Question from a reader:”I am thinking of opening up a fitness center or a bowling alley. I can get the financial backing and I am pretty personable with the public. I just wanted to ask somebody else if it makes sense because even though times are tough, people still need to keep healthy. Thanks, Kim. I love reading your column and can’t imagine how you busy you must be.”
My answer is, first, thanks for the nice words. Second, I am pretty busy all the time though I try to balance it with repose whenever I can. Third, it is a tough sell for a fitness center or a bowling alley in the best of times though with that being said, if you have a good location and the competition isn’t too close to you, there may be a chance that you can make it work.
What kills fitness centers and bowling alleys are the fixed costs. I am talking about salaries, electricity, gas, rent and things that you cannot discount or negotiate because the utility companies and landlord needs to get paid too. You have to hit the right price point to get people to come and want to subscribe to membership, bowling leagues, etc.
How are you going to handle things if the economy for the short term gets worse and people cut back spending and decide not to go out and start working out at home? What about bowling leaguers who decide that they need to cut back because they have been laid off work?
If you are great with promotions, can work with city councils and local business groups, you might be able to give discounts to large groups of people and schools and that may get them into your establishments. I remember one company in Indiana that offered a one year free fitness membership but they were lowering their medical coverage and deductibles and raising their insurance rates so it was kind of a bad thing. The employees did not end up using the fitness center.
The competition from fitness centers is pretty fierce as well as with trainers. You are only as good as you look and can get people motivated to stay healthy by working out. Even then, with the endorphin highs that they get, if things are too costly, they eventually will cut out the gym memberships.
Bowling fans are pretty diehard as well and they are in the same category. The difference is that there are a lot less bowlers than people working out. The mark-up on drinks and food in the bowling centers and any income from coin operated machines helps cover the expenses. If you have a liquor license that can make money though a lot of bowling center bars are only open in the evenings and till closing time (generally 2 o’clock unless there are blue laws in the state you are in).
The bars are usually rented out for bowling parties and there is some income that can be made from parties.
How are you at working with people? Have you ever been a manager before?
For both a fitness and bowling center you will need to be available 24 hours a day or hire managers you can trust to handle problems like fires, breaking and entry, theft, power failures,etc. By the way, there have been some fitness centers that have gone green and are using the energy from treadmills to power the center. That is a great marketing gimmick though I am sure it adds thousands to the development and start up costs of the center.
There are levels of complexity involved with the type of business you decide upon as well. Are you doing this as a sole prop or a partnership? A corporation? These are questions that you will need to answer as well and with each one of them comes another series of questions about handling the details of running the type of business entity that you choose.
If these are existing businesses, in order to see if they are profitable or not, I would ask to see the books for the last few years. I would also question about how the neighborhood is doing. Are you in an area like Detroit where the businesses are hurting and people don’t have money?
Are you in an affluent part of somewhere and it is like the Depression hasn’t happened? If so, you may do okay unless the national economic pains creep into your area eventually.
Best of luck in whatever you decide but you may want to do some more digging and due diligence before you take the plunge.
Aug 31 2009
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Kim Isaac Greenblatt
Fitness Center or Bowling Alley Bad Ideas