Today’s Gym Business Precious Real Estate or Market Meltdown?

While the real estate market cools down from ‘red hot’ to ‘still over-priced’ in various parts of the country, there exists one area in which real estate remains as precious a commodity as ever. It’s one where people battle for every square inch, certain neighborhoods never lose their value and ownership in some areas gets flipped countless times a day.

I’m speaking, of course, about the gym.

By its very nature, real estate (i.e. space) within a gym is highly valuable. The bigger a gym, the more machines an owner can install and the more members they can service. With hundreds of thousands of pounds in bulky machines, equipment and weights needing a home, you rarely see a gym with unutilized space. No matter what the square footage, open areas, like those often used for stretching, core work or free weights, are like the rain forest — rare and rapidly shrinking in size. Why leave a space needlessly unoccupied when you can fit another treadmill or a roman chair there?

Every gym has those ‘neighborhoods’ (like the Hip Abductor machine) that aren’t as popular as other hot spots (like the Olympic Flat Bench). Luckily for gym patrons, we pay a set monthly fee and are not charged by the areas we choose to inhabit. Otherwise, gentrification could make the Leg Curl or the Hack Squat machines much more fashionable and affordable choices for those priced out of the ever-popular Adjustable Benches or Smith Machines.

While we make not pay in dollars, for many of us, time is indeed money and not a resource with which we can afford to be reckless. In your youth, you may have been able to afford waiting around for an open bench for ten minutes, but nowadays, time is tight and you need to get your “money’s worth”.

If the gym were your city, the fitness real estate market might look something like this…

The Ghetto: Nobody wants to be here, but it exists because not everybody can be on the always-in-demand Flat Bench all the time. Sometimes your workout dictates that you have to stop by because you no other machine offers the same exercise. Otherwise, this equipment would have been gone a long time ago and replaced with something sexier.

Nobody lingers here. If they have business in this neighborhood, they get in, get out and move on to more comfortable surroundings.

Examples: The Assisted Chin-Up/Dip machine, any of the Hip Machines.

Just Over the Wrong Side of the Tracks: These are usually under-utilized and that’s a shame. A few people swear by these machines and use them regularly, but the masses haven’t quite caught on. But, all it takes is one high-profile news story on the wonderful benefits of these exercises and their popularity will explode. You used to never have to wait to get on this machine, but soon thereafter, everybody and their mother will be waiting to get on.

This is a lot like those artistic/New Bohemian neighborhoods in the shadow of your downtown that used to be strictly mills and industry, but now boasts converted lofts and a growing young demographic. There are some bargains to be had here, but it’s about five years away from being the newest expensive and hip place to live in your city.

Examples: The Decline Bench, the Rower machine, any piece of calf-specific equipment.

Midtown: Neither trendy or in-demand like other pieces, these middle-of-the-roaders are a staple in everybody’s routines. They get used a great deal, but you usually don’t have to wait long. Just as often, when you need them, they’re vacant.

Decades ago, this was considered the suburbs. Now, they’re not as sexy or in vogue, but offer quality neighborhoods at affordable prices. It’s home to many middle-class families and young single professionals.

Examples: The Pull-Down Lat, the Back Extension, the Preacher Curl.

The Suburbs: A favorite of everybody. Because of demand, there usually are more than one of these in any given gym. It can be challenging to find an opening when you want it, as one of their biggest positives, versatility, can also serve as a negative. Their popularity seems to be growing and growing, therefore making an empty one increasingly more valuable.

Developers know that if they build it, they can sell it. Most everybody wants this kind of quality & reliability and most everybody is willing to pay for it. Business is good and shows no signs of abating. It doesn’t seem as if you could go wrong in providing more of these. But, eventually, somewhere down the road, the market will reach saturation and some of these will sit unused.

Examples: the Smith Machine, the Cable Crossover, the Power Rack.

Uptown: People fight tooth and nail for these because they will always be in the highest of demand. Instead of finding a comparable exercise, these are the machines that people will actually wait on for considerable amounts of time, especially during the most crowded of hours. You have to use this machine or your whole work-out will be incomplete or otherwise feel useless.

People do not easily relinquish their ownership of these machines. Many gyms put a 30-minute time limit on their cardio equipment because patrons would otherwise occupy them for much longer. But, motivated by greed, not even this is enough to make some people share. The free weight area can be just as cut-throat. Open space is at such a premium, that should you move fifteen feet to re-rack your dumbbells, you may return to find that space already stolen by another patron.

This is beachfront property. This is the penthouse in the newest high-rise. This is a villa in Tuscany. If you can afford it, you snatch it up, no matter what the cost. Then, you hold onto it for dear life and lord it over everybody else who isn’t as fortunate as you. Like other forms of wealth, it’s also popular to pass it along to those dearest to you once you’re done.

Examples: The Free Weight area, Olympic Flat Bench, the Treadmills/Ellipticals.

Sound like your gym? Remember, this is summer – a traditionally quiet time of the year. Best enjoy your cheap real estate while you can. Imagine what the ‘market’ will be like come January with all the New Year’s Resolutions traffic.