Small towns have pros and cons for fitness entrepreneurs. Are you a fitness professional living in a small-ish town? Do you have the desire or dream to open a studio or gym? Are you afraid a small town may limit you? Small towns might have limitations in some respects, but there is also great potential.


I live in a very small rural town (population is approximately 17,000 people) and the largest city is about 130 miles north or 150 miles south. Although our city is classified as “rural”, I consider it “frontier” because it is geographically isolated and sits at the base of our mountains. Dude ranches and farming communities sprinkle the countryside.

Although it’s small by census standards, my county has at least 12 gyms, fitness centers, and studios. Some are nonprofits (YMCA and Rec Centers) while others are for profit. Most are flourishing and experiencing an increase in memberships. Somehow, they manage to coexist and still compete successfully. How? Careful planning, thoughtful integration of services, and – of course – financial support and, as my realtor friends would say, an emphasis on location, location, location. So, before you hang your shingle check out these “must do’s” to help you organize and successfully execute your plan of attack.

Careful planning, thoughtful integration of services, and – of course – financial support and, as my realtor friends would say, an emphasis on location, location, location. So, before you hang your shingle check out these “must do’s” to help you organize and successfully execute your plan of attack.

Small Town Fitness Plan

Get your business organized. This is done through a solid business plan. Through this process, you are able to identify a mission, an “elevator pitch”, a funding plan, marketing strategies, etc. Whatever you do, don’t skip this step. It’s tempting to charge full speed ahead when you’re excited and passionate about your decision, however, do not fail to plan and do so with attention, intention, and confidence.

Research is a must

Start by examining what your “competition” will be. Try asking and answering these questions during your research.

  • What other businesses similar to yours exist and where are they located?
  • What are the services available?
  • Is it a for profit or nonprofit (huge difference between these types of entities)?
  • What are the hours of operation?
  • Do they have certified personal trainers available or is it an “at your own risk” type of gym?
  • What’s the niche? What’s the “golden egg”?
  • How do they market? Do they leverage social media?
  • Do they have investors or is it self-sustaining (this may be tricky to find out)?
  • Who is my target audience and how can I communicate with them? What’s their preferred method?


The next part of your research phase is to pay a visit to the gyms or studios you feel may offer the biggest competition to yours. Check out the facilities, take a class, as about the credentials of the trainers. Identify what you like, what you don’t like, and what you can do differently. This will help you carve the niche necessary to draw people to your services.

Envision the Space


Unless you have large investors or a bank of cash saved for just this purpose, start small and evaluate the feasibility of leasing, buying, or building. The key here is to avoid spending money you don’t have. It’s even possible to start a traveling trainer business to build up income and savings before launching into a buying or building a physical space.

Consider what you could do with a large one-room studio. A facility doesn’t need to be big to be effective and lucrative. By adding some mirrors and using space-effective equipment (medicine balls, kettlebells, mats, bands, etc.), you can create fun and calorie-torching strength and cardio workouts.

Develop an Active Voice

Small towns function on personal, professional, and political connections. What organizations, boards, or community entities can you become involved with to be an active member of the community? Is there a small business owners group, a chamber of commerce, or a business after-hours event that you might join to build new or strengthen existing connections?

There may even be opportunities to offer “fee for service” to other business owners as part of a small corporate or employee wellness program. Whatever route you choose, keep in mind that you need to invest in your community if you want your community to invest in you.

Keep it Legit and Legal

This is something that is part of the business plan process, but it warrants a separate mention. Absolutely cover your legal bases. Invest in the services of an attorney to look over rental/lease agreements, business owner and/or employer responsibilities and duties, contract legalese, and determine the risks and benefits associated with the various types of business – LLC, sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, etc. Spending financial resources on the front end will save you from costly legal services in the future should something go awry or fall through.

Success is possible in any town – large, medium or small. Find your purpose, fuel your passion, and deliver on the promises you make to yourself, your business investment, and your patrons and success will be yours.


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Erin Nitschke

Dr. Erin Nitschke, NFPT-CPT, NSCA-CPT, ACE Health Coach, Fitness Nutrition Specialist, Therapeutic Exercise Specialist, and Pn1 is a health and human performance college professor, fitness blogger, mother, and passionate fitness professional. She has over 15 years of experience in the fitness industry and college instruction. Erin believes in the power of a holistic approach to healthy living. She loves encouraging her clients and students to develop body harmony by teaching focused skill development and lifestyle balance. Erin is also the Director of Educational Partnerships & Programs for the NFPT. Erin is an editorial author for ACE, IDEA, The Sheridan Press, and the Casper Star Tribune. Visit her personal blog at