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4 Keys to Successful Gym Ownership

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

This piece was generously contributed by Diane Trifiro of Ohio Sports Academy.

My name is Diane Trifiro and my husband and I own Ohio Sports Academy (formerly known as Hand to Hand) in Springboro, OH. When our son David, joined Hand 2 Hand in 1997 as a seven-year-old, it never ever entered my mind that one day we would own the gym that became a second home to him. David tried soccer and baseball but neither of those sports seemed a good fit for him, so when it was time to sign up for fall soccer we explored other options and since he was very flexible, gymnastics seemed a good fit for him. We tried one gym and we loved it there, but practice for team ended later than his bedtime so we had to look for other options. A new gym in our town had just opened and it offered a sport that we had never heard of before – trampoline and tumbling – and it was at that new gym that David found his home away from home, one of his first jobs and a goal to one day to own the gym. Fast forward to 2010 and the gym came up for sale – David was only 23 and unable to buy the gym, but my husband and I could, so we did!

This summer makes our seven year anniversary as gym owners and even more exciting for us – our very last payment on our loan will be made in September!

Our gym had good bones when we bought it and had an average monthly enrollment of about 500 kids. Seven years later we have grown to service almost 1000 kids each month.  We are expecting to enroll over 1100 kids for the very first time in January 2018.

Some of the things that have allowed us to grow include moving to true month to month enrollment, the addition of NinjaZone in May of 2015, the ability to hire and retain staff members, and always treating our customers the way we would like to be treated.

1. The biggest change came for us in the spring of 2015. That spring we became a first adopter of NinjaZone (one of the first 25 gyms in the country to have NZ) AND we also went to true month to month enrollment. I cannot overstate the significance of that! We used to lose up to 35% of our kids in the summer because we dropped them at the end of May and parents had to enroll them for the summer and the same thing happened at the end of August. We were telling our families that our services were not a year-round commitment – what were we thinking?? This summer we only experienced a drop in enrollment of 7% from our peak month to August, which is normally our slowest month.  If you have not made the switch to month to month enrollment, I highly encourage you to do so – our results speak for themselves.

2. This increase in the summer enrollment has in turn greatly increased our revenue and our profit. That helped us do some things for our staff that were not possible before. We now are able to pay them for gym holidays. Our gym closes for Easter Sunday, Memorial Day weekend, Independence Day, Labor Day Weekend, Thanksgiving and a week to a week and a half during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. All of that time off is paid time off for our employees. They love having the time off and we love being able to pay them for that time off. In 2016, we were able to offer our employees who work more than 25 hours paid health insurance. In 2018 we will offer a paid retirement account for employees.

3. While the above two items were important in our growth, I think the most important thing we do is to treat our customers the way we would want to be treated as a customer. Our gym had policies that were just not very parent-friendly when we bought it. There was a 10 day written notice to drop a class and if it was not followed there was a penalty to be paid. We dropped that requirement – we ask that parents let us know before the end of the month that they are dropping – easy for them and easy for us – but we also know that parents are super busy and sometimes forget to let us know. So if they call us the first week of the month that they want to drop the class – we refund their money. Do we like to do that? No. But we think the goodwill that is given by not making a big deal about it goes a long way in that busy parent’s mind. We know that many of our families drop for a short period of time and come back and we don’t want to burn bridges by penalizing them for forgetting to make a phone call.

4. When a child comes in for a trial class, we walk them into the locker room to show them where to put their personal items and then walk them out to the floor and find a friend for them to buddy up with during warmups and class for that night. Makeup classes or open gyms are offered for missed classes. We appreciate the money that parents spend in our gym and want them to feel they are getting good value for their money.

My husband and I plan to sell the gym to David and his wife in the summer of 2021, when we retire. My husband and I feel good about leaving them in a great position to be successful and can’t wait to see where they take the gym in the future!

P.S. When I read this to David he said there is a mistake in the last paragraph – he suggested I change “sell” the gym to “GIVE” the gym to David and his wife. What a jokester!

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