Instead, the area was littered with drug users and homeless people. In addition, there was limited parking for members who did drive to the gym.

“It wasn’t uncommon to see used needles, condoms and other not-so-desirable items during our four-hundred meter run around the block,” said Beers. “One time, one of of our loyal, long-term members stepped in human poop as he ran around the block during (benchmark workout) Kelly. When he got back to the gym, he quietly took off his shoes and tossed them into the garbage.”

That was the clincher. Time to work on finding gym space again.

Finding Gym Space: Take Two.

The second CrossFit Vancouver space was slightly bigger and further east, away from the downtown area. Beers said the team did a bit more research, but not enough.

They overlooked an important factor in gym ownership: Noise. Before moving into the new location, they neglected to consider the neighboring businesses. Neighbors began complaining about the sound of dropping weights and volume of music.

Unfortunately, an eviction notice sent them packing and looking for their third location in three years. Not only was consistently finding gym space inconvenient, moving isn’t cheap.

This time, Beers says they were going to do it right.

Emily Beers at Madlab School of Fitness
Emily Beers at Madlab School of Fitness. (Photo courtesy: Emily Beers)

“Before we looked for a new location, we started making a list of things we knew we needed. And the things we knew we needed to avoid in a location and facility,” she said.

Here’s their list of the third-location requirements:

  • A space without drug users and human feces outside our door
  • Neighbors who tolerate higher levels of noise (or no neighbors at all)
  • Plenty of free parking
  • High ceilings for rope climbs
  • Bay doors to make running easier
  • Nice bathrooms with showers
  • Ample space to scale as the business grows

Third Time’s the Charm.

Back to the quest of finding gym space. After some searching, the team found a facility they thought was perfect. And it was only 800 meters from the location they were moving from, making the move a lot easier.

Beers recalls having some fun with moving the equipment. She says they turned the task into a workout, creating teams of four or five people. Each team carried piles of equipment to the new location, saving the business some serious moving costs.

Things were going well for a bit and it seemed that they had finally found the perfect gym location. However, about six months into the lease, they were slapped with an eviction notice from the City of Vancouver.

As it turns out, their perfect new facility wasn’t zoned for gyms. Beers calls it the “facepalm moment of the year.”

At that point, it would’ve been easy to admit defeat and possibly shut the whole thing down. But Beers says they weren’t going down without a fight.

Coaching CrossFit gym members
Getting creative allowed Madlab to continue coaching gym members. (Photo credit: Madlab School of Fitness)

A Creative New Solution for Finding Gym Space.

Even though the building wasn’t zoned for a fitness business, it was zone for schools. As luck would have it, CrossFit Vancouver had been building an informal apprentice-coaching program since 2007. So Patterson turned his business into a school for fitness coaches.

Beers says it look a lot of time, effort and paperwork to turn the coaching program into a legitimate school. But after two years of working with the vocational school organization in British Columbia, it came to fruition. Madlab School of Fitness now exists in the same 10,000-square-foot facility they moved into almost 15 years ago.

Not only did the business become a “real school,” it has since helped hundreds of students. The last decade has provided educational opportunities for people around the world through online and in-person coaching programs.

It took three tries, an abundance of money, some serious headaches and a lot of paperwork. But Beers said the journey was worth it in the end.

“The bottom line is, do your research,” she said. “Talk to other gym owners, mentors, lawyers and whoever you need to. Leave absolutely no stone unturned before signing a lease or buying a space for your gym.”

Pro Tip: Once you’ve found your perfect gym location, it’s time to work on running a successful fitness business! Book a demo with our team today to find out how PushPress can help to save you time and level up your business.
Emily Beers

Emily Beers is a health, fitness and nutrition writer. She has also been coaching fitness at MadLab School of Fitness in Vancouver, B.C. since 2009.

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