Selling Your Fitness Studio or CrossFit Gym: The Hard Truth About Selling
I was recently approached by the owner of a fitness studio/CrossFit affiliate who was interested in selling. When we prepared a Market Assessment for her I could tell she was shocked that our estimate of the fair market value of her gym was so different from what she was expecting.
I won’t speculate as to how she determined the value of her gym, but I thought it would be helpful to summarize how small format fitness studios and CrossFit gyms are valued so you can have realistic expectations before you decided to either buy a gym or sell one.
The hard and simple truth is that 80% or more of the of gyms we evaluate are not set up to be saleable. That means that 80% of the time no buyers will be willing to submit an offer or if they do sell, they will sell for much less that what the owner was expecting.
The number one reason gyms are not saleable is they are founder centric, i.e., the gym owner or founder does all the work. She teaches the classes, runs the books, handles the admin, does the social media, and builds the membership base.
In the simplest terms, gyms like this are basically offering a buyer an opportunity to buy a job.
If you own a fitness studio or CrossFit gym and want to receive anything beyond the book value of your business, you’ll need to make sure it can run smoothly without you. I mean this literally. You need to be able to hang up the phone, turn on your vacation auto-responder, and leave for a 1-2 month vacation without the business missing a beat. If your gym or studio cannot run without you, make sure it can before you think about selling.
Once your gym can run on its own, a buyer is going to be looking at two things: your bottom-line cash-flow and year-over-year earnings growth. This means they want to see the business is profitable, and they want to see those profits are growing.
The more money the gym makes and the faster that number is growing, the more a buyer will pay. This is because buyers are investors who are seeking a return on their investment. Buyers are investing in the future cash flow or profits of your gym or studio. The expected amount of those future profits determines how much they’re going to be willing to pay today.
To determine the value of your gym, buyers will apply what is referred to as a “capitalization of earnings” or an “earnings multiple” approach. You’ll often hear gym owners referring to a “2x” or “3x” or “5x” earnings multiple when they acquire a business. What that means is they are paying two times, three times or five times, the yearly cash flow of the gym to buy the business. Buyers tend to pay a lower multiple for gyms with profits that bounce around from year-to-year and that have a record of low historic growth. On the flip side, they tend to pay higher multiples for gyms with steady profits and above average growth prospects.
To be candid, the growth prospects for most individual yoga or fitness studios or CrossFit gyms are limited. You can only have so many clients before you need to invest more money to expand your physical space or open a new location.
Because the earnings potential of most gyms is limited by the number of people that you can fit in your gym and the number or classes or programs you can offer, the earnings multiple buyers will pay for a gym is also limited. Most likely, you’d receive something in the realm of a 2x or 3x earnings multiple, provided your gym can run without you and generates more than $100k a year in profit.
What does this mean?
Your gym certainly has value, but it is important to realize that your gym is probably not the golden retirement nest egg you were hoping it would be.
If you are still committed to selling, focus on building a solid, self-operating business. Focus on developing a good management team and trainers and being a good boss. Work hard to acquire and develop loyal clients and introduce new initiatives to help make your business unique. Then focus on improving your earnings each year. When you have completed these tasks you will have something to sell, but by then you may just decide that if the business can operate without you, you may want to simply retire and manage your gym as an investment and not exit at all.
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