There are many types of youth sports and physical activity programs available in most communities. They run from very small to quite large depending on the diversity of activity or level of instruction that may be offered. The smaller programs are much more abundant and seen in many strip plazas, whereas larger programs are generally found in buildings designed and built specifically for the business. In the gymnastics industry, these smaller programs have an entirely different set of operational consideration than the large competitive programs, from initial set-up, equipment needs, choosing a location, marketing, staffing, class programming, to name a few all require a different set of consideration for a successful launch. In this discussion, I will share some insight on what is needed to start and build a strong, successful recreational gymnastics program in your community.
If the goal is to start a small community gymnastics program, you should write a mission statement that clearly defines your purpose for being in business. It should be a short statement that is clear, easily understood, and gives you a definitive course to stay as you plan your new business.
Your mission should be your guide as you determine the age and ability levels the program will offer, and the space you will need to effectively run the classes. Once you determine the age and ability levels and the space needed, you can begin to layout your matting, equipment, and staffing requirements.
You will need to determine if the program is to be strictly gymnastics, tumbling, a combination of both, or possibly include even more activities. This is very important because this will determine what your target market will be in advertising and marketing. Once the type of program is determined, the next step should be to develop a detailed class curriculum for each class offered.
In developing the class curriculum (Programs for the Rec Student), it needs to be determined what the purpose of the program is designed for. For example, will the training be directed to prepare students for advancement into a competitive gymnastics program? or designed to train gymnastics in a general recreational manner? I have found that there is a large demand for children to explore what gymnastics is all about. At the younger ages, this should be the initial focus. I have also found that there is a large demand for tumbling and acrobatic instruction for cheerleading, dance, and martial arts. In many cases in order to advance in their sport or activity of their choice (cheerleading as an example) they may require a little more advanced tumbling or acrobatic instruction than is available through their own club or team organization. As these other activities will often parallel gymnastics in regard to the need to develop tumbling and acrobatic skills, it is an easy fit to incorporate this level of instruction into the class structure.
One of the most difficult tasks in setting up your business is finding a location that meets all, or at least. most of your needs. There are typically two types of spaces to choose from: retail space or industrial space. Both have their advantages and disadvantages and should be looked at closely to find the best scenario for the program objectives. When starting and expanding my program, this is an area that required a lot of time and attention to find the right space that best fit my program structure.
Most all large gymnastics and cheer programs will need to be located in an industrial/commercial structure. This is required, in most cases for ceiling height that is necessary to develop high level skills for competition. For a competitive gymnastics program you will need a large open floor space for the floor exercise and all the necessary equipment and mats, as well as a minimum ceiling height of 20 feet. Competition cheer also requires both open floor space and 20 ft ceiling height to support both large group routines and flight skills. One upside of industrial space is the square foot cost is generally lower than retail space. With that said, at the top of your space requirements should be; Location, Location, Location! The major drawbacks in considering industrial space are visibility and location dynamics. If your building is not highly visible, you will need a more aggressive marketing plan to build clientele. The location needs to be well-lit and safe so that parents are comfortable bringing their children for instruction. Facility setup and operational costs are another major factor when considering a large industrial facility. One example, most large industrial spaces are not air-conditioned and it may need to be added and operated.
When looking at retail space, the options for program operations may be more limited than in an industrial space. However, there are advantages over an industrial space. Most retail spaces are located in strip centers and have much better consumer visibility. Due to this type of location, the facility expense is much higher per square foot than an industrial space but the roadside presence alone is a great means of marketing and will help bring awareness to any business. Many strip centers require large signage and some even require illuminated signage which adds to the start-up expense. The typical strip center space is usually designed for office or retail sales, with typically lower ceiling heights of only 10 to 12 feet. In many locations ceiling height can be improved by simply removing the drop ceiling. However if there is an existing sprinkler system or drop lighting it may require permitting and a licensed contractor to get the job done adding to the expense.
In addition to choosing the type of facility to operate the business, the location of the property may be your most important decision and ultimate asset. You should know by now what your target market is, now to find the best fit demographically to maximize the programs potential enrollment. This is challenging, especially if there are a number of other youth sport programs saturating the community. I do not believe it is ethical to put a new gymnastics program in close proximity to a competitor. I have seen this done before and it often creates an ongoing and consistent conflict. It is much more satisfying to choose a location where your program can grow by building your own market share, not trying to steal it from an established business. The foundation of your program will most likely be young children. Research the location of elementary schools and daycare businesses in your community. The closer you can be to schools and daycare centers, the better. There are marketing companies that specialize in providing such stats as number of households with young children in a community and the average household income within a community. This is important also because you want to make sure the business is located in an area that can afford the services you are providing.
The two largest operating expenses a business incurs are the rent expense and the staff expense. The rent expense is fixed on an annual basis so this is easy to budget within the business plan. The staff expense is much more difficult to manage and is often the culprit of a failing business. In most start-up business, especially the small ones, the budget needs to be closely managed. If you want to survive, stay within your planned budget, and keep unnecessary expenses to a minimum. As a small startup business you will probably not be able to afford administrative help. Which mean you will most likely be the business owner, program director, head instructor, marketing manager, janitor and cleaning staff. Only after the enrollment reaches a certain level and the revenue begins to flow in a positive manner, can additional staff be added to fulfill some of these positions. It is also important to manage the staff’s rate of pay. Although you need to be competitive with this rate as compared to other gyms in the community, do not set this standard higher than what the budget can absorb. Remember, although pay rate is important to employees, the environment they are working in is more important. As a business owner, how you treat your employees and the environment you create will determine the growth and success of the business (Staffing: The Backbone of Every Business).
When I started my recreational gymnastics program, it took several months of planning before the business could be launched. I started in subletting space in a local YMCA to run a tumbling program. This quickly grew and within 6 months I had programs running in 3 separate YMCA’s. After a year of operations, I realized that the only way I was going to build my business was to have a place of my own. This commitment was huge and I needed to make sure I had all the pieces of the puzzle in place before jumping in financially. Through the help and advise of many people, I have evolved my program into two successful locations and in the process of adding more. Just as it took for me to become a successful athlete, there were many obstacles and ups and downs along the way. However, through patience, determination, and desire, these challenges were overcome and success prevailed. There is nothing better than having a dream, chasing that dream, and accomplishing that dream!!
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